Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Aig-Imoukhuede: Ten Years After

By Banji Ojewale
Ten years after we lost Ikpehare Izedomi Aig-Imoukhuede, the prismatic columnist of Vanguard newspaper, we are still grieving and regretting we’ve not gotten a heir, a successor, nay a pupil to step into the great shoes of the master. It is the sign of a sinking age. A hero departs and seems to take with him the stuff of greatness that built him.
(pix:MS)

Although Aig-Imoukhuede borrowed heavily from the biting style of two other legends, Sad Sam (Sam Amuka) and Peter Pan (Peter Enahoro), he added his own: the caustic episodic approach. Every Wednesday in his Sketches column he stood on a tripod- Sad Sam, Peter Pan, and Aig-Imoukhuede –to feast his readers. The outcome was a unique brand. For, whereas Sad Sam and Peter Pan’s columns were not always a story telling affair Imoukhuede’s would every time broach trendy events to pillory society. His writing was airy, reminding you of the ambience that envelopes you when you read the short stories of Guy de Maupassant and Ernest Hemingway.

That was my submission when I paid a tribute to this remarkable columnist on his death a decade ago.  

I wrote then that before he died in Lagos on January 23, 2007, Aig-Imoukhuede had this memorable encounter with the living. Writing in his long running Sketches column in Vanguard of January 24, 2007 he gave no hint of a terminal ailment nor of stalking death right on his doorstep.

Under the title “Money In The Bank”, Imoukhuede identified two counter cultures that he observed were emerging as a result of the Central Bank’s report on alleged injury to the naira. CBN, he claimed, was frowning at those abusing the national currency. It advised them to take to keeping the money in the banks rather than under  their pillows. In other words, they should imbibe the banking culture of transacting business with plastic money.

Now the columnist wrote: “I knew exactly who the CBN had in mind. It could only have been an old friend who lived somewhere in the city of Ajegunle.” Whereupon he went on to fetch this old school pal for a dialogue.
What followed was a superlative literary and journalistic tapestry: a measured riposte between the writer and his friend; snide rebuke of the CBN policy; ribald remarks to challenge our banking system; sharp words for a society of payday crowds who can’t go to the bank until their salaries are paid; and finally the columnist’s half-speak humour that made you wonder where he belonged: on the side of the new culture or the old?

But Imoukhuede never left his reader in doubt that all he intended to do in his Wednesday Vanguard outings was to deliver gentle recreation even if he had to take you on a journey into his own peccadilloes of a different generation.
His approach was to take on an issue, not necessarily one hugging the news headlines. Indeed, most times what the reader was conscious of in Imoukhuede was the seeming triviality. But mark you, because of his prose and the mastery of language in narrating his experiences or delivering a dialogue, Imoukhuede could sustain your interest till he was through.

Here I have before me the Sketches of Wednesday March 27, 2002 entitled Neighbour’s Goat, And Others. He reached out for several anecdotes to drive home the point that the goat was a stubborn beast, whose “beard somehow appears to make a bolder statement than that of this columnist”.

He dated the tale of a goat to a quarter of a century back in Okene, Kogi State. He said a man was arrested and charged with stealing his neighbour’s goat and converting it into goat meat. The exhibit on which the Police relied to get a conviction was a pot containing the stew made from the goat said to have been stolen.

The Magistrate took the plea (“not guilty”) and adjourned the case for two weeks. And so the Police took the accused and the soup back into custody. Two weeks after, the case resumed. But the pot and its contents were missing. The Magistrate asked the prosecuting Police Sergeant what happened to the exhibit.

Now read how sardonically Imoukhuede ended the report: “The Prosecuting Police Sergeant launched into an explanation about how, faced with difficult problem of keeping the soup from turning sour during the two weeks that the case was adjourned, the constable at the Police Station had been warming it twice a day, as culinary practice demanded. ‘As a result of all that heat’, the Sergeant concluded, ‘the stew dried up’. The long and short of it was that the Magistrate, as reported by the newspapers, dismissed the case against the accused for want of evidence”!

Imoukhuede’s writing wasn’t about polemical journalism. His chief goal was to hammer moral and social foibles, armed with a bagful of risible darts and decent humour.

His satirical armoury was quite rich, no matter the negligent public service he was railing against. Taking up defunct NEPA’S irregular power supply once, Imoukhuede wrote on November 24, 2004 about an encounter with a friend who came to visit. He entitled it A Taste For Warm Beer.

With NEPA “seizing” light for two weeks, he said, he had to give his guest a warm welcome and a bottle of warm beer. He rounded off thus: “My friend put down his tumbler. He had somehow managed to finish his beer so I said: ‘Have another beer’. He shook his head ‘No thanks. The good thing about warm beer is that you drink it in moderation’.”

He was also known to be a keen observer of the amusing shenanigans of the man in the street. Here is one piece in the Sketches dated January 10, 2007.

The scene was the arrival hall of the Murtala  Mohammed International Airport in Lagos
“…Two …car-hire operators were earnestly trying to win the patronage of a newly-arrived passenger who appeared to be a Japanese.
‘I have a very good car,’ the first… said, ‘with air condition’.
‘Don’t listen to him,’ the second man said, ‘my car is a Mercedes. His own is Pijiot.” The first man flared. 

‘Who are you calling idiot?' He shouted, ‘you, yourself are a bloody fool.’

That led to a shouting match, with the other drivers taking sides. There was scuffle, followed by a fist fight that spread all the way to the car park. If the airport had been closer to the city center, the incident would, with some fueling, have escalated to a full scale civil disturbance. Idiots.”

Ikpehare Izedomi Aig-Imoukhuede wrote with wit, clarity and virtue as no other newspaper columnist has done  for a long time. His uncluttered prose led on to the precincts of the great inventors of the periodical essay, Richard Steele and Joseph Addison.

Although I knew he was engaged in some highly successful body of drama work (Alao Shakey Shakey) and (Safe Journey) on radio as well as with Wole Soyinka’s Players of the Dawn, I often asked why Aig-Imoukhuede didn’t write conventional fiction like the short story and the novel. He was vastly suited for the genres, given his prodigious power of imagination and a creative talent for precision writing.

We miss Sketches and the caricatured face of Aig-Imoukhuede. You were unencumbered by kilometer-long sentences; nor was the reader retarded by ponderous polysyllabic formations. All you had were brilliant sparks of quintessential writing dropping from the hairy face topping the page.
*Ojewale is a writer and journalist in Ota, Ogun State.


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