By Tony Okoroji
Just yesterday, I was only a few feet away while the body of the great composer and lyricist, melody maker, multi-instrumentalist, sculptor, designer, performer per excellence and intellectual giant, Prof. (Sir) Victor Uwaifo, a legend of the Benin Kingdom, an icon of the Nigerian nation and an unforgettable African superstar, was laid to rest in a tomb called “Soul Gate” in his Benin City home on Victor Uwaifo Avenue. Standing close to me were the wife and children of the “guitar boy” and “Joromi” King.
Just before the burial, a significant requiem mass was held at the Ogbe Hard Court section of Ogbe Stadium officiated by His Grace, the Catholic Arch-Bishop of Benin City, Most Reverend Augustin Obiora Akubueze who reminded me of our first ever meeting at the home of the music maestro on March 6, 2021 at the celebration of the 80th birthday of Prof. Uwaifo, the very last time I saw Victor Uwaifo in person. Governor Godwin Obaseki was at the mass and so was his wife Betsy who shared with me, a friendship with Sir Victor. There was also the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Philip Shaibu and, of course, former governor, Adams Oshiomhole, and many others. The Edo State Government did well. My one regret was that there was no federal government representation of any type at the burial of such a national icon.
Just before heading for Benin, I superintend over the immensely successful Super Red Carpet Tribute Night & Street Concert in honour of the music maestro which was held in and around the magnificent COSON House in Ikeja last Tuesday, October 12. I want to thank all the great artistes who came out in numbers and shut down Ikeja for Victor Uwaifo. I want to specifically thank Evangelist Ebenezer Obey who turned up in a big way despite being in recovery from a recent surgery. I want to say again that we are much better united than divided.
I have written before that despite our difference in age, Prof. Uwaifo was my brother, my friend, my confidant, my professional colleague, my staunch supporter and an unapologetic partner in the work to promote the unity and progress of Nigerian artistes and to protect their legacy.
I had the role of escorting his widow, Princess Osareti Uwaifo, to Ogbe Stadium and back yesterday and standing by her during what must have been a most harrowing day.
There were many who insisted that I must not go to Benin-City. If you recall, when I was abducted last December, I was to be taken in the middle of the night to Benin City and maybe wasted on the way. I was reminded over and over again that Benin might not be safe for me. My response was that even if Victor Uwaifo was to be buried in Sambisa Forest, I would be there.
As the month of September 2021 set in, there were in different mortuaries, the remains of four of my best friends and supporters. The first to pass on was the musicologist, composer, music teacher, producer and label owner and National Music Director of the Praise & Worship Ministry of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Nigeria (CCRN), a fantastic guitarist and guitar teacher. John Ewelukwa Udegbunam was not just known as “Honourable”, he was an honorable man. His ‘yes’ was a ‘yes’ you can take to the bank. His ‘no’ was a firm ‘no’. When almost everybody abandoned me thinking I was finished, he was there by my side.
The second to pass on was Felix Ijomah Odey, the mesmerizing guitarist, better known in the music industry, as Feladay. Feladay was a never-say-die supporter.
And I was hit with the passing of the great Victor Uwaifo and on the very same day, I lost my buddy and unequivocal supporter, Professor Egerton Uvieghara, outstanding intellectual, retired erudite Professor of law at the University of Lagos, former Chairman of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Copyright Council (NCC), former Commissioner at the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, detribalized Nigerian and a man of great character and unquestionable integrity.
It has been my job to try the best I can to continue to console the widows and families of these four great friends that I have lost and whom I know are directly dealing with the pain.
The last couple of months have been devastating, emotionally sapping and a season that has tried one’s soul. There have been times when I have wondered whether I would survive all the funerals and I had to plead with the Almighty to please let me find the strength. The burial yesterday in Benin City was the last in a season of incredible grief and almost hopelessness. I have had to console myself by saying that I have not lost four close friends but that I now have another four great people in heaven watching over me and fighting for the ideas I believe in.
Fare thee well, my friends.
* Okoroji is the chairman of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON)