Iyayi, the poor farmer’s son

Tribute by OKOH AIHE
Dr. Festus Iyayi is dead. He was on his way to Abuja en route Kano, when he was involved in a ghastly accident that claimed his life around Lokoja in Kogi State.
The Professor of Business Administration in the University of Benin was a member of the ASUU negotiating team trying to resolve the union’s over five months strike that had locked down the country’s university education system.
Renowned for his activism during the time of Professor Grace Alele-Williams, Dr. Iyayi, along with his close friend and colleague Dr. Barnabas Agbonifo, were sacked by the university authority until the duo were reinstated after years of a protracted and dogged fight by a Nigerian court.
Iyayi, who prided himself as the “poor farmer’s son” is more reputed as a writer. His book on the Nigerian Civil War, Heroes, won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature in 1988.
But it is his first book, Violence, which x-rays human behaviour in the face of poverty that defines Iyayi’s concerns for the ordinary folk in the society.
Told once that his collection of short stories, Awaiting Court Martial, features some of the best fiction characters in the country’s literary corpus, Iyayi intoned “I didn’t know that.”
Such is his humility and writing came naturally to him.
A family source, yesterday, confirmed his death although details of the accident that claimed his life are still very sketchy.
Expectedly, there is confusion in the small town of Ugbegun, Edo State, where Festus was born into the Iyayi family in 1947.
Although a fairly big family with varied degrees of early successes, he preferred to call himself a poor farmer’s son more in line with the characters he created in his books.


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