WHEN we gained admission in 1985, we were among the youngest lads in the Mass Communications class of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. While I quickly reconciled myself with the daunting task of ‘flowing’ with men, a few of whom were more than twice my age as classmates, Douglas Akachukwu Ude, was determined to follow a different path.

He wanted not just to exist cordially with these ‘men’, but to be regarded as “a fellow adult”. So, for the whole of our first year (we admitted later), he kept some distance from me and even occasionally led joshing sessions targeted at me on my relative youth.

As he later confessed, it was my good-natured handling of this ribbing that made him realise the futility of running away from his youth and brought us closer as the years progressed.

One thing that struck you immediately about him was the great promise he embodied even in his early youth. You could sense his rare intellect and wit even from the first sentence he uttered – you just knew this guy was going places from the relatively rustic settings of our campus in Nsukka.

Within a few weeks of interaction, we discovered Douglas was not just a very brilliant mind; he was also a prodigiously-gifted artist. He could do a perfect pencil sketch of the visage of any classmate in minutes, regardless of the level of challenge posed by the facial features!

One particularly hilarious episode was his pictorial rendition of the faces of some select classmates as 70-year-old men while a Radio/TV class was in progress and his circulation of this sketch to members of the class.

It was only the grace of God that saved the class from the ire of a visibly irate lecturer, bewildered by the loud guffaws from class members as the paper was surreptitiously passed from one desk to another. That was vintage Douglas – the life of the party!

While my two internship programmes in school took me to Lagos, Douglas headed to Enugu; specifically to Daily Star, the regional media powerhouse then, where my mother was variously the Features Editor and Woman Editor. Perhaps because my mother was also an alumnus of the same department, he was posted to work with her and, when she noticed his artistic gifts, she encouraged him to do sketches for the newspaper’s stories.

So good were these sketches that he became the unofficial cartoonist of the paper literally ‘overnight’! Going by the rather curious pen name, “El Tito”, his sharp, witty sketches soon became a popular staple in the daily editions and the newspaper had to break with tradition by paying an intern for his services. More significantly, the alias El Tito, became a household one, especially in my family circle where he was an instant hit with everyone.

Tito was among the best graduating students of our set and, while we moved over to Lagos to pursue our career aspirations, he was driven by the entrepreneurial bug to seek his fortune in Port Harcourt.

With his very rare endowment of talent and confidence, it was not a surprise to many of us that he struck out on his own so soon after graduation. He set up a firm, Goldcross, and drove it with his usual zest, making considerable inroads into the marketing communications terrain of Port Harcourt.

He also became a livewire of sorts to the University of Nigeria Alumni Association both in his Port Harcourt local chapter and the National body where he not only held key offices but was a compere of distinction at their functions.

With time, it became apparent that the possibilities offered by Port Harcourt for his profession were limited, with the overwhelming concentration of powers and activity in corporate head offices in Lagos. So, in 2004, he relocated to Lagos, determined, in his inimitable style, to stamp his professional authority on his new sphere of operation.

When he joined Fidelity Bank in 2005, after a brief stint in Linkserve, he found the perfect environment to thrive and was easily among the most popular staff in the bank, not just for his quick grasp of the essentials of the banking business but also for the ease with which he made friends and struck alliances across various functional areas of the institution.

The last time we met was at an art exhibition, a month ago in Ikoyi, where we discussed the burial plans for my brother in-law, Dr. Chinwuba Amaechina, and Tito pledged to be in Nri, Anambra State, for the burial ceremony on July 5, 2013.

I was therefore shocked, a few days to the burial ceremony, to learn that he was shot in an exchange between daredevil robbers and the police after his car had been snatched and he and his wife, Chioma, were held captive as the robbers proceeded for an operation!

I was stunned beyond description to learn on the evening of July 4, 2013 that my friend passed on as he was being wheeled into the air ambulance hired by his bank in a desperate effort to provide him with the first class medical attention that has continued to elude us locally despite the abundant wealth God has brought our way in our 53 year-old soujourn as a sovereign nation.

On July 4, 2013, I lost not just a friend and classmate, but a brother. Coming so soon after losing a brother-in-law of inestimable value in the most sudden and shocking manner possible, Tito’s death was simply too tough to come to terms with.

He was so full of life that, even in death, it appears sinful to describe him in the past tense. Of course, he would have had his flaws (all humans are flawed), but you knew that he was a good man simply driven by the quest to make the best of the challenging climes God had situated him in (Nigeria) and to provide the very best for his family. He left you in no doubt of this by his very positive attitude to life, the vitality he always seemed to exude and charm that could thaw even the iciest visage.

One fact that cemented our friendship was the excellent tribute he wrote on my father’s death which was so good that I must have reread it over a thousand times. It was not just about the way he described my father; it was the very succinct way he captured my family in our growing up years in Enugu and the superb prose that made it a timeless read. We also shared a love for the arts, music (all sorts) and books! He was one of the most rounded and gifted persons I’d ever met.His generosity of spirit was also amazing!

It is tragic that we lost Douglas in circumstances that should not be associated with any organised society in this day and age; more so when that society is as divinely gifted as ours. I grieve to think of his young wife and those wonderful very little children of theirs.

I wince at the thought of the agony the mother he so passionately cared for must be going through at the loss of her beloved son; I weep for my country at the rate some of her brightest and best are literally ‘vanishing’. I shudder to think of our future if we continue on this seemingly endless spiral to self-destruct.

But perhaps, for now, the most reassuring thought would be that of the fact that my dear Douglas Akachukwu Ude, El Tito, is resting peacefully in the Lord, away from all the man-made noisome pestilence that has come to define the daily lives of many in our dear beleaguered nation. Fare well El Tito.

 

Mr.  EJIKE EKWEGBALU wrote from Lagos.

 

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