The above sounds like one of those seminal papers fit for the inaugural lecture of a professor at a University, right? Well, I am going to disappoint you because this piece is going to be a short but fitting tribute to a senior brother, friend and mentor. However, it will certainly have a lot to do with Udeme Nana as a person; the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD.) degree just awarded to him and the essentialism of scholarship, meaning, in a layman’s language, the need to keep scholarship alive when other things like position, power (or its corridor) and politics are seemingly dead in our lives.
Udeme Nana, former Director of Press Affairs at the Akwa Ibom State Government House, when Obong Victor Attah, was Governor between 1999 and 2003; Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs between 2003 and 2007 and Senior Special Assistant, Public Affairs, between 2007 and 2008 during the time of Chief Godswill Akpabio, has always been a man of letters. It was, therefore, a thing of joy when I saw a post on facebook by his equally intellectually inclined reverend gentleman brother, Aniekan, congratulating him for the award of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree on him. I haven’t cared enough to ask which institution accorded him the honour but I know it could, may, and should be the University of Nigeria, Nsukka(UNN), from where he got his first and second degrees, and of which he is extremely (an understatement if you hear him talk about it) proud of. Wherever it is from, an Udeme Nana PhD. will certainly follow due process, possess high quality, pass through standards and measure up to the best available in the area scholarship.
Beyond being a man of letters, Udeme is a man of scholarship. He loves education and all that goes with it- books, reading, writing, learning, knowledge, teaching, wisdom, creativity, consciousness, enlightenment, talent, intelligence, adventure, advancement, ideas, progress and development.
I became a practicing journalist because I got close to Udeme. Flash back to the early 90s. I was in my early years at the University of Ibadan. Udeme was in his last year at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. One of those holidays, both of us came home. A meeting took place and we realized relation had met relation.
Beyond the relativity of our existence- we come from the same forbears of Mbiabong (he of Ikot Etim stock and me, of Ikot Udofia stock) in Odoro Ikono Clan of Ini Local Government Area- we realized we had many other things in common. We were all brought up in Calabar (and I always add: brought down in Nsukka, Ibadan, Lagos, Abuja, Uyo etc). I was at Hope Waddell Training Institution, and he was at the opposite end, St. Patrick’s College. We all attended the same Methodist Church at 49 Atamunu Street. I can’t remember now if he was not also in the 7th Calabar Company of the Boys Brigade, where we were taught how to advance “Christ Kingdom amongst men”, and promote “habits of obedience, discipline and …” We also discovered a higher nexus in the love for books. I was a voracious reader, a creative writer who played with poetry and wrote novels (none of them yet to be published) at that very young age. The son of a preacher and teacher, he, too, loved books. He wrote articles, poems and could spend his last to buy books. We were also into students activism.He was the president of the National Association of Akwa Ibom State Students (NAAKISS) University of Nigeria, Nsukka,chapter. I was the Publicity Secretary of the University of Ibadan Chapter in my first year.
Udeme tried to form a national body for NAAKISS, actually calling for a meeting at the then Diamond Lodge, Brooks Street. I think beyond two of us, only one other person came. The dream died albeit temporary.
A year later, he was out of school and I had gone on to become the secretary of the Ibadan Chapter and with Dr. Obot Obot (now a Veterinary Doctor in the Akwa Ibom State Civil Service) who just left office as the President of the Ibadan chapter and the late Ifiok Archibong, and with help from Mobil, a NAAKISS Worldwide was formed, with Dr. Obot as first president, myself as first P.R.O II and Ifiok as first Secretary. Udeme was one of our greatest advisers not minding that he was out of school.
When Udeme later became a journalist with the Pioneer Newspapers, and got settled in Uyo, I had started frequenting Uyo because of my involvement in NAAKISS affairs.I had previously been spending holidays in Warri where my eldest brother and acting father, George, an engineer, then with Shell, was residing or when in Uyo, with my elder cousin, Namso Akang, then Director of the Federal Department of Forestry) With Udeme in Uyo, I became fixed in address. His Emco Lane house became my home. We slept on the same bed, ate the same food, had the same friends and above all, drank from the same pot of knowledge. His house was a library for me. He had books on all topics. I read and grapped elementary knowledge of communication, philosophy, science, religion, mankind and humanity all through his books. I became more learned.
Then I started writing for him as assignments. I also started editing. I can remember him giving me scripts of reporters and attachees under his care to edit. I always had accolades for doing wonderful jobs on them. So, began my journey into practical journalism.
When Udeme became a Director of Press Affairs in 1999, I had been through Newswatch in Lagos (though I was later posted out to Port Harcourt,and later, Uyo as a Zonal Officer mostly involved in marketing, but because I was who I was through Udeme’s making, I tried to make the Zonal Office a Bureau for editorial, marketing and other services. I sent a proposal to Big Boss Ray Ekpu through Mr. Clement Okitikpi, then Admin Manager in that wise. Mr. Anietie Usen, then General Editor, was never tired of receiving my stories and commended me for them while Mr. Aniekan Umanah, then Advert Manager knew I was aggressively going after advert prospects for the company. I was also through ArtMedia, a specialized publication for the arts and media community as special projects editor.
