Emeka, Obinna Charles was born on Thursday, October 19, 1995. As a child, he was chaos, running around, his voice loud, full of energy and life. As a teenager and an adult, he was introverted, calm, quiet, shy.
He graduated in 2017 from University of Nigeria, Nsukka as a pharmacist. But in recent years before his death, he identified first as a writer. He started writing as a child. His first published work was a short story called “The Ice Age. The Adventures of Chidi as a Bear”. It was a retelling of the Walt Disney animation “Brother Bear”. We watched it many times on our VCD player. He loved it so much that he decided to tell the story himself. He created characters with names he was familiar with – “Dele”, “Chidi”, “Odum”. Our father was proud. He published the book and told everyone he knew that his little son was a writer. When he got older, Obinna was embarrassed by the book. He saw it as a child’s clumsy attempt at writing. But our father remained proud.
Obinna attended Dority International Secondary School. Dority came with Saturday lessons, evening lessons, and mountains of daily assignments and notes to copy by hand. It was no surprise that he stopped writing after that. Instead, he drew. He was quite good at that. Also, he played football and chess. I remember the day he taught me how to play chess. He drew a chessboard on a paper. Then he drew and cut out the game pieces. He taught me the rules of the game and told me to convince our mum to buy a chess game set so we could play together. He was also the football commentator during inter-house sport competitions.
Obinna was a good brother. He was my friend. In the beginning of my final year in the university, I was depressed. Having no one else to turn to, I reached out to him. He told me that I didn’t have to be ashamed of how I felt. He said he would always be there for me. He called me everyday till I began to feel better.
Obinna was also caring to a fault. Whenever anyone in our family was sick, he would be more anxious than the sick person. If he was not close, he would call you every morning and evening to check up on you.
Obinna loved movies. So much so that he started an Instagram page Scenomaniac, where he posted his favorite movie scenes. Today, that page has close to 14,000 followers. He always knew the best movie recommendations.
Obinna was a simple person. He didn’t care much for material things. All he wanted was a new laptop and new hard drives to store his enormous library of movies. He was also a very generous person. He would give his money and time to his friends or family if they needed him.
After secondary school, he got into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study pharmacy. Though he wanted to study medicine, our father convinced him to study pharmacy. Our father is a pharmacist. He didn’t write during his days in university. His life cycled between classrooms and the stadium. He was the coach for his class football team.
After graduation, he was filled with the desire to do something different. He knew he would never be happy with an ordinary life. He wanted to stand out from his peers.
In order to make extra income, he started writing articles. Over time, this rekindled his old love for writing. What he lacked in skill, he made up with determination and consistency. By the time he was done with his Youth Service year, he decided that he would make a career out of writing.
He started out with short stories. He submitted them to various literary magazines. Today, most of his stories have been published. His short thriller, “Life in Two and a Half Chapters“, was published by Brittle Paper. “Crossroads“, another thriller, was published in African Writer Magazine. His humor piece, “Brown Eyes“, and “This Thing, Destiny“, a story based on his experiences as a football coach in university were published by Kalahari Review. All these wins occurred in 2022. His last short story, “Harmattan“, was published by Afritondo a month ago.
In the beginning of his writing journey, he decided that he would write a book. The book was going to be about his unique experiences as a child. He started the book in January of 2022. Then, he had just finished his youth service and was staying in Abeokuta. Our father wanted him to come back home and start practicing in his community pharmacy. Obinna refused. He said he was going to take out a year and focus only on writing the book. It took a lot of convincing, but our father finally agreed.
The months that followed were ones he described as some of the most challenging in his life. “Writing a book is not easy,” he would always tell me. And because he was betting his future on the success of the book, he felt a lot of pressure to make it the best it could possibly be. He struggled to make every character and line perfect. He spent hours on writing courses trying to improve his writing. His mental health suffered that year. Before each chapter, he would be in a state of crippling anxiety and self-doubt. During each chapter, he would be stressed and frustrated. After each chapter, he would be depressed, wondering if he was good enough. But he never stopped writing. He sent every finished chapter to his Beta readers – few of his friends and me. He took our opinions, praise, and corrections seriously. I admired that about his writing process. He was comfortable with criticism. And it paid off. With each chapter I read, I watched as his writing grew better and stronger. By the end of the year, he was done. He had two titles for the book. “When God Burns a City, He Writes a Book” was for Nigerian publishers and his favorite “Paper Phoenix” was for foreign publishers because he was worried that the word “God” in his title would dissuade them from taking him seriously.
Immediately after, he sent out the manuscript to several publishers and agents. He finished all this before January ended. He didn’t want to rest. I tried to convince him that it was okay to take a few days off to celebrate. That he had already done and been through so much to finish his book. He told me that he had forgotten how to relax. He said he felt guilty if he wasn’t working towards his goals.
It is important to note here that in the middle of 2022, he was forced to come back home from Abeokuta due to severe illness. He stayed with our family and completed the book. After the book, in January of this year, he said he wanted to go to Abuja to work as a Pharmacist. He was going to build a balance between writing and his pharmacy career. Our father refused and begged him to work with him for a year before going out on his own. He agreed and started working in our family’s community pharmacy, Ziga pharmacy. He went to work in the morning and came home by 4 pm every day. At the same time, he tried to keep writing and attended online writing courses. In the beginning of the year, he told me that he had a great idea for a short story, but I would only read it when he was done with it. Later, he told me that he was having writer’s block. And that he was scared that he had forgotten how to write.
