AS BRUSSELLS STANDS STILL FOR AMBASSADOR FERNANDEZ
PENDULUM SEPTEMBER 19 BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Africans, it is good to be great. It is great to be accomplished. Ambassador Chief Antonio Oladeinde Fernandez combined both and much more. If there were doubts about the wonderfulness of God in the life of Ambassador Fernandez before now, they were gloriously removed yesterday at the one-of-a-kind funeral service which was powerfully and meticulously planned by his widow, Mrs Halima Fernandez, and members of their extensive and extended families. It won’t be an exaggeration to describe it as the event of this year already. Despite the short notice given to guests considering the suddenness of unfolding events, the occasion still drew a large turnout of caring mourners.
Ambassador Fernandez was clearly a global player and it reflected in his ways and acts. I can confirm that this fact paid off handsomely and resoundingly yesterday as the capital city of Belgium bid farewell to an amazing giant. If the dead could look back and see how he was celebrated in death, Chief Fernandez would have been so proud. His wife was on top of the game. She ensured and executed a burial fit for a quintessential King and revered Statesman. That was the only way to describe the uncommon spectacle that was quickly and efficiently smoothly organised and superbly staged in Brussels by one of Africa’s illustrious families.
Chief Fernandez was not an everyday man and even in death, he was able to demonstrate how much an enigma he was. The funeral turned out to be a reunion for most people. So it was for his children who had lived far apart in the past but were unified and united in grief. They chatted, mingled, consoled and comforted one another. I was struck by the remarkable resemblance between Antonio Fernandez Jnr, the eldest son and Chief.
He quipped to me that when some people saw him at the mortuary before the funeral they took to their heels believing Chief had resurrected. That was the kind of myth and legend that the Ajinijinni Ogun, Chief Deinde Fernandez engendered in his lifetime and obviously in death.
The maturity displayed by the eldest child, Mrs Teju Phillips was commendable and remarkable. At a stage during the sombre service, she called out her siblings and employed emotional skills to ask them to unite for the sake of their dotting dad. They complied and marched out gingerly towards the altar. Many were touched by this infectious display of camaraderie by children, some of whom had never met before the ceremony. I just prayed silently and just said “God bless these children for honouring their dad.”
The church itself is a popular monument in Brussels. Named the Church of Notre Dame du Sablon in the historic Sablon district of Brussels, the church is a Catholic Church originally built around 1400 as a chapel for crossbowmen. It was enlarged in the 15th and 16th centuries and took more than 100 years to complete all of the buildings.
Further restoration work was done about a 100 years ago. The Church is famous for its Brabantine Gothic architecture and Baroque chapels. It has an engaging long choir and enchanting glass canopies. The church is home to many works of Art and a connoisseur would simply not want to leave. Indeed, it is a glorious edifice and monument to Jesus Christ and a befitting place of worship for Kings, nobility and the wealthy and commoners alike. The service for Chief Fernandez was conducted in English and French.
And friends and families came from far and near. The programme was brisk and business-like. There was no time for unnecessary rigmarole. Everything moved at a brisk pace once it all started. The welcome words and prayer came from one of his sons, Mr Akin Fernandez, and the fiery preacher, Pastor Tunde Bakare, a close friend and confidant of the Chief.
The first reading was taken from the book of Acts 2, 25-28 and quickly followed by the book of Psalms 91. Thereafter came another reading from the Gospel according to Matthew 25, 14-30. General intercessions were then read out by the family. It was largely a day of prayers and songs. The music largely came from antiquity and we savoured the experience. The ceremony closed with the popular Frank Sinatra song, “I did it my way.” And it was time for the final journey. The Undertakers moved in expertly to lift the casket on their shoulders followed by the family and the entire congregation.
The family lined up at the entrance to have an opportunity to receive and thank their guests properly and appropriately. After some photo opportunities, off we went to the cemetary. Those in attendance included the family of Oba Rilwan Akiolu of Lagos, Chief Bode Emmanuel , Mr and Mrs Yemi Cardoso, Kojo Annan, Prince Nasiru Ado-Bayero, Wole Omoboriowo, Oz Giwa-Amu. Please watch out for more details later.
This journey made it possible to see the importance attached to the passage of Chief Fernandez. The convoy was accompanied and guided all the way by armed police outriders. There were at least six of them. We were informed that this was an honour reserved only for royalty and world Statesmen and it is clear that Chief Fernandez was considered as such. We were able to drive without any hindrance from the church to the cemetery and it was surreal not to have the trouble of obeying traffic lights in a major European city. I’m sure that citizens of our host country knew an elephant had fallen by the sheer magnitude and magnificence of what they saw on their streets.
