In Nigeria, 2014 was very hectic. Boko Haram became very emboldened and for once, it felt as if the north was being governed by Boko Haram and the remaining by Goodluck Jonathan but hey! Its always hectic for Nigeria, so why the fuss? It was a year exactly on November 12 2014 when Professor Festus Iyayi died on his way to attend a national Executive Council meeting of Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU) in Kano. The ASUU branch in my school (Obafemi Awolowo University) celebrated the anniversary with a colloquium. I do not know whether the event was a national ASUU event but the poster that was out on campus to announce the event got me thinking about several things: The man Iyayi, what he fought for in his life, his legacy, the current state of education in Nigeria…
I waited patiently for my fellow students on this day, for the other stakeholders in the education sector too, to remember Iyayi and to honour him for his role in the attempt to liberate the University system but behold! I got none. Even on social media, we were too busy discussing sundry issues like Kim Kardashian posting her nude, or is it semi-nude pictures online to ‘break the internet.’ We are always too busy to think deeply. (Apologies to those who are guilty of this)That day sealed the claim that Nigerians have a very short memory. No student organization/union did anything to appreciate such a man. Anyway, you cannot blame we young ones totally, it is just how Nigeria is, Iyayi just wasn’t ‘Nigerian smart enough.’ He was too patriotic in a country that consumes her own. Such a talent! Hardworking, honest, intelligent… A literary and social critic with award winning novels. People like him don’t stay in this country; they leave for another place where they will be appreciated for all their many talents and abilities. Iyayi refused to join the brain drain, despite losing his job at a point.
Many questions remain unanswered concerning Iyayi’s death. What truly killed him? What caused the accident? (we all know it was the reckless driving of Kogi State Governor, Idris Wada’s convoy that caused the accident) But the many conspiracy theorists claiming that it was a murder, are they correct? The picture of Iyayi’s corpse that circulated on the internet is not something I can publish here, it’s too gory but it is on Sahara Reporters. His death was ruled as an accident, which seems true but the circumstances surrounding the accident are questionable, the silence that followed his murder is also questionable. Iyayi’s death has joined an already long and growing list of unsolved cases in Nigeria: Alfred Rewane, Kudirat Abiola, Olaitan Oyerinde, Dipo Dina and M. K. O. Abiola’s death, the abduction of the Chibok girls… The list continues.
Another issue with Iyayi’s death is the state of what he stood and fought for in his lifetime. Many of his former colleagues have trampled on his grave repeatedly by hiking tuition fees in their respective Universities. University Students joined their lecturers in demanding for a revitalization of the system, the battle seemed won after six months of struggling and just a few months after the battle, fees were hiked to as high as over 300% in some schools. The claim is that the intervention fund is yet to be released despite the fact that it was deposited in the central bank before the strike was called off. There are many technicalities involved in accessing the funds and these has been the excuses of University managements but whose fault is that? Students? Parents? The finger points back to the university management. I dare say that ASUU only won the battle and not the war. The struggle continues until the money is accessed by all the universities. If the government can trample on Iyayi’s grave by adding his death to a growing list of unsolved cases then why can’t we students do the same? If Iyayi’s comrades who are ASUU members can do it then why can’t we do it too? The ASUU case is for another day.
Another hero (For me, calling her ‘heroine’ will diminish the importance of what she did in such a patriarchal society) is late Dr. Stella Adadevoh who has been claimed by Western countries even more than us. She reaffirms the notion that nobility runs in the blood because she’s from the lineage of noble men; Herbert Macaulay and Samuel Ajayi Crowther. She singlehandedly saved Nigeria from the dreaded Ebola virus. (yes! Singlehandedly) Imagine if she had referred Patient Zero, Patrick Sawyer to Lagos University Teaching Hospital, with the contacts and the risks. What if she had allowed him leave for Calabar, Imagine the transport from Obalende to MMI Airport, the contact with people in the plane, people in Calabar, and if he had made it to the conference. Nigeria might have become history, we won’t be thinking of corruption or elections. We owe the whole #SaiBuhari and #GEJTransformation noise to this woman.
The importance of what that woman did can never be overstated and there is no posthumous honour that can be equal to what she did. Although, there has been several calls for her honour and I’m sure she will still get more recognition in death but she’s someone we should never forget. CNN named her alongside Lupita N’yongo, Angelina Jolie, Chimamanda Adichie on a global list of most inspiring women of 2014. She deserves it and even more. Unlike Festus Iyayi, the Western Press has claimed her, even the mainstream Western countries recognized her role in saving the world. A Western Journalist called her ‘British trained’ Nigerian doctor because of her postgraduate training at the University of London. Her MBBS degree at the University of Lagos was shoved aside and the celebrated aspect is her British training. To racial bigots, she’s too noble to be black, and even Nigerian. On a YNaija.com poll for person of the year 2014, she scored 40% of total votes. (As at 26 December 2014) She deserves the Nigerian of the year award and she deserves a memorial that will last as long as the present generation of Nigerians lives. For me, Stella Adadevoh is my Person of the Year.
Ameyo Stella Shade Adadevoh and Festus Ikhuoria Iyayi, you will never be forgotten. Like Britons said of their dead soldiers, I say:
They shall Not Grow Old, As we that are left grow old,
Age Shall not weary them, Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, And in the morning,
We will remember them.
I have made up my mind, that I will keep these ones forever, even though I can’t live forever. That I will keep them away openly, open enough for future generations to see, and to ask who they were. I will be a bridge, between today and tomorrow, I will tell of their commitment, their loyalty and their patriotism, their virtues I will sing so that they might live forever. Above all, I will tell of how they were/are Nigerians. Sleep on, patriots.