The Will Newspaper, one of the pioneers of today’s local paper industry came, and Udeme was appointed Editorial Consultant. He couldn’t handle it because of his portfolio.He asked me down from Lagos and I was appointed Assistant Editor of the paper but with a charge to turn the paper into a proper one. Udeme trusted me with a free hand and I tried, based on his training, to change the face of the paper for good. The paper became an instant hit. If Imaobong Udo,Lucy Daniel and Victor Ukpong are publishers of any hue today,it is traceable to the experience of The Will Newspaper.
But it is the same The Will Newspaper that created a stain in my relationship with him. One day, I ran into Emmanuel Ibiok, now an Otuekong and immediate past Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, on NEPA Line. He was then a factional Executive Member of the Ekpenyong Ntekim led faction of the PDP in the state. We got talking and he expressed “dismay” that someone like me was a newspaper editor and some things were going on in the State. (when NAAKISS Worldwide had three vice presidents, I was VP,West and Ibiok who was president of the Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, chapter was VP North and one Albert of UNN was VP,East). He gave me a scoop that was anti-government and the next edition made it a front page item. Udeme was furious with me, and complained to our mutual friends and family members. I later heard that the then SSG, Obonganwan Rita Akpan, took a copy of the newspaper to him and said, “we thought you were in control of all papers in the State. We will remove you”. I told those who made his complain known to me that if he were in my shoe, he would have done exactly what I did. He didn’t know that through my interaction with him, I had learnt some basic moral courage from him. He has a stubborn fidelity with principle as his boss, Obong Attah did.
From there, I was back to Lagos; to major publications where I was well regarded. In all the regards I had, I looked back and saw the picture of Udeme looming large and tall over them. In Lagos, I also benefitted from his pool of friends, colleagues and those who came across him in Government House. It was very easy for me to say “I am Udeme Nana’s cousin” because it was easy to find out that one of those Media Relations Managers or Editors was either from the Jackson School of Journalism of UNN or had done one or two things with Udeme in Government House, Uyo. You know how easy name dropping can open or shut doors. His opened more doors than shut them. Emeka Opara, then at Airtel, extended invitations to all Airtel events to me because of my relationship with Udeme. I am friends with Steve Nwosu of The SUN,till tomorrow, because of the same connection. The connections were of serious help to me when I later became Director of Press Affairs, office of the Deputy Governor and Press Secretary to the Deputy Governor years later.
For Udeme to have kept aside active politicking (remember, he contested for a House of Representatives seat) to o back to the world of knowledge shows the make of the man. After leaving office, he had told me he was going to spend time reading, writing and making intellectual and creative engagements his forte.
Intellectualism and creativity is a web that has certain spiral bonds to those in it. There is a bond of ease in the presence of any intellectual and creative person. This Udeme has in droves. The ease of his persona can make you push him so much until the accomplishments of his enlightened mind stares you in the face and you quickly realize you were pushing an uneasy giant.
Udeme is a philosopher teacher. Even as a writer – I have had time to analyse his writings when he published his collection of published works, The Age of Videots – you cannot miss the teacher thread in him. His writings – essays, poetry and reports- are all of the analytical genre. He explores the reality of the background of the subject matter and even in the analytic,you can always find a relation to the subject matter.
I do not know the area he got his PhD. on but if it is in communication, I doubt if there is any area he is not an expert of. I wish it had something to do with persuasive communications. In this area, he exhibits all the characters necessary to persuade. He is a good listener. He hardly talks but when he does, he talks sense based on the deep content of his analytical mindset.
Scholarship will always make a man. Politics may have given him a platform to serve his people but in scholarship is a fulfilled man- different from a filled mind. A fulfilled man like Udeme is more of a blessing to politics. That is, if our politics was not about the filled mind-minds filled with mischief, treachery, back stabbing, blackmail, backbiting and selfishness. The fulfilled mind of a scholar is fulfilled because it is at peace; it does not make or create enemies; it does not plan deceit; it does not crave self-glorification; it thinks of ideas that can benefit society. It is also open.
Udeme’s extraordinary career trajectory- journalists, media relations expert, teacher, lecturer and writer-is a gauge of his fulfilled persona.
In this moment of exultation of Udeme, it is good to reflect on how robust and enlightened our minds should be towards service to God and humanity. That way, nothing, not even scholarship, will make us see beyond who we really are-mere mortals and pencils in the hand of God.
Udeme’s pencil point has written a golden template of scholarship on the pages of his life. The next pages will, certainly, be more golden. An abiding cleavage to the qualities that coloured the pencil up to this point will create more stars that will leave more than a golden template on his future. Congratulations my mentor, elder brother, friend. May your ink never dry. May your brain never slack.