Last week, the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Moses Frank Ekpo, was the toast of Akwa Ibom State indigenes and other Nigerians. A book titled Trials and Triumphs, The Biography of Moses F. Ekpo, written by Dr. Uko Okopide, was launched in Uyo. Four retired ex-governors of the state, namely, Col. Tunde Ogbeha, Col. Yakubu Bako, Navy Captain Ebiye and Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, were on hand to show their solidarity with an eminent man of the media with whom they had worked over the years. The sitting governor of the state, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, and his wife, Martha, were the special guests of honour at the event. People in the copyright community such as the director-general of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, Mr. John Aisien, and Mr. Tony Okoroji, who has been a thorn in the flesh of copyright violators, were also present.
The chairman of MTN Communications Plc, Chief Pascal Dozie, chaired the event, which also attracted a collection of intelligentsia from various walks of life. This columnist was the reviewer of the book, which is written in an elegant, free-flowing style that tempts you to turn the last leaf before putting it down.
Mr. Ekpo cut his journalism teeth in the Daily Service, which later became Daily Express, where the journalism legend, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, held sway. Ekpo quickly moved to the West African Pilot and Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service. His search for greener pastures also took him to Enugu, where he worked at the Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Service until the Nigerian Civil war locked him in there for 30 harrowing months.
Throughout the war period, he was in detention on the unproven suspicion that he was probably spying for the Nigerian government because of his closeness to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whom he met in his years at the WNBS. At the beginning of the war, Awolowo had been made vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council by the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. Ekpo endured a 30-month separation from his wife, Martha, to whom he got married a week before the outbreak of hostilities. His life’s trajectory spanned several sectors, including diplomacy, copyright commission, public relations, management, advertising and publishing. He it was who set up the Nigerian Chronicle in the ’70s and became its pioneer editor. He it was who set up The Pioneer newspaper in the ’80s when he was the pioneer commissioner of information in Akwa Ibom State.
At the last count, Ekpo had been honoured with six fellowships, including one from the British Institute of Management and one from the World Intellectual Property Institute. A couple of years ago, the Nigerian Guild of Editors also made him its fellow to the surprise of many journalists who thought that a man who had reached that height as deputy governor and had been festooned with several awards would not accept to be a fellow of the Guild, but Ekpo values his journalism pedigree and accepts that it is journalism that was the jump-off point to all the other accomplishments.
My relationship with him is special because he it was who spread the welcome mat for me in 1972 when, as an undergraduate, I wanted to serve in a place where I could be taught how to be a journalist of significance. I cut my journalism teeth under his watch and that laid the foundation for my journalism odyssey. He assigned me to interview all the commissioners in the state at the time.
On the day I was to interview Dr. Joseph Wayas, who was the commissioner for industries and commerce, Ekpo said to me, “That man is a stickler for time. Please, don’t get there late.”
I got there 15 minutes before the scheduled time for the interview and he was ready. That was a valuable lesson he taught me in journalism: know the mannerisms of your interviewee. Since then, we have been together, not necessarily physically but mentally, like gin and tonic. I remember what Sir Winston Churchill said about Franklin Roosevelt: “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of Champagne and knowing him was like drinking it.”
I can say the same thing of Mr. Ekpo. Knowing him is boundless pleasure, much like opening a gift pack. His professional life started with journalism in the private and public sectors and is ending in politics and governance. During all of these years, he has moved with movers and shakers and welded an awesome conglomerate of power but he remains simple and humble and carries himself well, not haughtily, not with his nose in the sky but humbly with his feet on the floor. That is a rare quality among men and women who have walked along the corridors of power or have been in the power loop at one time or another. They swagger arrogantly and throw their weight around, issuing orders and commands, worthy or unworthy, as evidence that they are the fulcrum of power. Mr. Ekpo is very significantly and pleasantly different.
He has a good relationship with his boss, Governor Udom Emmanuel. Since 1999, many deputy governors have had sour relationships with their governors. Some of them have been denied their entitlements, or staff or assigned only to attend weddings and funerals or simply left in limbo or simply hung to dry.
But Emmanuel and Ekpo are like two hands in a hand-clapping assignment, working seamlessly to achieve a common goal and to build an enduring legacy for posterity. It means that the two of them are loyal to each other because loyalty needs an element of symbioticism and reprocity to thrive.
Nigerian politics is defined largely by treachery and betrayal and a large dose of jiggery-pokery. I have said it before on this page that some of our politicians use a Xerox copy of the rules used by men of the underworld, particularly during elections. But it is apparent that politics has not polluted Ekpo one bit. He is still principled and straight like an arrow.
Like most people he has been dealt several savage blows by fate: the loss of his first son at 21 years in very mysterious circumstances, the loss of his devoted wife, Martha, who used to call him adoringly MC (My Choice), an attack by armed robbers and his detention in Biafra for 30 horrible months. He has, like a Phoenix, risen from the ashes of these adversities with an unconquerable spirit. It is this spirit that enabled him to triumph and to live to establish a foundation on behalf of his adorable wife and son. This foundation was inaugurated by Governor Udom Emmanuel at the book launch to do worthy things for society’s underprivileged in the areas of education, health and general wellbeing. Ekpo has shown that he is a man with a compassionate heart and that some day when he is through with public service, he will return to live happily with his people from where he got thrust into the public arena.
He understands that every public office is temporary, and the ephemeralness of the power it confers is amply documented by history. Power has an expiry date and any person who wields it must bear that power is divisible and no one person holds in his two hands all the power that is available in his jurisdiction or in the world. Not even an American President, who is considered to be the most powerful man in the world. If you doubt it, refer to 9/11 and the reduction of America’s assets to rubble. So, when a significant politician in Nigeria arrogantly said last year that “No one can stop us from fielding candidates in Zamfara,” I knew that he thought he had all the powers in the world in his hands. His two hands were not enough to do the magic. Now he knows better.
If someone could not stop him from fielding candidates, someone has stopped him from claiming victory. That should be a lesson in humility. But many Nigerian politicians and power players think humility is a weakness, a sign that you are a weakling, a simpleton, someone who should not be reckoned with. With the enormous powers he has held from time to time, Ekpo knows that it takes a long time to rise to the top but a much shorter time, maybe minutes or seconds, to fall to the ground and lose all the pomposity that society inflates power with. So, Ekpo knows that humility is the best antidote to the arrogance of power and its ephemeralness. So, he has remained humble, amiable and friendly in full acknowledgement that there is nothing new in mortality.
Ekpo identifies with journalists and journalism all the time. That is an amazing validation of his essence as a true believer in the profession that has brought him fame, if not fortune. That show of humility and unstinted devotion to his profession, even though he is no longer in active practice of it, constitutes in part his drawing power and the respect he earns from his admirers.