By Muyiwa Akintunde
ON Tuesday night, when my wife and I spoke to him, we resigned ourselves to faith. There’s nomiracletoodifficultforGod, weprayed. Unfortunately, that miracle didn’t happen.
By 4:30am Wednesday, my phone beeped. It was Onome, the first child of Kenny Asha- ka, at the other end. Amid tears, she managed to say, “Uncle, my dad is gone!”
My good friend of over 36 unbroken years, Kenny, who is qualified in every way to be called my brother, was gone. And that was just as we were mourning his wife, Dorothy, whose death had shattered the children and her loved ones.
Saturday brought sadness to the family that was all joyful the day before. The baby of the house got married the previous day. Mama Onome must have applied all her being into the responsibility of a good hostess to her guests so much that she became stressed out and fell ill. Sadly, she didn’t make it to the hospital that Saturday night.
An ailing husband transformed into a griev- ing widower. I got to hear the news of Mama Onome’s transition through her only surviving son, Onoriode, on Tuesday morning. My wife and I couldn’t speak with Kenny until around 8pm as he had been sedated. He mumbled
a few words. We allowed him to rest and continued the discussion with Onome. We knew we had to intensify our prayers and seek divine intervention. God answers prayers in His own way. By the dawn of Wednesday, He chose to call Kenny home to join his dutiful wife in His bosom.
Flashback to 1984. Kenny and I met at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos, as classmates. We struck a relationship that would last until death parted us.
We shared a lot in common, one of which was getting into full-time journalism the hard way. We both chose to practise with The Guardian. Unless you had a university degree or equivalent, you were not considered good enough to report for the Flagship. And so it was that we chose to freelance. At that time, The Guardian paid six kobo for every pub- lished line of a freelancer’s story. Yes, six kobo! But, we were not discouraged.
Kenny travelled all the way to Yola to do his job from the then Gongola State (now Adamawa and Tarawa states) capital, while
I took my destiny to Port Harcourt. I was eventually employed by The Guardian. Kenny secured a job with the Weekly Scope, published in Yola and later worked with other newspapers.
In the late 1980s, my older brother, Yemisi, needed to move out of the “room-and-par- lour” we lived in at Itire, Lagos, as he prepared to get married. My brother contacted Kenny and his wife volunteered her time to find us
a place in Egbe, near Ikotun, where they also lived.
Kenny later took his wife and daughter, On- ome, to Kaduna. And there he had three other children, one of whom died quite young, a situation that issued forth hypertension.
My trips to Kaduna would not be complete without checking on Kenny and his family. The first time that I went straight to their resi- dence with my luggage, she tucked it where I couldn’t locate the stuff, insisting that I must stay with them. I later learnt to first check into a hotel before checking on to the family: “Uncle, this is not good ooo”, she would pro- test as I walked in without my luggage.
Mama Onome was at home with any environment, which explained her being able to speak many languages. I had assumed she was Isoko like her husband. I didn’t bother
to ask in all our years of interaction because where you come from does not matter to me.
It’s who you are. As I was about to put this article together, I learned that she hailed from Umuahia.
At some point in the Ashakas’ sojourn, Kaduna was so turbulent that many non- indigenes fled. Religious and ethnic riots necessitated their relocating often. But Kenny and his family remained faithful to that city.
While his work as a journalist took him to different parts of the country (the North par- ticularly), Kenny connected with his family in Kaduna at the slightest opportunity.
He worked as media adviser to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor when the latter was president of the Christian Association of Nigeria. I assisted him with stakeholders’ management while the task lasted.
He returned to The Sun, worked in the head office in Lagos and had to get back to the North preparatory to retirement.
The year 2019 was the last time I would see him. I was in Kaduna on assignment. By that time, the family had moved to Unguwar Television. I connected with him near that locality where he came to pick me to their new home. Mama Onome was so happy to welcome me. By then, Kenny had been diag- nosed with diabetes. He kept faith with his medical regimen. He checked on me twice in my hotel before I returned to Lagos.
When he retired from The Sun last year, he called to say that he would like us to do some projects together tapping into his connections. He didn’t want to be inactive or depend on the lump sum from the pension fund administra- tor. But we couldn’t progress with any of those ideas until his last day.
Recently, our colleagues set up a WhatsApp group for the 1986 NIJ set. Kenny did not participate in our discussions. I knew it wasn’t because he didn’t want to, but he couldn’t. He was getting weakened by what I only learned after his death was Hepatitis B.
When his wife’s death was broken to us in the virtual group, one of our classmates in Kaduna, Pastor Tony Inwulale, immediately took charge on our behalf, visiting the family. He prayed for and counselled the children daily. Through the last calls to him on the day his daughter got married and the eve of his departure from here, he knew his classmates cared about him and he was grateful for their support in all ways.
Kenny and Mama Onome, you touched lives positively. I am, therefore, beseeching God to look kindly at your children, grand- children and all that are connected to you. Kenny was a rare gem. He believed totally in friendship. He was committed to the good of the other person. He was faithful to his family and his friends. It’s a big gap too difficult to fill.
For his children, grandchildren and all who knew him well, this indeed is a deep cut.
•Akintunde is former editor, The Post