TRIBUTES IN MEMORY OF MR. STEPHEN ADEWUMI ILEBIYI - Demise of Doyen of Nigerians in Switzerland

The late Stephen Adewumi Ilebiyi (file photo)

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Mr. Stephen Akanbi Adewumi Ilebiyi, (alias Baba, Oga and Uncle Steve) the Doyen of Nigerians in Switzerland succumbed to death on 14 December 2020 after a protracted sickness, aged 96 years.A former president of Nigeria Union of Switzerland has been described by many Nigerians as a true friend, role model, a mentor, accessible, humble.

Unfortunately the pandemic could not allow his country people accord him a befitting burial, but they hope to celebrate him at a later date when the pandemic must have been overcome.

However some Nigerians sent Tributes in his memory to Africalink. Below are some of the Tributes

 

Thanks Be To God For A Life Well Spent!!!

By Prof. Matthias O. Ezeoba

 

  “… Death, as the great Julius Cesar posited… is that in the inevitable end which must come, when it must come …”

   "... Mankind has found out practically everything, just not how to live (for ever) ..."

This sentence from Jean-Paul Satré immediately crossed my mind when I got the sad news of Steve's death on 14th December 2020.

To God Almighty be honour, glory, praise and thanksgiving for the long and fruitful life of Stephen Ilebiyi, who until his death on 14th December 2020, was the oldest, Head and Doyen of Nigerians in Switzerland. In fact, nothing could be truer than, at least, for some part of his Epitaph to read: Thanks be to God for a life well spent!!!

In the first instance, Mr. Ilebiyi and I are not peers, nor are we related by blood. In fact, I came to know him alongside other Nigerians, through the then Nigerian Students’ Union of Switzerland (NSUS), when I first arrived in Switzerland (as a teenager) in September 1966. The fact that there were very few Nigerians in Switzerland at that time, made it possible for us to know one another (irrespective of where one was residing), and one could say that we were good comrades and friends. But, somehow and for some reasons that are inexplicable to me till this day, there has been a special bond-cord relationship between Steve and I since the time we met.

During the first military coup that later resulted to Nigerian Civil War (1967 – 1970), popularly known and usually described as “Biafra War”, the majority of Nigerians in Switzerland then, were of Igbos. Apparently, there was a sort of discrepancy or rather break-down in the relationships between the Igbos and the rest of Nigerians in Switzerland. So, the Igbos decided to form their own Association by the name of Biafran Student’s Association of Switzerland. But in spite of all that, we were still mingling with one another because seeing a black person in Switzerland at that time was like winning a Swiss Lotto.

In 1971 (after the Civil War), the then Nigeria Ambassador to Switzerland, the Late Ambassador Sule Kolo, summoned all Nigerians in Switzerland to a meeting in Zürich, which was entitled: “Reconciliation Meeting of Nigerians” in Switzerland. Mr. Ilebiyi also played a great role in the reconciliation process.

Be that as it may, after completing my Master’s degree studies in Switzerland, I proceeded to Germany in March 1973, where I had already enrolled for my Ph.D. Programmes at “Westfälische-Wilhelms Universität”, Münster/Westfalen. 

In Sommer 1976, Steve called me and told me that he had decided to wed his then girlfriend Hertha, (his wife till death separated them) and that he would very much like me to come to Switzerland to be his best man at the wedding. Although, it was very inconvenient for me to travel to Switzerland at that time because I just returned from my nine-months “Field Research” programme trip from Nigeria, and was very busy sorting out my data; I still agreed to honour the invitation. I actually travelled to Switzerland to partake in the wedding and to be his best-man. That I believe, also played a role in strengthening and cementing our relationship, and since then, we have become very, very close.

When I finally returned to Switzerland after my Ph.D. programme in 1976, I got a job in Basel, and later with the Swiss Radio & Television Service (SRG/DRS) in Zürich. We used to hang-out regularly; we even went on holidays to Spain in 1978 (with his old Ford car) together with our wives, and it was really awesome.

Honestly, I was profoundly shocked, saddened and heartbroken when I got the sad news of Steve’s departure on that early morning of 14th December 2020. His death came to me as a big surprise because I was with him the previous week, and he was physically fit and strong, in spite of his protracted sickness and his age - 96 years. He was the type expectedly to live up to 100 years or more: if not for the fact that he was suddenly moved from his home to ‘Old People’s Home’ where he was said to have been unfortunately infected with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why I was shocked when I heard of his demise. I asked myself would he still have been alive today if he had not been moved to the Old People’s Home?   

