On 24 April 2007, I wrote something called “Challenging Perceptions: Celebrating the Ordinary … and the special!” I’ve just checked it again. I wrote of a great friend of mine, Wale Ademuyiwa, of how I’d known him since we were at primary school, of how good he was at adding up. He even made the television in the 70s, when people would give him random 3 digit numbers to add up and he’d come up with the answer before you could blink an eye.
On 8 April 2009, I was just reading my emails when I saw one entitled “Wale Peter Ademuyiwa, RIP”. I couldn’t believe it, still can’t.
The day before was one of the most miserable days I’d ever had, I’d just made a telephone call that I hated to make, I was already feeling miserable. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t write anything about my dear friend.
I’d known he’d been ill for a while. Like most blind folk in Nigeria, he’d looked for work. He’d eventually found one in the Federal ministry of transport. I know that most of that ministry had moved to Abuja, but he was in Lagos. What did he do there? Well, as far as I know, nothing. Then, he’d had an accident. That was several years ago. I kept getting the news that he wasn’t better. He’d been to Igbobi orthopaedic hospital and they couldn’t sort him out. He’d been to the Lagos University teaching hospital. What was the problem, nobody could tell me. I spoke to him too, and he didn’t seem to know. We didn’t think it would kill him though. We knew he couldn’t walk properly, in fact I heard he had no balance and might just fall. He’d stopped going to work, though as far as I know, he still had his government house and got his government salary. That didn’t trouble me much. I’d been to Nigeria once, (I think in 1999, while he was still well) and visited him at home while he was supposed to be at work.
I managed to call some people who told me that some doctor had recommended some steroids. Then, he’d felt very unwell, but thought they were just side effects. In any case, he didn’t have an appointment and apparently didn’t feel he could go to this guy without one. The night I was making the call, (probably about the same time) it was more than he could bear, his mouth was dry, etc. So, he got into a taxi. He was dead before he got to the hospital.
No longer can I say that Wale was famous for appearing on television. Very few would remember anyway. He didn’t do maths, he couldn’t because there were no real facilities to teach a blind person maths. He eventually studied politics at Calabar University. I’ve already written about his efforts to get a job.
But we remember him as such a generous soul. If you wanted straight talking down-to-earth advice, delivered with a laugh, Wale was your man. He had a high pitch voice, and his laughter was never ending. He could laugh if you said the sky was blue. One day, he came over to visit me at the University of Lagos. In Nigeria, we have roommates, even squatters. A two person room could easily house 4 or 5. Actually, I hear that these days, there are no 2 person rooms, but that’s another story, I lived in one in my days. My roommate, stayed with me throughout my studies. He was then a very clever electrical engineering student named Yemi. That day, he was reading late into the night, an assignment or something. When an old friend visits you, you talk late into the night, so I was doing the natural thing. But Wale’s laughter was unnatural. We’d say something and he’d laugh … and laugh … and laugh. Sometimes, I’d hear Yemi’s quiet but angry growl and tell Wale to cool it. He’d apologise immediately, (even between bouts of laughter), but give him another minute and he’d be off again.
A few weeks later, Yemi had the grace to laugh about the experience. In fact, we all did, but this time, it was daylight and there were no pressing assignments.
I know it’s taken me this long to write this. It wasn’t because I didn’t miss him, it wasn’t because I didn’t care. Some of it was because I couldn’t face the prospects of having lost such a guy, not with the other things that were happening at that time. In our lives, we have both the public and private characters. The public might remember the guy who could add up. Those who saw him on the streets wouldn’t know that, but they’d remember the blind guy who walked, got on the bus, or whatever. I remember Wale, from Ondo state, I met his sister once, I heard him laugh, we talked stories, even secrets. We were best friends in primary school, and when I went to KC, he was in Gregs, only a few bus stops away. In fact, the boarding facilities had been closed under the second civilian administration, but the blind students were allowed to stay in the school. So, I’d visit him on some of those outing days we got in KC, and he’d visit us whenever he could. I remember him in Unical, while I was in unilag. I remember the struggle to get work, the fights to get recognition for disabled people, the joys, questions, but most of all, the immensely loud laugh that would punctuate any conversation. Boy, I do miss you, even if we hadn’t really talked in a while.