Passage: Africa Lost Great Sons

By Anayo Ezugwu  |

IT WAS a year Nigeria and the world was thrown into mourning with the death of many prominent men and women. In Nigeria, the country lost Chinua Achebe, Nigeria foremost literary icon and publisher of many novels. Achebe 82, died in the United States on March 22 where he was said to have suffered from an undisclosed ailment. Achebe is known the world over for having played a seminal role in the founding and development of African literature. He was acclaimed one of the most significant of world writers.


He is most well known for the groundbreaking 1958 novel: “Things Fall Apart,” a novel which has sold over twelve million copies and has been translated into more than fifty languages. Achebe’s global significance lies not only in his talent and recognition as a writer, but also as a critical thinker and essayist who has written extensively on the role of culture in Africa, the social and political significance of aesthetics and analysis of the postcolonial state in Africa.

Benedict Odiase, the composer of Nigeria’s National Anthem, also died in the year under review. Odiase died in his sleep early on Tuesday June 11, 2013 at his home in Benin. Odiase who holds a national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger, OON, was a former director of music, Nigerian Police Band.  He composed the current national anthem whose first stanza starts with “Arise O compatriots” in May 1978, to replace the famous “Nigeria we hail thee” version. Odiase retired in 1992 as a deputy commissioner of police.

Fatai Olagunju, a renowned highlife musician whose stage name is Fatai Rolling Dollar, also passed on. He died in the early hours of Wednesday, June 12, at Marritol Hospital in Surulere, Lagos, after a brief illness. He was 85 years old. The octogenarian was said to have been on a musical tour of the United States when he took ill and had to return home. He was initially receiving treatment at Ahmadiya Hospital in Abule-Egba area of Lagos but was later transferred to Marritol Hospital two days before his death.


In July the country also lost Alade Odunewu, veteran journalist. Odunewu, 85, popularly known as ‘Allah Dey,’ died in Lagos after a protracted illness. In November, Taraba State lost Haruna Tsokwa, speaker of the State House of Assembly. He died at the federal medical centre in Jalingo, the Taraba State capital over stress related ailment. Tsokwa, 47, was elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to represent Takum I in the State House of Assembly. In November, Mike Okhai Akhigbe, a retired vice admiral and former chief of general staff, died after a brief illness. The death of the retired Navy admiral caught a lot of Nigerians by surprise because not many people knew that he had such a terminal illness.

The country also lost Olusegun Agagu, former governor of Ondo State. He died in his Lagos residence on September 13. Since the creation of Ondo State in 1976, none has had a record of high political profile like Agagu. He started his political sojourn when he served as deputy governor in the third republic in the old Ondo State on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, before proceeding to the federal cabinet in the administration, where he was minister of aviation as well as power before returning to his state as governor.

Festus Iyayi, former president of the Association of Senior Staff of Universities, ASUU, also died in the month of November. He died on Tuesday, November 12, in a car crash on his way to Kano to participate in the National Executive Council Meeting of the ASUU expected to declare an end to the five-month industrial action.

In October, an Associated Airline, carrying Olusegun Agagu, former Ondo State governor,   crashed in Lagos, killing 15 passengers on board. The plane with 20 people on board suffered an engine failure shortly after takeoff in Lagos, crash-landed on the runway. Deji Falae, son of Olu Falae and commissioner for culture and tourism in Ondo State, was one of the victims of the ill-fated Associated Airlines aircraft.


It was a year that witnessed the demise of Africa’s greatest leader, Nelson Mandela, former South African president, and leader of the anti-apartheid struggle in the country. He died on December 5, at the age of 95. Mandela’s funral rites attracted more than 90 serving and former world leaders. When he was taken to the hospital in June, most people had expected that the end had come. But he battled death prolonging the final hour for another five months. During this time, many people had forgotten that he was still ill as life moved on and those who were previously keeping vigil outside the hospital where he was taken to gave up and went home.

The world also lost Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, from 1979 to 1990. She died of a stroke in London on April 8, at the age of 87. Thatcher suffered several small strokes in 2002 and was advised by her doctors not to engage in any more public speaking. On March 23, she announced the cancellation of her planned speaking engagements and that she would not accept any more invitations. Despite her illness, she made a few public appearances after 2002, including the pre-recording of her eulogy at the funeral of Ronald Reagan in June 2004 and also at the celebration of her 80th birthday in 2005.

— Jan. 6, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

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