The journey home in earnest: Pall bearers begin the rites in Bodo
The gut wrenching sound of women weeping in Bodo city, as the long convoy of vehicles that accompanied the hearse carrying Patrick’s remains entered the community, stamped themselves in the subconcious of the friends, colleagues and loved ones of Patrick Naagbanton. As the convoy made the turn into the road leading to the Bodo Community Girls School, tears of pain burst loose, visitor and community persons mingling in a flood of shared loss and sorrow. Men and women who had held back teary pain for weeks since September 21,2019 when news of his shocking death broke, turned red eyed like boxers reeling from sustained bashing from a vengeful opponent. Patrick died following his being hit by a reckless cab driver close to his Eliozu home, on September 13, 2019 on his way to a business centre.
The pain of his passing was palpable. Holding back was an act in futility for many. So, they let it flow. Curses borne in anguished Ogoni rent the air of the usually calm community, as the reality finally hit home. Bodo’s Iroko, pride of the oil rich community had really fallen in its prime. Patrick, the over 6 foot 3inches towering, genteel son of the community whose steely mind, easy charm, boundless generousity, ready smile, with uncommon courage and guts who put his people’s interest above his comfort and safety, was truly gone.
Pall bearers lift casket for lying in state
Before the convoy left Port Harcourt bearing the long, large coffin and headed for Bodo, the thoughtful line of activists and development workers occupied cars had braved the treacherous East West route from the Akpajo junction. Then, a breath taking foray into the insane stretch of deep crater filled length of East/West Road Onne, threatened every minute by tankers and trailers which looked ready to fall any second and offload death on other cars. Fortunately, neither serious accident, nor injury, nor fatality was recorded on the journey to Bodo.
Even the elements seemed to be in agreement to behave like doting, conspiring grandparents looking over their loved ones. The winds on Saturday were light and soothing. A cheery sun and light clouds soon chased off the dull, heavy morning clouds, light showers, mist that held some threat of rain.
The journey from Ashes To Ashes the funeral home located in Old GRA, Port Harcourt, was largely incident free apart from a nasty collision between a bus and car driven by a reckless, speeding driver in the long convoy of vehicles in solemn escort to the hearse bearing Patrick Naagbanton physical remains to Bodo, Gokana Local Government area to rest.
L – R: Chris Newson, Prof. Scott Pegg, Dr. Judith Asuni among other Civil Society/Development workers
From the expansive grounds of the Bodo Community Girls Secondary School, where the vehicles from Port Harcourt parked, the procession moved to the family home of Patrick’s father, Naagbanton Naaleeba, who died in 1972 when Patrick was just two years old. Sounds of wailing women, men was simply unbearable to hear. From this point, the body was taken to his home where the sight of his Mother Lekie, seeing her beloved only child added more voices of anguished, wailing, sobbing people.
Patrick’s passing is painful. Indeed as captured by most people who encountered him at home, at work and at play, Patrick was an uncommon personality. The funeral event at St. Patrick Church premises was unusual, a perfect fit for a man whose ways including thoughtfulness and self sacrifice for others, values and strengths were very uncommon . The full ground of mourners witnessed elements of poetry and tributes, organised by the Humanist Association of Nigeria led by its Chairman, Dr. Leo Igwe. Patrick who started life in the Catholic church, eventually found a path to explore and understand life through reason, logic and science, the pillars of the Humanist way. Then, a Christian funeral service on which the family insisted.
Eulogies flowed free naturally. Patrick and Owen Wiwa’s friend Prof. Scott Pegg consoled the gathering reminding all of the beautiful life courage and generosity of Pat and the need to celebrate his life. Joseph Kpobari Naaku captured the essence of the man Patrick thus, ‘A man full of life, tall and big, a spontaneous personality, a giant brother, a humanist, investigative journalist, small arms and light arms weapons researcher, writer of books, biographer, essayist, poet, human rights activist and Marxist’.
Patrick is survived by his Mother, wife Avary, son Ernesto, daughters Kakavura, Asidy and Nuka and a whole universe of friends, colleagues, admirers still hurt by his unexpected passing and who cared enough to travel down to Bodo from the US, UK, Europe and different parts of Nigeria.
A reminder of the huge work left behind by Patrick’s loss, rudely thrust itself into the funeral proceedings, by the huge plume of black soot, the by product of Kpofire the artisanal refining of petroleum products from Bodo waterside close to St Patrick’s Church, smearing the clouds for several minutes and clearly visible. It was an unmistaken reminder to the gathered, many of them activists who work on environmental protection, human rights and social development that Patrick’s work must continue.
Yet, most who encountered the extremely generous, uncommonly gutsy intellectual warrior, know that Patrick left shoes too big to fit.