Let us learn how to die

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Late Steve in Tiv anger

Tribute to Steve Osu, a journalist who didn’t need a degree certificate

By Fanen Ihyongo
The time we all thought he would die, he cheated death. He survived. But he was mortal, so he was going to die, surely, as says the scripture: “everyone shall die someday.”
He had fallen seriously sick. He wandered in the trough of death but saw only its scary shadow. It was harrowing for his family members and colleagues moving him from one hospital to another for medical. At last, doctors told us he was cured. We saw his life rejuvenating. And gradually, Stephen Bem Osu resumed work. We celebrated.
But after a few months, Steve Osu, as he was popularly called, broke down again. This time, many thought he would only visit the hospital for ‘check up.’ But that was when death struck! We wept.
It means, in the first instance, when death came knocking, God gave him a second chance to prepare. We all want to live and enjoy ‘full life’ and also go to heaven. But we don’t want to die. “While we learn how to live, we should be learning how to die, crooned Leonardo da Vinci. Life and death are like the mystery of day and night. We know that day and night are caused by rotation of the earth on its axis, in relation to the position of the sun. We know only little or nothing about life and death. The only difference: We love life and fear death. But we like the day and love night.
So, Osu, like many of us, was not learning to die. Instead, he enrolled in the Taraba State University learning to bag a degree in Mass Communication. His childhood ambition was to be a practicing lawyer. He had always envied how lawyers collect fat pay-cheques from clients before rendering their services, why journalists do more of selfless services, sometimes pay the supreme price like in the case of Dele Giwa, and yet are poorly paid. Osu forgot that the two disciplines are entirely different. A lawyer, in court, defends an accused fraudster, a killer, or an armed robber, when paid. A journalist investigates and exposes criminals and corrupt officials in the print or electronic media. He defends democracy, advocates justice and holds government accountable to the people. A lawyer defends both the guilty and the innocent. He can defend an election rigger to consolidate his hold on power. In journalism, facts are sacrosanct. In law, technicalities can triumph over substance, hence “the onus of proof lies on the litigant.” Even when truly “injured,” if the complainant cannot prove his case “beyond reasonable doubts,” he loses his suit.
Rising from grinding poverty, Osu could not pursue the career of his choice. He nevertheless, discovered himself practicing journalism. From Babs Usigbe’s The Pavilion, he joined Cresgate, then The Nation, Compass and later Blue Print. He had only a Diploma to brandish for his practice. To him that was not enough, because he didn’t want his editors to edit his reports. He also wanted to be speaking the ‘Queen’s English,’ as spoken in Southern England. He realised he needed a degree to up his use of syntax and morphology, including phenology and semantics in his written and spoken English.
Thus, for four years, he became a routine visitor to lecture halls. Then he graduated. The university’s senate sat and approved that statements of result be issued to them. When his classmates began to collect their results, Osu died quietly in the hospital, on November 10, 2018, without knowing his class of degree. He didn’t need it. He was 49. One lecturer, Dr. Ajai, said Osu made a Second Class Upper Division, despite his age and multiplicity of challenges.
On December 5, 2018, we paid him the last respect. His remains were laid to rest at his Ipav home, near Mkar, Gboko. The funeral reunited me with many journalists I had not seen for long. Among them were Terkula Igidi and Jerry Tyosase, all editors. Igidi and Tyosase, apart from their humility which I envy, are among the few prolific writers Nigeria has produced in recent time. They all flew in from Abuja in homage to their deceased colleague. Emmanuel Atsue, the Rev. Father who preached at the emotional funeral, strengthened our hearts that Osu’s demise was only biological, as he dismissed the belief that death is an architecture of witchcraft.
Osu was petulant, quick to drum a fight, but quicker at seeking peaceful resolution. He was an independent minded radical reporter whose editorial judgment always tilted in the interest of the masses. He loved his ethnic group (Tiv) but was detribalised. He had always admitted the fact that “men are not born with equal ideas and privileges.” He was a caring father and husband, with two wives and five beautiful children which he has left behind.
He was not my friend. He was a brother and colleague. Osu was one of the best in feature-articles. He had the nose for human-angle reports. His heart-rendering series on the “agony of displaced people in Taraba” wallowing in hell-camps prompted the government to intervene with relief materials. A decade ago, he braved his way to the Adamawa mountains to do a thrilling story for Compass on the people of “Kona Still in Comma.” It was a story of a people who (then) had said no to civilisation, including wearing of clothes. He also wrote about the Ndola people inhabiting the foot-ranges of Cameroon mountains, who of recent were integrated into the Taraba community by Governor Darius Ishaku.
Osu has died at the time one of America’s greatest presidents, George H.W. Bush, died. While God will ask Bush to give account of his stewardship in America, Osu will fax report on the many tragedies that have befallen Nigeria. Osu will also fax to God a political analysis on the much awaited Nigeria’s general election slated to hold next year. He will chronicle all the candidates, including me, fielded by all the political parties for various positions in the land. But he will not need that certificate of Degree because God will edit his report as it pleases Him. And only the names of those who will survive God’s edited list will win the 2019 polls.
History tells us how our forefathers learned how to die. They would call their wives and children and utter parting words before dying peacefully. Learning how to die affords you the opportunity to reduce or increase your days. When God sent Prophet Isaiah to tell Hezekiah of his impending death, Hezekiah, who was ill, reminded God how faithfully he had served Him. He was added 15 more years to live. Therefore, learning how to die means being prepared, which offers the ticket for eternal rest, what Christians call “heaven.” Being prepared means consulting God over your departure time from earth. Osu was lucky. He got a second chance to prepare for his death, seek eternal rest. I believe he spoke to God and sought forgiveness. Not everyone will be that lucky to be given a second chance to prepare. Let us learn how to die.
(From Ihyongo’s Facebook timeline)

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