Capital city bids the first citizen farewell

THE PUNCH Newspaper

Nyanya is a popular location in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. Its cousin, Kpegye, is not as popular. What it lacks in popularity, however, it makes up in serenity.

The suburb does not share the heavy density and tense atmosphere that characterise the Nyanya-Maraba axis. They rather share some other thing in common – the major road to the city centre characterised by unending traffic jam in the mornings and evenings.

So residents of both Nyanya and Kpegye who must beat the morning traffic must wake up early and execute their domestic responsibilities before setting out on the ‘journey’ to the city centre.

Last Thursday dawned like every other day in Kpegye. Men and women rwoke up that morning, did their domestic work to beat the traffic jam. One of such men was Joshua.

Joshua had dressed up for work. But there was one more thing that he needed to do. He needed to take his children to a nearby school - Primark International Academy.

As he drove them to school, he passed the head teacher of the school who was rushing to ensure that he was not late. Joshua would have given him a ride, but felt it was not necessary as they were very close to the school.

As he got to the school, there were anxious parents waiting for the head teacher. They were in clusters, discussing in subdued voices. The subject of discussion was the death of former president, Alhaji Umaru Yar‘Adua.

Joshua, like the head teacher, had not heard about the death. Neither did they know that the Federal Government had declared a public holiday and seven days mourning for the late president.

In fact, in less than three hours, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan was going to be sworn in as the substantive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

So much had happened between 9pm on Wednesday and Thursday morning. And many residents were not aware yet. Needless to point out that power outage, especially in the suburbs of the capital city, could rob residents of the opportunity of following events as they unfolded.

After the head teacher had been intimated of the happening in the country and the declaration of public holiday by the Federal Government, a collective decision was taken by parents and teachers to observe the work-free day.

To your tents, oh residents! School was over.

If Joshua was embarrassed that he did not get to hear the news of the previous night until he got to his children’s school, then Felix, a resident of Kubwa, another suburb, was thoroughly shocked.

Felix drove to the town on that fateful morning. As he drove, he felt something must be wrong. He did not encounter the usual jam on the Kubwa Road; even pockets of it. Why would the whole town do him the presidential honour of allowing him drive through without obstruction? He could not help wondering what could be wrong.

More surprise awaited him when he got to the office and it was locked. No, he is not usually the first person to get to work. He had to make calls until he was told that Yar‘Adua was dead and a public holiday had been declared.

How could all these have happened at his back? He did not leave office on time the previous day. Without doubt in his mind, he called his friend that work in a newspaper house to confirm what he had heard. Unfortunately, the information was news to his friend.

For some residents of Lugbe, the news of the former president‘s death was broken to them when some proactive school proprietors sent text messages around to inform them that it was school-free day.

Yet many other residents of the city got to know when they were called by Nigerians living in some other cities to confirm the news. As soon as that happened, many resorted to making calls to their friends and acquaintances - either to inform them or to confirm from them.

Every iota of doubt was erased in the minds of residents when by mid morning, the Airport Road was closed to enable an ambulance and a convoy conveying the remains of the late president to the airport to move without hindrance.

Many residents lined at the fringe of the Airport Road to give their last respect to the former first resident that occupied the prestigious Aso Villa.

A story was told of the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980. According to the story, Mugabe was asked when he was going to bid farewell to Zimbabweans.

Looking bewildered, Mugabe asked, ”Where are they going to?” The question on the lip of Nigerians that thronged the Airport Road to bid farewell to Yar‘Adua was different - why did you have to leave so early in life?

Other questions like it could read thus: Dear President, why did you have to leave without saying goodbye? So, you eventually gave in to that sickness we could not even pronounce?

On the other side of the road, a driver halted at the sight of the ambulance to enable his passengers take a good a look at the entourage; perchance, they could catch a glimpse of the departed servant-leader.

A woman spoke, ”Eh eee! So we can see him now? See the respect that is being given to the man even in death.”

Another one replied that it was his final rite as a president and observed that the convoy was crawling, in sharp contrast to what could have been the case if the president was still alive.

”No person would harm a dead man,” the taxi driver explained.

”Oh, I like Yar‘Adua. He was a good man.” ”I like him too,” another woman replied, ”but there are people, even from Katsina, who didn‘t like him,” she added.

”Who didn‘t like Yar‘Adua?” the taxi driver asked, raising his voice, ”Yar‘Adua was a good man. Can you compare him with the man that was there before him? Who likes that one?” he asked.

The banter continued until a male passenger changed the course of the vehicle. ”Driver, why have you ‘packed’ us here? Why are you not moving?”

Immediately, the driver sprang up to his responsibility as if he had been woken from his reverie. He made for the centre of the road and drove off as others continued to peep at the convoy and the ambulance with the inscription: State House Medical Centre.

For Bashir, the news of Yar‘Adua‘s death did not come as a surprise. The late president had not been seen in the public since November 23, 2009 that he had embarked on medical trip to Saudi Arabia for the treatment of acute pericarditis.

So, according to Bashir, the city had got used to being without Yar‘Adua. The aftermath of the several rumoured deaths of Yar‘Adua and the manner he was smuggled into the country from Saudi Arabia on February 10 was that many had adjusted their expectations.

Eventually he died. And it was time for the city to bid him farewell. And many did it in several ways. The empty office was one. The empty streets and the roads without traffic were another. Then there was the flag that flew at half mast.

And for those that had power supply, it was a day to stay glued to the television to watch the proceedings of the burial ceremony in Katsina.


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