“The fear of death follows from the fear of life.

A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

– MARK TWAIN

By Mohammed Tukur Kele

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James Mustapha Kpange Koroma

I have observed for a long time that, it is when a person is needed most that he dies. This happens to kind, generous, intelligent and very simple individuals. Just take time to reflect back, people having these attributes don’t live long. They bid us farewell and die when we needed them around. The main consolation we get is when we remember that God, our creator, provider and sustainer takes the life of the living because He loves the person most. And ever since He created this earth, He had earlier set aside an appointed time, for every living soul to die.

It is in view of the above, that we have no option than to accept the passing away of our friend, brother, father, uncle, husband, in-law, neighbour, colleague and associate, Mr. James Mustapha KpangeKoroma. God, we have a strong belief that there is a better reason for this call to glory.

Mr. James lived a simple, quiet and very friendly life. I make bold to say that he was the only person I have known who never raised his voice to argue, quarrel or exchange hot words with anybody. Here was a man who found it very difficult to talk. You find Mr. James talking freely and bringing out his best when in the company of people like us, who have over the years shared good and bad moments together. Mr. James is no doubt an intelligent person with lots of wisdom stocked in his head. He was a master in his field of endeavour – Journalism. Many people who had the opportunity of either meeting or relating with him will attest to the fact that he was a brain. This confirms the popular saying that, “The best brains have been buried in graves.” Mr. James went away with a “super brain,” good enough to shape the literary world.

I got to know Mr. James, some 14 years back, precisely in 2002. My friend and senior colleague in the writing profession, Mr. Ezekiel Fajenyo, had travelled out of Minna and there was a job to be done. Mr. Fajenyo had directed me to meet Mr. Sunday Patrick to assist me. Unfortunately, on meeting Mr. Patrick in the Newsroom of Newsline Newspapers, he (Mr. Patrick) said he was too busy to help me. I tried to plead with him but he insisted that he was very busy. All these happened under the watchful eyes of Mr. James Koroma, who called my attention; to see if it was something he could handle. He actually noticed the worry on my face and offered to help. As God will have it, that became the beginning of a long mutual and very cordial relationship that turned out to be a wonderful experience.

Over the years, I have done many literary works, especially putting together newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, books, fliers and so on. There had never been any work I did that I left Mr. James out of. I must confess here that I learnt so much from him. He was such a core professional of immense wisdom. This man could spot errors in scripts, drafts and even published works with ease. Give Mr. James an already published material by top writers, journalists, novelists or poets and you will be surprised at the way he would paint it red, identifying errors you could not imagine. Men, Mr. James was really thorough in his gifted field of proof-reading and editing. English and French languages were like his mother tongue. One day, in 2010, I went to the IBB Pen House to meet him. Surprisingly, I met him giving French lecture to students of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. I was amazed at his easy flow of the French Language. When I asked him which of the two subjects (English and French) he loved most, Mr. James said, “I find it very difficult to choose one.” That was when he gave me the detailed account of his school days in both Sierra Leone and France.

It is an understatement to say that late Mr. James and I came a long way. We shared personal problems and discussed issues that could improve our living conditions. We spoke almost on daily basis or sent text messages to each other when silence seemed too long. I was humbled by him sometimes referring to me as “My Oga”.

Some years back, when Abdul Osman and I were working on Royalty Magazine, Mr. James gave me encouragement to find a way of enrolling into either journalism or Mass Communication class, to really be on the path of success, since as he put it then, “You are doing better than most of the trained journalists.” I took his advice very seriously, and not quite long enrolled for a professional course in Mass Communication at the prestigious Justice FatiLami College of Legal and General Studies, Minna. That decision is now paying off, as I have learnt so much in theory and met very interesting personalities as lecturers and students. Mal. Dantala, a brilliant lecturer and Mal. Abdullahi were of immense help to me. I must not forget to mention that OgaAbubakarNdama’s introductory letter to JFLA, gave me an express qualification. OgaNdama stated therein that I have authored a column in Newsline, “Succeeding Against All Odds” for many years.

Mr. James Koroma told me how he related with many people, especially his colleagues in Newsline. Top among them are Mal. AbubakarNdama, the Managing Director, Mr. Olu Jacobs, Media Aide to the Minister of State, Solid Minerals, Mal. Sheriff of the Leadership Newspapers, IliyaGarba, former Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalist, Niger State, Mary Jalingo, Isah Usman Zhigun (Prof), and many others.

Particularly, Mr. James told me that he had unconditional respect for some people. He was full of praise for Mr. Olu Jacob for always responding to his calls or requests. Mr. James narrated to me how on several occasions Mr. Olu surprised him with cash gifts that sometime made him shed tears. Most recent was during the last Christmas when Mr. Olu gave him a call and said he should go to his house for a message. And that when he got there, an envelope was handed over to him containing N20,000.00. This he appreciated continuously until he died.

