OPINION – Biakolo, Ijewere and Wigwe: A peerless triumvirate

As professional colossi, as stars that shine peerlessly, and twinkling like diamond glints, the triumvirate-Biakolo, Ijewere and Wigwe- are not dead! Their immortal accomplishments are huge legacies that live on!

By Oma Djebah

I have been deeply distressed, pained with the shocking death of three valuable exemplary figures who were behemoths of the finest tradition in their respective crafts! Emevwo Biakolo, a colossal literary scholar and founding Dean of the School of Media & Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos; Emmanuel Ijewere, a foremost chartered accountant and former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), and Herbert Wigwe, co-founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Ltd, all passed away at a most difficult period. It is unimaginable!

With the sad, unsettling, calamitous demise of these peerless ace professionals, Nigeria has lost three invaluable gifts to humanity! Indeed, one remarkable element that distinguishes these three extraordinary men is that they were not only giants in their respective fields, having attained the very peak, commanding heights of their excellent, illustrious careers, but also that their exceptional accomplishments will continue to serve as glowing lighthouse in an era of vanishing values!
Ironically, Biakolo and Wigwe passed on same day while Ijewere’s demise was a little over a month ago.

It was only about a week ago, I received an email from the revered professor, apprising me of a pet endeavour which he was devoting his very precious time after retiring from the Pan-Atlantic University. His message was as eloquent, genial as usual, and with his customary imprimatur. Family Fortnightly, a newsletter, he had put together, was his latest adventure! But sadly, Friday, February 9, he died in his sleep in his Lekki, Lagos home!

Professor Biakolo was a premier writer, an academic behemoth and a former member of the editorial board of The Guardian, whose unique storytelling style, sublimity of thoughts and elegance of prose were some of his very distinctive features. His enthralling weekly column was always a climate of captivating thoughts. A foremost writer, an iconic scholar of the finest tradition, quintessential teacher, and a true family man whose lofty deeds and towering reputation transcended boundaries!

He was affable, kind, compassionate, and to boot, exceptionally principled. Biakolo was a premier university lecturer at Nigeria’s premier university, University of Ibadan and a visiting member of the editorial board of The Guardian when I first met him in 1988.
At that time, I was in need of a temporary job at The Guardian, and a good friend of mine had casually referenced Dr Biakolo as an intensely empathic writer who would lend you a listening ear! I was equally told that the professor was, without exception, available only on Wednesdays at The Guardian for the newspaper’s editorial board meetings. Without any prior appointment, I went to the Oshodi-Isolo expressway office of the newspaper. Upon meeting him, the first thing I noticed about the venerable scholar was his infectious smile, which lightened my concerns. A great listener, with tremendous attention to details, after listening raptly to my mission, he took me straight to the office of the then managing director of the newspaper.

“This young-man would make a good journalist,” he declared. The managing director was to ask me to follow up! And thus began, my interest in The Guardian where I was to work, many years later, precisely in 1995, after Prof Biakolo had left for Botswana, as lecturer in English at the University of Botswana, Gaborone.
Indeed, Nigeria has lost one of her most endowed scholars, treasured literary giants, and a classical Iroko whose influence resonated beyond the shores of the country!

With his death, I have lost a very great teacher who took me under his wings some 36 years ago! He was a literary Iroko, who did not only build the School of Media & communications at PAU from its scratch but whose academic prowess and rich contributions to the body of knowledge in the field of Communications and Storytelling in the Global South, was strikingly unexampled. Until his death, he was an emeritus professor of Communication, School of Media & Communication, PAU, Lagos. Some of his ground-breaking scholarly works include; “Insurgency in Nigeria: The Niger Delta Experience’’, “Oral tradition, European Modernity and African Philosophy”, “Women in Conversation with an African Man on gender Issues”, and “Categories of Cross-Cultural Cognition and the African Condition.”

For the late calm, charismatic and astute former president of the ICAN, past president of the Nigerian Red Cross Society and erstwhile chairman of the Institute of Directors (IoD), Ijewere, he has been like a very senior friend, counsellor for about 30 years. Our path first crossed in 1994 when I was a reporter, and we got introduced through a mutual friend. Friendly, simple and ever straightforward! I cherish deeply the privilege of knowing such a wonderful, down-to-earth business leader with immense wisdom. Each time one encountered him, one was always left with a sense of personal fulfilment and satisfaction on account of his simplicity of style and sublimity of wisdom. He also enriched my personal life with his presence at important occasions. In fact, during my wedding, Mr Ijewere and Prof J. P. Clark were among the first set of guests seated in the church, preceding many others.

Born on October 30, 1946, in present day Plateau State, Ijewere studied in Lagos, Ijebu-Ode, Cameroon and the United Kingdom. He started his very distinguished accountancy career in 1965 in the UK, and later established his own firm in Nigeria in 1979, which blossomed and soared like an incredible eagle. Until his death, he was chairman and director of several companies with interests in banking, finance, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, logistics, etc.

Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Wigwe nurtured an excellent business partnership that changed the banking sector in Nigeria. Perhaps, they were both the youngest founders of a commercial bank in Nigeria’s history in 2002! It was not therefore unexpected that the news of Wigwe’s death triggered uncontrollable wave of sadness across Nigeria. My encounter with Wigwe was through Aig-Imoukhuede, founding Group MD/CEO of Access Bank. I met Wigwe’s father, Pastor Shyngle Wigwe, now 89 years of age, for the first time, at the service of songs held in honour of the first governor of Delta State, Olorogun Felix Ibru at the Federal Palace hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos in 2016!

In his years as a banker, businessman, educationist, thought leader and champion of charitable causes, Wigwe impacted many lives. Following his tragic death in the ill-fated helicopter which crashed in California last Friday, February 9, and also claimed the lives of his wife, Chizobu, their son and Abimbola Ogunbanjo, a former group chairman of Nigerian Stock Exchange Group (NGX Group) and son of the late legendary industrialist, Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, Nigeria has lost not just a resilient banking chief but also a peerless lover of education, tireless mastermind of lofty initiatives and a boundless family man whose strong commitment to family values was quite impressive. The transformation of Access Bank into one of the five leading, first-rate financial institutions defines Wigwe’s resilience, strength of character and clear vision.

The fragility of life is really telling. But for these exceptional professional behemoths, I can only find solace in the enduring, eternal words of Clare Harner, a famous US journalist whose poem in 1934 entitled “ Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep” remains consoling:

“Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there.
I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain when you awaken in the morning hush.
I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at Night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there.
I did not die.”

As professional colossi, as stars that shine peerlessly, and twinkling like diamond glints, the triumvirate-Biakolo, Ijewere and Wigwe- are not dead! Their immortal accomplishments are huge legacies that live on!

•Djebah, is immediate past ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to Thailand.

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