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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Tribute to a bosom friend: Dr Peter Da Costa


By Omar Ousman Jobe

Fifi and I started together in Gambia High School.

I was coming from Campama Primary School and he from Methodist Prep. We are in September, 1973. He was in 1G (Mrs Gibril’s Class, with the likes of Fatou Bom Bensouda, E Faal, Ernest Aubee, Pa Ebou Sallah) and I was in 1S (Miss Sowe’s Class with the likes of Omar Jah, John Goree Sarr, Lamin Demba).

In those days, after the first and third term exams, the school administration would take what they considered to be the best from each class (la crème de la crème – so to speak) and lump them together and called it Form 2A.

The remaining students from each class would find their way into Form 2B and automatically, they would do 6 years before taking GCE O levels when those in 2A would do 5 years.

Some will say that that was when Gambia High School was Gambia High School! When that happened, in September, 1974, I found myself sitting next to Fifi Da Costa, on the same table.

How it happened, I cannot fully remember. But, that was when we bonded; that was when he became a bosom friend.

I still remember vividly asking him this question: ‘Why are you called Fifi? Is it because you like your food?’ ‘No, he retorted. It is because I was born on a Friday! That is how it is in Ghana where my dad comes from’.

That’s a good one – I remember telling him! And incidentally, Peter will also be buried on a Friday.

But four months later, while Aunty Naneth was in Malawi on international assignment, she decided to take her youngest boy to a boarding school in London.

But before Fifi left for the UK in January, 1975, we sat for the first term exams. Guess what the outcome was: one was 5th and the other was 6th in terms of class position.

The difference in marks was 2 points. Peter was ahead by a whisker! But any time he came on holidays, he would look out for me and showered me with all sorts of gifts from London.

When I saw the pamphlets that came from London with eulogies and tributes of sorts, I realised that my story with Peter should have found its way into them. My problem was – all this while I have been in denial.

I was hoping against hope that I may have been in a very bad dream; that it was not true that Peter passed on.

Alas, I am beginning to come to terms with the loss. It is real. My bosom friend has departed this world.

So as we celebrate his life – and what a life it was, I wanted to share few anecdotal references about the man I proudly referred to as my best friend. Peter touched many lives in a remarkably positive way.

I will not come back to the academic and professional credentials, the accolades, and so on.

He got them all.

It is clearly outlined in other tributes, eulogies and testimonies in the pamphlets.

It is established that Peter was smart, focused, incredibly hardworking and a repository of knowledge.

The most interesting intellectual conversations I have had for hours on end were with him.

Because when Peter speaks to issues, it was so compelling that you have to listen and he would wrap it with that Windsor brand of English.

Having said that, I want to come from a different angle.

The angle that depicts him as one of the finest human beings you would have been lucky to meet. He lived; he loved, he shared whatever he had with people and showed appreciation.

Few anecdotal references (Peter, the Good Samaritan):
1. My first laptop: Having lost touch with Peter for over a decade during which time he worked for ECA in Addis Ababa among other organisations, we accidentally found each other in the UK.

I was returning home from France and he happened to have been in the UK to start working on his PhD. We are in 2002.

Through common friends, we reconnected two days before my departure for Banjul.

Peter invited me for lunch in a posh restaurant in the centre of London so that we could catch up.

While enthusing about the food and chatting, he asked a casual question: ‘OJ, do you have a laptop?’ I beg your pardon. Did you say a laptop, Peter? I asked again.

He said yes! ‘That was the least of my worries, pal’, I replied.

‘I simply cannot afford it’, I said to him. The man just smiled and then started another topic. After a nice meal, he invited me for a stroll.

Little did I know that a big PC World was just round the corner and that he had something in mind.

When Peter led me to the laptop section, the first one he showed me was costing a whopping 1,500 Pounds Sterling.

For me, that was too much money to put in a laptop.

take was different. For him, it was not about the money but the functions of the laptop. After a lot of back and forth, we settled for one Toshiba laptop for 1,000 pounds.

That is Peter for you! He has always been proactive and embodies generosity at its best!
2. Supporting me to settle down in Nairobi: In June, 2013 I was appointed as the first Director of the African Competition Forum, a network of 30 competition authorities across Africa.

It took time before things were sorted out with donors and my wife and I lived with Peter and his family for almost three months in Lavington, Nairobi. When funds started coming through in piecemeal and I wanted to start slowly in a three bedroom apartment in Kilimani, Peter again intervened.

He volunteered to buy all the things that I could not acquire immediately. What mattered for him was that I could settle in comfortably, then pay him later in whatever way I could.

3. My birthday: Peter invited me to the best restaurants in Nairobi.

Peter would invite me and my wife to a restaurant. On one such occasion, it was my birthday and I couldn’t link the invitation to my birthday until we got to the restaurant and he hugged me and said ‘Happy birthday OJ. Let’s celebrate’.

4. In 2017, after I had returned to The Gambia, my son went to see Uncle Peter. And during the conversation, he learnt from him that he was about to graduate but that the university had increased the graduation fees by over US$500.

There and then, Peter told him not to bother me; that he would settle the amount. That is who he was – a very generous man.

5. Peter the family man: Peter relished every moment spent with his lovely girls, Yassin and Jarra (Jaja) and his lovely wife, Mama Yassin (Ciru)! If you wanted to make Peter very happy, ask him about the girls.

That is when you would get the best out of him. That is exactly who Peter was: loving, caring and so fond of his pretty girls! That is why I would always make sure anytime I spoke to him, before hanging up I would ask him to tell the girls that Uncle Omar loves them.

And you can be sure that he would deliver the message!
We have lost one of the finest human beings who touched so many lives around the world. Peter was also a power house of knowledge and was very generous in sharing it with friends, colleagues and mentees.

It was a life well lived. May paradise be his next abode. I can imagine the angels chanting as they welcome him: ‘A good man has come! a good man has come! a good man has come! Peter is his name!’ Thereafter, it will be joy in the morning, joy in the afternoon and joy in the evening for Peter Aboagye Da Costa, my bosom friend and brother.

Brotherman (as I used to call him), Sleep in perfect peace!

The author, Mr Omar Ousman Jobe, is the executive secretary of Constitutional Review Commission.

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