The shocking, painful story of Festus Iyayi

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*The ICPC, UN connection

By Jide Ajani

This report reveals the genuine drive of Professor Festus Iyayi to shape the lives of young Nigerians in the path of honour and integrity.  It is also the story of how that commitment would have seen him share his ideas and ideals with other intellectuals from across the globe.  But it was not to be. Fate, cruel fate, put paid to all the dreams depriving Nigeria and the world of a good man.  It is a shocking story of how the bed of the hotel room reserved for him in far away Washington DC, United States of America, was never to enjoy the bubbling life of Iyayi.

Just some three hours before his death, Festus Iyayi  demonstrated how vain life remains.

At about 7:38 on that fateful day, the chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices (and other related offences) Commission, ICPC, Ekpo Nta, had engaged Iyayi in a telephone conversation about a pending trip outside the country.

The trip was a product of a relationship that practically started in early 2012 – Iyayi had been nominated as one of two academics to represent Nigeria at a global forum in Panama.  It was the 4th Annual Meeting of the Anti-Corruption Academic Initiative, organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC.

A SIMPLE MAN BY NATURE

In fact, Nta placed a call to Iyayi that fateful morning to inform him that all was set for the trip, having himself gotten communication from Jonathan Agar, the Associate Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, Corruption and EconomiCrime Branch Implementation Support Section, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC, that the United Nationa, UN, was “pleased to inform you (Nta) that UNODC will be in a position to financially support the attendance of the two Nigerian academics you have identified to participate in the 4th Annual Meeting of the Anti-Corruption Academic Initiative. My colleagues Sasa and Alexey will now contact them to arrange relevant logistics”.  This mail was sent to Nta on Friday, November 1, 2013.

According to the ICPC chairman, “The day he died, I spoke to him at 7:38 – it is still very fresh in my memory.

“He said he was going to Kano.

“I asked ‘where are you’? He said Benin and I asked if there was any direct flight from Benin to Kano and he said he was going with his colleagues by road.

“But I told him that he had paid his dues and should allow his younger colleagues to go by road if they wanted to while he should fly.

“I also reminded him that he was yet to fully recover from the 13hour meeting he had with Mr. President just a few days earlier.

“He said ‘don’t worry, it is part of the struggle’”.

That singular act of humility and sacrifice is vintage Iyayi.

But his act of humility and simple approach to life would be demonstrated some 15minutes later.

Continuing, Nta told Sunday Vanguard that “It was then I told him about my communication with Washington and also about the hotel reservations we had made which was $100 for that night and also asked if I should get a separate room for him and the other lecturer because they were to pay or if he would rather share the room since there were separate beds.

“He said he would rather stay on his own and rest well.”

The other lecturer for the trip was Ekeopara, Chike Augustine Dr.

That was how the brief conversation ended.

“But surprisingly”, Nta continued, “later on, just some 15/20 minutes after, Dr. Ekeopara called me to say Professor Iyayi had called him to change his mind; that if he was going to sit with Dr. Ekeopara for the duration of the flight from Nigeria to Washington, then why

can’t he sleep in the same room with the colleague for just about seven to eight hours since there were separate beds.

“Ekeopara called me at about 8 that morning and we left it at that.”

 

THE SAD NEWS

At about 1:30, Nta was in a board meeting when Ekeopara called and said he had bad news

“He said Prof is dead, he had an accident, that’s what we’ve heard.

“Immediately that brought to bear on my consciousness the ephemeral nature of life – somebody “I spoke to at 7:38 and by 11 he was dead.

“As we speak, we still have his international passport with us here; we just collected it from the US embassy.

“It’s really very sad because he really had a lot to offer this country as a model to the youth.

“He was not doing what he was not saying and that was why we wanted to use him.

“He wasn’t a hustler.

“And he had a lot to offer because having stayed for so long in the academia, he could tame the younger lecturers who think life is about being flashy.

“When I went to Benin I saw how highly respected he was by his colleagues.

“But we are very proud in ICPC to have been associated with him.”

 

A JOURNEY IN MOTIVATION

Nta told Sunday Vanguard how he got to build a relationship with the late Iyayi.

“As part of our interest in developing young minds, Professor Iyayi was the first lecturer to invite ICPC to his university to come and sensitize the students to the ills of corruption.

“He invited us to Benin in 2012.

“He was inviting me based on interactions we’ve had.

“I’ve read his book but we never met person to person until he stepped into the ICPC premises and came up to my office.

“It was not as if there was a prior invitation; Iyayi just came here and requested to meet with the ICPC chairman.

“He was granted audience.

“He said, ‘please could you come and have a session with my students in the business administration department on the issue of ethics and integrity because they are in business and there’re lots of malpractices in the business world.  But when you speak to them and when they leave the University of Benin as graduates of business, they would be sought after on the basis of their integrity’.

“I felt that made a lot of sense.

“We fixed an appointment and I told them I was coming.

“I think he broached the issue with the Vice Chancellor, Professor Oshodin, and the VC said ‘no, it would not just be for your department; the whole university would be involved’.

“A few days before then, I had some other engagement and I called him to try to reschedule the session with the students.

“He said ‘chairman please don’t even think of it.  The session is now far bigger than what you thought.  The VC is insisting that the university should be involved and we have flyers everywhere so please chairman you must come.  As a matter of fact the faculty and the university community are expecting you’.

“I flew into Benin the day before the event in the evening.

“It was scheduled for 11am.  10:30am, we met with the VC.  Iyayi was so time conscious that at exactly 11am, we were in the hall.

“When I finished with the students after about four hours, the response was great.  I gave them my e-mail address and my telephone numbers.  You can’t imagine what happened thereafter.  I had over 300 e-mails from students based on the interaction.

“And that was what made me believe that there is hope for this country if we harness the right publics.  The bulk of our population is the youth and we must address them.

“From then on Iyayi and I started working out the package and I then asked him that I would like to sponsor any student who is interested in corruption studies and he said there was already one doing his PhD in that field.  We provided a grant from ICPC as well as materials from our office for his research and we are in a close relationship on that basis”.

 

IYAYI’S NOMINATION FOR THE UN PROGRAMME

Explaining how Iyayi was nominated for the global event, Nta disclosed that “when I presented some of our activities at the UNODC in Vienna, the whole world marveled at what could be done and so eventually participants agreed with me that they should start corruption studies as a full time course in Nigerian universities.

“But I told them that I don’t have that kind of money and they said ‘we would help you’.

“For curriculum training, they insisted they needed to see the lecturers who would be involved.

“It was on that basis that I nominated the late Professor Festus Iyayi and one other lecturer from the University of Calabar, Dr. Ekeopara – because I also had an interaction with the students of the University of Calabar; I interacted with students of the University of Ibadan.

“I sent words to him that I had nominated him and he was shocked and said ‘you’ve nominated me for such an important assignment’!

“I told him yes and that it is because he can do it and would, therefore, be able to replicate it for other universities in Nigeria.

“He agreed.

“And because we were to go to Panama, the United Nations agreed to pay for his ticket, pay for his flight and give materials.

“It was the final lap of the arrangements that I discussed with him that fateful day before his death, about three hours later”.

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