Tribute to Jide Afonja

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Uloma Jide-Afonja

Sweetheart, it’s been twenty-four years gone, a really long time since I wrote you, and writing you always makes me feel better. I miss you Jide…every day, but your anniversary, 7th November, is usually very difficult for me. I wish there was a cemetery where I can visit, but all I have are memories of you and that epitaph at Itoikin, beside the swamp river where your plane crashed. It hurts that I cannot take flowers to your grave, sit and talk sometimes. The other day our daughter, Mayowa, attended a Yanni Live Concert in Canada and during her one on one engagement with Yanni, she informed him that she attended the concert in memory of you – her dad, because you loved his music so much and used it to woo me.

She shared her story with everyone at the concert and left many teary. Yanni told her he felt privileged to know her story. Imagine how I was when she called me to tell me about the experience. I was broken. We cried together and the only person I reached out to that day was Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, your mentor, who introduced you to Yanni’s music. I felt he would be the only one to understand the significance of that experience Mayowa had. Do you know I no longer listen to Yanni’s music; I used to but it does not make me feel good anymore. I always tear up because of you.

Sweetheart, I think about you every day. Your death has taught me to care and love better. Mummy (your mum) is always there supporting and encouraging me when I share my frustrations, joy and pains with her. She is never tired of praying for us. Truly it has not been easy, definitely not. Life has been a struggle, a big struggle. But I would not have survived it thus far without family, friends, my job and most especially, our Lord Jesus Christ. Sweetheart, there are many new things since you passed on. I really wish you were alive today Jide…

You would have enjoyed the new discoveries in music, engineering, aircrafts etc. I bet Lagbaja’s music would have been history to you with the new crop of musicians and dance styles. So much has happened. I wonder what you would have done with the COVID-19 situation and your career as a pilot. The other day I spoke to Capt. Fola Akinkuotu and Lai Are. Lai recounted how both of you came to my village for the traditional marriage wedding, and you both joked about the risk of being used for sacrifice having come all the way from Yoruba land to ask for my hand in marriage in Acha Isuikwuato LGA, Abia state. We had a good laugh about it.

Do you remember how Daddy Onikoko, Justice Kolawale had runny stomach after the traditional wedding in my village on our way back to Abeokuta? And how Daddy (your dad) warned me not to serve them Ibo pounded yam which he said bounces off walls? He specifically requested for very soft pounded yam not mixed with garri. According to him, Ibos prefer eating hard swallow. I had to drum it into my mum’s ears not to mix the pounded yam with garri. Beautiful memories. Sweetheart, we did not get to finish our love story, we were just beginning and you left as our journey together was starting. All I hold on to are the timeless memories of our love story.
Dear Jide, each time I see our son who is a young adult now, I see you. He mirrors your mannerism. Your memory is everywhere. Loving and heart breaking. Mayowa’s toes are like yours, and she looks so much like her Grandma (your mum). Her nose, Afonja nose, and her skin, very sensitive like Yemisi’s, but she’s got my hair – very full and dense. I lost the Minolta camera you got me, but I still take many photos. I use my phone now to capture beautiful memories just like you encouraged me to.

Do you remember our letters to each other during my NYSC days in Port Harcourt? ADC desk staff at Hotel Presidential got tired of me dropping of and picking up letters daily…our daily diary to each other talking about silly things like what we ate, cooked and how we miss each other every day. Your love for me was indeed pure and deep. We were both very young, led by love and deep care for each other. I know a lot better now. Life is indeed very short and I have learnt not to take it for granted.

The love we had will forever remain in my heart; a love story born out of genuine fondness for each other. Sweetheart, I still have a phobia for flying but it’s a lot better; Aunty Charity, Uncle Don and Mummy Shiloh really tried to talk me out of it so it is better controlled. I must confess I feel awkward sometimes about the distance of life that has grown between us, the life experiences you won’t have and time that has passed. We would have nurtured our children together and not just me making decisions alone.
Indeed, it would have been beautiful to watch our children grow together. I have worked from the start to accept the reality facing me and though acceptance has been my mantra, it is still difficult when life’s pressures get to me. I am only human and work in progress. I celebrate you every day, Jide. I enjoy talking about you to our children, the love we shared and our fights. Recently I was on a FaceTime call with Mayowa and we talked about you for almost two hours. I recounted the story of all the scrumptious meals you cooked for me, especially the sweet and sour sauce, shredded beef sauce with basmati rice and fried plantain. You really spoilt me.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that they no longer make your favourite beer Satzenbrau. I don’t know why they stopped. Oh do you know that Capt Steve Akinsete, Njide and Emeka attended the last Memorial Mass I had for you in Abuja. You know Njide is always protective of me . She hasn’t changed ohh. . .
During my last visit to Daddy and Mummy Ibadan in Abeokuta, Daddy gave me an updated copy of his book, “In His Hands”. He mentioned you in his book. Sweetheart, I am sorry you are gone because you loved life so much. I am sorry you were not here when I gave birth to Mayowa, and you did not watch this beautiful daughter of yours grow up into a confident young adult.

I am sorry you did not see our son, Jide jnr. grow up. I am sorry you did not have the opportunity to teach him about life and guide and nurture him. I am sorry you missed out on all the milestone events in our children’s lives. I am sorry your life ended so tragically. I am sorry. Thank you for choosing me to be your wife and mother of your children. I will never regret choosing you.
I will continue to hold on to God’s words. For I know He will neither leave me nor forsake me.
––Uloma Jide-Afonja is wife to FO Babajide Afolabi Afonja, Co-Pilot of the ADC Airlines plane that crashed in Lagos on November 7, 1996