In January, he got his first email. It was a rejection from an agent. It was harsh and he felt crushed, but eventually, he shook it off. He decided to count it as one of his successes. He took a screenshot of the email and saved it in a folder on his phone called “Writing Wins”. Later, he got some good news. Ouida publishers requested his full manuscript. A week before he died, he came to my mum and I, excited. His favorite Nigerian publishing house, Masobe Books, had reached out to him for his full manuscript. He was very hopeful. He said everything was coming together for him.
Obinna was goal driven. I always told him I admired him because he knew what he wanted to do at each particular time, which is not something many young people can boast of. He was brave enough to pursue his dreams of being a writer despite opposition and doubts from the people around him. He was also eager to encourage other people around him to follow their passions. He was a hard worker. He would put in all his effort and then some every day towards his goals. He would deny himself of his simple pleasures so that he could beat his deadlines. Before he died, he told me that it was a long time since he had gotten the chance to watch movies. He only read books, not for pleasure, but ones related to whatever he was working on at the moment. He was going to prove to the world that he was amazing. I knew he was going to be so successful with time. I hate that we were not given the chance to see such magnificence.
Obinna was a good person. He wasn’t perfect, but he was good. And in a world where genuinely good people are hard to find, he was a treasure. He was quiet and shy. He was kind and gentle. He was a good brother. He was a good son. He was a good friend.
Obinna will be missed greatly by his family. We feel his presence every day. I will miss my brother. I was so confident that he would always be there for me. Even now, I can’t help asking myself “How could Obinna die?” It still makes little sense. But for what it’s worth, I’m grateful for this opportunity to celebrate his life and share his story with others who didn’t know him. Obinna was a gift to the world and death robbed us from having more time with him.
How He Died
Few days before he died, he told our parents that he had to go to Abuja over the weekend. He booked a flight from Owerri to Abuja on Friday. My dad and I dropped him off at the airport. There, he told me that what scared him most about flying was the takeoff, that moment the plane begins to ascend into the air and everything feels out of control. His flight was to leave at 2 pm. We didn’t wait for him but left immediately.
The last words I said to him were “Enjoy yourself.”
He smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I will call you.” The next time I saw Obinna, he was laying in a white coffin, smiling even in death, his body broken and cold.
The day after he travelled, on Saturday, we chatted on WhatsApp concerning a writing job we were working on together. He answered my questions.
I asked him how he was. He said, “Later. I will gist you.”
Around 9 pm that day, we got the call from our father that he had been hit by a car while crossing the road. The hours that followed are ones I never want to relive. There was shock, fear, disbelief and denial. We cried and prayed, but in the early hours of Sunday, we were called and told he was dead. The story was that the first hospital he was taken to had no doctors. He was transferred to National Hospital, Abuja, which had no basic scanning equipment to assess him. And he wasn’t offered any first aid to save his life. In fact, the hospital staff shouted at his friends for bringing him into the reception. He was referred to private hospitals for the tests. He was carried from one place to another in his broken state. He had so much time after the accident, but Nigeria didn’t give him any chance to survive. Our distraught father went to Abuja on Sunday to bring him back. On Monday, he was buried.
It still feels unreal that he is gone. While we mourn his loss from our lives, we also mourn all that he could have been. He was a spark that would have become an inferno. But he was taken away so unfairly and unjustly.
Today, I can’t believe that Obinna died “just like that”. He was too good and great a person for that.
COMMENTS ( 7 ) -
Ikwunze, Kingsley April 27, 2023 22:36
It is still difficult to accept. I pray for God to comfort us. May Obinna's soul rest in peace.
Ngozi Andrew April 24, 2023 08:58
I didn't know him personally but he was a member of a writer's group where i belong. His was an indescribably sad loss. One can't help but wonder what this young man could have become given the chance. It is stories like this that underlines the rot in every facet of the Nigerian system. How do you explain a hospital without doctors or a National Hospital without equipment for simple scans and xrays, or Doctors and Nurses that will leave an emergency case without as much as first aid. It is truly sad on so many levels. I pray that God will give you and your family the fortitude to bear this great Loss. Ndo nwannem, Ka mkpuru obi ya zuo ike na Ndokwa.
Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema April 22, 2023 23:57
Reading all this, what can I say? He cared, and you cared, too. Be comforted for he lives in your heart forever. I will be reading his works here and on Afritondo. Nigeria, what a hen that devours its chicks. Ndonu.
Amarachi Alieze April 21, 2023 12:42
All who knew him can attest that he was a good person and good people are never forgotten. I pray God gives your family the strength to bear this loss. May Nigeria never happen to any of us …..Amen
Ada April 21, 2023 07:03
I'm so sorry for your loss Ugonwa. Obinna really cherished you and I know he will be proud of you for honouring him with your pen. May he Rest in Peace, Amen
Ezihe God'sfavour April 21, 2023 05:24
My deepest sympathy dearest Ugonwa... He's surely in a better place... please take heart dear... May Nigeria never happen to any of us
Ciegel April 21, 2023 02:57
My deepest sympathy, Ugonwa. Your brother sure left an imprint on the sands of time. We won't forget him. May God comfort you at this time.