These kind of stories made me to go through Mr. James phone to extract names of people and called them when he fell ill. I was not surprised therefore when Alhaji (Hon) KwatuPaiko, another confidant of Mr. James, Mal. AbubakarNdama and Mr. Olu Jacob promptly responded by personally paying visits to the clinic and giving their support. I still recall how Oga Ndama used to address Mr. James, “Monsieur” meaning Mr. in French.

The health challenge all started with complain of back ache. I remember asking around and getting him some medications on it, which he said gave him some relief. I also recalled how we discussed with Mal. Musa Mahmud, SWAN Chairman, Niger State Chapter, on a particular medication.

Months after, when I noticed some changes in his weight loss, I asked Mr. James to try and go to the hospital. He was very willing but due to financial problems, he was reluctant. He told me. His wife travelled to the East and on one of those days, I visited him and noticed some burns on his hand and his thigh. He told me that, he made tea and somehow, his hand hit the cup resulting to his suffering severe burns. I felt for him and requested that we visit the hospital but he said he was getting better. You can’t believe that he spoke to his wife severally but could not tell her of this incidence. I was the one who broke the news to her.

When Mr. James retired, things were really tough for him if not for the little jobs I sometimes brought to him. When he got his gratuity, there were many commitments. He complained bitterly and condemn the new pension scheme that brought his monthly pension down to a token of N13,000 monthly. I noticed the way the gratuity funds were depleting and advised him on three issues – a pieceof land, Keke NAPEP or Taxi, so as to have a source of income. Earlier before then, there was a family decision to go for a car (not Taxi), which could be going for commercial trips to Suleja, Tegina or Bida. But, because such a car was costly, Mr. James settled for my advice – the taxi. Through my influence, we got a good one. Even though there were issues with drivers, the taxi became a source of income for the family.

About three weeks ago, Mrs. Angela Koroma and I discussed on Mr. James health status and she pleaded me to persuade him to go for the culture test he had always talked about and we arranged. The following day I called the driver of the taxi to pick me up so that we take Mr. James to the hospital. I had earlier called my family Doctor of Zema Clinic on Top Medical Road, Dr. Arinze to inform him of my intention of bringing a patient, he agreed. And since I had told Mr. James of the Doctor before, when I came to pick him up, there was no problem. At this time, Mr. James complained of serious abdominal pain. He also said he saw some blood stains in his urine which became a source of concern to most of us. On getting to the hospital, the Doctor quickly examined him and was sad that Mr. James was kept at home all these days. He promised to do everything he could but that we should get ready to move him to a higher facility – Gwagwalada Teaching Hospital, Abuja or Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria. Meanwhile, he ordered that we go to the General Hospital and get at least two pints of blood for immediate transfusion. We were able to get one which really help to improve Mr. James’s condition. The following day, we arranged for the second one and Mr. James seemed to have regained his strength. But, two days after things changed and we noticed that Mr. James condition was getting worse. The Doctor insisted that we should make effort to move him to a higher facility. He gave an open referral letter to any hospital we decide to take him to. In fact, because the Doctor noticed some financial constraints, he wrote off some part of the bills as he puts it,“because of me” and we thanked him for that.

So, on Friday night, 4th March, 2016, Mr. James was discharged and we took him home while we prepare for the journey to either Bida, Zaria or Abuja. At that time I had contact Mr. Olu Jacobs, SyrilStobber, Wilfred Ewaleifor, one Mr. Stanley and few others. Mallam Suleiman U. Abdullahi (Sheriff), a very close confidant of Mr. James Koroma remained in touch after making serious efforts, staying late with us at the hospital and at home. Alhaji Sheriff arrived Minna from Abuja on Thursday, 4th March, 2016, went home to only drop his bag and proceeded to the hospital where his bosom friend James was admitted. You could notice serious worry and signs of pain on his face. He complained bitterly to us and other friends for not telling him about James’s sickness earlier. We stayed with Alhaji Sheriff until late into the night of that day.

I was in Mal. Sheriff’s residence that faithful Sunday morning making plans to move Mr. James to Abuja that the driver of the Taxi mentioned above, called me to say Oga James had given up. It was so shocking to all of us.

One thing that baffled me while in the hospital was the fact that despite Mr. James closeness to many people and how he told me they related, most people didn’t show face at the hospital or at home. This world is terrible! So, people just relate with you only when you offer them help? Well, the good thing is, we must all taste that thing called death.

Born on 8th March, 1952, Mr. James Koroma attended Bounte Primary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone and the prestigious Fura Bay College, Freetown. He was in France for his tertiary education after which he stayed back in Paris to teach French in different schools. He came to Niger in the late eighties and somehow found himself in Niger State courtesy, a sister, who was working for Senator Isah Mohammed then. Soon after, he joined the services of Newsline Newspapers, where he spent quality years giving his best.

He met Madam Angela in the late nineties. They got married in June, 2000 and the marriage is blessed with two lovely kids,Tenneh and Adama.

Mr. James had a son called Emile with another woman back in Sierra Leone who is grown up and lives in Freetown. He has other relations like Raymond Koroma (brother), Kona Seibure (step sister), Uncle Lahia (step brother) and many others back home.