I was particularly touched by the sheer number of former employees that turned up in Brussels yesterday. They came to bid farewell to their boss. A few of them spoke eloquently about how Chief Fernandez touched and changed their lives for the better. I was happy to see Jack, the former caretaker at the Premium Point Island which was owned by Chief in New York. Jack was the expert who rhapsodised us with endless tales about Chief when I visited the Island about 15 years ago with a renowned photographer from London, Mr Colin Ramsay.
Talking of Colin, you hardly find such selfless human beings these days. My friendship with this amazing man was obviously made in heaven. After New York, we flew to Nigeria to take on additional jobs. Our biggest task after that of Chief Fernandez was the palace of gold in Maiduguri, owned by Alhaji Mai Deribe. The humongous edifice in Maiduguri was an architectural masterpiece. Colin worked without consideration of financial gain. He just loved photography and always gladly and assiduously set about his work. He loved Nigeria and Nigerians and we loved him in return. Before I met him, he was already shooting the Page 3 girls for the Vanguard newspapers. He loved to shoot models and his wife was one.
I had not spoken to Colin in a while and decided to call him about four days ago to inform him about Chief Fernandez but his wife picked the phone. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked after my friend but the wife’s response knocked me out completely: “unfortunately…” she started and I just didn’t want to hear the rest. “Colin passed away about two years ago…” it came at me like thunderbolt. I was instantly dazed. How could Colin have departed this world like that without a chance for me to say goodbye to him. Colin was just too nice to go like that. I expressed my condolence to the wife and I felt sad all day.
I wonder what would become of Colin Ramsay’s works. It is always tragic when gifted people die. It is always hard if not impossible to find someone who can replicate the work of a genius. We are all guilty of thinking we can live forever and thus forget that every day is a bonus from God. My biggest regret as an African is the lack of documentaries, autobiographies and biographies on our icons. Just imagine that there was no book written on the breath-taking exploits of Chief Fernandez. It was one of my dreams to achieve but it never materialised. I think the trouble usually is that we all get sucked into our daily activities that we forget that the world needs to learn so much about us and the giants God regularly chooses to light up our firmament. We dally until it is too late.
And time never waits for anyone. We often postpone and procrastinate as if we have total control over matters of life and death. The lesson to learn today is that the world deserves to know more than we are currently revealing. We must encourage our great men and women to change their attitude to works of scholarship. We must endeavour to create time out of our busy schedules to write and talk. This is the only way to eliminate the ignorance of those who sit down on social media to attack every successful person without knowing anything about such people.
We have so many hardworking people in our midst but little is known about them and you can’t blame those who think everyone is a rogue based on personal bias and incurable ignorance. Let me conclude by saying it is not too late to write books on departed heroes. This is why I miss and will continue to miss Mr Dimgba Igwe who was my immediate boss at Weekend Concord. He and his own immediate boss, Mike Awoyinfa, caused a publishing revolution in Nigeria but the cruel death of Dimgba has reduced the capacity of the two inseparable friends to entertain and educate the world about great Africans. I hope that my boss for life, Mr Mike Awoyinfa, will continue to challenge himself by writing about dream-makers. His style of narration makes it easy for readers to follow and enjoy. It would be my greatest delight to collaborate with him on a few books, sooner than later. I think a book on Chief Fernandez would be a bestseller any day. It is a work that must be done.
ILE-IFE, OUR ILE-IFE Something serious is happening in Ile-Ife and it would require special prayers to avert the imminent danger ahead. The exit of Ooni Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II has created a major void and a possible crisis in the House of Oduduwa is in the offing. A Pastor has said I must be the next Ooni of Ife, a laughable joke indeed but we must go beyond that impossible prediction and pick the salient point. My interpretation is that the man has forewarned us about the danger that may arise if we fail to act in a fair and just manner.
What I see as causing the current tension is the decision by those in authority to change the custom of Ile-Ife by mere legislation and hide under a nebulous declaration that seeks to promote rotation which never existed in Ile-Ife history. They forget the importance and primacy of Ile-Ife not just in Yorubaland or even Nigeria, but throughout the diaspora where Yorubas abound in millions. By insisting on rotation in contravention of custom and conventional wisdom, they seek to destroy fairplay and I pray the Courts would be able to give proper interpretation and rescue our dear Ile-Ife from another round of unnecessary crisis. May God help us.