Dickson Okafor Chief Johny Ucheaga is a lawyer and he is the Secretary, Nigerian Police Equipment Foundation. As a political associate of former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme who passed on recently, the Uturu, Abia State born politician in this interview gives an insight into how Ekwueme became a running mate to former President, Alhaji…
EBONY-COMPLEXIONED and charming Mrs. Funke Egbemode and this columnist are colleagues devoid of any iota of friendship. I will explicate presently lest I am misconstrued. For those who may not know, she is the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of New Telegraph Publishing Limited, which shares corporate cousinship with The Sun—both owned by Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, the irrepressible ‘Aba boy’ who governed Abia State between 1999 and 2007 and thereafter singlehandedly installed Theodore Ahamefule Orji as his amnesic, ungrateful and rebellious successor of bellicosity.
Again, for externals, ‘NGE’ stands for the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Last month, it held its biennial convention in Lagos. On that especial occasion, Funke was re-elected as the president of the Guild. To distinguish our president from other presidents, we fondly call ours ‘Presido’ in the pen confraternity, generally.
My scanty knowledge of Funke shows that this virtuous and vivacious lady had worked in The PUNCH, THISDAY, The Post Express, Media Adviser to the former fleeting Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Ette and The Sun from where she was moved to New Telegraph as the “madam on top”.
It may interest you to know that Funke may not be as beautiful as Miss Helen Prest—the dazzling one-time Miss Nigeria—who is now married, but she is, overall, delectable, voluptuous and of pulchritudinous inclination. On a good day, this powerful dresser will appear seductive to a disposed and complicit onlooker unlike those of us who are “born again” (eh?) and who will flee for safety in strict compliance with eschatological injunctions!
At the launch of one of Funke’s books some time ago at the Bolaji Akinyemi Auditorium of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, the book reviewer, Kunle Hamilton, a first-class graduate, reaffirmed my perception of Funke as one of the few “no-nonsense” journalists who maintain appreciable distance from predatory male colleagues. She is very jovial, but her carriage is such that forecloses any undue familiarity between her and her usually randy and adventurous male colleagues. She deliberately does not allow fraternal greetings to extend beyond the elbow unlike most other female journalists that I know. Now to the main issue of this laudatory intervention: does she have the capacity and competency to lead our association in this recessionary period when publishing and media entrepreneurship are nose-diving? Can she drive editorship in a ravaged economy with dwindling patronage for our final products and services?
Based on her scholastic depth, robust antecedents and profound professionalism, I have the conviction that she will carry on as if there had been no Presido before her! She has a passion for making a difference wherever circumstance avails her. If you need to conduct a cerebral assessment of this presidential damsel, go to the back page of Sunday Sun, where she maintains a salacious, but intellectually-engaging column. Funke’s style of writing reminds me, always, of the late publisher of ClassiQue magazine, MEE Mofe-Damijo, who, in her time, belonged to a different genre of journalism only replicated today by Funke exclusively through ghastly obligatory articles that sizzle readership. They romanticize very serious and no-too-serious issues in such a way that your troubled nerves arising from multifaceted personal and national challenges are soothed by their stylistics. When it now borders on love, Funke transplants the reader to cloud seven and the dream world where reality is like a mirage! If you do not read between the lines, you will get away with the erroneous impression that whoever could write like MEE or Funke is a subtle advocate of concupiscence and erotica when indeed they do not play around. I should know.
If you want to get anything from Funke—including her last kobo—the best broker is Steve Nwosu, the Deputy Managing Director and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of this medium. They are so close that you could mischievously allude to intimacy. I do not know where it all started, possibly in THISDAY and consolidated here. The platonic relationship is further catalyzed by the double fact that Steve, a just-elected Standing Committee member of the NGE, is married to a Yoruba pretty lady and also “chews” the Yoruba language with amazing flair more than Igbo, surprisingly.
Let me also recall our stint at The Post Express. While I was the Editor (Daily), Funke was the Saturday Editor. That was our first encounter. The occupational relationship between us was not cordial for reasons that were inexplicable to me. It got to a point that Funke reported me to the dumb managing director (I will not dignify him with a mention of his name here) that I had taken all the best computer operators and graphic artists because they reported to me officially by virtue of my being the most senior editor and head of the Editorial Department thus stifling their own production. The matter was later resolved. This is the first time I will mention this matter either privately or publicly.
When you are in the corporate world and you send materials (pictures and press releases) to editors for publication, most of them bluntly ask for “settlement” before or no platform! Of course, most editors wrongly believe that the institutions (our employers) must have “loaded” us with PR money. It is not always so. I know from various experiences. The fact of being a colleague on sabbatical does not affect the weird mercantilism. There were a few exceptions in my own case when I was in the banking and telecom sectors as a corporate communications manager. The exceptional editors who made my job interesting through the endless usage of my institutional briefs and official pictures without demanding a dime were: Funke Egbemode, Debo Adesina, Ijeoma Nwaogwgwu, Azu Ishiekwene, Steve Nwosu and Mideno Bayegbon (an aristocratic Niger-Delta gentleman famed to be the richest editor during his tenure). These colleagues of mine, who I hold in the highest esteem, have only reconfirmed to me that money is not everything—enduring relationships matter most, ultimately. I take off my hat to you all. Nothing can surpass your good names and sterling integrities. Your reputational and perceptive profiles remain evergreen.
The greatest impression Funke has made on me without knowing it is getting the former governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, to call me during my travails in the hands of T. A. Orji, whose vicious agents in collusion with the Abia and Lagos police commands had abducted me from my Lagos home to Umuahia handcuffed all through the excruciating trip. Dr Uduaghan called me on a Sunday afternoon and promised to talk with T. A. Orji. The next day when I called Dr. Uduaghan, he informed me that he met a brick-wall as his colleague turned deaf ears to his intervention. As God does His thing, shortly thereafter I won the case I instituted against T. A. Orji and the police for the violation of my fundamental rights at the Lagos High Court amid tongue-lashing of T. A. Orji and the police by Justice Okon Abang. Funke, you will continue to soar by God’s grace. Your collateral ascent will be borderless and boundless—the NGE presidency is just a stepping stone!
Let me also recall the day Funke directed her driver to take me from the office to Maza-Maza from where I will find my way home. By the way, when I entered the car, I knew immediately that the owner has class and taste: no sand, dust, paper strip or any other dirt/eyesore. For her, the ride was a non-issue that required no hesitation. That is Funke for you. In case you did not know, Funke is an automobile freak which explains why her palatial home is dotted by brand new exotic cars and SUVs of premium vehicular value, according to authoritative sources!
This is hoping that one of these days I will be like Steve Nwosu in Funke’s life so that we get to know each other’s residence and infrequently exchange visits and phone calls that could lead to synergetic networking, among other prospects, unlimited possibilities and opportunities. These variables, for me, are the hallmarks of friendship—being just mere colleagues is antithetical to the essence and stark realities of existential humanism. Funke likes the quintessence of life and having superlative fun is a pastime of hers. I wish her the best as she navigates the NGE ship.
If I was as opulent as Funke, I would have thrown a party in celebration of her re-election! In the absence of that, for now, I pray for her! I congratulate all the members of the NGE executive on their pyrrhic victories! They must justify the confidence we have reposed in them. FINAL WORD: The NGE has become an association for any interested journalist/publisher/editor-in-chief. Line editors in the print media and all manner of innumerable “managers” in the electronic media constitute the Guild these days unlike before! Can we streamline and standardize membership lest it becomes another NUJ and its countless fringe extortionist sub-groups.