By Sheddy Ozoene
The last time I spoke with Uwakwe Abugu, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, was last April. A particular newspaper editor had complained to me about lack of patronage by Lion Building, Enugu state’s seat of government, in spite of his medium’s friendly disposition towards the state government. As I had done a couple of times, I called up the CPS to discuss the issue and agree on how to respond to such complaints at a time of scarce resources for advertisements.
That day, Abugu spoke to me from his home at a time he should have been at work. I didn’t voice my curiosity; as a senior member of the Fourth Estate, I routinely pop into the Government House press unit, and it was not difficult to observe that his health challenge was increasingly keeping him away from the office and the job he loved so much. His decision to seek treatment in India was welcomed by many but none could have imagined it would be his last trip alive.
Last Tuesday when news of his death wafted in, it brought with it shock waves in the seat of government in Enugu, among his friends and across the newsrooms in Nigeria. It also brought back, instant memories of the man many agree was a quintessential journalist, gentleman par excellence and an effective manager of men. Abugu was liked by all with whom his path crossed. For friends and colleagues alike, and within the media organizations where he had left his footprints as a professional, there was indeed, a profound sense of loss.
Since his appointment as the CPS to Governor Ugwuanyi in June 2015, Abugu has done so much to project the obvious positives that his principal has brought into the administration of the state. It is to his credit that the Ugwuanyi administration has enjoyed a very cordial relationship with correspondents in the state as well as the media organizations they represent, which in turn has engendered for the state, a positive media portrayal.
I had known Uwakwe Abugu since 1999, following my appointment as Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Delta State. In those 8 years of my stay during which period he was the state correspondent of Vanguard newspapers (later Daily Independent), we forged a close relationship. In my assessment, that was the defining moment of his journalism career and I appreciated his deep, objective reports about the state and its government.
That he also hailed from my own Enugu state, brought us even closer and made him, perhaps, the closest to the state government from that corps of correspondents. So much was my admiration of Abugu that on the debut of Daily Independent newspaper owned by Governor James Ibori and which I had the privilege to midwife in 2001, he was among the crack professionals I head-hunted to join the paper. He would eventually rise to become the paper’s Bureau Chief.
Uwakwe Abugu was a thoroughbred: as a reporter, he had a good nose for news, a knack for detail and the thoroughness of a professional. Little wonder that he was a big asset to each media organization that was opportuned to engage his services. In the heady days of militancy in the Niger Delta, violent agitations and the occasional ethnic crises that engulfed Warri, he was outstanding. He presented on daily basis, reports that made Vanguard newspaper, (later Daily Independent), the authoritative voices of the region. While he was at home with all parties in the disputes and was one-on-one with many of the region’s leaders, he was never one to allow relationships come between him and the presentation of objective reports; he performed his duties without let or hindrance and upheld the sanctity of factual truths in his reports.
He was not alone. I could also say so of other correspondents in Delta who were from Enugu state: Mr. Kingsley Nweze in Thisday, Mr. Ejike Obeta in the News Agency of Nigeria, Mr. Emma Chukwuanukwu in the defunct MINAJ television and Mr. Alphonsus Eze in Champion newspapers. They equally made me proud and together with Uwakwe Abugu, we built a strong family in the Press Unit of Government House, Asaba.
Enugu state has indeed lost a gem but Uwakwe has gone like all mortals will. He was indeed an effective media adviser and information manager who must share in the credit for the government’s positive media depiction. It is obvious he enjoyed a warm relationship with his principal since his appointment as CPS till death struck last Tuesday. The governor must therefore be commended for his patience and understanding all through the months when Abugu’s ill-health forced him into an unusual low-energy performance, and for the assistance that supported the treatment abroad.
As the good Book says in 1 Corinthians 15:55 “Oh death, where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory?” Abugu’s death is certainly a big blow to his family, especially to the wife he loved so much and the children he labored to give the best. Even as tributes will continue to pour in for Uwakwe, this is wishing the family and all his loved ones, the fortitude to bear this loss. They must take solace in the fact that he lived a good life and left fond memories in the hearts of many.
As life has quite often reminded us, there is always a time to say goodbye.
Sheddy Ozoene, SSA to the Governor of Enugu state, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. He writes from Nsude, Enugu state.