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Well marbled Professor Philip Igbafe departs

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Warri

I was on the verge of making a snappy visit to Warri. My intention was to make a brief stop, going to or coming from Warri, on the Benin-Sapele expressway. I was engaged in a discussion with myself to do a detour at his residence. I had not seen him for a pretty long time. This time I must see him once again to hold converse on social and profitable academic and intellectual matters that also would dwell on my journalism. I had some time in – as at then – the not-distant past heard that a strange thing had happened to him – matrimonially speaking. I wanted to know from him first hand what matrimonial troubles he could experience at his very advanced age and time on this earth-plane.

I was still trying to figure out what must have led to what must have taken place in my thought that was decorated with the ornamentation of an earlier social visit to him. Then he profusely and profitably spoke to me in an afternoon that pleasantly enriched my state. So in the detour I was going to make, I would not re-mention the stale matter that I was already accustomed to. Instead, I would venture onto the turf of the new academic figures he was producing in the new private university where his design(s) would sooner or later shine forth. I was in this state of thoughtful sensation when one of his protégés and I met.

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He informed me that the great profound Professor of History was indisposed and he was in fact in hospital. My heart jumped. Had his final night come?

Needless to say, I did not do my detour to Poll Street where the professor of the Protectorate of History at the great University of Benin once held sway for well more than half a century – if my arithmetical, algebraical and historical calculations are not incorrect. I also did not make my snappy trip to Warri eventually. The reason for my wanting to dash to my prime city and birthplace of origin was overthrown by a despotic reason/circumstance I don’t want to bring to the fore now or at any other time. But I considered it my duty to visit him in the hospital to cheer him up – if I could. Somehow, I failed in that duty. Or it appeared I failed in that duty.

The next pain that hit me was that his night had visited him; and that his flame had been extinguished. I was drained. I felt depraved. What and who would vote for my acquittal? I would gladly not miss his funeral events. Again, I missed them last weekend even though I was busy doing nothing. I did not get the right information – which made me grieve all the more for the departed Professor Philip Igbafe, a very well-marbled figure and personage. I am still in grief for him even though he was committed to mother earth last Friday, June 25th in Jattu in his homeland of Etsako in Edo State. (His real birthplace was Ayua, a walking distance from Jattu).

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And this tribute I am doing in his rightly deserved honour is primarily and rightly to repair my faults relating to a man who was more than good to me when he was on this side of ceaseless time. I never failed to recognize his strokes of goodness to me yet why did the faults I committed un-wittingly in his time of departure allow themselves to be committed by me un-wittingly? This may appear to be a loaded question whose answer my sustained energy to do what I am doing now will be allowed to provide in my favour.

I will always remember Emeritus Professor Philip Aigbona Igbafe. Eloquence, oratory, integrity, fidelity, hard work, intelligence, kindness, good-naturedness, confidence, fearlessness, fairness, self-less-ness, cleanliness, broad-mindedness, justice, courage, commitment, loyalty and friendship were well marbled in him. In other words, in him were huge rooms of marbles of all these and more virtuous qualities that were always in contact with themselves. God bequeathed them to him the way he bequeathed to Greece literature, philosophy and their marbles which the Western European country has bequeathed to the world. I read assiduously the “Biography” of tributes relating to the Emeritus Professor’s burial. Collectively, the tributes mirror, marble and encapsulate my thoughts and everything I have stated about our very well marbled historian, teacher, administrator, father, husband and personage, whose numerous ex-students would want to imitate and might want to be referred to as Professor Philip Igbafe incarnates – because they are respectability incarnates. Several names of the students attract my attention. But I refuse the urge to name anyone here.

Let me not give the wrong impression that I belong to Professor Philip Igbafe’s scholarly or academic or journalistic generation. Not at all. I will only refer to myself as one of those the departed greatly great man taught how to dance by the light of the academic moon even when it was yet not night. As a two-time dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Benin where he was before he retired and before he joined the faculty, of Benson Idahosa University in Benin City, I enjoyed his divine company and goodness – I say it again, although deliberately I must remain silent on this, on what he offered me academically and journalistically. I refer to his company which I enjoyed as “divine” because he was one profound scholar whose image I adored on account of what appeared and appealed to me as his stroke of goodly godly genius. I can remember vividly an occasion when I was discussing with him the problems of Nigerian universities. He informed me of what the universities were in the nineteen-sixties up to the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties when the decay we have been witnessing set in.

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The civil service and some ASUU executive members had their respective shares of blame. He mentioned specific names from both sides. And he went further to give me the following prediction: “As the years roll by ASUU nationally and in the branches will have hustlers as their officers.” I sharply but politely disagreed with him. I can remember telling him that “We shall drink the blood of the traitors, the enemies of humanity even in the body of ASUU.” Humorously, he replied. “No. Neither taste nor drink nor sip nor suck their blood. If needful, suck, sip, drink, taste their milk – if they had any academic or scholarly or courageous milk left in them. ASUU must not allow its freedom to be taken from the universities,” he added the last sentence seriously. “We must not allow it,” he emphasized more seriously. I nodded affirmatively. And said: “We shall achieve freedom.” His reply: “Yes. But not with hustlers as our officers.”

As I remember this conversation with him, I can conclude in hindsight that as at that time I was conversing with a quiet, delectable academic radical who has now been gloried to posterity. I want to read again his great book of great corrective measure entitled Nemesis of Power about the fatal nature of power and betrayal in the Benin Kingdom of yore. The book also helped to marble for posterity his well-marbled reputation.

Good-bye, our marbled man. Today’s column is essentially part of my condolences to his kinsmen, family, friends, former and present students and colleagues in Uniben and Benson Idahosa University. He was aged 91 years – of well-marbled grace.

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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