It was literally walking on a tight rope yesterday as my friend Ayo Olojola and I visited the Kakum National Park in the Central Region of Ghana. There they have an untouched lush green tropical forest with canopy walkways high up in the trees up to 40 metres high.
Truly not for the faint hearted, we trudged on along the seven shaky canopies about ten of us in the troop led by our faithful guide Samuel Owusu. It was fun looking down from the trees but sometimes awe inspiring.
We spent about an hour and half doing the round. First was a climb up his hill to about 250 metres. It made the strongest of us short of breath. And then the walk into the trees began with Samuel elling a story or two about the medicinal uses of some of the tree barks. He reminded me of some of the quality time I spent with my Granny Abigail in the village when I was much younger.
It wasn't all about physical activity though as we made friends with some fellow trekkers like Lena and Laurie from Virginia who were on an educational trip to Ghana.
I then got me a t-shirt with my foto emblazoned on the front. It was a wow trip atleast it got my mind off the miserable performance of the Super Eagles during the Nations Cup in Ghana.
It was just fifteen days after the euphoric celebrations that greeted the beginning of the new millennium when my friend Iluyemi Obadasa was brutally killed by a fellow student in Ado Ekiti. ‘Yemi had been studying for a degree in Law at the University of Ado Ekiti. He was in his second year when he died, a death most horrible that it threw the whole of the university into chaos. His passing shattered the peace of Ado that the university had to be shut for upwards of three months.
Yemi’s killers, for they were many, were led by the duo of Olumide Ogunleye and Tolu Kolawole (son of a famous furniture businessman) alongside their girlfriends, a bunch of drunk lads that were returning from a drinking splurge and had run him over with their car near a rubbish heap along the Adebayo Road close to the State Hospital that fateful night. He was seeing off a friend that had come to pay a visit that night at his Similoluwa Hall accommodation. It was while returning to his abode that the killers struck, hitting and knocking out the life in him and then making away like practiced hit-and-run drivers.
The sight of his mangled corpse on a rubbish heap in the morning aroused the anger in the student populace as they felt he had been killed by ritualists. For Iluyemi was an albino, a very popular one. He was known by a lot of people in the university community and it was not uncommon to hear people, students, lecturers and traders refer to him as “Barrister White”, an appellation to which he always responded in the affirmative in his baritone voice. In his characteristic jovial nature, he would tell them that he was organising a committee of Nigerian albinos to overthrow the government. It was a well practiced joke from when we were in secondary school and it never ceased to make us laugh.
The sudden death of Barrister White shocked the student body on that morning of January 16, 2000 and the town would not know peace again for that week. In situations like that, when tempers rise, a lot of havoc is wreaked on the property of perceived perpetrators of such acts. Many individuals and businesses therefore suffered what they knew nothing about. A very unfortunate thing but the university body all rose up to condemn the act. The state government then set up a committee to investigate the incident only to realize that the act was committed not by ritualists but by students who were too drunk to realize that they could offer help to someone who they had knocked down with their vehicle.
It was such an anti-climax. Many people cursed the society that had raised such sons of evil who wouldn’t stop to give a helping hand to someone in pain. Where was the Samaritan spirit that the good Lord had preached to us all? It was such a sad end to the life of a very promising young man. After a time of incarceration, the perpetrators of that evil act have been walking the streets of our country since as free men. But what kind of men they are with such an act on their conscience, I don’t know. I leave that to them and their creator.
But today I look back and remember the young Iluyemi that I knew. For he will always remain young in my memory. If he were alive today he will be thirty one years old. He would be a practicing lawyer for there was nothing he wanted more than to minister in the courts of justice fighting for the rights of the under privileged. It was our dream when we were at Aquinas College, Akure. We were in the notorious Arts Class which we nicknamed “House of Parliament”. Also in that class was Femi Onipede (Erebe Father, now a practicing lawyer), Kayode Eso, Seyi Ologungbara, Oludayo Bello, etc. Yemi led our class till graduation in ’96 when he scored an A in mathematics, a course we all dreaded. He was a great all round scholar. At Aquinas College he was called “Mercury” because he always carried along an umbrella to preserve his light sensitive skin. The name mercury came about as we used to say he would melt like mercury, the only metal that is liquid in a cold state, if he walked under the hot sun without his umbrella. He always laughed it off.
Back then we wanted to be like the Gani Fawehinmis of this world. Yemi and I had both been admitted into Ado Ekiti first to study Political Science and Philosophy respectively. But we wanted something better. We would write another JAMB examination and he would be admitted to study Law while I left to study English at Ile Ife.
During my one year sojourn at Ado, I shared so much with him. I stayed with him at Similoluwa Hall as I didn’t get a place of my own. We shared everything we had and we were closer than brothers. My leaving for Ile Ife did not affect our friendship as we met during the holidays in Akure, still as close as ever. The last time I saw him was on the 2nd of January, 2000 when I went to his house to inform him of my impending departure for Ife the next day. We had enjoyed a swell time during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
We had organized a party of friends at my house the evening of December 31, 1999 as my mother had traveled to Lagos. At our jolly friends’ meet, Iluyemi had introduced a young lady to our group as the woman to whom he was getting engaged. Such was his tenacity of purpose at doing things his own way. When he made up his mind it was hard to make him change it. If not for his death, I’m sure he would have had children by now. He had his life well planned.
Such are the blissful memories that I remember of my friend eight years later. Even though I had found it strange to learn of his passing, I look back now and remember the great times we shared. He was a wonderful man who would have made a lot of difference in his generation if his candle had not melted too early. I miss his wisdom and wit, his large heart and his laughter. He had his moods as well. He was not perfect but he was a good man. Sometimes I wish we could turn back the time and make him not embark on that trip that fateful night. But all that has happened has made us wiser.
Yemi left behind a great family. His dad worked in the police. He was the second of six sons. He left behind a lot of friends who remember him today. Rest in peace my friend.
Graduate of University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. Chief Editor, Goal.com Nigeria edition. Former Online Editor and West African Correspondent based in Ghana for TELL Magazine, Lagos. Alumnus International Institute of Journalism (INWENT), Berlin; Reuters Foundation and Agence France Presse (AFP) Foundation. Photographs published in USAToday, BBC Focus on Africa magazine, AllAfrica.com, The Guardian, ThisDay, The Punch, Showbiz and Daily Graphic (Ghana). Photos exhibited in Krakow, Poland. Nominee Journalist of the year at The Future Awards, Nigeria 2010.