ESIABA IROBI: LAMENTATION OF A CLASSMATE
Without fulfilling the rituals of passage, Esiaba Irobi has hurried to the great beyond. For all his classmates at the Department of English, University of Nigeria, Nsukka who have been acquainted with the sad event, this poem, I am sure, aptly captures their present mood.
From wherever they are, they must be wearing heavy hearts like a garment.
They must have also put on their monocle to survey the worldunder, stretching with aging hands to clutch at the fleeting figure of Esiaba. In broken tones, they continue to ask: Who quenched our light? Who snuffed out our brightest candle? Who? What? Who…? But who will answer these questions?
How can we, indeed, recount this loss of our brightest star? The pride of the class, the heroic figure and the landmark of the 1983 set. Esiaba was indeed a shining star in our star-studded class. An enigma of sorts, Esiaba was consumed with pursuit and excellence right from his first day at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He was one of those who knew exactly what they wanted and went for it with all their might. He had a set goal which he strove relentlessly to achieve. For this reason, he had no time to play or to engage in unprofitable pastimes. He chose the course he read and the course chose him. Literature, poetry, drama - the arts - ran in his veins and every sinew of his youthful and energetic body.
He studied, read and wrote everywhere - in the classroom, library, refectory, hostel and while walking. Even the din of a marketplace could not disrupt the flow of his creative thoughts. He wrote his poems and short stories everywhere. In the middle of his meal, Esiaba could quickly drop his cutlery, rifle his bag which was a moving library of sorts and brandish his jotter and pen and begin to write. You could see him at times stopping while walking to write down what the Muse had put in his head and then continue on his way.
His passion for creativity often denied him his meals. Sometimes, you could find Esiaba running to the refectory for lunch or dinner when the time is over. On such occasions, on discovering that the doors have been shot, he would simply grin and go back to his work.
All these traits made some students outside our department who had been observing him to contend that Esiaba was hovering on the brink of insanity. But he was only an unquiet spirit. And as the university community began to see the plays, poems, and the artistic splendor issuing from his prolific creative mind, they knew they only had a genius.
Even though he belonged to a very jovial and humorous class to which he made his own modest contributions occasionally, you would never see him laughing like the others or cracking jokes for long. He made most use of his time and hadn't any to spare. In the middle of a joke, you could find his expression suddenly change as he bends over his book.
No one was therefore surprised that he missed first class by the whiskers. Of course, that was a time that the University of Nigeria Nsukka was an impregnable fortress of academic excellence, when the Department of English was manned by world's literary figures like Professors Chinua Achebe, Donatus Nwoga, Emmanuel Obiechina, Rev. Joseph Landy, Kalu Uka, Ossie Onuora Enekwe and a host of stars in the world's literary firmament.
Esiaba's exploits and inseparable link with the world of academics saw him staying back as a graduate assistant when the rest of us were thrown into the vortex of the unemployment that had begun to loom large in the horizon.
In every area, Esiaba excelled. He was one of the most accomplished budding playwrights in the class. He was also a fine poet whose use of imagery and diction often rattled even the lecturers.
He also wrote short stories; but his creativity found expression mainly in drama where he emerged as the most prominent playwright, actor and director among his peers. In the last two years of his undergraduate years, Esiaba's name became almost synonymous with Paul Robeson Drama Building. He was also a prominent figure in Oak Theatre, the drama club of the University which also included lecturers, as well as NCCA (Nsukka Conference of Creative Artists).
Among the plays he acted in and, of course, played the leading roles were Macbeth in which he was Macbeth himself, Julius Ceaser, Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman and Athol Fugard's, Sitzwe Bansi Is Dead. These were of first class production both in acting, costuming and scenic designs. In fact, it was his acting of Mr. Styles in Sitzwe Bansi Is Dead during the graduation ceremonies marking the graduation of the 1982 set that earned him a scholarship and graduate assistantship of the university. The visitor of the university then, ex- president Shehu Shagari, was so thrilled that he offered Esiaba and his compatriot, Loveday Okwuonu, (the two actors in the two- actors play), scholarships though the latter failed to take advantage of the offer.
As a student, Esiaba wrote and produced plays, the most popular of which were: 'The Colour of Rusting Gold,' 'The Pope Lied,'and 'What Song do Mosquitoes Sing?' all which have been published and produced internationally.
Now gold has actually rusted. Esiaba, the brief candle has gone out. Darkness has fallen on Esiaba, our hero, the prolific writer, author, literary artist and dramatist of international acclaim. Bruit it at Paul Robeson Drama Building and Ansah Building. Tell it to Loveday Okwuonu, Tony Egun, Vic Elendu, Nkem Abonta, Ngozi Aki and Nancy Etim. Do not forget to tell John Obasi, Chuma Ezenyirioha, Takon Ndoma Takon, Nkechi Eke, Nnamdi Anumihe, Nneka and Iyi Okeke if he is still around, and the rest of us.
Console them and remind them that 'except by rooting/who can pluck yam tubers from the base?' That is to say, except the creator Himself, who can quench the creative fire of Esiaba? Remember to tell them too that Prof. Ossie Enekwe, one of those who groomed and honed us in the literary arts is also gone, he and Esiaba meeting each other on the way to the great beyond.
• Anyanwu is Esiaba's classmate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is a journalist, working with LEADERSHIP newspaper. He is based in Lagos .