Many knew him as Papa. Few knew him, like I did, as uncle. Yet to everyone he is A I Nweke, the trademark sign-off for his artworks. At just under 70 years of age, unannounced, he had a major life threatening health challenge: a stroke! Typical of him, he immediately sought to know all there is to know about stroke and empowered himself to make an amazing initial recovery.
When I visited home in the summer of 2009, we sat down for a conversation. And there was nothing noticeable about his stroke attack. A great relief it was!
Some of his ways way back when I was a boy did not make sense to me. But they did years later when Europe became home to me. Our conversation somewhere around that summer of 2009 was an opportunity to try and understand where he was coming from now that his ways are making sense to me.
For want of space, I’d touch on just a few of those ways of his that I checked with him in our conversation. Why did he have bird sanctuaries at his residence in rural Obiaruku, Ukwuani Local Government Area of Delta State, at a time when people hunted birds for their dinner tables? Why was he such a proponent of naturally grown (organic) food at a time when fertilisers and other mass food production technics were popular, maybe even a hype? Where did his faith in young people derive from, to the point that whenever he spotted an artistic talent in a young person, he literally adopted the individual and groomed him or her in the art form of the youngster’s aptitude? It was a catalogue of why’s….
In the end, he fell into his characteristic audaciously hearty laughter. To cut long story short, his response to my queries was reminiscent of the manifestos of Green & Social Democratic Western ideologues. The only reasonable conclusion I could draw from those critical exchanges, the longest and most meaningful that I ever had with him in my entire 40+ years on earth at the time, was that the man was simply way ahead of his time. I left Igbuzo for Europe on that visit feeling that my fancy for social-ecological issues was probably a family microbe because his older brother, my father, wasn’t any less radical on those matters, even till today at 96.
I yarned to deepen the conversation… When I had the opportunity some years later, it was too late. Though he was aware of his environment, having recognised Tonia, my wife and I and hugged our Boys who were meeting their great uncle for the first time, he could not sustain a conversation for too long.
He mentioned that my wife was an alumnus of the Delta State University where he was a lecturer and that she had visited her a number of times with Valerie, his second daughter. He didn’t fail to remind her several times that she shares a name with his lovely first daughter… That characteristic sharp intellect was ever present. Life could be cruel and unfair. The fighter fought and would defy death a number of times…His light finally dimmed on 9 January 2023 at age 88. Not bad given that life expectancy in Nigeria is 53.
At the level of his profession as scholar and artist, by all standards, Sir Augustine Ifediba Nweke was an embodiment of persistence, patience, passions, adventure and discipline. These virtues reside in his success in painstakingly researching the founder of our hometown, Igbuzo and gifting his descendants, the only existing sculptural image of Prince Umejei. Same goes for the Goddess of Oboshi, where again he demonstrated uncommon scholarly acumen, engaging the Ohene of Igbuzo, to create for Igbuzo, their Goddess Oboshi.
How can such a man as Sir Augustine Ifediba Nweke, ever die? No, not when so much of his legacies remind us of who he is, letting him reside in our subconscious with a domineering presence. As we say adieu Papa, we are audaciously reminded that you led a life of purpose, at which end, you just can’t die.
Thursday 16 February 2023