Letter to Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha

My Boss,

Truly, great people in history never wanted to be great for themselves. All they wanted was the chance to do well for others and be close to God. In the last several months, your will has been tested; your courage has been tested; your strength has been tested. Now, your patience and endurance are being tested. In retrospect, looking back was full of sadness and confusion. I didn’t realise how hateful some people could be until the period between September to December 2005. The more trouble, the more injustice done to you as a person, the more my feelings for you grew. It made me feel that we are here for a reason.

It is important for each of us to figure out why we were put here on earth by God. The importance of life is to accomplish the task we were given. Without working on this task, life is meaningless. Human beings have a basic need and desire to accomplish something before they die – to make a difference.

When a man of position and fame speaks out about injustice and pain and tells the truth, he risks losing everything that he has worked for, possibly even his life, but he helps millions. On the other hand, he may choose to keep silent and say or do nothing, just because he wants to keep the status quo. But I think you made your choice. My consolation is that after the travail, after you are back home, our people will see a stronger person who had also suffered hardship, but who had never forgotten his people or where he came from. They might recognise in themselves what they see in you. Your travail, in the final analysis, would lift spirits and elevate souls – not violence or war.

I believe that success is not achieved by winning all the time. Real success comes when we rise after we fall. We must be grateful for victories and success. We must also accept our fate when we fall and are grateful for our losses, because it acts as a catalyst for us to achieve much more.

It is the heart that makes a man great – his intentions, his thoughts, and his convictions. The body and the mind are only vehicles for experiencing life. The truth is that, you must realise that how you handle this moment in history, will affect your friends and family. This is because everyone counts on your patience and perseverance. The awareness of this should be a source of strength to you. This is the very essence of faith. That is, believing in the things the eyes cannot see. Therefore, you must have faith in God.

One thing that has always amazed me is how many people question the existence of God. They are always searching for proof especially when they are faced with difficulties. To prove the existence of God, one must remember Job. God is all-knowing, all-forgiving. To be God-like and know God, one must not remember hate. Some people hold on to hatred, revenge, and prejudice. But there comes a time in every person’s life when he has no choice but to forgive or he will be consumed by bitterness.

In my last letter, I told you about my meeting with Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I was really pleased to meet these great men of the 21st Century. Mandela knew adversity first hand, as he struggled and fought against the apartheid machine in South Africa–apartheid, the terrible, and often violent, institutionalised racism that for many years held the South African society in its grip. Mandela, like you, understood (understands) what it means to fight against enormous odds. He went to prison for nearly three decades for his activities because he knew there was no alternative. Nelson Mandela is a man of great personal honour, strength, and integrity, but he was fighting for something greater than himself, and that was the freedom of an entire nation.

In life, there will be setbacks, there will be challenges, and there will be obstacles. Sometimes you may feel as if your obstacles are insurmountable. These are the times you must be strong. If you experience injustice, keep your head up and your heart open. Bitterness will only weaken you. Don’t let anger consume you. Never let resentment into your heart – it will only weigh you down.

Again, looking back now, I can justly say that your greatness is in your courage, in your strength, in your selflessness, in your love for your people and in your compassion. In my mind and eyes, you were even greater at being a loving friend than you were as a governor. This I will not forget. You have lived your life with strength and courage, and those virtues live on inside you. You have lived a life in pursuit of peace. I mention peace because, I was personally involved in conflict resolution. I do remember the turbulent waves we overcame to rescue those oil workers in Sangana. Now I know that peace resides inside you. You lived a life of love; all that love now resides inside you.

Please don’t get me wrong, you are not blameless or guiltless, but that is OK because we are nothing but humans. But I say this with humility, like every coin, you supposedly must have two sides – bad and good; but your goodness and compassion outnumber your bad – by far.

When I spoke to you from Harvard, I did not bother to ask of your health. I mean your physical health, because I know that in spite of your operation and general physical health that are in bad shape, I am more concerned with your mental health and spiritual health. You are a man that has seen war and physical pain. However I do hope that you are responding to treatment.

I have reconciled my health problems, however I will also like to check again in Hungary – I was told there lives a great medical professor. I will also repeat a visit to the hospital in Moscow and Kiev. Let me just do my best. At least Eastern Europe has good doctors and facility and they are extremely cheaper. Well, we must always be mindful that each day is a gift from life that can be lost at any moment. The body and the mind are only vehicles for experiencing life. Let me conclude this letter with a Sufi story:

A Story of Gratitude and Generosity (A Sufi Story about a Slave Named Omar)

Once upon a time there was a slave named Omar. He had been brought before the king with one hundred other slaves. From the moment the king laid eyes upon Omar, he knew that he was someone special. The beauty of Omar’s aura enchanted the king so much that he instantly made him his assistant. It was not long before Omar gained the trust and confidence of the king, who put him in charge of his treasury, where all of his precious gold and jewels were kept. Many of the king’s men became envious of Omar’s new position. They could not understand why he should rise from a slave to keeper of the king’s treasure.

Soon their envy grew into spite. They began to tell stories in order to bring Omar into the king’s disfavour. One of the stories was that Omar woke up before everyone else in the palace and went into the room where the King’s jewels were kept – and that he was stealing little jewels every day. When the king was told, the king responded, No, I cannot believe such a thing! You’ll have to show me. Therefore they brought the king to watch in secret as Omar entered the treasury room. The king saw Omar open the safe. But what did he take out of it? It was not the king’s jewels, but his old ragged cloths that he had won as a slave. He kissed them, pressed them to his face, and laid them on the table. Incense was burning and the king could see that Omar was doing something important to him.

Omar put on his old cloths, looked at himself in the mirror and said, “Look, Omar see what you were before. Know that it was not your worthiness that brought you to this position, but the king’s generosity and goodness in overlooking your faults. So guard this duty as your most sacred trust, in appreciation of his generosity and kindness. Most important, never forget your first day – the day when you came to this town. For, it is remembrance of this day that will keep you grateful.”

Omar then took off his old slave cloths and put them back into the safe. Then he put on his princely robe. As he headed for the door, he noticed the king standing in the doorway.

The king looked at Omar with eyes full of tears and said, “People told me that you had stolen jewels from my treasure room, but I have found that you have stolen my heart. Omar, you have taught me a valuable lesson. It is a lesson we all must learn, whatever our position in life may be. We must always be grateful, even for hardship we have known. Then the king looked into Omar’s eyes and said, “Omar, I may be the king, but it is you who have the royal heart. (Culled from: The Price of Loyalty).

With all my sincerity and everlasting loyalty,

Steve

This letter was written to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha during his detention in Lagos, 2006. Reproduced from: Azaiki, Steve (2016). Thoughts on Nigeria (TON) pp. 326 – 329.