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Professor Festus Iyayi
While he lived, the Ugbegun-born rights activist was known for his radical and sometimes tough stance on social and political issues. Iyayi had been rightly described as one who employed a realistic style of writing, depicting the social, political and moral environment and system both the rich and poor live and work in. To his credit are a few books espousing the truth and hypocrisy of the way situations are played out in the larger society. The most popular of his works is the 1986 fiction "Heroes", which won him the Commonwealth Prize for Literature same year - the first in annals of the award.

Indeed, Iyayi died an hero. He was an hero to the unheard, the downtrodden, the voiceless and everyone working on the path of sincerity in human existence. He presented his thoughts aptly through the characters in his works. The awarding winning "Heroes" is basically about the Nigerian Civil War. He wrote in solidarity with the unremembered, the common men who lost their lives, innocence and property as a result of the selfish interests of the ruling political class.

Basing the thoughts on his journalist character, Osime Iyere, Iyayi was able establish why the war was not necessary. He wrote:

"This is not a war. This is an investment in blood and destruction by those at the helm of affairs with expectation of profit. This war is the great excuse of our natural vices... But in time of war, there are no law,
when we misbehave. We are strictly on our own, we are answerable to ourselves then. And see what happens. We loot our neighbour's property, we set fire to his house because we say he is on the other side. We loot, we burn, we rape, we murder, lie and steal. We exhibit our vomit then, we show ourselves up for what we really are.
And what we really are is ugly and slimy and poisonous and dark and weak".

You would but agree with him that man shows his bestiality at the slightest opportunity unnecessarily. Before the war, every citizen was their brother's keeper. Alas, the war turned former neighbours and colleagues into one another's foes. The character Iyere therefore set a third army who saw that the war wasn't to benefit the people but a plot by the rulers on both sides to take advantage of them by reducing their population. Evidently, the respective generals had their family safely kept somewhere outside the country but never considered the safety of the ordinary man turned into solder overnight to risk dying.

The Iyere character in Iyayi himself and his contemporaries had made them always vocal against oppressive and non-developmental actions embarked upon by the Nigerian leadership. As a former President of ASUU between 1986 and 1989, he led a formidable team against the then Military Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida following which the association was proscribed. In the early 90s he served as the President of the Committee for the Defence of Human rights (CDHR). His latest struggle was to revamp the Nigerian tertiary education sub-sector. Every time, we complain of the poor quality of our graduates but pay lip service to righting the wrongs. Like the generals in Iyayi's fiction, our leaders are not doing much in the education sector even when they claim to be. Most can't vouch of making their children 'enjoy' the 'good' quality of education in our public universities.

It would be recalled that the circumstance leading to the literati's death is partly as a result of the poor state of roads in Nigeria and the high-handedness of the rulers against the ruled. Reports alleged that a car in the Kogi State Governor's convoy rammed into the UNIBEN vehicle conveying Iyayi and his colleagues before he died on the spot. It would be recalled that around December last year, the same governor's convoy was involved in an almost similar accident leading to the death of the governor's aide. Although, it is God who protects us all, we should be very careful of our actions to have God's protection manifest. It is when we fail in our responsibilities that the dare consequences of our actions besiege even the innocent among us.

While we mourn the demise of an asset to the nation, let's reflect on righting the wrongs. Some day, some time every human shall die in whatever circumstance. His death is a reminder that no one knows who's dying next among us all. How well we prepare towards this reality is shown in our acts on earth. What do we stand for? What do we want to be remembered for? Let's reflect on revivifying our value system so as to have a brighter and remarkable memorial. May God grant the family of the deceased the fortitude to bear the loss!

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