I was devastated that in my own opinion (based on the information that I have today), Steve died on 14th December 2020, due to negligence of the staff and the medical doctors in the ‘Old People’s Home’ because it is not only absurd, puerile and preposterous, but also uncharitable, improper and bizarre that they had to put him together in the same room with a COVID-19 infected patient. This is incredible, and to me it looks like a deliberate act.

 

Mr. Stephen Adewumi Ilebiyi (alias Akanbi, as he was known and popularly addressed by his close friends), was not only a very great personality, but also a very delightful person; so very kind, and loved by everyone that came in contact with him. He was a great friend and a man I much admired for his qualities. He was a gentleman par excellence, an ambassador of peace and an epitome of kindness and love, in short a “Persona Gratissima”.

He was among other things, a man of justice and honesty – a God fearing man. His kind-heartedness and great sense of humour touched everyone around him; his generosity and quest for peace always leaves smile on the faces of all the people that he came in contact with. When he was the President of Nigeria Union of Switzerland in the 80s, he was so respected and appreciated. He was known then by some young Nigerians as “Baba and Oga” Ilebiyi.

We, the Nigerians in Switzerland thank our good Lord that Mr. Stephen Ilebiyi has gone across the bridge where there is rest for the soul.

Yes, our friend, mentor and Doyen has been set free: no more world burdens; no more sickness; no more pains. We believe, our friend and one-time community leader is now enjoying unspeakable joy and perfect peace. In this new place, our bosom friend will join the angels and saints in ceaseless praise to our Lord and Creator. In the loving arms of Jesus Christ, the “Solid-Rock” Mr. Stephen Ilebiyi will safely anchor for endless ages.

My friend, you’ll forever be remembered as a community leader per excellence, a soldier of Christ, an honour merchant, a loving, gentle and generous gentleman, and a veritable prodigy.  

Steve loved playing his mouth organ, and telling jokes as a means of entertaining his close friends. One of his favourite jokes was that of Sergeant Musa, when he was serving in the Nigerian Army (military service).

Mr. Ilebiyi playing his mouth organ to the delight of his friends

 

And here goes the joke: “… Sergeant Musa was a (Hausa) man whose level of education was very rudimentary, but yet he was a commanding officer of their Division (SGD). Apparently, he, Mr. Ilebiyi and all his colleagues in that Signals Division, who happened to hail from the West and Eastern parts of Nigeria, used to make fun of their semi-illiterate Commander. Of course, Sergeant Musa was aware of that… So, one day, when they were out for inspections, one of his colleagues whispered something in (to) his ears, and he made a strange loud noise due to suppressed laughter. When Sergeant Musa overheard that, he came straight to him and asked him… Akambi, na laugh you bi laugh so? He quickly replied… no sir, na cough I cough oo… Then Sargent Musa laughed and said, hmmm… Akambi, that cough na bad cough… you bi cough na wrong time…As he was about explaining… Sergeant Musa quickly encountered with the following words… Wolai Akambi, if you speak English pass radio, I broke you and broke your radio… if you sabi book pass bookshop, I broke you and broke your bookshop… Abi you de hear me?   Yes Sir, says Steve!!!

We will honour and celebrate your memory all our lives.

Fare well, my friend…Adios Amigo… Adieu Akambi…Uncle and Baba ILEBIYI…. ..Otium cum dignitate – Amen!

May the Almighty God grant you eternal rest in paradise, guide, protect and bestow peace on the wife, family, friends and community you’ve left behind.

Prof. (Emeritus) Dr. Matthias O. Ezeoba, exec. MBA;

(on behalf all his friends and the Nigerian Community in Switzerland).

 

I am Fortunate To Have Known Stephen Ilebiyi

 

By Akanni Akala

Bros Stephen Adewunmi Ilebiyi. You acted as my Snr. brother, you were a close and enjoyable friend, and a mentor.

Your life was a blessing, your memory a treasure. You are loved beyond words and missed beyond measure.

We got to know each other in the early seventies when I and my family moved to Switzerland from San Francisco, USA in 1972 after I finished my studies. During all these years we have established good family friendship.

We really enjoyed each other considerably. He and his wife Herta used to invite my family and some other friends many times to their home for lunch or dinner. He was a great cook, and we shall miss that! And we reciprocated by inviting him and his wife to our home for grill parties every year. It was in our house that he met our Russian friend from Moscow and declared: “it was the first time in my life I ever met a Russian”.

For some years due to old age and inability to walk well his activities were limited. We did quite a lot together since we met but unfortunately because of his said condition we could not accomplish some of our goals before his demise.

In life, one meets many people but only very few of them make a lasting impression in our minds and hearts; such as caring about your happiness and well-being. With Stephen I am fortunate to meet such a friend - a true friend.

May his gentle Soul Rest in everlasting Peace. (R.I.P.) Amen.

