GUEST COLUMNIST BY Okey Anueyiagu
Joe, for over 35 years, you and I became like a lock and a key; opening each others heart, and unlocking our innermost expressions of a timeless and the most extraordinary and truly unique brotherhood, so rare and a one-of-a-kind relationship.
In the last decade, I began to call you “Nwokem” an endearing Igbo word for “my brother, my friend”. And in your typical ways, you “retaliated” with your own name for me: “Nwokem Gbo Gbo” – my brother, my friend of ages, of old. So old was our brotherhood, that I remember with nostalgia, that Saturday morning 31 years ago, when you stood as godfather to my first daughter. I recall that you arrived the Church Christening venue long before us the parents. Spruced up in your stunning white brocade agbada, you held the white burning candle in trust of, and as a symbol of the holy oath to protect and cherish the life of your goddaughter. That holy oath, you gallantly, proudly and diligently upheld until the day you passed.
This tribute is one of the most difficult ones I have had to write, ever. How does one write a tribute to the master tribute giver? At my last birthday, you spoke most eloquently – you opened and closed the speeches. Your jokes, your tales by moonlight, your jocularity were unmatched. No one dared tell a joke after you had delivered your usually hilarious monologues – Impossible. You were a tough act to follow.
Joe, your presence was like no other.
Imagine the magic of knowing this man for as long as I did. It was an experience defined by legendary atonement and happy times that were engrained in memorable moments. From day one, Joe’s sweet, kind soul and valour became intensely incomparable. His compassion was vividly expanded into many terrains that transformed into unequalled human goodness, kindness sweetened with love and affection.
Joe enriched so many lives with passion, love and unquenchable quest for a life full of energy and zeal. It is so difficult to capture in this tribute the essence and complete worth of his being and life. The poise and elegance of his life were embodied in his natural charm and in his ability to sublimate the worldly selfishness of our generation by channeling his energy towards the common good.
Joe’s favourite word was “love”. He used that word so passionately that he gave it a new coat of ensemble. He would often say to you; “I am in love with you …we are lovers”. It didn’t matter if you were a female, a male, a child, an old person or even a cat, he was in love with loving. He loved so intensely and stupendously that even when he didn’t like a person; someone that may have offended him, he would dislike that person with intense love.
Joe provided me with a life that was candid, a life that was incisive, moving and riveting. Whether it was about his brilliant and distinguished career in National Service, or his unblemished reputation, his potent decency, integrity and humanity, he exemplified in so many ways, that the productive and positive forces of our lives reside in love of all people.
With immensely clear vignettes from a life well lived, Joe had a consequential existence with absolute exhilaration that succeeded admirably in portraying both in character and substance in very lively narratives, and in such triumphant ways that endeared him to many from all walks of life.
Perhaps, Joe’s most appealing attributes and legacy was the use of his gift and talent to effortlessly bring laughter and happiness when there was sorrow and sadness. He mastered these gifts and talents and used them cleverly to build and nurture constituencies across barriers of tribe, ethnicity, religion, space, time, distance and culture. For these attributes and more, I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed and shared in Joe’s incomparable legacy and to have been in the shadow of his path of dignity and honour.
Nwokem, during one of your many visits to my home town, Awka, you asked that a full citizenship of the town be conferred on you. You asked that a piece of land be reserved in this town for a home for your retirement. I was working on these requests when I was informed by General Emeka Onwuameagbu that he and the people of Oba were processing these same requests on your behalf. With all the “palliatives” in Awka, how could you make any other choices?
Joe, in your loss, I lost hope. I lost the joy to talk, to laugh, to hug, to feast, to be together and to do those things that brought us happiness. I have lost the dreams that we spent time building.
In your loss, I have gained gratitude. Gratitude to God that your life, even in death, gives my heart and hands to the common purpose of goodness, hope and a commitment to our world’s past, present and future.
My Nwokem, where have you gone? What will happen to all our plans, our aspirations, our prayers and hopes?
You will forever occupy an indelible and unique place in my heart and in my home, and in the hearts of everyone that ever had the rare privilege of coming in contact with you.
The World Misses You. Go In Peace, My Brother, My Friend.
•Dr Anueyiagu writes from Ikoyi, Lagos.