The phone call came at 8:15 pm or thereabout on Monday April4 2011. Christopher Koker, Acting Editor of Peep Magazine was emotional though he managed to keep his voice clear and tangible: “Mr. Awuta, Richie Gordon is dead!.”
“Oh, no……..” It was my time to display emotions. I didn’t get what else he was trying to say. “So he didn’t make it”, I managed to get out before the phone went cold.
It was certainly, unquestionably the end of an era, a period enveloping the immense tidal front of a special presence.
No one can classify Richie Olu Awoonor Gordon as a saint. He definitely was not of that ilk. He was of various characteristics sometimes the ardent, passionate fighter for the rights of the lowliest of citizens. At other times there was Olu Gordon the tempestuous cynic who could not stop himself from hitting out at his most intimate friends. He just could not help it. This was all a part of his idiosyncratic build up.
Then also there was Richie Gordon the biting crusader of his cause which primarily was the elimination of corruption in society. His hatred for corruption was palpably obsessive. He would lambaste the top mandarins in government, making mince meat of their mundane activities with the deftness of his satirical wit. Of the art of the satire, Richie Olu Awoonor-Gordon was indubitably a master. His wit was hallmark and could be incisive, biting and dazzlingly brilliant.
After serially attacking the late senior legal counsel Terrence Terry, Terry told a close circle of friends: “there’s no doubt of this man’s brilliance, but he could have used his gift in another way”. But then this was vintage Richie Gordon who did not fear to cross swords with the high and mighty in high places.
In a sense, (not the real sense though) Richie Olu Awoonor-Gordon was what literary critics would describe as a tragic hero viz a person who is proportionally gigantic in his chosen field and yet because of the stiff unbending nature of his, would find the top rather inaccessible.
In the case of Richie, his weakness was that he simply did not know when to rest a case. By that he made enemies of many who could have been otherwise even without selling his morale. In another vein Richie Olu Gordon could easily have been an affluent person with houses, jeeps and what have you. All of these were proffered him as people called on him to lay off some matter he was pursuing. He turned all those offers down with his usual “Heck no!”.
There was one classic issue where an envoy from Richie’s target arrived at the Editor’s office with boxes containing millions of Leones and thousand of dollars to keep him quiet. The visitors dangled the keys of a vehicle in front of Richie. “These too are yours”, he told the satirist. Richie gave him a wry grin.”I had already decided to close the case before today so don’t get me annoyed with these things”, he gestured disdainfully at the boxes of money and the keys to the vehicle (a jeep). The visitor asked him what now should happen to the gifts.
“Take them away before I throw you out to the gutter that you and your boss belong to”. Richie said he had lain off the case because of one person with high morals who had asked him to call it off. “I owe it to him to do so!” he said.
The very same day Richie was out on the arduous task of getting debtors to pay Peep so he could get his Magazine out.
Richie’ penchant for a strict incorruptible approach to journalism was such that he made it an order in his office that no coasting was permitted by his staff. By coasting he meant what is known in the field as soliciting for money by some journalists. If a reporter was caught coasting he would be out by the scruff of his neck the same day.
Richie saw the insides of Police cells countless times as he fought for his principles be they against the various Military Juntas, Ministers of State, Politicians or sometimes even Police Officers. He would fight such adversaries with his pen for years on end even after the initial matter that saw him incarcerated, had been settled.
Richie had yet another gift in poetry and could produce verse of very high quality at the drop of a hat as readers of his ‘professor Peep’ column could testify. His poetry was almost invariably rhymed verse in couplets that even long standing poets could not easily muster because of the hard task involved. To make it even more hazardous, Richie would even get his verse to go with the tunes of popular hymns and songs including even the national anthem as he poked at politicians, public figures etc with his inimitable humour that bit more than strait laced prose.
In a way the writing was on the wall that the bright lights of Richie’s health were dimming when he had to go to London twice for treatment last year alone. I had visited him at the Blue Shield Hospital when he was admitted there before and he told me he was suffering from pain around his ribs.
When he returned from London in September last year he told me his doctor spoke of some blood clotting and that he would have to return to England for further treatment.
The final couple of weeks were frenzied with Richie, in great pain, being admitted first at the Choithram Memorial Hospital at Hill Station, then the Davidson Nicol Memorial Hospital by Cole Farm, Wilkinson Road. By then Richie, already a legend in his life time was no longer speaking. Arrangements were made for him to be flown out to London.
Monday 4th April witnessed his eyes shut forever. The founder and Editor of Sierra Leone’s satirical Magazine, the Pan Africanist, staunch Nkrumaist; the man who wanted a paradise of honesty in Sierra Leone was gone forever. What he fought for, particularly a corrupt free Sierra Leone will however remain ever green. He lives behind a sorrowing wife in London and two young adults, a son and a daughter.
By Arika Awuta -Coker