Friday, April 18, 2014

Obituary: Peter Alexander Ashikiwe Adione-Egom 1943-2013

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[Newspaper commentator, and economic philosopher, Peter Alexander Ashikiwe Adione-Egom, passed  on March 3 at the aged of 70.  A sadder world now holds sway with the passage of this talented commentator.  We excerpted, and republish, the last week column of novelist, Okey Ndibe, as a special tribute and obituary of a friend to many of us at Premium Times.  He will be buried this Friday, March 22.]

When I first met him in the mid-1980s, he was a fashion statement personified. He always wore a pair of shorts pulled up to his navel, his white shirt tucked in – and then sported a long pair of socks that often reached his knees.

A teetotaler in his last few years, he used to combine a reputation as a rare renaissance man of culture with the image of a reveler who loved his cognac, cigars and women.

A legendary athlete in his days at King’s College, Lagos, he had proceeded to Cambridge University in the UK. There, he raced and beat the novelist Jeffery Archer in an Oxbridge track meet.

Ashiki had traveled through much of the world, living for some time in Denmark and serving as trusted economic adviser to former Tanzanian leader, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

At the Guardian, he self-deprecatingly adopted the name “motor park economist,” but wrote a column on economic affairs that – as the joke went – only a handful of economic theory gurus understood.

Ashiki was a library of dramatic events, some of them deeply painful. An unspeakable tragedy had drawn us close. I arrived at work one day and Ashiki beckoned to me.

He was red-eyed, several bottles of beer by his side, but he was trying to write an essay. He asked if I remembered his sister and nieces who had visited the Guardian just a week before. Of course I did. They had come to see Ashiki on their way back to London where they lived. Proud, Ashiki had showed off his relatives to everybody in the newsroom. A week later, he came to work and was asked to go to the publisher’s office and take a phone call from the UK.

The news was horrid: his sister and the older of her two daughters were dead. Ashiki’s brother-in-law had stabbed them both to death.

All day, I stood by my confused, grieving friend, attentive as he reminisced. Other times, when grief overcame him and he shook with tears, I did my best to speak a comforting word.

Ashiki was once a deeply eccentric figure – as well as a master of a certain kind of mischief. At a time when the military was in power, he was at a general’s 50th birthday party when the then second-in-command walked in. Everybody else rushed to meet and greet the big man at the door, but Ashiki sat in his spot, attending to his cognac.

Amazed, the officer approached him. Barely looking up, Ashiki said, “I don’t like your face, sir. You look like a hippopotamus.” The rest of the shaken party apologized to the stunned officer and – to save Ashiki from grave harm – told the huffing, humiliated man that the economist was crazy. Then they heaved Ashiki out the door, letting him thud to the earth. He got up, dusted himself off, and staggered away into the night.

In recent years, whenever we talked, he seemed wryly amused by all the silly, and often dangerous, things he did when he still lived a hedonist’s existence. But even at the height of his deployment of a lacerating tongue, he was never driven by malice. He merely expressed himself directly, when sobriety might have led to circumspection.

Years later, with drinking consigned to the past, he turned his prodigious mind to writing books that addressed a variety of subjects, including religious themes and global economic inequities. The last time we met in Lagos – in June 2011 – he’d become visibly slowed by illness.

Even so, he retained something of his exuberant, buoyant charm. His stubborn laughter rang in the restaurant where we shared lunch – and many, many stories. A star has departed, and Nigeria is a duller address because Ashikiwe Adione-Egom has danced his last dance and left the stage.

[Announcing  burial arrangement in a statement, his son, Pierre Egom Aagaard, said a service of songs would hold on Thursday, March 21, at King’s College Hall, Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, at 6pm while a requiem and funeral Mass would hold Friday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, Victoria Island, Lagos, at 10am.  His interment follows at the Vaults and Garden, Ikoyi, Lagos, while a reception will take place at The Daisy Centre, Victoria Island.

He is survived by seven siblings and his two children — Eva, business controller at the University College Capital, Copenhagen; and Pierre, the head of road infrastructure, market development and project procurement, The Danish Road Directorate — and three grandchildren Laerke, Magnus and Kasper.  Adione-Egom started his journalism career at The Guardian and moved on to The African Guardian as economic editor in 1985]

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