FOR our family every November 20 is special, but this one was particularly so for we commemorated the fifth year of the passing on of our dear daughter. Mrs. Onyema Fern Eseka. Her husband, an exceptionally loving man, offered thanksgiving for her at Mass at Church of the Assumption, Falomo, Ikoyi, and, with their children, CJ and Lulu, had an in memoriam for her in the inside back page of The Guardian, that same day. My wife and I took part in the Corpus Christi procession, in spite of our weaknesses, in thanksgiving to God for Onyema, joining Chuka and the children in their memories. So, this was my November 20, 2011. Tell us about yours.
The following day, Monday, November 21, 2011, our copy of The Guardian arrived about 10:00 a.m. And there in his splendid white jumper, his hands in apparent gesture to eternity, was a picture that almost drove me into a stroke: The Guardian had it, ‘Alex Ibru, The Journey Ends.’ I was fixed to the spot and tried to re-live the day. It then occurred to me that while my wife and I were in the procession, bearing Our Lord, with all our might, Alex was already in the clouds of eternity, perhaps, yes, perhaps, bearing Our Lord also in his feeble arms. Or could it be the other way round, that Our Lord actually bore Alex in his superior and exalting arms, like his own little child.
It is difficult for me to say as precisely as I can how The Guardian has helped shape my identity since 1997, when I turned 60 and wrote my first article in the paper, ‘On Turning 60.’ Before this, one was being taught how to write by the masters themselves, in The Guardian. In seconadry school, St. Patrick’s College, Calabar, we wrote an essay every Sunday throughout my life in the school and one gained some perspective of elegant writing; I say ‘perspective’ because we were still toddlers at writing. We went on to University College, Ibadan (UCI), and our teachers were mostly English. So we tried to speak as they spoke. We graduated and were now on our own. We were to take the world by storm with our knowledge and UCI culture.
By the time we graduated, in 1961, we had the Daily Times and a few other papers. Much of what I can remember from my years of growing up was the column, ‘Inside Stuff,’ by Zik, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, where one would read erudite stuff like ‘Before us lies the open grave.’ From the sixties to the eighties there was little that would capture my attention and keep my imagination engrossed on gilded English literature, such as I had read in my school days in Calabar.
Then came Alex Ibru with The Guardian: a whole new world opened up before us: the paper was classical, commanding in discourse and increasingly inspiring in theme and direction. I am writing from Awka without access to my library in Nguru where most of my books are and where I have my Guardian papers of over twenty years. But who can forget Stanley Macebuh, as inimitable and incompartable as you would ever get; Sahara, as the likes of Profs. Isidore Okpwho, or Godwin Sogolo would call him. He taught us how to write. It was a joy to read him, and I was one with the world of my dreams when I held his article in my hand, my eyes crisply crawling from one engaging word to another. My Nigeria of the University of Ibadan and its quintessential Senor Staff Club now had a whole new fragrance of elegance, style and candour. I could rejoice and dance just to read Stanley in The Guardian. He brought stars and brains to the paper and we gingerly moved from Stanley to Onwuchekwa Jemie to Okey Ndibe, and some others whose names I do not readily recollect. My good friend Prof. Godwin Sogolo was there for two years or so, writing on Mondays, and his piece was my breakfast reading that set the tone of the week’s activity. I do not know why Stanley left, but he gave me indigestion and even constipation with his exit. But the learning experience he had started in some of us could not be stopped, even if unequalled.
In time we had Olatunji Dare, the master of satire, who regaled my thoughts with perspicacity. I do not know if Dare was there in 1997 when I wrote my first article, ‘On turning sixty.’ But soon G.G. Darah came on board and I once called him about an article I had sent in, and he graciously obliged me and published it. It was my first phone call to anyone at The Guardian. I read him, and continued to learn how to write; not that I could write as these masters did, but I had an example I could follow. My dear friend Prof. Femi Osofisan came in in this early defining period and kept us spellbound with the theatre of the human person in all the dimensions of fire and water, laughter and weeping, buying and selling, on the waterfront, in the lake, on the highway, pot holes and all, living in the honesty of bamboo huts, thatched roof and mud floors, or in the sordid affluence of greed and corruption in Abuja mansions. The Guardian kept us in tow with a life of truthful thrills. The political scientist, Prof. Femi Otubanjo, set his arguments on a well balanced scale and like it or not his philosophy was unassailable. In time, Fred Onyeoziri led us to a land of reasoned even if unfulfilled expectations. Apart from Dare and Darah, these were all from the University of Ibadan and our meetings were a veritable learning experience.
Alex Ibru gave us The Guardian. The Guardian gave me freedom to express my identity and has published all that I have sent in. I sent SMS to The Guardian Emeka Izeze on November 22, 2011 to say “The Guardian runs in my blood and gives me a home where I can express my identity, thanks to him (Alex Ibru). I once asked my tailor in Ibadan to make me three, white long-tailed shirts and he querried why they should all be white and I told him the great man, Alex Ibru, is always in white, jumper and pants. He was shot and was to have been killed, but he survived, and he must have been battling the after-effects of the miraculous surgery he had endured.
I can say to him, in this piece, Alex in Virtue, with glowing grief:
death’s demons in cowards concealed spurt out in bullets, seek noble minds find them well armoured, truth their breastplate famished and feeble weapons pierce through only skin deep, they bounce off and flee nurtured by truth, Alex in conscience leaves us in virtue.
On that fateful Monday, June 8, 1998, the day General Abacha quit his earthly home, I wrote a piece in The Guardian ‘Give me your hand,’ recalling former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit to beleagured hurricane victims in the South, inviting our own President Abacha to borrow a leaf and come to our aid. Of course, I never knew he would not live to read that article. Yes, Alex Ibru, will not live to read this article either, but to us all he gave his hand, he still gives us his hand, and, we pray, The Guardian, will ever give us a hand in this our land.
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