I collected the GSM number of Emile, Mr. James’s son living in Sierra Leone from his daughter Tennehand called him immediately. He promised to contact their relatives and send something across. He did sent some cash through Mr. James’s wife and even said he was going to take excuse from his office to allow him come. From all indications, he may not have been able to get the approval.

The wake keep of late Mr. James Koroma took place on Friday, 11th March, 2016 in his residence and on Saturday morning, 12th March, 2016 burial proceedings commenced. I had to rush to the Minna General Hospital to sign and collect the corpse of my very dear associate. As a Muslim, this happened to be my first experience of depositing, signing and collecting a corpse. I had forgotten that, even though we took him there in a car, he needed to be conveyed with an ambulance or a truck. We were confused until Musa Mahmud put a call across to Oga Ndama, who promptly directed the Newsline Driver, Mal. Shaba to come and meet us with the office pick up van. That solved the problem and soon, we were on our way to Mr. James’s residence in a convoy. On getting home, people were waiting and so the corpse was positioned for the lying-in-state. Without much delay, the officiating Priest commenced the burial rites.

After all the protocol arrangements were observed, there was a little confusion and argument as to open the corpse for people to see. There were tears and loud voices of Mr. James’s loved ones, especially from his beloved wife Mrs. Angela and other relatives, friends and his children. Thereafter, a convoy of vehicles was formed to the Christian Cemetery along David Mark Road, where Mr. James was finally laid to rest, amidst tearsflowing from the eyes of sympathizers, relatives, friends and associates.

Indeed, I, personally will Miss Oga James for his advice, company, support and as an associate in the writing profession. I only need to continue praying to God to grant him peace. To cap this piece, let me share with you very touching tributes by Mr. James’s loved ones:

MRS. ANGELA JAMES KOROMA (Wife)

“James was so nice to a fault. He went out of his way to help you even when he needed help himself. He carved a niche for himself in his chosen profession. Rest in perfect peace, James!”

MRS. AKUM EDEH (Younger Sister to James’s Wife)

“My in-law was so nice and caring. He had been promising me that he wanted to come down to Gunu and see how I run my business. God will bless this man anywhere he might be. Rest in peace.”

EDITH AMADI (Sister In-law)

“My in-law was a great man. He was a man everyone would love to relate with. I don’t need to convince anybody who knows him to know who he was. He was a man of peace. I pray that the good Lord makes him to rest in peace.”

LILIAN AMADI (Step-Daughter)

“I remember during the last Christmas when I was travelling and Daddy said I should cook something for him that he could be eating while I was away. That comment kept ringing bell in my mind. We will miss him very well for his advice. Rest in the bosom of the Lord, Daddy!”

TENNEH JAMES KOROMA (Daughter)

“I will miss the way my Dad used to correct us. When we needed things, he was always there to give us. I pray that he rest in peace and God should do it in such a way that he should be watching over us wherever he might be. Rest in peace, Daddy.”

CHIMA (ADAMA) JAMES KOROMA (Daughter)

I love my Dad. He was nice to me and to everybody. I wish he lived longer. I will miss him greatly. My Daddy was a father every child will wish to have. I pray that he goes straight to Heaven, where he rightly belongs. Rest in peace, Daddy!”

AMARACHI RITA (Neighbour)

He was more than a father to me. He was always there when we needed him. He was so caring, humble and quiet. Sometime, I just wish that I wake up and see him. Everything is just looking like a joke. Rest in peace, Daddy!”

PRECIOUS ONUCHUKWU (Neighbour)

“Daddy, we love you, but God loves you best. Rest in peace.”

HAUWA T. MAMMAH (A Friend’s Daughter)

“I keep shedding tears for my Dad, because he was special to me. I miss you Daddy and I pray that you rest in the bosom of the Lord. Remain blessed as you join the Lord in Heaven!”

REV. THOMAS S. GIMBA (Retired Civil Servant)

“I came to know Mr. James Koroma few months before his death but, I noticed some level of seriousness in the way he handled things. I pray that he rest in peace.”

MALLAM SULEIMAN U. ABDULLAHI (Sheriff)

Opinion Page Editor, Leadership Newspapers, Abuja

“It is indeed difficult to imagine that my friend with whom I shared many intimate moments is no more. I called him ‘Gentleman Koroma’ because that was exactly who he was; he was kind and patient almost to a fault, a perfectionist who paid every detail to his work as an editor, but above all, he was a very faithful friend. If I was ever asked to name my friends, James will indeed come among the first three, which I consider great considering that I have very few friends. Although, I cannot now recall the circumstances that brought us together, the fact that our friendship spanned over 15 years means that we really enjoyed very healthy relationship. I will miss ‘Gentleman Koroma’ and pray that his gentle soul rest in peace.”

 

Finally, to all of us who love Mr. James Koroma, let’s continue to pray for him and family, as he rest in peace – Amen!

 

TAURARUWA