We shall all miss him indeed!!

 

A Rare Gem In The Nigerian Community In Switzerland.

By Archie Ukoh

Sir Stephen, you were a man amongst men. A rare gem in the Nigerian Community in Switzerland.

As the Vice-President of Nigerian Union of Switzerland and later the President, I enjoyed your leadership style which was characterized by openness, transparency and good sense of judgement. As a young man I looked onto you as my role model, which you were until the 14th December 2020 when the Lord called you home.

I thank God so much for the gallant way you have taken the bow. I also thank God for blessing you with a long span of life full of vigour, fulfillment and care.

But as it pleases the Author of life to call home HIS own, who am I to question His act. I can only trust that in His bosom where there are no more pains and struggles, you will find eternal rest.

I will miss you Sir, but I will never forget your love for me and my family your sense of humour and jokes you shared whenever we met.

Now that the battle is over Sir, you are more than a conqueror.

Adieu

Archie Ukoh

 

Egbon Stephen Was Accessible, Accommodating, Lover Of Nigeria

By Johnson Oduwaiye

Within a few minutes we met for the first time, he showed in words and actions he was an accessible and accommodating person. Not only that, he showed a down to earth humility, and love for his country. That was Mr. Stephen Ilebiyi, Egbon (elder) Stephen as I called him.

It was in Summer 1977 when I came from Spain to Switzerland to visit my Swiss girlfriend that I met him. I was taking a stroll along Limmat Quai in Zurich when I decided to have a drink at a restaurant called Select. On my way into the restaurant I saw him sitting in front of the restaurant with a bottle Passugger mineral water on the table in front of him. Noticed that he was older than me, I greeted him first and courtesied as my Nigerian culture demands, not minding he might not even be a Nigerian, and if he was, he might not be a Yoruba man like me whose culture demands such a form of greeting elderly person. He responded enthusiastically. I went into the restaurant to ease myself. When I came out and was searching for a vacant seat, he directed me to one near where he sat with a white man. 

We soon engaged in conversation, he introduced himself as Steve Ilebiyi; and I introduced myself. We recognized immediately that we were not only Nigerians but also Yorubas. “Country man,” he said as he offered me his hand, followed by a question in Yoruba which “State are you from?”. Before I answered a waitress came to take my order, he asked me what I would like to drink. I told him. I told him I was from Kwara State, and that I was a student in Spain and came to Switzerland to visit my girl friend. We learned more about each other like how long we had been away from Nigeria, how did we like the countries we were living among other things. After about an hour I decided to leave. He told me he too would soon leave to pick his wife. When I wanted to pay for my drink, he said he would take care of it. I thanked him.

We met a few more times at the same restaurant before I returned to Spain. Whenever I came to Switzerland we always met at Select. In July 1979 I moved to Switzerland to wed my girlfriend. I informed him, and asked him if he could be officiate as one of two witnesses required at the civil marriage. He accepted, and found the second witness for me.

On August 20, that year he and the other witness, an African-American were at the Stadthaus for the civil marriage. After we were joined husband and wife, and came out of the registry I was about to invite them for a drink or lunch, when he cut in and said: “I have to go back to work, but first I invite you for a drink at that (pointing to a nearby) restaurant to celebrate your marriage.” 

“Egbon please no, we are to invite the two of you.”

“Don’t worry,” he said.   

Our church wedding was slated for 1st September. It was the day the Nigeria Union of Switzerland (NUS) held its executive meeting in Zurich. After the meeting Egbon brought them to the venue of our wedding reception. Their presence compounded my joy as it gave the reception colour.

Mr. Ilebiyi was very supportive and helped me navigate the way into the Nigerian community. He introduced me to the Nigerians in Zurich, and took me to the NUS meetings. During one of such meetings one Dr. Lambo, a Nigerian Director at WHO Geneva was invited to address the body. He spoke on Cancer and its agents. The address became interesting when he mentioned that one of the popular mineral drinks contained an agent of cancer.

Egbon (left) toasting to our marriage at the restaurant

 

I wrote a story on the address, and sent it to the Nigerian Herald in my Kwara State. The report was published on the front page of the daily.  About two years later I returned with my wife to Nigeria.

I went to the Nigerian Herald office for a copy of the newspaper in which the story was published. It was during the search for the copy, I met someone through whom I hit an opportunity which catapulted the success of my own newspaper I later founded. I traced the success remotely to my association Mr. Ilebiyi. 

It’s my prayer that the Almighty God will give his wife, friends and the Nigerian community in Switzerland the fortitude to bear the loss.

Rest in perfect peace. O darinako, O dojuala, Suunre o. Egbon Stephen 

Johnson Oduwaiye