I am stunned and saddened beyond description by the death in a road accident of Prof. Festus Iyayi yesterday (12 November 2013). As a student in the late eighties at the University of Benin, I was a front-line witness to Iyayi’s many battles to salvage our universities and for the civic rights and welfare of the Nigerian people. Having survived every vicious act of the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, acting through minions in the university’s administrative hierarchy — acts that include his imprisonment without trial — it is not surprising that he should die in circumstances that fully implicate the government. As scholar, writer and humanist, I had always been inspired by the example of Iyayi and ensured to visit him whenever I was in Benin City, the last time being just four months ago.
As I write this statement, I find myself still undergoing the emotional see-saw of denying the horrid reality of Iyayi’s untimely and ghastly death in a clearly avoidable accident, to accepting it as more details of the tragedy are reported, and then to denying it again! I underwent a similar experience with the death of Chima Ubani, another doughty, intrepid and incorruptible fighter for a free and livable Nigeria. I will eventually come to terms with the brutal fact that, once again, a precious life has been sacrificed to the insatiable Moloch called the Nigerian state. And the question every grieving Nigerian must be asking now is, When does this human sacrifice end?
The facts of the tragic accident make it clear that Iyayi was a direct victim of the recklessness, irresponsibility and impunity that characterize the exercise of power at every level of our government. As far as I am concerned, the Nigerian state is alone to blame for this needless death. First, the facts of the accident. According to the uncontroverted reports, the driver of a vehicle in the rear of the convoy of the Kogi State governor, decided for no good reason to overtake the other vehicles in the convey and rammed into the vehicle conveying Iyayi and other delegates of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to a crucial meeting in Kano called to discuss the federal government’s current proposal for ending the four-month-long strike that has paralysed the federal and state universities. Every user of our roads has witnessed the thuggish behaviour of drivers in government convoys and many have indeed been killed or maimed by their reckless driving. Often, the urgent matter of state for which the convoys break every traffic rule and brutalise citizens who happen to be on the road at the same time with them, is to convey the “First Lady”— wife of the head-of-state or governor or even local government chairman — to a social function or on a personal errand.
We must demand an end to official convoys that flout with delight every traffic regulation and civilized behaviour, with the obvious condonation of their employers, thereby violating the right of citizens to a peaceable enjoyment of the roads built with their taxes, their commonwealth. Given the immediate circumstances of this tragic event, I call on the Kogi State Attorney-General to bring charges against the offending driver for manslaughter. In order to send a clear message to the federal and state governments and to all of the public functionaries who delight in the violent, often bloody, spectacle of official convoys, I enjoin the Iyayi family to institute a civil action, in which one of the remedies would be punitive damages.
Secondly, had the Federal Government understood its duty towards our public universities, and failing that, kept its commitment to ASUU in numerous agreements, then Iyayi, and his travelling colleagues lucky to survive the accident but now scarred for life by their close shave with death, would not have been on the road for the purpose of deliberating on the Federal Government’s needlessly delayed offer to end the strike.
Like Ubani, Iyayi died in active struggle—on the road at a time he should have been in his bed—to put out one of the many fires of national misgovernance.
A towering moral figure and indefatigable warrior in the people’s army, he will be missed greatly and his shoes will be near impossible to fill. Adieu comrade!
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