Pini Jason – A date still fresh
It happened in the morning of May 4. Pini Jason was already beginning to recover from surgery which his doctor considered necessary and urgent. He had no choice but to submit himself in obedience. But days before he left Abuja for Lagos, we kept talking not just about the impending medical tour to Lagos, we also discussed the rampage of Boko Haram in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, a city he said he visited a number of times and developed so much “for its streets lined with trees and flowers, but which these rascals are now destroying.” He told me how beautiful and peaceful Maiduguri was each time he visited the city either on official duty or on holiday. We talked of other things like Jonathan’s response to the terror group, and then we would return to his health. “I am not feeling too well,” he said repeatedly, but kept assuring me that his doctor was certain that the surgery would come off pretty well.
Days later, Pini called from Abuja airport to announce his flight details – the airline, time of departure and time of arriving Lagos. “Should I pick you from MM airport and put you down at that your Surulere home?” I asked. He said someone living in Surulere was coming to fetch him, and promised to contact me as soon as he was home. He rested the whole of Saturday, and early Sunday morning, he sent me a text message: “I am in for surgery tomorrow, Monday. Please, pray for me. Here is my wife’s phone number . . . . just in case.” I didn’t reply immediately. I was already on my way to early morning Mass. But, somehow, I knew that my friend was ill but he will conquer. When we met in Abuja a month or so earlier, he had lost some weight and his laughter was beginning to lose its robustness.
Monday came and I was preparing to drive to his hospital at Yaba to be near for messages or small errands, knowing that Nigerian hospitals can lack critical items at critical times, when my phone rang. It was Pini calling. “It has been postponed,” he said from the other end. He hung up. I wanted to ask what happened and the new date, has a miracle happened when the telephone went dead from his end. Pini likes cracking jokes – even expensive one. On Wednesday, the surgery took place and it was “successful” and the following day, I called but he wasn’t picking. I then called the hospital telephone number which I had saved during his first hospitalisation the previous year, at the same health facility. A female voice picked and said that Pini was sleeping. I dropped a message: “My name is Kanayo. Could you please tell him that I will be at the hospital Saturday noon to see him. I will be coming with Chief Edwin Igbokwe.” “I will tell him, Sir, when he is up from bed,” was the measured reply from the female voice. I hung up.
Then, early on Friday, I suddenly remembered that Pini forwarded his wife’s phone number to me. I then called Obiageli, his wife, whom he preferred to call “Oby”. Madam confirmed that “yes, the surgery has been done”. I then asked: “And he is doing fine. Is he?” Oby said: “At least, he is conversing with us, but he is still weak.” I intercepted her: It is usually gradual. His strength will come back slowly. I will be there tomorrow, Saturday, in the afternoon, with Igbokwe. “Greet Pini”, was the way I said ‘goodbye’ to her. I was happy with my conversation with Obiageli, who, I knew, had relocated to the Yaba hospital fully: the surgery had gone well, Pini came out of it ‘successfully’, resumed his usual lively conversations; and was recuperating slowly. I was joyous – hopeful of full recovery and, in no time, would be back to his political beat.
The Saturday came and I took my breakfast earlier than I usually do on weekends. But I became somewhat restless and, although I knew I had to go first to Igbokwe’s house, I seemed to be preparing a bit too early for an afternoon appointment. I felt agitated and mentally disorganised. What was happening to me? The dress I wanted to put on wasn’t the one I ended up wearing. And it didn’t match the sandals I wore. The breakfast was getting cold and twice my wife reminded me that “your breakfast is getting cold.” Did I mind and did I know what was happening to me? There was something about the trip to the hospital via Igbokwe’s house that wasn’t really adding up. My wife was noticing that I wasn’t getting anything right that morning: wrong dress, wrong sandals and a waiting breakfast on the table that was getting cold, etc. The telephone rang. At first, I thought it was from Igbokwe or his driver to remind me that they would be expecting me by 12 noon, as agreed. No, the call was from Emma Ohakim. Emma is usually calm when he talks, but that morning, he sounded pursued. “Kanayo, where are you? Are you in Lagos? Have you heard from our friend, Pini Jason? When did you speak with him last?” Four questions at the same time and in quick succession. I said I was in Lagos but before I could answer the other questions, Emma asked if I knew Pini was in hospital, I said “Yes, his hospital at Yaba.” Then the message: “His Excellency (Emma is a brother to Governor Ikedi Ohakim) wants you to go straight to the hospital and report back to us immediately. Pini’s wife just called and was sounding incoherent. Tell us what the situation actually is, Please.” I became confused and something in me somehow told me that something bad may have happened or about to happen to Pini Jason. I listened him out with all the calmness I could muster. I told my wife the instructions I just received.
I called Chief Igbokwe to relay the new development, and to advise that instead of embarking on the trip to the Yaba hospital by 12 noon, he should, please, prepare for us to leave in the next 15 minutes. “I am already on my way,” I said by way of conclusion. Trust Edwin Igbokwe, he had dressed up already and his driver was there. I was there in record time, below nine minutes – the traffic was low, being a Saturday morning. I packed my car, jumped into Igbokwe’s car and his driver sped off. We were heading to the hospital in Yaba. There was a mild traffic jam at the Maryland area, just in front of St. Agnes, but it soon cleared and in about 10 minutes, we were in front of the hospital. We stepped out of the car and told the driver to, please, find a place to park. As we entered the Reception of the hospital, Pini’s wife, Obiageli, was uncontrollable – her face covered in tears and she was rolling on the floor, unmindful of our presence and that of other visitors. I knew, at once, that the worst may have happened. When Obiageli eventually realised that we were around, it was then she said in a voice filled with grief: “Have you seen your friend? Nurse, please show them their friend, show them their friend!”. A nurse took us into the room where Pini Jason’s lifeless body was lying, covered head to toe in a white sheet. The tears could no longer be withheld or controlled. It poured like a tap whose control nub had gone crazy. I called him by our common nicknames and he didn’t respond. So, Pini is gone, I said to myself – just like that. I knew that the worst has happened to the family, to us his close friends, to readers of his popular column and to Nigeria.
The doctor had a brief session with us, and thereafter sent for an ambulance. One arrived in good time and the body was lifted into it. The journey to the Military Hospital, Yaba morgue stated. By this time, Pini’s relations, among who was his son, Amamdi, an Architect (I have forgotten his name) had arrived. We filled the necessary papers and the body was accepted. We had to go back to the Yaba Hospital to collect Obiageli, his wife and personal effects – she had camped at the hospital for days. Burial arrangements started in earnest for a burial befitting a man who so loved his family, his friends and colleagues, his people and Nigeria. Pini’s burial was so profoundly deserved and well attended – a story for another day. From the first Governor of Imo State, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, to the last Governor, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim and majority of his Commissioners, Deputy Rep. Speaker Emeka Ihedioha, colleagues that stretched from Chuks Iloegbunam, Ikechukwu Amaechi, Ikeddy Isiguzo and so many other great names in our profession, traditional chiefs and Pini’s townsmen, they were all there. And they were there not really to mourn but to be part of the celebration of a life well lived and service rendered in pursuit of truth for a better society, by one of the finest human beings that God ever created.
Till date, I mourn the exit of one of my best friends, a gentle man, a fine writer, a refined conversationalist and a man whose life was governed and strictly guided by his personal motto: “Thank God, I Was Not Silent.” Adieu, Pini. I will forever remember you.
Esinulo wrote from Edmonton, Canada.
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