By Maik Ortserga
Many people pass through our lives like billowy clouds that float by at noon but are gone by dusk, leaving behind only a memory for us hold. Life is indeed quite ephemeral.
I received a frantic phone call today 23rd of July, 2022 from my agitated uncle, teacher and respected supervisor, Professor Godwin Yina, breaking the news that Professor Tyohdzuah Akosu has passed on. It is strange how human nature reacts to extreme stress; it was Professor Yina’s tremulous voice that at first drew tears from my eyes rather than the news that Akosu is gone. But as the reality began to sink in, I managed to stand up straight without bursting into tears in that public place where I was sitting with some friends. I pulled myself together and tried to put on a macho front before I left with a flood of questions chasing behind me concerning my unusual behaviour. Akosu has indeed gone, taking some part of me with him and my soul weeps with grief.
My first encounter with Prof. Tyohdzuah Akosu was in the mid-1990s in Vandeikya, during a fundraising ceremony organized by Kunav Student Association (KUSA) under the then leadership of the national president of the group, Comrade Demesughter Ayado. I had just finished from Mount Saint Michael’s secondary School, Aliade and was awaiting my result. As a book worm, I was excited to attend the event targeted at establishing a library in my community. The roll call at that event included Prof. Tyohdzuah Akosu, Mr. D.T Kuegh, who was then in charge of the Benue State Library Board, as well as many other notable Vandeikya sons and daughters.
Prof. Akosu, the Guest Speaker at the event, spoke so well in both English and Tiv. It was from his speech that I first heard the Tiv proverb “uagh sen twen hule” which is something to the effect that the stream ambles its course because it has chosen to go alone. He was actually calling for the unity of purpose among Kunav youths as the only way to achieve development.
Fast forward to my years as an undergraduate at Benue State University where we were taught many literature courses by the renowned Prof. Tyohdzuah Akosu. It was from him that I began to hear of such names of literary giants like Dambudzo Marechera, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Mbulele Mzamane, Doris Lesing, Bessie Head and many others.
Prof. Akosu had once told us that he adopted a corrupted version of his name ‘Tyozua’ while as an undergraduate as a means of getting back at his foreigner teachers who could easily pronounce such difficult names as Alexander Solszhenitsyn but pretend not to be able to pronounce a simple name like Tyozua Akosu. To make matters more complex for these teachers, he added more consonants and changed his name from Tyozua to “Tyohdzuah.”
Akosu was a strict disciplinarian; this made many people thought of him as a mean person. He had zero tolerance for indiscipline and never allowed late comers attend his lectures. His students were to turn in their assignments on time or leave him with the option of not collecting their scripts. The truth about Akosu is that he was not malicious but firm.
My friendship with Prof. Akosu began to blossom when I was his post-graduate student, then I was an Executive Editor with Aboki Publishers. It was at this time that I re-issued his translation of the Tiv classic “Adan Wade Kohol Ga” originally written by the revered Senator Suemo Chia and translated into English as “The Story of Adan Wade by Tyohdzua Akosu.” The experience of working with Akosu on this book still clings to my memory.
To start with, I was to find Suemo Chia and apply for the rights to re-issue the translated version of his book. It took me almost three weeks of a fruitless search for Sen. Suemo Chia’s house, then, I ran into a friend who showed me where Suemo Chia had been coming to drink palm wine at 4pm every day for more than five years. I waited patiently at the place like a trap lying in wait for a stray animal. I was almost given up my watch when a tall lanky man stepped out of his car with the unmistakable densely forested, Soyinkean type of white hair. It was Senator Suemo Chia. We shared his large jug of palmwine, discussing business with a sprinkle of politics here and there.
Having secured the rights for my client Prof. Akosu, we set to work, we did a lot of editing and proof-reading of the manuscript. On many occasions, I would accompany Prof. Akosu to the Golf Course at NASME in North Bank and wait patiently for him to finish his game, golf was his life, before we would settle down over bottles of beer to continue with the editing of the manuscript. It was from Prof. Akosu that I learnt how to read a book while drinking beer.
The one that will get you is Akosu’s demonstration of edginess when the book was in the press. I was so much under pressure from him to bring the book out. One day, we sat at a beer parlour somewhere in Gyado Villa, and I pleaded with Prof. not to call me concerning the book for at least one whole week, in the hope that the book will be out by then. Based on this agreement, I did not receive any calls from Akosu for two days. By the third day my phone rang. I saw Prof. Akosu’s name flashed on the screen, I pressed the receive button and placed the phone to my ear as the voice of Akosu rang out in Tiv “ Ortserga yô shi myila ve” meaning “Ortserga, I am on the line to disturb you again”.
When the book eventually came out of the press and I demanded for the rest of the payments, Akosu told me not to put pressure on him, he then told me a story of how the tortoise felled inside a pit latrine and was there for a week, but when efforts were being made to get him out, he started putting pressure on his rescuers, to take him out quickly so that he won’t smell the excreta. That is Professor Tyohzuah Akosu for you.
Tyohdzuah Akosu was born in 1951 to the family of Pa Akosu Deede and Mama Nyinyayo Akosu from Mbaduku in Vandeikya Local Government Area of Benue State. He attended his elementary education at St. Joseph’s Primary School Korinya and Christ the King Primary School, Agbo, Vandeikya, after which he attended St. Andrew’s Secondary School Adikpo where he finished in 1971. He obtained his Higher School Certificate (HSC) at St. Louis College Jos in 1974 before moving to Ahmadu Bello University Zaria to study English and French during which time he attended a 3-months certificate course in French at Universite Du Benin, Lome, Togo. Akosu graduated from ABU, Zaria in 1977 with Second Class Upper Division. After his NYSC, he returned to teach at ABU, Zaria in 1978. He obtained his M.A and Ph.D in1983 and 1989 respectively. His M.A dissertation was on the poetry of Dennis Brutus while his Ph.D. was on the works of Ezekiel Mphahlele, both prominent South African writers.
He was a foundation staff of Benue state University where he rose to the eminent position of a Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
With his death that has come like a knife slicing through our hearts, the world is a darker place today as grief sits like a weight on our souls. Adieu Professer Paulinus Tyohdzuah Akosu. We shall come to meet you some day for sure.
Ortserga writes with heavy heart from Makurdi, Benue state