Death and the good teacher: A tribute to Prof. Nnadozie Felix Inyama -Onyemuche Anele Ejesu
When I got the news of Professor Nnadozie Felix Inyama’s death, I started thinking about everything he meant to us his former students, about everything he stood for and lived for, about teachers and the delicate, important and often thankless job they do.
Remembrance is after all how the dead can ‘survive’ death, and it is also a sort of mental well from which the living can draw some comfort.
So, I thought about his classes: lively and animated, his dramatic way of making texts come alive, so that the characters in texts, far from being paper beings, are right there before you, living out their lives before your very eyes and for your enlightenment and amusement.
If you were a reluctant student of literature, it must have been because you never attended Professor Inyama’s class.
If passion for teaching were a human being, it would be Professor Inyama. I recall him admonishing us: ‘If you wait for us to teach you everything you need to know about this course, you may graduate more ignorant than you were before coming here. Those books in the library are for you’.
I equally recall how we laughed so loudly at the irony and exaggeration in that advice. But we got the message. Here was a man who taught so much and still felt it was largely inadequate, a man who inspired in us a love for books that has sustained many of us till date.
As an undergraduate at Nsukka then, I remember a classmate pointing out to me: ‘you’re beginning to talk like Professor Inyama’.
She was right, because Professor Inyama was the embodiment of the sort of communicative competence and panache I craved as a student.
So I deliberately imitated him.
A former university orator, Professor Inyama represented the largely unacknowledged sacrifice that many teachers in the miserly funded Nigerian education sector render. He led a simple, contented and unassuming life, delighting in a total devotion to teaching and encouraging his students.
Comedy was his favourite genre. ‘The world is already a tragedy, so I prefer something different, comedy’, he said during his ‘Modern Comedy: Moliere to Soyinka’ class.
As I write this now, I am looking at the book Eight Great Comedies which he gave me as reward for answering questions during his comedy class, a book that has suddenly acquired surplus value for me as a tangible memory of a fine model of what an effective teacher should be; as a memento of a teacher who I loved so much, a teacher who taught for free for years after retiring, a humane, witty and decent teacher whose heart was the texture of soft gold.
The author of many articles, study guides and the short story collection Guest from the Skyand Other Stories, Professor Inyama will be sorely missed by staff and former students of the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria Nsukka. May his soul rest in peace.