BY CHUKS ILOEGBUNAM
I WAS on Mississippi Street in Maitama, Abuja, about to turn into Alvan Ikoku Street and head home when the terrible news homed into my essence with a bang. I pulled my banger over and cut the engine. This was the last piece of news I expected to receive. I called Ikeddy isiguzo, the Editorial Board chairman of the Vanguard, who had transmitted the unthinkable to me. “Yes, indeed”, he lamented. “Our brother, Pini, is dead.” All around me vehicles hurtled past, as though nothing tragic had happened.
I cannot recall how I made the journey back home. I took time to send text messages on what had happened to a number of friends I shared with Pini. Each of them, incredulous, asked to be told what led to the fall of his final curtain. But death was the last thing on our minds when Pini and I spoke on the phone on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. I had initiated the call, after reading his column entitled Terror in the land: The road not travelled.
I commended him for the offering but as we began to discuss it in some detail he complained that I was barely audible. The phone “network” was misbehaving as is more often than not the case. We agreed to talk later. When he called two hours later, I was in a meeting and we never discussed the piece again.
Readers should contemplate the final paragraph of that piece elicited by all the talk on amnesty for Boko Haram terrorists: “By the time he (President Jonathan) is through with this amnesty booby trap, he would have, at least, five million “ex-terrorists”, including Chadians, Malians, Somalis, Nigeriens and Libyans lining up for compensation for killing innocent Nigerian Christians! They will then go out and buy more arms to fight a brutal war for an Islamic Republic of Nigeria! Is that not what terror leader, Shekau, wants? Where will the money come from?”
When I called Pini again on Saturday, April 27, it was to ask that both of us pay a condolence visit to our mutual friend, Senator Ben Obi, the Presidential Adviser on Inter-Party Matters, whose wife had died. “I and Ikedi (ex-Imo Governor Ohakim) already visited Ben”, Pini said. “I am not even in Abuja.”
Pini said he was in a Lagos clinic, down with serious abdominal pains. I wished him well and promised to call later, to monitor his recovery. When I phoned him three days later, Pini told me he was to be operated upon the following day, the cause of his abdominal pains having been diagnosed. I asked where the surgical operation would take place and the doctor to perform it. Pini replied that it was the same hospital and the same doctor that had performed a procedure on him about five years ago.
I felt relieved. He was in safe hands. I promised to call him the day after the operation. Then, believing he needed all the rest he could get, I postponed our chat until Saturday evening, only to receive word that afternoon that my bosom friend had passed… Pini Jason was our encyclopedia, our archive.
We referred to him every so often to achieve clarity on issues before we rushed to write or print. He had three great loves. He loved his family to tiny bits. He loved Nigeria as only a true patriot could. (But he was fully conscious of the fact that it was impossible to be a good Nigerian without first being a good son of the Igbo country.)
He loved to write. Writing was his enduring passion. I am happy that I paid tribute to Pini’s craftsmanship while he was very much alive. In a piece entitled Orji Kalu and University Education, which I wrote in my Vanguard column of February 19, 2002, I made this point in the penultimate paragraph: “I know Pini Jason and I know his writing. Based on his column, which has been on for over 15 years, he could teach writing to journalism students anywhere. Doctoral theses could be produced from the corpus of his writing.”
A more enduring tribute came from Sam Amuka-Pemu, the chairman of Vanguard Media Limited himself. Uncle Sam wrote in his foreword to A Familiar Road, Pini Jason’s compilation of his articles in book form: Pini Jason “is succinct, clear-minded, matter of fact, pugnacious, tenacious of belief, independent-minded sometimes to the point of obstinacy, unexpectedly and refreshingly detribalised, high mindedly nationalistic – when many may doubt if there is still a nation to love, and unyieldingly antagonistic to military dictators and their fawning publicans.” What else can one say of our beloved departed?
Yes, I can state that Pini planned a sequel to A Familiar Road. I know that his family can, as a mark of honour, publish it posthumously. I know also that Pini was writing a book on his experience in government. Only time will reveal the ultimate fate of that project. In my view, Pini’s greatest tribute comes, unwittingly, from his own pen: “I write to create a living space for my children, and their generation. I write so that posterity will know that I saw my country sliding into self-destruction and I tried to do something about it.”
That sad Saturday, I stood for long moments by my bedroom window, unmindful of weekend telecasts of sporting events, watching humanity go by on the road on the far side, looking heavenwards occasionally to espy a few birds twirling in the day’s vibrating heat, and believing that I was only in rumination about the dumbfounding nature of things in this world. It was only when Onyinye, my daughter, tapped me on the shoulder with a question that it occurred to me that I had been soliloquising.
“Dad, what this news you’ve been muttering was the last you expected to hear today?” “The news that Pini Jason is dead!”
My phone rang at this point. It was Senator Joy Emodi, the Presidential Adviser on National Assembly Matters. She was one of those I had texted the terrible news. Her voice was subdued. “Chuks, why is it that we have been losing all of our First Eleven?” My answer, formulated as I am concluding this eulogy is in two words: Pini, rest!