By Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
The death of (Nigerian) novelist and academic, Professor Festus Iyayi in a ghastly accident along Abuja-Lokoja road has been greeted with grief and outrage...
Staggering from the blow of loss, the Nigerian literary fraternity is trying to come to terms with the death of writer, academic and activist, Professor Festus Iyayi.
He met his death close to Lokoja Tuesday November 12 in a car crash involving the Kogi State governor’s convoy, which had been involved in other accidents prior to this, one of which left the former governor Ibrahim Idris injured.
Before to his death, Iyayi had built himself a reputation as a an author of note with four novels to his name, (Violence, The Contract, Heroes and Awaiting Court Martial.) He topped his literary laurels with the Commonwealth Prize in 1988.
But in some circles, Iyayi is better known as an academic and an activist. His reputation as a former ASUU president is solid, having once been detained for his activism in 1988, and he had been travelling to Kano for an ASUU meeting over the four-month long strike, when he met his death aged 66.
Needless to say, his death has sparked outrage and condemnation from writers, academics and activists, many of whom have called for the arrest of the driver in the employ of the Kogi State government who was involved in the crash. It has also brought to light once again the notoriety of the Abuja-Lokoja road, with reports claiming that Iyayi was the 125th person killed on that road this year alone, according to official figures.
The leadership of the Association of Nigerian Authors was in Minna during the 3rd MBA Colloquium when news of Iyayi’s death broke. The association later issued a statement condemning the death as caused by “recklessness” without mincing words or pulling punches in apportioning blame.
“In this time of great loss, the Association would like to categorically excoriate the recklessness of those in the service of public officials in Nigeria as well as the embarrassing underdevelopment of infrastructure in the country. The untimely death of Festus Iyayi, professor and novelist, was caused by the recklessness of officials in the employ of the Governor of Kogi State, Captain Idris Wada, in an ungodly hurry to obscure ends. The Lokoja-Abuja road, which poor condition has long been decried, also claimed the life of multi-talented poet and dancer, Ify Omalicha, in March 2012. This state of affair, where we lose the best and the brightest as well as those with unfathomable potential, is absolutely condemnable,” a statement signed by Prof. Remi Raji, president of the association said.
However, the Kogi State sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Mr Olakunle Motajo said it was rather too early to categorically apportion blame as investigations into the cause and circumstances of the crash have started and no conclusions have been reached.
So far, five people had been treated for injuries from the accident, four in the governor’s convoy and one Dr. Ngozi Ilo, who had been travelling with the late author. She was said to have sustained minor injuries and have since been discharged.
Dr. Iyayi was said to have died as a result of an object that pierced his heart during the accident.
Prof Remi Raji who said that the late writer has been a lifelong member of the association maintained that he will still remain relevant in death as he had been in life, saying, “Apart from his numerous publications as a scholar, his four major novels – Violence, The Contract, Heroes, and Awaiting Court Martial – will continue to be relevant in the cultural and intellectual landscape of Nigerian literature as remarkable fictional perceptions of our social realities. He will be greatly missed even as his life work in intellectual activism, in the course of which he met his death, is equally and appropriately lauded.”
Also reacting to this death, Publisher Mr. Hyacinth Obunseh in his capacity as the president of the African Writers Forum said, “The most saddening news of the passing of Prof. Iyayi comes as a rude shock and calls for legislation to stop and punish the unbecoming recklessness of senior government functionaries.”
He adds that the former ASUU president will be greatly missed.
“His family, academics and the Nigerian literary community will miss his contribution to the growth of our national life,” he said.
Iyayi was born in 1947 in Esanland in presend-day Edo State and was educated at the Annunciation Catholic College in the old Bendel State and later at Government College, Ughelli. He furthered his studies in Industrial Economics at the Kiev Institute of Economics in the former USSR and obtained his PhD from the University of Bradford, England.
Upon his return in 1980, he took up a faculty position with the University of Benin and almost immediately became an active member of ASUU, rising to the position of the association’s president in 1986.
Two years later, ASUU was briefly banned and Iyayi was detained for sometime. In that same year, his novel Heroes clinched the Commonwealth Writers Prize thereby cementing his position as a writer of reckoning in the country and beyond.
Reports indicate that a burial is being planned for sometime in December as his corpse has been conveyed back to his native Benin by his brother Peter Iyayi who is a lecturer at the Federal University, Lokoja.
While the rhetoric and lamentations continue, the reality remains that Nigeria has lost yet another shining lamp in the hallowed halls of academia and literati.
* Courtesy of Sunday Trust