Shortly before noon on September 8, I received a confirmation that my godfather and maternal uncle, Mr Cletus Ogbuanya, a retired superintendent of police, had breathed his last in Port Harcourt. The news got me asking the same questions many have asked down through the centuries: Why do good people suffer? Why do good people die before their time? Why is life so unfair?

This was a man who lived by the dictum, “With malice toward none, with charity for all”, which was popularised by Abraham Lincoln. Who wouldn’t love such a man?

He might not be Saint Cletus, but I’m convinced that he belongs to the ages. I’ve known him since I was 5 years or 6, so I’m supposed to testify about him. And my testimony could be corroborated by anyone else who had associated with him: Cle was never rich in material terms. But he was rich in good deeds: compassionate, considerate, selfless, dependable, upright, forgiving, and likable.

During the darkest days of my own childhood in my mother’s village, I developed an affinity with him for a simple reason: I had no reason to be unhappy whenever he was around. He worked hard to give us a reason to live in the face of agonising misery caused by personal losses and crippling poverty after the civil war. Cle understood the power of hope in the midst of despair. He knew how to lift one’s spirit, not dampen it. He gave freely, but did not expect much – he wasn’t greedy. He didn’t compete with or compare himself to anyone else – envy had no place in his life. He understood that time heals all wounds and that perseverance pays. Those were the impressions I formed of him 43 to 46 years ago.

But my biological father had recognised the sterling qualities of this man much earlier. When I was to be baptised as an infant in April 1965, it was my father who invited Cle to be my godfather. And so he became my godfather at baptism. My father wanted his first son to be like Cle, and, perhaps, it’s the reason I shared certain traits with him.

To Cle, money didn’t really matter in life. He had equal respect for the rich and the poor; he never judged anyone by the weight of his pocket or the office he held.  President or pauper, each deserved same respect. For he knew that a day like this would come – death is the ultimate leveller, the destination all mankind share. He walked in the footsteps of Jesus and the saints; he was my angel.

Victim of oppressive Nigeria

My godfather was a victim of Nigeria’s unjust system, just like millions of other compatriots. In his case, Nigeria chastised him unto death: While he was admitted to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, in July, the doctors and other medical staff went on strike, abandoning their patients to a precarious fate.

The system started working against him from birth. Born into a poor home like every member of his generation from this part, he lost his father while still in the womb, and his mother as a young man. [He told me his mom died on July 1, 1964.] From Primer to Standard 6 in primary school, Cle took the first position in his classes. Most of his years in secondary school were, however, years spent fighting a civil war. And immediately the Nigeria-Biafra war ended in 1970, while many in south-eastern Nigeria were still contending with psychotic depression caused by the war, he and other students were herded into the exam hall for their Cambridge/WASC.

Thereafter, he desired a white-collar job badly, but there was none especially for candidates from the defunct Biafran enclave. Until then, it was unheard of that someone came out of college and couldn’t find a civil service job. Worse for the school leavers from his area, villagers didn’t have kind words for anyone who stayed back with them after they had been trained at college. So, for almost three years, Cle and his mates were without a regular job. One of them suffered from depression and consequently committed suicide.

Right man for wrong job

It wasn’t until early in 1974 that he was recruited into the police, a nightmarish job for a gentleman par excellence. This man of integrity couldn’t have joined the police by choice, however. He did because it was the only job available to him then. Because he was tall and energetic, the recruiters easily engaged him. Nonetheless, he made the most of it, maintaining law and order but distancing himself from the endemic corruption often associated with the police in Nigeria. That’s the reason he never became rich.  I can give several instances of “opportunities” to make money that came his way as a police officer which he rejected.

Only recently, a former commissioner of police in Lagos State, Abubakar Tsav, stated that any policeman who built a house was a thief. I believe Tsav said the truth. No civil servant can build a house – any modern house – with savings from salaries and allowances alone, if he was truly honest. So, although Cle invested in his children’s education, he was unable to build a house after 35 years in the police. It was from the gratuities paid him seven years ago that he started building a house in the village.

Someone of his character should have been a teacher. He would have made a good history teacher as well as a good writer. If you spent an hour with him, you would hear tales of events that happened in the 1940s and 1950s told accurately as if they happened a day before. He wrote and spoke impeccable English – he wrote better than many of today’s PhDs.

Triumphal exit

In many ways, however, God was kind to Cle even while he was here on earth. He was lucky to serve in the police for 35 years without blemish. He was not killed by armed robbers or militants or terrorists, as many policemen have been.  He was never demoted or sacked; he rose through the ranks to become a superintendent of police (SP). And he lived to old age: 78 years. He’s blessed with a wonderful spouse, five brilliant children and six promising grandchildren, some of whom are likely to take after him.

I’m sure he’s already in paradise where there’s no pain, no tears and no worries. He won’t suffer anymore. His was a triumphal exit.



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