It has been one year since Ayo Odebisi went on another kind of going abroad trip. When I heard and looked at his photo, I saw more the love and friendship we had, and spontaneously I tried to reach out to him, I named him “Jimmy”. All the people I love I give pet names, Paramole’s has been the only posthumous instance. In the eulogy “I Will not Mourn for Ayo Odebisi (Paramole)” I wrote what many have said encapsulated his life and what he represented on one page. I will not repeat such here. What I valued most about Odebisi was his perspicacious construction of eudaimonia in the image of the 4-7 Creed, the Creed of the Pyrates. His approach to creating a better society could never have been more sincere or practical, but it somehow remains to many lofty.
I will now share the profound lessons I learnt from Odebisi in his quest to attain a better society with the cooperation of brothers and others, who cared to participate. Please feel free to evaluate them as I present them.
His starting point was to develop a pure conscience. Odebisi contended that this is essential to contributing to the creation and maintenance of a better society. It sounds like the stuff of Yoga, holy tracts, New Age idealism or ancient wisdom. Perhaps even preachy. However, when I asked how one could achieve such, his answer was straightforward, “expending vigorous energy in doing good”. It had a touch of universality to it. He furthered, many have countless moral dilemmas as to whether to do good or do bad things to achieve their immediate and long term goals in life. They also have ethical dilemmas about doing good for neighbours and the wider society or not. He also distinguished between doing good and having a gentle but weak nature; there should be swift and fair justice in the background of doing good. Vigorous energy in doing good without expediency in mind reliably helps resolve such dilemmas. It creates a consistent perspective for self-reflection, a reflection of society’s institutions; people can then understand their failings and follies and improve upon them. Inexplicably, he took strengths for granted. Paramole strove to attain freedom from wrongdoing, how else could one acquire the consciousness to establish and further a just society. He affirmed this made him a Pyrate.
The person who effects change in society becomes a leader. I already knew this, but Odebisi’s fresh touch to it was “be ready to be unsung”. Leading does not mean being the frontman, it is the practice of tending to significant affairs with a full sense of responsibility. He contended that one considerable limitation to fostering a better society is the quest for fame, notoriety, honours and money for effecting necessary change—especially the unfettered pursuit of money in the name of doing good. In the bid for attaining a better society, the preponderance of change is compulsory, but how many care to do it by example or for its own sake? Creating a better culture of institutions with someone else’s money, time and skills or with a high office is very fashionable in Nigeria or elsewhere. Where are all the genuine volunteers and service persons? Most want someone else or the state to bear their costs and risks, but when success arrives, they then seek to keep the benefits and rewards all to themselves.
Many of the significant positive changes in Nigeria have their credits written in the names of political leaders who were neither engineers nor technology managers, medical doctors nor health managers, educationists nor education managers etc. Those who came up with the ideas and did the work behind such successes remain unsung and sometimes punished for doing too good a job. Being unsung is what being a Pyrate is really about, and it explains the 4-7 Creed effortlessly. He asks, “why should a Pyrate seek visible rewards for fighting the ills of society or practising the 4-7 Creed?” Why should anyone accept the responsibility to be sung?
Do your best in all relationships was another of his principles. Odebisi was very charismatic, well-connected, influential and generous. His personality was host to an ambience of possibility and opportunity. He never had a shortage of “friends” or hangers-on. I thus asked him how he was able to cope with the fake, dishonest, exploitative and cunning folk who attached themselves to him cloaked as genuine associates. His answer was again simple, “become proficient in meeting the needs of others without neglecting your own. People who thrive on expediency will always abandon you when you sate their needs or have failed to use you the way they intended. They come and go as they need to. The proficiency you acquire in working with them is your enlightenment. Multiple proficiencies you can acquire through interactions make you more competent in contributing to the attainment of the better society.” I put it another way, to “increase others without decreasing one’s self”. Such is the very foundation and enablement of sustainable brotherhood and civilisation.
There is no doubt these lessons have had a considerable impact on my life and struggles for well over a decade now. Others will tell you of similar or even different lessons they learnt from Odebisi; the man was undoubtedly a sage and had much to teach people. Ultimately, the most essential wisdom Odebisi shared anyone, or everyone who cared to listen was “practice what you preach without exception”, and he did so mainly leading by example. We should remember Paramole’s concept of a flourishing life is not all about rigorous thought and steadfast practices; it also includes joy, happiness, laughter, fun and shared experiences. The dividends of a better society is a better life for all in all legitimate senses.
Now, I do not see Odebisi as some historical artefact in the lives of many and mine. He lives on through the enduring richness of interactions with countless people who cherished him and in the memory of his example. I seem to remember him when I encounter incredible challenges, and his memory still helps out.