When The Light Dims: My Painful Elergy For Prof Joseph Ighietseme
Shock underestimates my deep anguish and sorrow. Devastation underpins my present state of mind. Melancholy overwhelms me. Words fail me. They have failed me since I first heard of your demise. My thoughts have been benumbed. I have shed buckets of tears (permit the hyperbole, meant only for emphasis), since I received the ugly news of the unexpected and painful exit of Prof Joseph Osikhueme Ugbodaga, on Igietseme
31st May, 2022, at about 10.40am. I had just touched down in Jos, Plateau State, from Lagos, to handle the ongoing case of former Plateau State Governor, Senator David Jonah Jang. My lachrymal effusion has neither balmed my bruises, nor healed the wounds etched deeply in my heart. The mutual crying on the phone for over 30 minutes when I encountered Andrew Adothor (Prof’s cousin resident in the USA), has not in any way assuaged my battered feelings. I weep for me. Yes, me! I weep for my family. Yes, my family! I weep for Usagbe Club of Nigeria (he was the engine room). I weep for Usagbe Americas and the UK (which he had chaired). I weep for Isadus Inc (wherein he was the CEO and a driving force; I am the Chairman). I weep for St Peter’s College Old Students Association (wherein he was an indispensable force).I weep for St Peter’s College Old Students Association (1970-1974, wherein he was our chartered Chairman and a motivator). I weep for Naido ( wherein he was revered). I weep for Weppa and Uvhano Kingdoms (wherein he was a leading light). I weep for the three Etsakos (wherein he was a colossus). I weep for Afenmai land (wherein he was luminous). I weep for Edo State (wherein he was a developer). I weep for Nigeria (which had benefitted immensely from his educational exploits). I weep for Africa (which enjoyed his scientific wizardry). I weep for the black race (which has lost a gem). I weep for mankind in general (which has been short-changed by Ighietseme’s premature exit at 67). God, we cannot question you. Who are we? (Psalm 33:4; Jer. 23:24; Ish. 48:17).
Ha!, DJUI (one of the pet names I called you), meaning Dr Joseph Ugbodaga Igietseme) why did you do this to me and my family ? Why did you go suddenly without as much as leaving a word of “okiakhue”, just one word? Why, without a mere farewell? Just why, why, why?
Prof, “ogomoh Unuedegor”, ( “son of Egori Waterside”, another alias I also popularly called you), just why did you do this to me, making me desolate and inconsolable with hot tears, laced with pains, pangs, sorrow, anguish and melancholy? Just why?
Together we started St. Peters College Agenebode, in January, 1970. We finished together in 1974. From form one to five, you were the best student, coming out first. We looked up to you. You were in class A; and I in B. The combined annual results of both classes usually saw you still emerging first. I managed to emerge either second, third, or even a distant fourth. You were simply matchless and unbeatable. It was only during our WASC in 1974, that the unthinkable happened. I came first in Grade one, Aggregate 16. You followed me closely in Grade two, Aggregate 25. You used to tease me, amidst jokes and back-slapping, that I did “juju”, by outpacing you for once in about 16 exams, aside numerous tests. We loved each other dearly.
While I sojourned in OAU, Ile-Ife (1975 – 1980) to read English language (later law, thereby losing one academic year), you attended UNN, Nuska, to read Biochemistry. You worked briefly as a Medical representative with R.T. Brisco, after your NYSC. I, in turn, returned to Ife for my Masters; and also to lecture. You zoomed off to America where you obtained a Ph.D (Georgetown University, Washington DC), in infectious and non-infectious diseases; including a later post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Miami, Florida. You lectured in Arkansas (Little Rock). You got promoted to Assistant Professor (1993); Associate Professor (1998); and full Professor (2002). You later lectured in Immunology, Biochemistry and Microbiology at Moorehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia. Since 2002, you have been Chief of Molecular Pathogenesis at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta; with secondary appointments as a Professor at Moorehouse School of Medicine and Emory Medical School, Atlanta, Georgia. Why did you leave this wicked world further prostrate, running away with these glittering credentials and lucid research in these critical and recondite areas? Just why? During my first ever visit to the USA in 1983, I stayed partly with you (the other, with our mutual friend, Peter Ethumetse).
When you hailed me with your usual AKPA KPA VIGHI VIGHI!, as you always did, at 4.42pm on 20th May, after my post, which you followed up with a missed call at 4.47 pm, but all of which I only saw on 31st May, 2022 after going through our previous chats), why didn’t you just hint me you would be departing forever? Just why, agene?
