By Owei Lakemfa
WHEN I was young, I used to reflect that nature in its eternal generosity gave us ‘spare parts’. We had two eyes, and in the absence of one, the other could still function; the ears are two, the arms, legs, lungs, ovaries, testes and kidneys come in pairs.
But I had only one elder brother, Vincent Kurowei (VK) Lakemfa. I didn’t think much about him being the only one; he was everything to me as he led me gently through childhood into adolescence. As a High School kid, he introduced me to the world of news and books. He was always clutching a reading material and came back from the mega supermarkets with books.
As I grew, I went beyond reading the title of publications on his bookshelves to actually reading them. Soul On Ice by Eldridge Cleaver was one I remember quite clearly for it opened my eyes to racism and African American resistance by the Black Panthers, and unforgettable Brothers like Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton.
Books like that led me to a recurring name, Malcolm X. Like magic, I discovered his autobiography on VK’s bookshelf and devoured it. One book frequently mentioned, which was on his bookshelf I could not get myself to read was one with the tantalizing title, Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon; I did not seem to understand it. But in my first year in the university, it became like my Bible.
That reminds me that VK ensured I went through the university. Back in my youth, he influenced my taste of music; reggae, and of course, Afro Beat as he was a devotee of the Afrikan Shrine and Fela’s music.
Then my world seemed to collapse when without warning, VK was gone! That was in 1986. I then reflected that despite its eternal generosity, nature gave us only one head, one liver and one heart; I had no spare elder brother.
However, 29 years later when I became Media Consultant to the Presidential Amnesty Programme, I encountered Tamarabebe (Tam) Freeman Mologe on the Programme’s Management Team. He seemed so familiar. When he was introduced to me, his name rang a bell of past acquaintance. After the meeting, he called and greeted me familiarly. Then I was in one shock after the other; he asked about my siblings and extended families; both maternal and paternal. He knew my late parents quite well! Then a few days later, he made reference to an occasion with VK!
I came to realise that apart from being a younger friend of my brother who passed away three decades earlier, they had a lot in common. Friendly and unassuming. Mologe clutched newspapers or books wherever he went just like VK. When he read an opinion I wrote in the newspapers, he discussed it and suggested I needed to read more about colonial Nigeria especially its administration.
He backed it up by bringing books I never heard about the topic. I run two columns in the ‘Vanguard Newspapers’ and could be sure that by the time we met in the office, he had read my column for the day and we discussed it. His office was upstairs; whenever he passed, he was sure to come into my office.
Gradually, the staff came to know that whenever they could not find him in his office, mine was one place he was likely to be. He was so doting that he would ask his drivers to take me anywhere even when I also have an official car! Most times he came into my office, a familiar question was “Owei, you write so much, have you eaten?” If he was not convinced about my answer, he ordered food. Even when I had eaten, he insisted I share his food.
Mologe was so steep in Ijaw history, culture and tradition, that he became my consultant; free of course! The Ijaw language had many variations, and it was always a delight watching him switch from one to another. When I accompanied Mologe on official trips, I watched an artist weave tradition, whether it was before Ijaw or Urhobo monarchs or the Olu of Warri.
On such occasions, his performance was like a professional ballet dancer or an Olympic gymnastics champion. What death deprived me from learning by snatching VK, I learnt from Brother Mologe.
I had been a very restless young man, and as a student activist, visited virtually all the tertiary institutions including Schools of Nursing and Basic Studies. As a journalist for about two decades, I criss-crossed the country and thought I knew Nigeria. That was before I renewed my acquaintance with Mologe; there was no town I mentioned, he was not familiar with. In contrast, he mentioned many, I had not even heard about.
As the struggle against Boko Haram terrorists progressed in the North-East with one village or town contested, I would go to him to find out about such places and he was sure to know. He had been Deputy Controller-General of the Immigration Services and worked across the country. But that was not why he was an expert on Nigerian towns and borders; he had a passion for it, studied them and quite often, visited, going far beyond the call of duty. Apart from Professor Anthony Ashiwaju, he was the only other expert on borders I knew.
In 2017, my old Comrade, Abdulkadir Isa, a retired Immigration officer visited me from Kano. I asked whether he knew Mologe. He shot up, inquired if I meant the retired DCG, I confirmed. He said he knew the name in service, but never met him.”He is the expert on borders in the Immigration”. When I told him Mologe had an office upstairs, he insisted we go see him immediately. After introducing them, Isa did not come down with me. Such was the attraction of Mologe.
I asked him why he did not write a book on our borders only to discover that he had a big manuscript. He also told me about a project on the electronic mapping of our borders especially the North-East he was involved in under the Federal Government with some foreign experts. His regret was that after his retirement, the project seemed to have died.
On January 26, I called his wife’s number, he picked. We discussed. Three days later, I called and the wife informed me that he had been hospitalised.
About midnight Monday, January 30, 2018, the elder brother I did not know I had, passed on. He is to be interred in Patani on March 2. I realised that even if nature gave us two pairs of body parts, both can be lost.