Last Saturday morning, June 20, 2015, I logged in to my Facebook account to wish my friend and former graduate school roommate – Chikelue Uwafili, a happy birthday. I had received notification email from Facebook the previous day about his upcoming birthday.
Upon logging in to my account, I went straight to Chike’s wall and posted my birthday wishes for him. Then I decided to attend to other notifications and messages before logging out.
It didn’t take a minute after my writing on his wall that somebody close to his family responded to my post saying that I should cut off with the wishes, that Chike died the day before. I thought it was a joke on the guy’s part and got mad at him for such an irresponsible joke. He told me he that wasn’t joking and went into details about the death. Suddenly I remembered a message Eseosa Sowemimo, our mutual friend left for me on Facebook the previous day asking me to call her ASAP. The tone of the message was serious. And I connected the dots. And for a brief moment, my heart stopped.
Why did my heart stop?
Yes, people die every. And I am not completely shrouded from the experience of death’s ugly fangs upon someone dear. Actually I have slept with my cousin in the same room when death came in the middle of the night and snatched his life away. A very close cousin who passed for my little brother when he was alive. I missed him and I still miss him. But Chike is different. He is not the type of a friend or young man you want yourself or humanity to lose at a tender age of 30.
Chike and I met for the first time in September 2007 at an event organized by the Nigeria Students Society, University of Manchester chapter. Both of us just arrived at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom for our graduate studies. It was the inaugural meeting of the society and I was the coordinator. So after my welcome address to the group, I opened the floor for networking. It was during this session of milling around and exchanging pleasantries with fellow students of Nigerian extract that I met Chike. We clicked right away because we had so much in common. He loved politics more than I do. He was an ardent follower of Keith Olbermann when he was an anchor at MSNBC. We both are ardent soccer fans even though we supported rival English clubsides. He was a Chelsea FC of London fan while I was a Manchester United FC fan. We both graduated from the same college in Nigeria in the same year. Ironically while he spent five years in the engineering school and I spent four years in the natural sciences school, two schools that is a block away from each other, our path never crossed until we got to Manchester.
But what made Chike unique are the qualities that he possessed. He was for real. At a time when many Nigerian students who crossed the Atlantic for the first time were struggling with their identity, whether to be real with who they were or to put up a cloak to give themselves an artificial sense of belonging, Chike was himself. And everybody that came across him loved him for that. In an age where respect for elders has been rolled to the background, Chikelue was the archetypal traditionalist. He always spoke to his elders with respect even on occasions where the elders were in the wrong. And he was polite, soft-spoken, and diplomatic. He chooses his words. A gentleman of rare breed. He had all the social skills that can stir envy in an introvert. And girls liked him. He labeled himself the best-dressed international student at our time in Manchester. I had no position on that claim but I know that he undoubtedly was well dressed.
Upon graduation, we lived in the same house for one year, and even though I mastered in international politics and he in engineering, he knew so much about my field that sometimes during house discussions on international affairs I had to learn from him. He was a smart kid. We were seven Nigerian guys; all of us graduates of the University of Manchester, living in a six-bedroom house with only one living room and one kitchen. And anytime we all happen to be together in the living room or kitchen, there is bound to be a discussion on a global event, which usually leads to arguments. And as expected, there will always be so much ego and testosterone on display. Everybody will want to force their line of argument upon the rest of the group regardless of whether their line of argument is backed with facts or not. People just want to win the arguments. Sometimes it may result to shouting matches. Sometimes people will get on people’s faces and only timely interventions could save the day. I was the smallest man among the lot and I knew when to back away. But in my one year experience of living with Chike under the same roof, I can count on my fingers the number of times when someone actually got under his skin and made him shout. It was a rarity. He believed in facts. He did his research. And whenever he came out and took a position on any subject matter, be rest assured he knew what he was talking about. And typical of those who argue their points based on verifiable facts, Chike was always articulate and spoke calmly, which most of the times annoyed those arguing with him. I learnt a great deal both as a person and as a social animal from Chikelue Uwafili.
During the course of our graduate studies, Chike lost his dad and returned to Nigeria to bury him. After a while, he came back to the United Kingdom to finish his masters. The death of his father put a great load of responsibility upon his shoulder. His need to be close to home in order to shepherd his father’s house, coupled with his passion to contribute to the development of Nigeria through participation in public service, made Chike to finally return home after his masters.
We have not met in person since 2009 when I left the United Kingdom but we stayed in touch through Facebook and phone conversation. The last time we spoke he was doing pretty well and was working for his home state government of Delta State, Nigeria. Until death suddenly put its ugly fangs on him on the eve of his 31st birthday. All Nigerian Students graduates of the University of Manchester, Class of 2008, are in shock and in deep pain at the loss of our brother and friend. Eseosa Sowemimo has not stopped crying. Neither have any other person who has been close to this gem of a man. Chike, they said it was a heart attack. We do not know why. But this I know – you will be sorely missed. In as much as it is very hard for me to say, I will still try to say it – adieu my friend.