FORMER president of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Festus Iyayi, on Tuesday, died in an accident on Lokoja-Abuja Expressway, on his way to Kano for a meeting of the union.
Three other occupants of the vehicle which he boarded were said to be seriously injured and are currently receiving treatment at the Kogi State Specialist Hospital.
They were the president of the UNIBEN chapter of ASUU, Mr Tony Monye; the national welfare officer of ASUU, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Illoh, and the driver.
They were reported to be on their way to Kano to participate in National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of ASUU, scheduled for today.
Liveschoolnews gathered that seven security aides of the governor, who were in the vehicle that hit Iyayi’s vehicle, also sustained Injuries and are receiving treatment at the Government House Clinic, Lokoja.
The state sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Olakunle Motajo, who confirmed the accident, said preliminary investigation revealed that there was wrongful overtaking on the part of the governor’s vehicle, adding that proper investigation had commenced.
The sector commander said Professor Iyayi’s corpse had been deposited at the hospital morgue.
At the scheduled meeting, the union was expected to declare an end to the five-month-old strike, which had paralysed academic activities in Nigeria’s universities.
Iyayi, a writer and activist, was reported to have died instantly during a crash involving his vehicle and that of the convoy of the governor of Kogi State.
An eyewitness disclosed that the accident took place at Banda village, about seven kilometres from Lokoja, the Kogi State capital.
The accident, it was learnt, involved a rear vehicle in the convoy of the Kogi State governor and a Toyota Hilux, with registration number ED 357 USL, belonging to ASUU, University of Benin branch.
The ASUU vehicle, it was reported, veered off the road and summersaulted three times before colliding with a tree in the nearby bush.
The Kogi State government, in a statement signed by Jacob Edi, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Strategy, read: “An escort vehicle on the convoy of the governor of Kogi State, Captain Idris Wada, has been involved in a fatal accident.
“The unfortunate incident happened at Banda village today, while the governor was returning from an official engagement in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
“The convoy was on a speed of 80 kilometres per hour when a bus collided with the escort van. Sadly, in the storm, it was discovered that a renown academic and respected human rights advocate, Professor Festus Iyayi, who was in the other vehicle, died in the accident.
“There were other victims with varying degree of injuries from both sides. The victims were immediately evacuated to the State Specialist Hospital in Lokoja, on the governor’s directive.
“Those injured are responding to treatment. The governor has ordered full scale investigation into the matter and paid a visit to the injured.
“Captain Wada sympathised with the victims and their families. He wished the deceased a peaceful repose of his soul.”
A lecturer in UNIBEN and a friend of Professor Iyayi, Professor Tony Afejuku, described the incident as sad, saying ASUU crisis had claimed a big casualty.
Arising from the incident, indications emerged in Abuja that ASUU might cancel the NEC meeting proposed to hold in Kano between today and tomorrow, to deliberate on ending the strike.
The late Iyayi was born in 1947, in Ugbegun, Ishan, Edo State.
In 1968, he left the shores of Nigeria to pursue his higher education, obtaining a M.Sc in Industrial Economics from the Kiev Institute of Economics, in the former USSR, and then his Ph.D from the University of Bradford, England.
In 1980, he went back to Benin and became a lecturer in the Department of Business Administration at the University of Benin.
A well known author, with four books to his credit (Violence, The Contract, Heroes, and Awaiting Court Martial), Iyayi won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature for his book, Heroes, in 1988.
He was the president of ASUU from 1986, but in 1988, the union was briefly banned and he was detained.
Reacting to the news of the demise of his predecessor, Dr Nasir Isa Fagge, who had earlier confirmed the death of Iyayi, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in a telephone interview that he was shocked and could not utter a word.
“I cannot say anything right now. We have just lost one of our own, Festus Iyayi, who was very dear to us. I am mourning.’’
The immediate past president of the union, Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, said the news came to him as a rude shock and was still in doubt if it was true.
Awuzie, now the Vice Chancellor, Imo State University, also told NAN on telephone that he had been trying to get information on the circumstances surrounding the death of Iyayi.
Jonathan, Mark, Uduaghan, Ribadu mourn President Goodluck Jonathan has mourned the passage of Professor Iyayi, adding that he was saddened by the news.
Jonathan, in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, in Abuja, also extended his condolences to Iyayi’s family, as well as colleagues, friends and associates across the country and beyond.
“I am particularly dismayed by the fact that Iyayi sadly lost his life while going to contribute to efforts to finally resolve the current ASUU strike, which has unfortunately disrupted academic activities in most of the nation’s universities for over four month,” Jonathan said.
Senate President, David Mark, said with the death of Professor Iyayi, Nigeria had lost an academic giant.
Reacting to the death, Mark recalled the giant strides of the university scholar, which brought international fame and value to the nation.
The Senate president noted with pain that Iyayi was one of the leaders of ASUU in dialogue with the Federal Government on how to resolve the lingering strike embarked upon by the university teachers.
“This is one very painful death. Iyayi was among the university teachers meeting with the Federal Government side on how to end this strike.
“As usual, his contributions have been forthright and rewarding. That he died at the time his contributions were most needed is a huge setback,” he said.
Delta State governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, expressed deep shock at the death of Professor Iyayi and called on players in the education sector, including the Federal Government and striking lecturers in the country, to rededicate themselves to the pursuit of excellence at the tertiary level in honour of the deceased.
The governor, in a statement by Felix Ofou, his press secretary, said the highest honour that the late Iyayi deserved was the return to the pursuit of academic excellence in universities and other higher institutions.
He said anything short of this would have meant that the late activist might have died in vain.
Former presidential candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, described the death of Professor Iyayi as shocking and monumental loss to the country.
In a statement by his media aide, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, Ribadu described the late Iyayi as a committed unionist, who spent his life fighting for a just society and died in the course of it.
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