Dear Dr. (Mrs) Faith Obiageri Ibhawaegbele, I stand here with a heavy heart, as your former teacher, your former M.A. and Ph.D. Supervisor, and as your colleague, to plant these flowers of words in the garden of your memory.
On Wednesday October 3, 2012, you began your eternal ascent without a farewell, and your body which now lies irrevocably silent, unmoved by mortal wailings, unfettered by worldly cares, immune to weeping winds and stormy seas, undaunted by pining stars, insensitive to this vast convocation of mourners, unyielding to the desires of all that you do not depart, bears the clearest testimony to those who may not have believed that, because we are born at all, we must surely die. Anyone who does not die was never born at all. And so Death is inevitable; it is a natural event, a leveller and the end of all things. This Death has called you and you have answered. You have run the good race; you have fought the good, valiant fight and you have gone to be with the Lord.
Though your life was brief like the great, memorable chapter of a small book, you soared like an eagle seeking no other tree to perch but the iroko. You twinkled ever so brightly like the little star. You left your mark in all things that you touched and you transformed the dark colours of life to bright ones everywhere you went. You had a soft, gentle, tender but big heart, a heart of love, peace, prayerfulness, care, compassion, kindness, forgiveness … You always sought to pay your dues in everything you did; you never cut corners. You worked hard like a strong soldier. You burned the midnight oil like a resilient, untiring Amazon. Yours was the determined and patient life – determined for knowledge, patient in waiting for that which you knew would be yours. You were a dogged fighter, though your mien constantly exuded calmness. You radiated a warmth that was infectious, a zeal to work that was passionate.
I remember the earliest beginnings of your academic sojourn under my tutelage: your tender, faltering yet bold and determined steps, the breaking out of your voice like a resolute tendril shooting out in the early cold mists of dawn. You hugged the substance of your dream; you unleashed the determined walk of one who sought to conquer the sun. Your song bore the certain resonance of a universal gong. Who was I not to give you a chance to do the walk of a Neil Armstrong? 2003 broke with you earning a degree of Master’s in the same area I chose to hone my art, seeking to turn the base metal of every day experience into the gold of art.
You listened carefully; you learned well; you followed well, and at a stupendous pace. You were marked for great things, for signs and wonders, and limitless were the bounds of my joy at producing the second Master’s in my growing career. I had lost the first one, another rising star by name Clement Yuba, to cold, cruel, unkind and unwavering death in 1998. You brought the joy back, and I could see the face of the moon, see the beauty in the rising of the sun and smell the smell of roses…
Your goal was the pinnacle. This goal was etched in your eyes like a defiant mark on marble. It was engraved in the determined, timeless look your eyes bore, the look of one who was unstoppable. Just a quiet challenge I gave you, and I knew that you desired the Apotheosis. And together we worked (I, at getting my first Ph.D. product, and you at reaping the first fruits of the great dream that had stirred in your heart). And so, in 2009, we had different, yet similar reasons to celebrate when you were crowned, like I had been many years before, a Doctor of Philosophy in Stylistics.
From then, I called you “Small Doctor”, confident that you had truly seen the synergy between language and meaning which had formed the architectonics of our research efforts.
“Small Doctor”, how was I to know only three years on that your life would remind me of “a candle in the wind”, the lyrics of Elton John’s soul-stirring song? How would I? How would we – Professor Jude Agho, Professor Amen Uhunmwangho, Professor Ben Egede, Professor Isaac Elimimian and myself – who had seen in you and our other rising stars, the true marks of one who would fill the vacuum we would leave when we grow old and retire?
You sure lived your life like a candle in the wind. But your candle lit the darkest corners of our darkest dawns; it brought illumination upon our dark, dismal and brutal silences; it brought joy and laughter to all your students – our students – who have all gathered here today in their numbers, tears in their eyes, their hearts heavy as mine, to bid their unforgettable heroine a final farewell on the journey from which no one ever returns.
The sky has lost a budding star; the sky has lost a budding star, and there is a deep void in the face of the firmament.
But we must dry our tears and weep no more, because we know you lived a blessed, eventful, determined and productive life; we must weep no more because we know you are joined with the saints; we must weep no more because we know too well that, someday, we all shall be reunited with you in Paradise where there shall be no weeping or wailing; where there shall be no more parting.
Goodnight, my first Ph.D. product of whom I will remain irrevocably proud; goodnight, bold and confident warrior in the academic savannah; goodnight, my best friend; goodnight, my little sister, and sleep tight.