The next time a major tragedy occurs remember this. You will go through what I call a 3 day wake. On the first day you will digest the news and scour your brain for any loved ones that may have been involved. Who could have been on that plane? Who do we know that lives in California? On the second day you continue to absorb the news and question such mindless disaster. On the third day, you will move on. The tragedy will become a footnote in history and you become zombiefied as the media continues to show you images and drip feeds you with news of the latest disaster. I learnt about Izehi’s death on the third day.
The tragedy in question occurred one year ago today with the ADC crash that claimed the life of the Sultan of Sokoto and 97 others. The news came, as does all Naija breaking news, in fits and starts. Was the plane Abuja bound or Sokoto bound? Where was it’s point of origin? How many were on the plane? The facts and figures changed as the day wore along. After ascertaining that the crash took place in Abuja, I made several calls to friends and family that lived there to make sure that none of them was on the plane. It was a successful headcount and my world was safe again. On the second day I offered prayers to the families of the dead and thanked God for sparing the lives of the few survivors. On day 3, Charles called me from Philadelphia and asked if I had heard. Heard what I asked. That our old classmate, Izehi Oleghe, had been on that plane. He was travelling from Lagos to Sokoto to start his Youth Service. I was no longer a spectator to this tragedy. I was now a part of it.
It is hard to talk about Izehi without resorting to cliché but he had a heart the size of the world. I first met him almost twenty years ago when I started in Atlantic Hall. In a school filled with elitist, snotty nosed kids, Izehi stood tall as the very antithesis of their pseudo-bourgeoisie culture. We shared a mutual love of Asterix and Obelix comics and a lifetime bond was sealed. He remains, to this day, one of the smartest people I have ever met and I will never forget the sight of him standing up on no less than a dozen occasions one night to collect prize after prize. Even when the priorities of a teenage boy started shifting to more carnal matters, Izehi still managed to find a way to stay within striking distance of the top of the class.
In 1994 I made the leap across the Atlantic to come to England whilst Izehi went on to Ibadan to study Medicine. Once distance comes into the equation I become the poorest of friends. I struggle to keep in touch for months on ends and sometimes lose friends altogether. Izehi never gave up on me. Even in the days before e-mail and instant messaging became de rigueur, he somehow found a way to always get in touch with me. I have a large family and Christmas was always spent under one roof. Izehi spent about two Christmases with us in succession and a visitor would have been hard pressed to distinguish Izehi from any member of my family, such was the ease with which he assimilated. He had a very mischievous streak and many of those Christmas nights were spent arguing about the most inane topics under the sun. Like could Superman defeat Flash in a sprint race? Was Star Wars really just a parable of modern life? Who was the best dancer in school? Sometimes he argued just to give his brain the mental workout. Such was the breadth and depth of his knowledge that he felt confident talking about virtually any subject.
He finally graduated as a doctor in 2000 after years of incessant strikes and stoppages. It is sad that the only thing that Nigeria could offer this bright young man was an unnecessary and untimely death. I travelled to Lagos less over the years but we still made a point of seeing each other at least once a year. This culminated in him spending a month in my house the summer before he died. I will forever be grateful for this time that God afforded us. I miss his booming laughter that reverberated through our house and shook the foundations. I miss his gleaming white smile that lit up the world. I miss his big head that was jam-packed with all sorts of useless trivia and information. I miss his brutal honesty and gentle soul. I miss the hours wasted reminiscing about events long gone and faces forgotten. Most of all I just miss my friend.
Dr. Izehi Oleghe (March 15 1977 - October 29 2006)