By Ndaeyo Uko
The Chairman looked at the name on the visitor’s form and shrugged. The name did not ring bell; it gave a tiny and rather disquieting tinkle: an Akwa Ibom name: another one fresh from ‘home’, arriving in Lagos days ago and deciding to drop in without an appointment, ostensibly to pay respects to his ‘brother’, the Chairman of the editorial board of the Concord newspaper group, but the chairman knew what ‘brothers’ want: a driving job at the prosperous newspaper group belonging to the money bag, Moshood Abiola.
The Chairman had no driving job to give his unknown ‘brothers’, so he’d offer them ‘transport money’ and good wishes.
The Chairman asked his secretary to send his latest ‘brother’ in. The Chairman was Ray Ekpu, and the account above was largely his, and the latest ‘brother’ was Ndaeyo Uko. The year was 1983. This brother wasn’t looking for a driving job. I’d just been hired working as a senior reporter at The Guardian, and I’d come to convey the special greetings of his friend in Uyo named Jerry.
Our enduring friendship started there. He invited me to dinner at his home that night, and his amazing wife, Uyai, packed me a bachelor’s hamper to take home. What first struck me about Ray Ekpu was the warmth with which he related to a man he thought was, well, a beggar of sorts. There are countless things to learn from Mr Ekpu, but I have space for only two.
First, good things do come from Nazareth—if those things work furiously hard and have faith in themselves. In Nigerian journalism, Ray is and will remain one of Nigeria’s greats, a reference point.
Second, humility and grace take nothing from greatness; they elevate and illuminate it. Ray Ekpu has always treated me as an equal, which I always found amusing and sometimes odd—having me call him Ray, making me part of his family and circle of friends, driving to the airport to see me off once when I was flying out (he was a big man in Newswatch and I still an ant at the Guardian then), letting me pay for lunch at least once, and more. And this is a man whose extensive network of friendships, include the political and military principalities and powers, ‘captains of industry’, as we like to call them, and the media’s ruling class. I’ll illustrate Mr Ekpu’s humility and grace with a reconstruction of an event that started in Mr Ekpu’s house one Sunday morning.
“Ndaeyo, I’ve never been to your house.”
“No, Ray, you haven’t.”
“Why don’t you take me there?”
He drove behind me to my flat. I had no cognac, no expensive wine; just a bottle of Calypso, a coconut-flavoured rum.
“I’ve never had this. It’s great!”
I gulped. It cost less than a bottle of standard wine.
I’ll conclude with a simple but instructive finding: Just say, ‘Ray’ – just Ray – and any enlightened Nigerian will know exactly who you are talking about. I dare you to ask, “Ray who?”
Ndaeyo is a good friend of BLERF
Ray has been my mentor, brother and friend, since he invited me to, through an accidental meeting in 1975 at the Cross River State Library (opposite Watt Market, Calabar), come and help him set up a ” Research Media Library ” at the Nigerian Chronicle, Calabar. The rest is history!
I agree with you that something extraordinary good can come out of Nazareth, through hardwork and professional commitment.
I salute you and Ray!
I celebrate your talents, creativity and fame.