Let me thank the organizers of this memorable outing for asking me to be guest of honour. I must say right away that the organizers challenged me to do something here today, but were most unfair when they would not give me time to meet the challenge. And what was that challenge? I should incite in you, this audience, the need to connect to the person we know as Adefunke Motunlayo Sofowote. I should bring her personality to light before you so profoundly that you would, through what you would do here today show that she would not be lost to the ailment that had grounded her at the World Class University Teaching Hospital in Lubeck Germany where she had been going through unbearable pain that led to her departure from here a few days ago. But would the second leg of my assignment have been discharged because she has been in quotes lost to that ailment. I jump the gun by saying that Funke’s exit from here has changed nothing, from what you will see from my picture of her to you this evening.
My first impression of Funke was that she was doing what the husband Segun Sofowote told her, taught her. I knew Segun long before I met Funke. Segun is a man of letters. He sings, he writes, he dances, he directs. He is a communications expert. So anyone close to him must be taught by him, profoundly influenced by him. It was when Segun himself told me that what I saw Funke doing over the years in and with Glowing Channels which all of us looked forward to every December was her own baby. For good effect Segun told me that the incisive pieces she put on marble for those she celebrated every year were her personal coinages, not his.
I was later to know Funke more penetratingly when she spoke to me, as she spoke to everyone else in her most profound work, Mirror in My Hand I had the privilege of speaking about the book on December 17, 2006 at the Muson Centre, Lagos. Today, we have here in pictures that mirror in our hands. You will see so much of Funke in her relationship with Nature that you would not believe what you see is only one little slice of life she lived when she sojourned here. Read her Mirror in My Hand and you will see a collection of personal expressions and experiences that take you on a journey into the world of words.
In the collection, she tells us, “I have smiled words, yelled words, yawned words, frowned words, caressed words…” The collection include poems, prose, prayers, pictures, drawings et al, “I have danced, waltzed, sighed through words…” she says. And doing all that was for a purpose, “to unlock deep, deep, pulsating, vibrating sensations of my soul.” There is much much more she tells us in this remarkable book, “I have loved within words! I have stood guard and piloted to radiance with and in words..” So, in this little piece she entitled Salut, Funke invites all of you to spend some intimate moments with her as, let’s get it from her directly, “I materialize soothingly before you in this mirror in my hand.”
The materialization is so overwhelming you have no time to take in any breath while you chew every page of this intimidating documentation of the most intimate details of one person’s life you ever came across. It seems Funke did not want to leave out anything, but she did have to be guided by culture and decorum. Loudly absent from the book, from the first page to the last, was anything unedifying, negative, ignoble. She pulled you from ground level through the spheres to the throne of Grace. She yelled praise and requests and you saw the flow rise and rise and rise, hit target and return like the echo in a cave. Your eyes popped with wonder as healing waves enveloped you.
With so much to see in words and pictures; with so much information hidden in the most innocuous of references in the body of a rendition; with words jumping through your eyes into vistas where every sensation is a deed, you can hardly remember that the book is awfully crowded and that professional producers of books would have advised a lot of more infusion of fresh air into the pages of that monument.
But looking back, was this great work not a just reflection of the life of Funke who groaned for months in pains inflicted by Cancer, an ailment whose true cause the world has been trying to unravel! On March 25, 2014, she tells the story of her predicament in an impromptu video recording in Travemunde, Lubeck, Germany – how in November 2011 she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, had to be treated in Lagos and celebrated with friends for the relief she had; how later in 2012, the burning sensation returned and degenerated leading to the need for funding, rising from N5 million to N25million to cater for treatment, accommodation, transportation, clothing and feeding.
I am not aware of how much improvement has been made in my country Nigeria in tackling this scourge. Many more people die now of cervical cancer than a few years ago. And only those who have had cancer or have lived with those who had cancer can tell of the pain associated with those who have it or those who care for victims. I fall into the category of the latter.
Yes, I have a personal experience of living with a cancer patient for one year. She was my elder brother’s wife, and she came over to Lagos and had to go to Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH. It was there that, after investigations which took almost three months, she was told that she had to live with only one breast. For a woman six feet tall, huge and complete with what makes women women, you can think of what she was being told about a distortion which would hang over the chest area, if she must live. She chose life.
After this woman had lost her breast, the next point of call was the radiotherapy department. The whole place was full and there was this very lively man in charge who may not have been aware that people who claimed to be his agents were collecting money before intimating him of their presence. But it was not the corruption that was the main concern. It was the fact that the two radiotherapy machines were not functioning. The promise was made every time you went there that the machine would soon be operational. And people were right there, groaning, waiting for a machine to wake up and lessen the pains they were going through; waiting to take the next step to adjust to life after they had lost a breast. But there was a woman on my hands, confident that the necessary follow-up to the surgery she had undergone would soon provide an opportunity to adjust to a life without a breast. And the hospital where there ought to have been everything you needed to assure recovery from your ailments had no facility to save the life of a woman who had lost her breast to cancer. The woman died.
I wrote a letter to the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Shehu Musa. This was the time of Shehu Shagari. He sent me a reply which documented how much had been spent on that particular department and accused those working there of fraud. I was so upset that I asked where the nearest place was that patients could receive radiation treatment. Not that it mattered anymore but I just wanted to know. How could my country which had the experts to man most of the gadgets that will make the difference between life and death be lukewarm. If not insensitive about whether such commonplace gadgets were there or functioning. I was to be told later that after the operation had been done in Nigeria, people found their way to Monrovia, Liberia for the radiation treatment. The war in Liberia had not given it the ugly scars it was to bear in future.
So, Lanke, that was her name died because this country’s radiation machine was faulty. I do not know how many died before she came, and how many followed after her. I do not know if improvement have been made, but it was unfortunate that a specialist hospital which was supposed to have everything in place had not the basic things needed to attend to a woman whose breast had been cut off so that she could have relief from the pain she was going through. Believe me when I say that I was happy she passed on, not because I was celebrating death or was tired of going to hospital everyday for nine months, but that the body which was so much in pain had been pulled back to the soil where it came from in the first place. You need no lecture on the fact, because it is a fact, that the soul suffers no physical pain, be it cancer, madness of broken limbs.
Ladies and Gentlemen, if we had worked harder on our attention to the human condition in our country, we would be host to many from less privileged countries that would have come to Nigeria instead of going to Dubai, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia We should show appreciation today because of what Funke did for everyone while she lived here. She gave joy and she said on her sick bed in Germany on March 25. 2014 that even if she drops her flesh, she was sure that her works would continue to give joy. I bear witness that she is right, and the taste of the pudding will be in the eating when you see the pictures on display today, buy them or contribute generously to the fund-raising being organized through mounting this exhibition. I thank you for your attention.
Being an address given at a photo exhibition at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja on Saturday September 27, 2014
Prince Tony Momoh
Former Minister of Information & Culture