It is difficult for me to write this tribute. Initially, I tried to resist it because I couldn’t make sense out of this thing called life. But when it dawned on me that this was the last opportunity I had to vent my feelings, at least in public, I decided to write.
It is difficult to write about my brother in the past tense when life is supposed to be lived in the present continuous tense. It is difficult to write about Justus Oyim Elechi when I remember that he was the last man standing, the oldest patriarch in the Nde Oyim Family. The difficulty is exacerbated when I recollect that death has been unkind to us this year. It has not spared us, it has not given us a breather, stalking and taking us stealthily, one by one, as if we’re fodder for the worms. In a space of 52 days, we have lost three to this fearful venom which Martin Luther King Jr. called the common denominator, an experience that is strange to us. And I pray, may this scourge pass us by, may it never come again.
When my phone rang in the wee hours of Saturday March 3, 2018, I ignored it and refused to pick it, as if I knew it was a harbinger of bad news. When I woke up later, I called back. At the other end of the telephone conversation, I heard a voice saying “My dad is dead”. It took the air out of me. I couldn’t breathe because I couldn’t make sense out of what was happening before me.
It is difficult to contemplate the inescapable reality that Justus is no longer with us on this side of existence. It is difficult to write about him, about Justus, about a man who stood in the gap for us all.
He was like water, he had no enemy. He related well to all irrespective of our stations in life. He was never given to anger, never quarrelsome, never antagonistic. He was a workaholic, but he took life “jeje” even when within his imposing frame lay an iron-clad determination for meaning. He sought it, found it and achieved it.
He was a generous giver. I cannot forget this experience. When I finished serving my one year National Youth Service Scheme in 1987, I was determined not to work. I prepared to open a restaurant, but hadn’t the money. Of all the people I approached for assistance, he was the only one that heard my Macedonian cry and came to my rescue. Though he gave me N65.00, I appreciated his generosity because it meant much to me then.
He was a great spirit. He knew the meaning of life; that life is not about self but about others. That was why he was never short of giving. He multiplied himself in others by teaching us, in words and action, how to live life to the fullest. He was never greedy for gain, contentment was his virtue!
My dear brother Justus, like a lady spurned by her lover, I am reluctant to say goodbye. I am reluctant to remember that I will not see you again. But I am consoled by the fact that you lived at peace with nature, unburdened by the vicissitudes of life and issues of the day. Your day was made each time you sipped a bottle of your favourite Stout.
My dear brother Justus, life is an endless journey. It is about coming and going, we come without our consent and go against our will, and in that great interlude of time we become testaments to the wonders of God. Sure, we will miss you. My wife Kate and children: Tochukwu, Junior, Nneka, Ebuka and Kamsy will miss you. Nde Oyim Family will miss you too, including Ezi Uhu, but we shall never miss what you lived for and modeled for us: to love one another, and to be contented with life even when it comes in colours of the rainbow.
My brother, it is difficult to say Goodbye, but when I remember you were a jolly good fellow, the pain is made less terrible.
Goodbye, death is the River Jordan we must cross to the Promised Land!