Vanguard (Lagos)

8 November 2009

Nigeria: The Journalist as a Patriot - Onyema Ugochukwu at 65

(Page 2 of 4)

Ugochukwu trained as an economist and first took appointment with the Central Bank of Nigeria as a research officer but he would locate his bearing in the newsroom of one of Africa's most notable newspapers. Folklore has it that his mother's serious concern that lawyers would one day die of hunger if all men became righteous, forced him to abandon studying law for economics.

Embarrassed by his decision, an uncle who first mooted the idea of his studying law now went to his mother and explained to her that "do you know that Onyema is going to the university to learn how to be a miser?" The poor woman soaked in misery all day.

Maybe the uncle had clairvoyant powers, because Onyema Ugochukwu does not suffer spendthrifts gladly. No budget will escape his dreaded red pen as many would testify from his Daily Times, Presidency and NDDC days, a trait laced with a healthy loathing for extravagance and inattentiveness. But on his love for his people, there is no holding back..

Ugochukwu is at heart a villager. Umule has benefitted immensely from his generosity. The Ugochukwus are a pillar of support for the community, a typical African village but one which has not lost its innocence. Inside the Ugochukwu family compound proper is the African extended family tradition at work. The bond of family is strong here. Everyone looks after the other. They work together, pray together, eat together, and share their gains and pains together.

His younger sibling, Ude, a successful corporate lawyer is his sounding board and although both would laugh it off, probably his closest confidant.

His charming wife of 30 years, Joyce, a medical doctor and mother of his four children, two boys and two girls, is never too far from his side. Ugochukwu's illustrious career in Daily Times spanned twenty eventful years during which colleagues and subordinates illustrated him as a thoroughbred professional, an editor's editor, merit-driven, man of integrity, etc.

Ugochukwu would team up with Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi and Dr Chidi Amuta to make Daily Times the newspaper of quality it was then. Younger elements remembered that Ugochukwu would not meet any visitor until he had first gobbled all the news in all the newspapers stacked high on his table.

God help the reporter who missed a good story. Olusunle counted himself as one of the lucky Ugochukwu/Ogunbiyi boys, alongside Femi Olatunde, Segun Ayobolu, Gbenga Ayeni, Femi Ajayi, Afam Akeh, Felix Omorogbe, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, Tunde Kaitell and others, but even he could not escape Ugochukwu's celebrated sharp eye for a good copy. In 1991, Olusunle was assigned to write on the centenary of the legendary King Jaja of Opobo.

On his return from the Island, he filed his report, which was splashed on the Sunday Times magazine. The morning after, Ugochukwu accosted Tunde along the corridor and incredulously barked at him "Are you back"? Thinking Ugochukwu had not seen the Sunday magazine feature for which he had been lavishly commended by readers, Olusunle replied, "Yes sir, am back and you should have seen the Sunday Times magazine." Ugochukwu's face was deadpanned. "How did you get to Opobo?"

Tunde explained how he flew in a plane from Lagos to Port Harcourt, rode by car to Bodo in Ogoniland and travelled by speedboat to Opobo. "Do you realize you covered three of the four known means of transportation on that single trip? I want to read your experience, a travelogue, with photographs. How about the social life? Did you meet human beings where you went? Don't they have nightclubs in Port Harcourt? Do me a social diary. When this organization sends a writer of your caliber on an assignment, that is the minimum we expect in return". Typical of Ugochukwu, he managed to squeeze out, not one, but three stories from one single assignment.

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