By Noah Ebije
Shock comes in different ways for different people at different times.For me, I was looking, but couldn’t see, I was listening but couldn’t hear, I was talking, but couldn’t speak, I was walking, but couldn’t move, I was picking phone call, but couldn’t answer.
The shock was deep and devastating when I heard of the news of the death of Mr Kenny Ashaka, a veteran journalist, and my immediate past editorial boss in Kaduna office of The Sun newspapers.
Ashaka had resigned in July 2020 as an Assistant Editor, having reached the mandatory age of retirement in service. And I took charge of the office.
His death on January 20, 2021, few days after his wife’s death was like a clash of happiness and sadness because the harvest of death came some few days after their daughter’s traditional wedding in their Kaduna home.
I had called him on Monday, January 18, to condole with him over the death of his wife. His voice on phone was so faint; it was between heaven and earth, but I managed to hear him, “I lost my wife”.
When I later went to his house along with Chief Olu Ajayi of Vanguard newspaper, we saw Kenny Ashaka in a vegetable state. The news of the death of his wife must have worsened his hitherto bad health. He didn’t know we visited him. His son, Onoriode carried him like a baby from the sitting room to the bed room. “I want to change his clothings”, his son made us to understand.
The wife was yet to be buried; and Ashaka kicked the bucket, two corpses on the ground. God who can query you, we are mere mortals, we know nothing. Help us to live a worthy life.
It was like a passenger-train of death which reversed and carried Ashaka along with his wife. I have never seen a train reversed in my life; train of death indeed.
Ashaka himself was reported to have earlier asked his doctor to discharge him from hospital to enable him attend his daughter’s marriage ceremony. He had been nursing mild stroke and high blood pressure over some years ago.
May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
At this juncture, I want to recall vividly that on my journey to joining The Sun newspapers as a freelance reporter, Ashaka had this to say to me, “I don’t want to work with someone who is not trustworthy, I won’t tolerate laziness, and please don’t betray me if you are interested in working with me”.
It was Mr. Tony Akowe of The Nation newspaper who recommended me to him sometime in the late 2008. Akowe called me to a corner at Kaduna NUJ premises, and said: “If you are looking for a job, go and meet High Chief to help you”. Ashaka was popularly known as High Chief among his journalism colleagues.
Ashaka was the pioneer Bureau Chief of the Northwest zone, having joined the newspaper from inception in 2003.
Despite his initial ‘fear’ about my character, he wasted no time to ask me to put in application, perhaps out of enormous respect and trust he had for the person who introduced me to him.
The following day I turned in my application and the curriculum vitae (CV). He brushed through it and told me that, “ in fact, my initial plan was to engage mass communication students from higher Institutions, but since you are already in journalism practice, I think you are better off”.
And before I knew what was happening, I started freelancing with particular instruction to focus on human angle stories that could be relevant to Arewa Report page of Daily Sun.
Ashaka was very agile, proactive and timely as far as official duty was concerned. He would ensure that deadline was met. “No enjoyment until after work”, he would advise with all seriousness but with a friendly smile.
There was this particular day when he sent me and Joseph Midat, who was just being recruited from New Nigerian Newspaper (NNN), to a cafe, the reigning technology centre then to send a story for him from a flash drive.
The Bureau Chief who was not computer compliant at that time, thought that Midat and I were perfect, but he discovered that neither myself nor Midat was computer literate, at least the ability to type and send story via Internet.
Despite our initial technological challenges, Ashaka still tolerated us with daily advice that we should brace up to meet up with the new technological fashion in town.
At a point Midat threw in the towel and returned to NNN. I was left alone with my boss.
We kept on getting used to each other and I became more motivated when I started seeing my stories with my by-line being published. I became elated working with a national daily. My joy knew no bound.
Few months later, Akowe was happy with my performance on the job and he was humble enough to me, “we are proud of you, keep it up”.
Unfortunately and fortunately, about two or three months of working experience with Ashaka, he was transferred to the Abuja head office in the dying days of 2008.
Unfortunately because I was going to miss him to pursue my formal engagement with the office from Lagos as he was constantly assuring me.
Fortunately for me on the other hand, Alhaji Ismail Omipidan who took over from Ashaka became more of my saviour, so to speak. He did not only ensure that I was paid for every of my published story, he fought for my full employment with the organisation. From 2008 as a freelancer to 2011 as a permanent staff I have remained with The Sun till today.
I can tell you that with Alhaji Omipidan the heat from The Sun is sweet and pleasant. That is another story for another day which I hope to tell in full at a celebration time rather than at a period like this.
It was also on record that from the Abuja office, Ashaka was moved to Jos as the Bureau Chief of North-central zone.
He was later promoted to Assistant editor and transferred to Lagos head office around 2017 or thereabout.
However, Ashaka was transferred back to Kaduna office on health ground so as to get closer to his family for daily care.
While we were together in Kaduna office, he was always spending much on drugs on weekly basis for his illness.
The day he was leaving office following his resignation, he entertained every Staff in the office, and we prayed together for God’s blessings in our respective endeavours. He was a generous man.
While he was still seated in the office, he appealed to me rather jokingly, “Oga Noah, please, be patient, I will soon get up from the seat for you, it is now yours, you are now in charge”.
Emotionally, and naturally for me, tears was popping up in my eyes over what he had just said, and I rubbed my eyes gently and suppressed the tears from rolling down. It was tears of mixed feelings. I was sad that my boss was vacating the office, but happy that he was not leaving on a bad record.
Finally, he did not only leave the office, he has left the sinful world to the great beyond. Lord have mercy on him and his wife, Dorothy.
He is survived by three children, Onome, Onoriode and Erezina and three grandchildren. It was after Erezina’s wedding that the two death occurred.
Burial arrangement was yet to be announced by the family at the time of writing this tribute.
Nevertheless, it is my earnest prayer that whenever the passenger-train of death takes off, may it never arrive at any destination, may it derail and kill itself because it has no batman.
Kenny Ashaka, our own High Chief, has taken journalism to the great beyond. We appeal to you, if you are allowed to write and report news in heaven, help us ask God, the Almighty, the Alpha and Omega, who will be Nigeria’s next President in 2023. But can you ever reach us again. Never, till we meet to part no more. Rest in the bossom of the Lord. Good night High Chief.