Austin Ejili. Rest In Peace.
Sometime today, February 21, 2015, my childhood friend and mentor, Mr. Austin Ejili will be laid to rest! Austin will be laid to rest, and all will walk away struggling with tears to remember what was said about him, what he stood for, what lives he touched, and his place amongst us. I may not be there to scoop Aku's red earth, and as if to cast my lot with the living, to mark the finality of it all, and throw-in my dust as he returns to dust, but I will stand up for a good man, a good friend, a good father, a good husband, a good brother, a good teacher; yes, a wonderful teacher! And an exemplary man of God! I will speak up for one last time for a friend, who repeatedly stood up to intercede for me and so many others on earth as well as in heaven!
Austin was a good man. The Holy Rosary was his most cherished ornament. I hope he is buried with it firmly secured round his neck. I remember him like this:
Austin was the only one I knew, except for my long suffering parents, who would book daily mass for me while I was in Iraq fighting as a soldier in the United States Army. And when he heard from me, he would jump on the next Okada in Achara Layout to Ogui road; no matter the time it was, to report, face to face to my parents, that I was alive. He went that far to comfort others. And when my younger sisters started acting up in school/in town, he went to my house; sat the whole family down and tabled his concerns. He did everything I would have done if I was around. He was a true friend indeed. He loved fiercely, and fought doggedly for whatever he believed in. Austin was a straight shooter. He was the only one who would tell me to 'get out,' and turn around minutes later to share his shortbread with me.
I was with Austin in December, 2014 in Enugu, on a surprise visit home for my younger sister's wedding. He welcomed me with that quiet, unrushed, come-give-me-a-hug, sweet embrace only a beloved brother can give. As always, he had that warm, but mischievous smile in his face, and was full of pride. Yes, Austin was proud of me. He was happy for others. That is what makes Mr. Austin Ejili so different. He was genuinely happy for others, and let them know it. And where one was lacking or disappointing/going astray, he would rebuke, prod, and counsel to guide one back on track. Austin was such a good man. He would tell strangers “Thank you' or “Thank God for you.” When asked why, he would respond with a belly-full laugh, “Why not?' He would wonder why others could not see/appreciate the beauty and greatness of God as expressed in others.
Austin was a good man. In tough times, my parents would call him to report my excesses. He tried his best to strike a balance between common sense, modernity/freedom, independence, and Christianity. We fought like brothers, and I would tell me off. But, he would always call. He would always remind me of what was important; of what was at stake, and why we must remain focused. Compared to him, I always came out worse, looking like a child, due my mercurial temperament. He always filled me in on events at home; on what 'our mates' were up to, and investments to 'think about' whenever I was up to it financially. He continually prayed for me, asking me the day I would complete my studies and leave the military. You can imagine how he rejoiced on the news I had completed my doctoral degree in January, 2015…Austin fought the good fight. He, like Paul, kept the faith. He finished the course, and gone to take his crown (2 Timothy 4: 7).
Austin was a good man. He lived purposively, and died for a cause: to see to the election of Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Hon. Chukwuka Utazi, and Mrs. Stella Ngwu in the forth coming election. Like I said before, he did nothing half-way; that was why he volunteered, while enamored with duties of a senior lecturer, to be the campaign manager for Mrs. Stella Ngwu. He recruited me into the process as he gave me posters and manifestoes to study and share with our people in Diaspora. He asked me to contribute to the 'fight' by writing articles that would galvanize our people. I responded with an article, Hon. Ugwuanyi and Hon. Utazi: A Most Likely Pair , on January 2, 2015, and another, titled: Ugwuanyi, Beware! published by the TheWill Newspaper on February 11, 2015, http://thewillnigeria.com/news/opinion-ugwuanyi-beware/ . The next day, he passed away. It was like I was running to beat time; to make up for the unrequited love to me. I wrote those articles because Austin Ejili told me to. I believed in him. I would go to battle for Austin Ejili any day of my life. He had that kind of effect on people.
So, before we all walk away, I call on everyone here today, particularly; The Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Hon. Chukwuka Utazi, and Mrs. Stella Ngwu to do something in memory of Mr. Austin Ejili; to give back him as he so selflessly gave to us all. A onetime cash donation is not enough. We must show that his life matters. We must use this opportunity to make a statement about how we live our lives. As such, I propose that an Austin Ejili Foundation be set up immediately to cater for his family. Anything less would be a dishonor to his good name, his sacrifices, and the cause to which he lived and died for. It is not enough to cry, to eat, to dance, and to disperse. And forget. For Austin was a good man.
Written by Emeka Aroh, PhD.
United States Army.