I grew up knowing that my father was a wise man, he was big and tall, but overall he was a wise man.
The trees knew he was a wise man, so did the chickens that my mother kept, and even the very ground that we stood on recognized the wisdom of my father. Of course the ground knew, it was on it that different neighbors traipsed in and out of our home to seek the wisdom of my father. It was on it that my father would gather chairs every Saturday evening and host the other men in our street. They all came of course to hear tales from the wise men.
Eventually, I got to an age where I began to doubt the wise man he so often proclaimed to be. I’d roll my hands and cough slurs into my hands whenever he said anything “wise”.
‘This old man’, I thought, ‘he knows nothing.’
I’d scoff at his words and shake my head in derision as he tried to navigate technology.
He couldn’t read or write but sent my siblings and I to school from the earnings of his cocoa farm.
How he did it, I don’t know, must be all that wisdom he has.
So I got older, married a good woman, had my own children and after the death of my mother, my father -now blind and walking with a stick- moved to Lagos to live with me.
He continued to proclaim his wisdom to my children and they didn’t know better so they just nodded and lapped up every word of it.
I was much more open with my eye rolls and head shaking now because he was blind, not that I cared, I was too wrapped up in my work.
I decided to invest all my money in Benin Republic and got myself some business partners from the country. I had met them through other friends of mine so I felt they could be trusted. So I invested in them and they swindled me claiming that the investment had fallen through when it was clear that there was no investment. Angry, I took them to court in Benin proclaiming the contract as void.
I hired brilliant Francophone lawyers and sat back and watched as they tore my case into shreds.
Devastated, ruined and penniless! I got back home after a particularly bad experience and walked in on my father declaring his wisdom to my children again, he couldn’t see me but later he said my steps sounded like my feet had been weighted down by bricks.
The last day of the court proceeding came around, I was so sure I was going to lose but I decided to show up, to my surprise, my father asked to join me and I figured, what the hell, the old man was probably bored.
We got to court and he insisted on staying in the car with the driver so I let him. I went in, the proceedings began and just as I was about to hear my fate, I hear the tip tap of his cane come into the silent courtroom. He walked in, stumbling into pews, stepping on feet, and waving his cane around so no one could get to him. I sat in shock, wondering what this foolish old man was doing.
Did he think he was back in his small town, he was even in another country!
Eventually the judge brought the court to order and told them to take my father out. That was when he spoke, in perfect French, my illiterate father was so worried about me that he had paid my children’s tutors to teach him the language. He challenged the judge for his bias in not recognizing that I was taken advantage of in the contract, he likened it to him walking blindly into the courtroom, yes he knew where he was going but didn’t know how to get there and he could hear what they said but did not understand.
Did the judge rule in my favor? No, ignorance is not an excuse for the law. Did I get my money back? No, but I wasn’t ruined, I got better opportunities and I am a better man for that experience.
So I stand here telling you this long story, explaining what kind of man he was when he lived, because even though he’s dead and no longer with us, I will never forget that my father was a wise man.
The Eulogy of Mazi Ekenne