By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
recently, Nigerian journalism suffered a huge loss with the death of the State House correspondent of Channels Television, Chukwuma Onuekwusi, who passed on in a private hospital after a brief illness. Onuekwusi died at the age of 55.
His colleagues both on the beat and in the profession at large as well as his friends and family members have been mourning him in their unique ways. The tool that came handy in expressing their grief was the social media where nice things were said about the Imo State-born broadcaster.
There were initial fears that the high and mighty who Chukwuma portrayed positively for many years during his career may stand aloof while those in the lower strata of the society are allowed to mourn one of their own.
Such sentiment had earlier been captured by Kelechi Onyemaobi in his article “Justin Abuah: A good man departs…” published in the Authority Newspaper of October 5, 2016, where he wrote: “One of the sad iro-nies of the jour-nalism profession is that while jour-nalists write about everything and everybody: Presidents, heads of government, state governors, cabinet minis-ters, pompous politicians, business moguls, film stars, music icons, rich man, poor man, beggar man and thief alike, nobody writes about journalists, except the odd one or two paragraphs when they die.”
But events that unfolded shortly after Onuekwusi’s death was announced have punctured that theory. It was the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who first issued a condolence statement to mourn the journalist who had joined colleagues at the Presidential Villa to interview (Saraki) many times whenever he visited the seat of power. The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, also took a cue from him.
Saraki, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, described the late Onuekwusi as a hardworking, passionate and conscientious reporter who left nobody in doubt about his professional competence.He commiserated with the immediate family of the deceased, the management and staff of Channels Television and the State House correspondents over the loss of the broadcast journalist.
“The news of the demise of Chukwuma Onuekwusi came to me with great shock. He was a thoroughbred broadcast journalist whose reports always leave you wanting more. I believe his death has left a vacuum in the broadcast industry that cannot easily be filled. We can only thank God for his eventful life, contributions to national development and service to humanity. He shall be sorely missed,” he said.
On his part, Ekweremadu in a statement by his Special Adviser, Media, Uche Anichukwu, described the late journalist as a thoroughbred professional, noting that his death was a huge loss not only for Channels Television but also the media industry and the nation in general.
Ekweremadu said: “I received with pain and deep sense of loss the news of the passing on of Mr. Onuekwusi. He was a thoroughbred journalist, who brought a high sense of professionalism to bear on his work. He made Channels Television reports on the Presidency authoritative and delightful for millions of Nigerians, including me.
“It is sad that he was cut down by death at the prime of his career, when he still had so much to offer the nation and her democracy. But he certainly left indelible marks on the sands of time”.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, also did not allow the day to pass without paying tribute to a man whose face he had got used to seeing in the Presidential Villa since he became the Vice President two years ago.
In a message by his spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, on Tuesday, Osinbajo extended heartfelt condolences to Onuekwusi’s family as well as Channels TV on the sad passing of the journalist.
“He also commiserates with the State House press corps over the passage of their professional colleague, who combined high professionalism, wit, dedication and patriotism in his diligent reportage of activities in the Presidential Villa. The Acting President prays that the Almighty God will comfort his family and all who mourn this exceptional gentleman.”
Then the following day, the unexpected happened. It was a Wednesday. Ministers and other members of the Federal Executive Council, under Osinbajo’s leadership, gathered at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa for their weekly meeting. The National Anthem had been recited and opening prayers said. But before journalists left the venue to allow the meeting go into closed-door session, Osinbajo asked that a minute’s silence be observed in honour of the late journalists. That was a rare honour hitherto reserved for late council members, their spouses or former council members and other men and women of power.
In asking council members to honour Onuekwusi, the Acting President described him as an articulate, patriotic and committed journalist whose death was very sad.
Osinbajo said, “Honourable ministers and members of the Federal Executive Council, yesterday (Tuesday) we got a very sad news of the passing on of one of the members of State House family, he is Chukwuma Onuekwusi, of Channels Television, who passed on after a brief illnesses yesterday. I want us in recognition of the fact that we remember a very good, a very articulate and also a very patriotic and committed journalist, I want us in honour of this fine gentleman rise and observe a minute silence. Osinbajo then prayed for God to “comfort of his family and all of those he left behind.”
At the end of the meeting which lasted about four hours, Osinbajo accompanied by the National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd), again proceeded to the lobby of the Press Gallery to sign the condolence register that was opened by Onuekwusi’s colleagues in his honour.
He wrote, “A gentleman, an erudite journalist and a true patriot is gone, we pray that the Lord will comfort his family. Amen.”
Monguno wrote, “Very sad news! A great journalist gone too soon. Goodbye Nwannem Nwoke, my brother.”
The following day, a meeting of the National Economic Council that has all state governors as members was also held inside the Presidential Villa. Onuekwusi had reported the council for years and members felt it was appropriate for them to honour him. So, state governors took turns to sign the condolence register.
The governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun, wrote in the condolence register: “Chukwuma, what a loss. We never expected that you would leave us so soon and very sudden. Well, in every situation, good or bad we must thank the almighty God. May the Lord comfort your family and grant you eternal rest. Amen.”
Chairman of the Governors’ Forum and governor of Zamfara State, Abdullaziz Yari, wrote: “I on behalf of myself and good people of Zamfara State condole the family, friends and all other well-wishers of Chukwuma and pray may his soul rest in perfect peace.”
Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, Chukwuma’s home state, wrote: “A big shock of the news. What a painful death. So young and intelligent. Life is indeed inexplicable … of mystery. No one knows when he or she will die. Everyone will miss you – May his gentle soul Rest In Peace and pray God Almighty grant the family the health to bear this irreparable loss.”
Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State wrote, “It is indeed only God that gives and takes life, my condolence to the family of our dear brother and members of the profession of the pen, may the good Lord forgive your sins, (grant) the family and friends the fortitude to bear this great loss.”
Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State wrote: “Chuks was a very good friend who dedicated his life to the struggle for the emancipation of the common man. He was with me in the trenches, sadly he could not see the victorious end of the battle. Chuks, you will live in our hearts!! You will not die!! Adieu.”
Chukwuma had a pet name for every of his colleague covering the State House only unique to him. He had a way of making you feel special.
He was a very hardworking man. How he changed in the twinkle of an eye from a very jovial man to one that could not be distracted when there was work to do is what some of us his colleagues cannot explain. And when the job was over he was all smiles again. You would hear him say, “what were you guys saying? I can now answer you now that Channels’ job is done.”
He was always holding the Channels Television-branded microphone as if his life depended on it. He was not one that was angry for long, the next minute he would burst into laughter when you joked about his angry face.
We are proud you did not abandon Chukwuma – Family
The State House’s Director of Information, Attah Esa, led members of the media department as well as the press corps to visit the family of Onuekwusi.
Esa described Onuekwusi as a man who took his job seriously and was a professional to the core.
The chairman of the press corps, Ubale Musa, said his colleagues were still in shock that the man they worked with for close to 10 years was no more.
“He was a very generous man. He would always come with a bottle of groundnut to share with his colleagues. We will miss him,” he said.
His younger brother Atanul Chukwuma, who received the delegation, said, “We monitored everything and we are proud of you. You never abandoned him and we are very proud.”