In Don’t Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo, edited by Chinua Achebe and Dubem Okafor, the piece Death of a Weaverbird sticks out like a road mark. None the less so because it was contributed by none other than the now also late giant John Pepper Clark.
Its one and only stanza starts thusly:
At Akwebe (sic)
A place not even on the map
Made available by Shell BP…
Of that later.
For starters, Dr Samuel Maduka Onyishi, to whom this letter is addressed, is the owner of Peace Mass Transit (PMT). Of course, it is a transport company he founded years back with just two buses plying just one route. Reminds you of the motivational speaker and the theory of how to start a restaurant with a grain of rice, right? Well, presently PMT boasts an unbelievable fleet of more than 4,000 buses and counting, transversing the entire nation.
But that’s beside the point, at least for now. And however that may be, just suffice it by noting that Onyishi was born sans a bronze, nay silver, spoon. A situation made critical some more following the loss of his father as he made to graduate from primary to secondary education. So going further became almost impossible with no bread winner in tow. A development that must have taught him some life lessons.
Any wonder he remained undeterred. Like transpired, he still found time to return to school later in life to a resounding success. In fact, the story has it that it was as an undergraduate at University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) that he floated PMT. Any wonder then that over time he has demonstrated this belief in education. Yes, not only did he educate himself, he has also been awarding yearly scholarships to thousands of beneficiaries nationwide.
A development not surprising in the least given that he is actually a native of the university town of Nsukka. This was to reach an acme when the foundation stone for Maduka University was laid on the 4th of January, 2020 by Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the immediate past governor of Enugu State at – guess where – the same old Akwegbe.
Yes, of it now!
Presently, in Igbo-Etiti LGA of Enugu State, it bestrides the 9th Mile-Makurdi highway, inclusive of the conspicuous intersection leading to Nsukka town. Remarkably, it was the general area to which the UNN students who wanted Biafra declared with alacrity were ordered to run for immediate enlistment into the army.
Of war again, never.
Avowedly, the self-effacing gentleman says the idea of establishing the school was born by a burning desire to bequeath a standout legacy. One that he would not be leaving for just the present but future generations. Facing the present for now, akin to his educationally oriented philanthropic credentials, it has been announced that no fees will be charged in the school this debut year!
Thus, with the past, present and future in view, Dr Onyishi appears well ensconced in an education matrix. What with the avalanche of workers and students already engaged for the smooth take off of the great citadel of learning. Undoubtedly, in no time the school which he established from scratch, will not be missed out when the roll call of ground-breaking private universities in the country is taken. Be it carried out by fiend, friend or foe.
Now that the school has transmuted from the drawing board to reality, matters are bound to arise. Much like we used to pen mostly in love letters written before the dawn of the electronic age, this is the reason for this ‘missive’.
The recent advertisement of the courses on offer at the nascent university refers. Like publicised, the institution boasts four schools, namely: Business/Social, Computing/Engineering, Health and Law. This haphazard run down is just to point out that save for law, the arts and humanities are yet to feature in the list.
The reason(s) for this is/are not too far to fetch. After all, we are now in the age of science and technology, like the dub poet Lynton Kwesi Johnson explained in one of his tracks Reality Poem. According to him, it’s time we let go of mythology and antiquity among other ‘unrealistic’ integers. Like a majority of arts and humanities courses.
A criticism aptly replied to by many others. Like the late Bob Marley of The Wailers fame. In Survival, his last studio album Redemption Song asks all to be unafraid of atomic energy for it cannot stop ‘the time’.
Also, in the title track Marley, professed that the period advocated above only ends up serving an unwelcome potpourri of scenarios. Ranging from tech inhumanity, scientific atrocities, atomic mis-philosophy to nuclear mis-energy. A theme closely related to his position on why there’s too much trouble in the world as espoused in another hit track.
Any which way though, both arguments have to be right so as to lead to an achievable thesis. In effect, the implication is that the world cannot afford to drop one over the other. Yes, we sure are in the age of science and technology but the arts and humanities cannot be passed into desuetude just like that. The most so at Maduka University, for no other reason than Okigbo’s unmarked grave lying somewhere there.
On this count, it’ll be foolhardy and downright banal to call for the naming of the school after the dead poet. Not when those built with state monies are now reflexively named after anachronistic government officials. Like King David’s in Ebonyi State. The most I’d dare ask, therefore, is for the establishment of at least a school of Creative Studies.
A call most becoming on account of Maduka University’s pioneer Vice Chancellor, Professor Charles Ogbulogo having majored in English. Verily, I put it to the former Deputy VC of Covenant University that doing so will be worth its avoirdupois in lithium or whatever solid Major Mustapha said is mined at Sambisa.
Often open letters these days are mostly only written to government officials. But arguably Dr Onyishi has joined that unique group that has attained that fond height by sheer personal endeavour in the private sector. So, whether Okigbo’s remains lie within or without the four walls of Maduka University, it’s behoven of its founder, visitor, proprietor – or owner – to see that his name be honoured therein.
A mere cenotaph will do.