For about five months, Motunlayo Sofowote, founder/president, Glowing Channels Foundation, battled with a life-threatening tumour that shrunk after a ‘farewell’ concert
Within five months, she has had a remarkable experience. It started unexpectedly. Towards the end of November 2011, Motunlayo Sofowote, founder/president, Glowing Channels Foundation, 66, was diagnosed with cervical cancer, a deadly ailment that is said to be responsible for the death of one woman in every hour in Nigeria. For a woman who has been very active over the past few decades, as a writer, an artist, motivational speaker, a philanthropist and a volunteer in a number of activities that have to do with upliftment of humanity, it was a signal to slow down. In her own words: “At the close of 2011, I was poleaxed by a virtually devastating ailment that was akin to receiving a departure (death) sentence!” Besides, as her treatment at the EKO Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos, progressed just before Christmas, she found that she was getting weaker. “I was getting really ill,” she noted.
It was at this juncture that she started making plans to travel to Germany for further medical assistance. But before leaving for Germany, she decided to organise a concert to show appreciation for the loving help that surrounded her within this trying period. This idea however did not please her family and close friends. According to her, “Some of my friends were upset. ‘Where is the energy to undertake this?’ they asked me.” Besides, the message she sent out, inviting people for the event, made it look like a farewell concert.
But surprisingly, as activities towards the concert gathered momentum, waves of energy filled her soul, as her attention shifted from herself and her debilitating ailment to preparations towards the event. “Though it appeared absurd at first, the moment I accepted to organise the concert, my energy level came right up and I was able to take away my focus from my illness and put it into something outside of me that is full of joy and happiness,” she observed. She also attributes this partly to the prayers, compassion, love and healing thoughts that flowed to her from all quarters.
At the end of the day, the concert, which was dubbed: The Splendour of Goodness & Gratitude Concert was adjudged an astounding success in content, turnout and ambience.
It drew the crème de la crème of the Nigerian society, particularly some of the pioneers of the television drama and theatre arts in the country, like Segun Olusola, 77; Taiwo Ajai-Lycet, the 71-year-old actress, as well as the likes of Tunde Thompson, formerly of The Guardian newspapers, some royal fathers and indeed Nigerians from all walks of life.
In her opening remarks, Sofowote noted that the concert was structured deliberately to start like the life of a child, which begins in a boisterous manner. This soon became evident when the group, Footprints of David, a collection of children between the ages of six and 14, under the tutelage of Oluwaseun Awobajo, sauntered onto the stage. The group’s performance, which kept the audience clapping intermittently, was an energetic display that started very gently and slowly, only for the tempo to gradually change to a fast beat, the boisterousness promised by the chief hostess in whose honour the concert was being staged. Indeed, the moment the troupe of energetic, bubbling lads appeared, leaping and springing everywhere on stage, the atmosphere was electrified as the audience settled down to enjoy the show.
This was followed by moments with Enotie Ogbebor and his group. They entertained the audience with a delightful rendition of the popular humanitarian classic, ‘We Are The World’, by United Artists. But the third number, ‘Iye’, originally Sir Victor Uwaifo’s rendition, was easily the best performance for the evening by the group. It transported the older generation in the audience back in a nostalgic trance. At the end of the performance, it elicited a thunderous ovation from the audience.
Thereafter, the Society for the Performing Arts in Nigeria, SPAN, performed ‘The Stoic’s Anthem’. SPAN also performed Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World.’ United Kingdom-based violinist and singer, Anuli Igbesoko, from Aguata Local Government, Anambra State, backed by strings ensemble, also thrilled the audience with ‘Ev’ry Valley’ and ‘Halleluia’, originally by Handel and Mozart respectively. Ajai-Lycett, who sat on the front row, was caught rocking to the nostalgic rhythm of Uwaifo’s ‘Iye’ rendered by Ogbebor. Obvoiusly, she was also delighted by the performance of the Footprints of David. This is how she summarised the concert: “Ah, terrific! It’s good to see not just the kids (referring to Footprints of David), but also all the talents that performed here tonight.”
All the patrons who thronged the assembly hall, Grail Land, Iju Hills, Iju, venue of the concert, did so not just attend because of the evening of musical entertainment, poetry, drama and dance that was promised, but also to honour a woman who has done so much for them over the years. During her introductory remarks before the show kicked-off, she implored members of the audience to sit through the entire concert, and not to run away midway. “Don’t run away; I love you; I want to spend time with you because I don’t know how much time I have left,” she pleaded. The 66-year-old explained later that it was not a farewell concert. “Its not a farewell concert really; on the contrary it is a thanksgiving concert. But I deliberately had to slot this in because it looks like I will disappear from the country for a while once I’ve finished my orthodox treatment, and when that happens I don’t know when I’m coming back. So, to put something on the minds of my loved ones, friends and well-wishers, I arranged this concert,” she explained.
Sofowote never passes up an opportunity to celebrate every significant moment of life in her own way. As part of her treatment, she was not allowed to have a bath for 63 days, and the day she was given the go-ahead to do so, she headed for Seme beach and had a video shot of a particular poem she wrote way back in 1987. She narrated her experience at the chemotherapy department: “I was burnt; all my body was burnt and it hurt after two weeks of that treatment. I was on fire yet you couldn’t see anything I was passing through; it was severe, and to top it all, from December 19, 2011 to February 23, 2012, I was under strict instruction not to take a bath; I couldn’t pour water on my body, and yet I was to do hospital rounds every day except Saturdays and Sundays. The very day they allowed me to have my bath was February 23 and I headed for the beach. So, sit back and watch the video clip I brought back for you.”
The video clip showed her clad in a white garment flowing to her feet blowing in all directions, powered by wind from the raging sea. This gave her a ghostly, fairy look. Staring into infinity before the wide, endless stretch of waters, even taking photographs of the waves, she cut the picture of a sailor who, having disembarked from a ship after a long voyage, was savouring the latter end of a journey; savouring memories of an exciting, eventful trip and taking one final look at the sea before saying a final goodbye. It was emotional, to say the least, and in a sense...unnerving. The large auditorium was silent with many quite uncomfortable as everyone tried to read through her thoughts written on the screen in a poetic rendition.
“Waves of my inner mobility, rolling forth, and rolling up. Waves of illuminating vibrations, sweeping, lashing, washing, redeeming, billowing; oh, waves of my inner mobility...rolling forth this moment....” The outlook was like she was telling the Almighty, “I have come; I have lived; I have put in my all; now I am at this sudden end. Here I am, Lord: what next? What now?” Wilfred Morgan directed the video shooting, while the editor/cameraman was Tony Banjo Knight. But producer is the host and subject: Sofowote.
Less than a week after the concert, she sent the following words in short message service, SMS, to virtually everyone that attended the event: “The Lord be exalted. This is a miracle; overwhelming and humbling! On Wednesday March 21, I went to see the oncologist. Lo and behold, the tumour had shrunk!” She was to explain further later: “I was looking forward to having my chemotherapy the following Monday. I’ve already had a blood test the previous Friday, preparatory to the chemotherapy session. But I was informed that fateful Monday that my blood level was still not up to par to take the chemotherapy. From the last chemotherapy to the present one, there’s been about five and half week’s gap (sic). And I was so disturbed because I was supposed to take the therapy every week. So, I requested to see the oncologist. After examining me, he said I would not need the remaining two chemotherapy session because the tumour had shrunk remarkably.”
Thus, Sofowote has every reason to be grateful to God: Between November 20, 2011 and March 21, 2012, she had had a full dose of cervical cancer and come out alive.