The news of the death of Uche Wisdom Durueke on the afternoon of 14 May, 2020 hit me with a devastating suddeness and benumbing shock. Words are not enough to adequately convey the enormity of my grief. My last communication with Durueke was on May 3, during a Facebook argument, and today, he's no more.
Durueke was my friend and comrade of over two decades. He was also my boss at the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). He was the Chairman of the Southeast Zonal Management Committee while I was the Zonal Director, based in Enugu between 2001 and 2004.
I met Uche Wisdom Durueke, lawyer, committed human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner, soccer enthusiast and ardent Christian, far back in the early 90s- in my early days at the CLO. But we became more acquainted from about 2001 upon my relocation to Enugu as the Zonal Director of the CLO, Southeast Zone. By virtue of being the Chairman of the Zonal Management Committee for the Southeast, Durueke was also a member of the Board of Governors of the CLO. He was elected Vice President with Titus Mann as President and later succeeded T.Man as President.
Durueke and I worked harmoniously with mutual respect and shared vision. He was brilliant, humble, amiable, humorous, humane, principled, reliable and committed to the struggle for social justice.
His death - tragic, painful and untimely, is a personal loss to me. It brings home afresh, the vanity of life and the lesson that one should live right and live today as though tomorrow may never come.
Because of who he was, what he stood for and the cherished memories most people who encountered him would have of him, Durueke's death sent shock waves and grief through the ranks of the human rights and pro democracy community across Nigeria and beyond.
He died at the Federal Medical Center (FMC), Owerri after one week in admission. Wisdom suffered extensive burns when his domestic generator in Owerri exploded and caught fire. He was rushed to the FMC Owerri. Around 3 P.M., Thursday, May 14, 2020 he died from the injuries.
I'm perplexed how this accident occurred. But what is clear is that we lost Durueke.
Virtually all of his adult life was devoted to struggle. Struggle for human rights, rule of law, democracy, development and good governance. He was a pro-poor activist, focussing most of his advocacy on the cause of ensuring good life for the vast majority of the impoverished and oppressed mass of the people. He was a consistent advocate for anti corruption, anti poverty, social and infrastructural development and prosperity and happiness for all through the provision of social amenities and physical infrastructure. He dreamed of a Nigeria where there is functional education and functional and affordable healthcare. He also dreamt of a time Nigerians would enjoy uninterrupted electricity-thereby doing away with the resort to the use of generators. Durueke probably would not have died from a generator explosion had the funds expended by successive administrations -from Obasanjo to Buhari- to fix the lingering and intractable power crisis utilised the funds for the purpose they were meant. Durueke aspired for a Nigeria where housing is affordable, where food and all the basic necessities of living in a decent society are available. But like the other patriots who passed before him, not much of his aspirations and dreams came through in his lifetime.
I don't know the level of care he received at FMC Owerri, given, especially, the new challenges thrown up by Covid-19. Who knows if he wasn't a victim of FMC's well known dereliction and negligence!
The stories I have heard about FMC Owerri are worrisome. Stories about lack of basic medical equipment and medication. About neglect, laxity and medical negligence by a disgruntled medical workforce, all of which have transformed the place into a death centre.
The advent of Covid-19 worsened the fate of Nigerians who are in need of medical care in most health facilities. It turned Nigeria into a huge cemetery where sick people are left to die in medical facilities due to neglect by medical personnel who are themselves, unprotected and therefore, afraid to get near sick people for fear of exposure to Covid-19.
Who knows whether Durueke, while on admission at the FMC, Owerri, received adequate and proper care. Who knows whether he died from medical neglect.
But while we seek answers to all of these posers- if only to get clarity and perhaps, harvest the possible lessons that they may present, we should be concerned about how we can support Durueke's immediate, tender family to weather through this stormy and extremely difficult and traumatizing moment of grief. What can we do to cushion the impact of their unanticipated loss?
We should, in the long run, as well think collectively about how we - as Durueke's civil society colleagues - can help to uphold and sustain his legacies and advance the cause and struggle for which he lived and died, that his ideals and legacy may not die with him. That is the only way we can help to give life to the dead and hope to the living.
My consolation is that Durueke will forever be remembered for his good works in his lifetime.
Rest in Peace, Wisdom!!