Thursday, June 23, 2016 12:09 pm
By Moses Adebayo Alao
“There is no death, my daughter. People only die only when we forget them.” –Isabel Allende
Not many Nigerians might know or have read the works of Isabel Allende, a Chilean-American writer, but some of her words carry so much meaning as to make her an icon, especially for the women folk, who have always been central to her themes. But quite a lot of Nigerians would know and easily reckon with the Registrar/Chief Executive of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Emeritus Professor Dibu Ojerinde (OON), who lost his beautiful and ever-supportive soul mate and an academic of great repute, Dr Odusola Dibu-Ojerinde, to the cold hands of death exactly nine years ago today.
One of the things that would always make Allende stand out is what appears to be her brazen courage and lack of fear for death. As a magical realist, Allende successfully blends myths and reality in most of her works, which might explain her conclusion in the lines above that “there is no death.” One of the things that will make Dr (Mrs) Dibu-Ojerinde, who before her death on June 23, 2007, was already a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and quite close to becoming a professor like her husband, unforgettable was her passionate trust in God and commitment to serving Him.
For Allende, people only die when those living forget them. Indeed, for those who believe in God and His saving grace, death is not something to be afraid of, as the Bible says in Hebrews 2:14-15 that Christ has, through His death, delivered us from the fear of death. John Donne, who came centuries earlier than Allende, had also expressed similar fearlessness in his poem entitled “Death be not proud.” The words of Allende, Donne and in fact, the eternal and unblemished words of the Bible about the ephemerality and transient nature of life and the powerlessness of death over saved souls, can only combine to soothe the pain that the death of a loved one can leave in one’s heart. Emeritus Professor Ojerinde, his children and family members as well as the people of Igboho in Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State, who have either benefited directly from Dr (Mrs) Dibu-Ojerinde’s good heart and humaneness and a teeming group of women and students who must have passed through her tutelage, would have drawn inspiration from the fact that nine years after, the academic and pro-women empowerment icon continues to be talked about.
Growing up as a teenager in Igboho, I always saw and admired Dr (Mrs) Dibu-Ojerinde’s vivacity and accessible disposition, thinking what a great woman she must be. Though her towering stature and beautiful looks could make anyone shy, her sterling qualities as a woman towered above all, as she always appeared free and uninhibited in relating with everyone across all social strata. But that was just the view of someone far away. Having related with people from different backgrounds and beliefs in the last nine years, seven of them as a reporter, I have heard countless testimonies about the woman I had always respected and her unassuming husband, whose service to Nigeria in the last two decades can best be described as unquantifiable. From testimonies about her academic erudition to commendations about her magnanimity, Dr (Mrs) Dibu-Ojerinde, despite her demise, has remained ever fresh in the hearts of people. Hundreds of beneficiaries of her goodwill continued to celebrate her life and confirming the words that life is measured not by its length but the depth of it.
As a testimony to the indelible marks Dr (Mrs) Dibu-Ojerinde left in the hearts of countless women and others, the Centre for Gender and Social Policy Studies, OAU, in its celebration of the 2016 International Women’s Day entitled: “Step it up for gender equality,” on March 8, 2016, conferred a posthumous award on her, bringing to the fore the memories of a woman who loved other women and sought their good in every way possible as an emancipator and empowerment agent. Her life reflected the words of Allende, that “women working together – linked, informed and educated – can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet.” It was a commitment she lived for and carried out till her last days. A commitment for which she has continued to and will always be remembered for, though death tried in vain to end that commitment.
23 June, 2016 was a day like no other. It started normally but ended on a sad note for Igboho community, as it lost a great daughter that Dr (Mrs) Dibu-Ojerinde has become to that serene town. But the pain was greater for Emeritus Professor Ojerinde and his immediate family, who lost a jewel, a precious woman and mother and a pillar of support, a pain that God is healing everyday through His mercies and the beautiful testimonies about the awesome and exemplary life that Dr Dibu-Ojerinde lived. Through these testimonies, Dr Dibu-Ojerinde’s immediate family and indeed, well-wishers, can after nine years, boldly recite the lines of Donne’s poem: “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death…” and even sing Christ’s victory song, “death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?”