When you kindly drove my wife and I to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport on the 6th of February, 2022, on our way back to Nigeria, you had stood forlornly by the side, watching us keenly and intensely as we meandered through the ropes at security check points, enroute Nigeria. I had told my wife, “see how DJUI looks sad at our departure; he will miss us greatly and we will miss him terribly”. Was this your tell-tale sign of saying, “you guys will never see me again”, but which we never got?
Only on 31st May, 2022, I had forwarded to you some posts which you didn’t respond to. How was I expected to know you had joined the Lord for good? My heart bleeds. My tears come in torrents. Even now. Ha!!!
So, Joe, who would I now turn to whenever I come to Atlanta? Who will my children literally “invade” his home at Stone Mountain, Atlanta, without invitation, with you always forever threatening to “burst” them? Who, except you, would forget his high ranking status and position in the American and Nigerian societies as a renowned and world-acclaimed author and Professor of immunology, virology and parasitology, and invade Nigerian restaurants on our arrival to buy us Nigerian and Weppa Wanno foods- pounded yam, amala, omhi esegbomhi, omhi isaghue, omhi ukpioi, omhi akphe, orisi orisi, garri, palm oil, tarodo, tatashe, tomatoes, magi; even palm wine? Please, let me know, my dear brother, friend and soul mate (whom I also always jokingly “mocked” by calling you “Professor of ikhuekhue, ivhavha and ibaneda”– “Professor of sunflies, mosquitoes and spirogyra”), who will now always tell me, “Chief Mike, just let me know if you need anything this way. I am always here for you to provide it”. DJUI, did you ever inform me you will not live long enough to fulfill those lofty plans and achieve those beautiful dreams which you confidentially shared with me? Death, oh death, with your cold hands and hideous monstrous visage, did you ever warn DJUI you would snatch him from us?
Prof, when your aged mother passed on at 101 in December, 2022, and we all jointly and collectively bade her farewell in a one-week-carnival-like celebration, did you hint any of us you would
leave us 6 months later? Was that all you were waiting for before joining her?
Osikhueme, when my wife and I hosted you, your friends and now shell-shocked Cross River State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade, in my Atlanta home, on 28th January, 2022, did you ever indicate that was the last time we would be seeing physically? When we had our Isadus meeting by zoom at 10pm Nigerian time on 27th March, 2022, did you let any of us know that was your last outing with us? Ha! DJUI, why????
Igietseme, you were extraordinarily gifted. A master debater, ever indulging in hot arguments and intellectual callisthenics, you could discuss any subject under the sun-whether tradition, history, science (your turf); politics, arts, medicine, law; just any topic. You allowed ideas to clash. I had never for once, seen you angry. You were a phenomenal philanthropist; a man who shouldered the pains of the less privileged; the hoi polloi; the Frantz Fanon’s “wretched of the Earth”. You fertilized them with empowerment as plants are nurtured with manure.
Ha! Death, you have shown your weakness and cowardice by coming stealthily like a thief in the night to snatch away our star.
Death, thou art ashamed! Death, where is thy sting? Death, you too shall die one day because you can never stop anyone; and least, DJUI, from transmuting from mortality to immortality.
Death, to appreciate your woeful failure, listen carefully to Decius Brutus, talking about Julius Caesar ( extrapolate, Prof Ighietseme), in William Shakespeare’ s Julius Caesar: “his life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN! (Act V, Scenes iv-v).
Iyokpamhe, you came; you saw; you conquered (vini; vidi; vici).
It is true indeed (and this is why you are being celebrated even in death), that “when beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes”.
My Prof, remember you played the lead role of “Julius Ceaser”, while mine was a Roman Plebian, when we acted the play, “Julius Ceaser”, by William Shakespeare, in the Secondary School. I can still quote verbatim, over 80% of this play over 5 decades later, starting with “Hence home, you idle creatures…”. Let me take some extracts from this in your memory, to balm my seering pains: “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Act 5, scene 5). That is your story.
Joe, you faced death squarely, mocking its monstrous visage. You believed that “cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come” (Julius Ceaser himself in Act II, Scene 2). And death came. And you defeated it by eternally sleeping in the Lord.
With a burdened heart and teary eyes, I say, farewell; okiakhue soo. Kind soul that is full of humanity, goodbye. Renowned Professor, teacher and mentor, adieu. Accomplished master organizer, team player, community and clubs developer, rest in the Lord. A humble soul, incandescent personality and luminous persona full of panache, gravitas, gusto, nerve and verve, sleep well in the bossom of the Lord, till we meet to part no more. Almighty God, please, grant Professor Joseph Osikhuemhe Ugbodaga Ighietseme eternal rest in your warm bossom, amen, amen and amen.
My numerous global readers, please, help me mourn and celebrate my departed brother and friend.