Over the years, as I grew into maturity and the profound understanding that the whole matter of life is about the fear of God and obedience to his commandments, nothing seemed to bother me, not even death. I have on several occasions and at the mercy of God survived near-death experiences through accidents, sickness and a whole lot of adventures of life, even in the course of my calling as a tourism journalist. Intrepid? Yes, very fearless and bold but not stupid to ignore cautions. That is in the physical!
In the realm of the spirit, the philosophy of death is pedestaled on the understanding that man must come to God when his work or assignment is finished on earth. Again, on this thought, I join no man in argument or prove of that reality but I am firmly convinced that when a man did not live his full age, he did not die but was “killed.” Indeed, there are a lot of things that could make a man to be “killed” or die – called back by God.
So, I do wonder at the vanity of this world and its many boastings, lies, deceit and fraud for which either you are “killed” or left at mercy of God to fulfill your full age and be called back to your maker. Please, indulge me to interrogate the true meaning of life and so happens to each one of us when we lose very dear ones, father, mother, friends and possibly people we never met.
Three major passages to eternal glory of dear ones has left me broken, the fourth is that of my brother and friend, my man Friday, Ubon Akpan. The first three were that of my mother, my dad and the late Emir of Borgu, Dr. (Senator) Haliru Dantoro, an enigma of deep academic, political and religious gift who took me in as a son and provided me opportunities of deeper knowledge and wisdom not readily found in the streets or classroom. It is a story for another day.
Sometime Monday last week, news filtered to me that my friend Ubon Akpan was at intensive care unit of LUTH. Ubon Akpan, can’t be at LUTH, I told myself as I thought deep about that information but since it came from a close friend Emmanuel Adegbe, I spent the night of Monday wondering what could have happened. The Ubon I knew definitely can’t give in to a day on sick bed. Ubon was tough, strong, full of life, ever hopeful and had a sense of character that defied the many struggles of life.
I should know, believe me, I know the strength and character of this effervescent maritime journalist of our time, so much so that history of maritime journalism would not be complete without a mention of his dedication and sacrifice. Ubon was not just a friend, indeed, we met as friends on the beat of hallowed maritime community and became brothers. We fell in love with each other, more than David and Jonathan, a symbolic gesture that kept us together even though I fretted away to find a path in tourism journalism.
Except for a few people who knew my very reputational drive through journalism, with a rookie start in judicial reporting, berthing in maritime journalism and for over two decades in tourism reporting, to the glory of God, the memorable and unforgettable outings and dedication to nation and people remained very profound in maritime beat where destiny brought me close to Ubon Akpan.
Please, indulge to mention the team as I would call us then. I recall our friendly ‘coup’ against a brother and very bold, outspoken enigma of maritime journalism, Asu Beks.
Asu, before we “overthrew” him at the TBS, venue of Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria (MARAN) award and conference of all Transport Commissioners in Nigeria under the watch Tony Ikhazabo as Minister, was MARAN’s godfather and unchallengeable. Asu knew everybody, I mean anyone who called the shots in Customs, NPA, Shippers Council and the whole lot of agencies working at the ports. At that award event, Asu was nowhere to be found and the Minister was jittery, including some of his aides. There was no GSM in late ’92 and so we couldn’t get Asu and the image of the association was at stake.
Pronto, Emeka Okoroanyanwu, Pius Mordi, the late Philip Omoni, Shola Fadeyi, Timothy Okorocha, Friday Odemena, Ubon Akpan, Alban Opara and my humble self decided to find a solution. We bought gift wraps and cut disused cartons to size and designed it as plaque with the full understanding of the minister’s aides that that original ones with Asu would be handed over after the event.
The award programme went on without Asu, who we later learnt was held to ransom by the printers who could not deliver the plaques on agreed terms. The post-event drama was the Ubon Akpan presidency of MARA, which ushered in and changed the face of maritime journalism and generated maritime best practices, speaking truth to power and holding stakeholders accountable.
On this agenda, I worked closely with Ubon to the extent that our primary assignments in our offices suffered. I was with Vanguard while Ubon worked with Champion newspaper, and also our places of residence not being too far from each other meant that we could meet at any time, in and out of office, to deliberate on how to institute a welfare system that could change the impoverished situation of maritime journalists. On this score, we engaged in gainful partnerships with key maritime stakeholders through workshops, seminars, training and retraining, empowerment schemes that enthroned respect for the maritime media.
Ubon was restless, passionate and very caring. As publicity secretary, I did not only speak for the association, Ubon turned me into a media entrepreneur. In less than six months of our administration, MARAN became the toast of stakeholders and even the Lagos media world. The Lagos NUJ, which had banned beat associations, did a U-turn in our case and supported our initiatives. NPA under Dapo Sarumi and Nnamdi Ozobia of Niger Dock fame became our major patrons. They loved to hear Ubon share his dream for a better maritime industry and the welfare of media men who laboured to let the world know of its challenges and gains.
I was happy to be at Ubon’s bed side at LUTH before be passed on and for that alone I knew that we were really made for each other. I love this young man so much. He gave all to friendship and brotherhood as evident by the love and concern shown by the old MARAN team and the maritime industry. Rest in the Lord, my brother, it shall be well with your soul.