BY UCHE IGWE
The beep of a text message woke me up on that fateful day. My eyes were still heavy and so I reckoned that I needed a little more sleep. I managed to stand up and loitered around my room looking for my phones without success. I managed to first get hold of my wrist watch and checked the time. It was exactly 4.15 am. Who could be sending me a message at this time? I murmured as I found my phones lying by the corner where I abandoned them. The message was short and typical – where are you? It came from the Minister for Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi. As soon as I read it, I responded immediately by telling him that I was in Abuja while praying that he will not remember to follow up. Yet another short response came through almost immediately – see me at 7. am. Oh my God I shouted as I read it and sank back to sleep to see how much of it I could get before going to keep the appointment.
I imagined a thousand and one reasons that would have made the Minister invite me as I drove absent-mindedly to his house. The road was quite lonely except for a small village near his house where some Gbagi people (the real owners of Abuja) were struggling to board their tricycles to head for the day’s work. There were very few people waiting for Mr Amaechi and in a few minutes he emerged, fully dressed and invited two of us to join him on his breakfast table. I could not see so much food that I could relate with. There were loads of vegetables and a reddish pot of juice which I suspected to be water melon. He looked at me and said – ‘You have to go to London and represent me somewhere. Yes, sir. I responded immediately even before knowing the details. His assistant later forwarded a text to my phone with the details of the funeral arrangement of the son of the late Ogoni Activist, Ken Saro Wiwa Jnr. who passed away on the 21st of October.
I heard about his death but did not know who to follow up with. Unknown to me Mr. Amaechi followed up himself. Those who are close to him know that he is such a deeply compassionate person who pays attention to very tiny details. I was in the Minister’s house when the news of Ken. Jnr’s death broke and I remember that he wept profusely when he heard about it. He even confided in me that he wanted to attend the funeral personally and asked everyone in the room that day to get the details and forward to him.
That was how the journey to the United Kingdom and to the funeral of Late Mr. Saro-Wiwa Jnr. Started. When the logistics of the trip were handed over to me I was very delighted that the Minister chose me. I was shocked by the news of the death of Ken. He was one quiet and easy going man. We were not particularly friends but we admired each other’s work. After reading one of his books, titled ‘In the shadow of a saint,’ I gained considerable insight about his frankness and personality. Our last face-to-face meeting was at the House of Commons where he was part of a delegation to a meeting on oil theft co-organised by Dr. Patrick Dele Cole. He was then working for former President Jonathan who had major political differences with my friend, the former Governor now, Minister Amaechi. We continued to engage each other on the social media afterwards. Even when we disagreed politically, Ken always tried to persuasively argue his case while not trying to be disagreeable. He was a gentleman. I remember that he had a passion for working on climate change issues and once suggested that I should work with him on a carbon trading project.
I arrived London early on the 10th of November and headed straight to Brighton where I spent the night. What a day to travel, I thought as I cast my mind back to the 10th of November 1995 which was the date that Ken. Jnr’s father Ken Saro-Wiwa Snr. was executed by the Nigerian military junta on accusations of murder. There were a few familiar faces in the flight who were apparently heading to the same destination. One of them introduced himself as the representative of Senator Magnus Abe to the same funeral. I had a great time sleeping during the flight. In between, I thought about Ken Jnr and the whole story of Ogoni. I thought about many people who had died for the struggle for the environmental restoration of the polluted land and wished they were alive to see the clean-up program happen. I arrived at St. Mary the Virgin church in Bletchingley near Surrey at 11.05 am. The church service started at about 12.09 am after Ken’s body was brought in by his friends and family. It was a very solemn session. Everyone was grief stricken. For so many people it was still unbelievable because his illness lasted for a very short period. Ken’s widow Olivia and his aged mother struggled to hold back tears while his sisters, Noo and Zina held unto his sons Felix and Suanu. One after the other, his friends told very exciting stories about their regular encounters with Ken and what they knew about him.
At 47, I must say that Ken’s lived a relatively short life yet he achieved so much. Many will say that he lived partly in the shadow of his father yet he did a lot on his own. He made his own name as a prolific writer, versatile commentator and an accomplished journalist who worked with many organisations in the United Kingdom and Canada. In 2005 he became the World Economic Forum, “Young Global Leader’ and later served on the African Advisory Council of the Prince of Wales’ Rainforest Project. Back in Nigeria, Ken served three Nigerian Presidents consecutively and contributed his quota in national affairs. He was a man of wit and style. A bridge builder who always found a reason to justify the views of those who hold contrary opinion from his own. Despite the divisions in his home town Ogoni created partly by different approaches to the Ogoni struggle led by his father, Ken Jr. was one man who kept in touch with every side of the divide. He reached out to those who agreed or disagreed with his father while he was alive. For me those were some of the most important gifts that Ken had – a spirit of forgiveness and nobility. Although his immediate family preferred to make his funeral a private family affair, the church was filled to the brim with many people travelling from far and near to bid him farewell. What a privilege that I joined to bid him farewell. May his soul rest in peace and may God console his wife, mother, children, sisters, relatives and friends who are grieving at this time. The enduring legacies of his achievements will continue to make all of us proud even after he is no more physically with us.
BY UCHE IGWE