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Tribute to Nwachukwu Ike By Donald Okeke (Don)

(R-L) Nwachukwu Ike, Chima Ezeoke and Donald Okeke at the University of Ife
Nwachukwu Ike(R) and Don Okeke
Dr. Donald Okeke
Donald Okeke’s work, Dialogue with the hawker
Don Okeke’s Chains of Freedom
Don Okeke’s The Face of Death
Don Okeke’s work, Help
Don Okeke’s African Hunter
Don Okeke’s De Portrait

I remember with nostalgia our time together. The indelible memory of our time together is my expression Nwaa-chuu-kwuu and your expression mmburu-ce (a.k.a. Donbruce), which we fondly used to refer to each other. If I think of a true friend that I shared my early adulthood with, it was you. Our friendship started in 1980 at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Then you were in your second year studying English Language and I was in my third year studying Urban and Regional Planning.

Our friendship developed naturally in the context of other soulmates, friends, specifically Iro Simon and Martin Ajaero (a.k.a Mato). The four of us flocked together and went through the university as the university went through us. Of the four of us, you are the second to go. Mato was the first, remaining Iro Simon and myself. You, along with Mato now know the mystery of eternal rest, something we contemplated on several occasions as we sojourned out there in the cloud. The knowledge of death is no longer in your imagination. It is now pure knowledge. Adieu.

We shared so much together, spent so much time together that I do not know how to recount it. From 1980 until 1984 (when we left Ife), we shared the same room and the same bed for five solid years. We shared each other’s company within and outside Ife. In Lagos and in Enugu, we were together sharing the same philosophy of life. We received inspiration from the same source, we shared our joy, and we shared songs, which we brewed in our creative moments. Sorrows did not find any foothold in us. We communicated without speaking and when we felt like it, we shared mutual jokes. You were a friend I could be silent with yet remain connected to. We could predict each other accurately no matter the circumstance. Perfect friendship I would say.

When our friendship started, you were a writer and I a visual artist. Gradually you transited from what I consider neoclassical poetic verses to very esoteric visual arts. Many of these art works appeared initially on the walls of uncompleted hostel buildings on campus where we spent inspirational quiet times. We were sparing partners in assessing our works. My approval of your work was what mattered. It did not matter what a third party said. Same for me. You, Chima Ezeoke and I dreamt of an art partnership that we labelled DONBONCHI. You were the BON in that partnership and your responsibility was to provide literary rendition of what each of our artworks represents. Up until now, besides my family members, if I have ever met someone that is brilliant, that I can trust, that made an impression on my life, that person is you.

After our stay at Ife, I returned to Enugu where I picked up a position as a lecturer with the University of Nigeria. I hired an apartment. You joined me and we lived in my apartment for a brief spell before you relocated to Lagos. Your friends, including Dilih Ezugha and Franca were my friends and mine yours including Jane Bryce, Eugene Ikpo and Rozy Cox. We were together all the time sharing our interests and living in our world of artistic lifestyle. Besides our dreams, we had nothing but we lacked nothing.

Oh! Nwachukwu, you are a remarkable person, dogged and focused. In spite of all odds, you successfully pursued a law education program at the University of Lagos and proceeded to Law School. You engaged in this mission long after we left Ife when most people thought you had lost your bearing. You attended the Nigerian Law School and your call to bar immediately after signified the genius in you. I am compelled to bear witness to this solemn testimony in your life for the benefit of your later day friends.

I started missing you when you moved over to America. We maintained contact through phone and Facebook but it was not enough. I followed the development of your art. I watched you pull through our dream of becoming great artists. I am very proud of you and your art.

Adieu Nwachukwu. I cannot believe that I am writing this tribute to you. There is no doubt in my heart that I feel very strong emotions writing this tribute. At times like this, the words of man are in vain. I chose to seek solace in the spirit. Adieu.

Dr. Donald Okeke is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning with the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Nigeria.

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