Ahead of his burial Friday, July 26th, 2019, front line journalist, Nats Onoja Agbo, is the subject of peer insights in this report. All three indicative tributes here speaks to the dexterity he brought to life, especially his mastery and deployment of cultural resources of his Idoma world – the idioms, proverbs and folk sociology generally.
It was a uniqueness he was conscious of, going by one of his many references to himself as ‘Okploda le yoga’, the full meaning or English translation of which only the likes of Prof Isawa Elaigwu or Historian Armstrong Adejo can attempt. He was not an enfant terrible or what the Idoma call omajaklekwu – the child that circumcised the father or that sense of it in English literature. No! He was simply in that fertile constructivism that there is no problem which doesn’t have a solution unless we close the imaginative window to it.
It is that creative radius of his that, were Nigeria not in a foul mood, would have been celebrated by ensuring a Joe Akatu performance as part of the rites of passage. Only Akatu’s narrative prowess can adequately defamiliarise the departed towards a deeper communal self-understanding while also appreciating Nats Agbo in much deeper light. Only an artist of Joe Akatu’s stature can do that, a perfect ‘Alime’ minded guy.
Of course, Akatu is dead and gone to his grave but it would still have been possible to assemble his most memorable artistic insights on the Idoma world, the individual in society and the subjectivity of a Nats Onoja Agbo. The stuff are being sold at Otukpo market by enterprising Igbo chaps who though do not understand the language still appreciate re-recording them and contributing to preserving them.
That is just one angle on Nats. The other angles are what each of the three tributes below points out. Each was written by someone who really knew Nats. Sir Ochapa Ogenyi was among the pioneer set of journalists assembled for the newspaper dimension of the PRP ‘revolution’ in Kaduna/Kano in The Triumph in the Second Republic. That was before crossing over to the bureaucracy from where he has retired now. Ndanusa Ocholi, a product of UNILAG training in Mass Communications, worked in The Voice with both Ochapa and Nats. Dr. Tivlumun Nyitse crossed over into journalism from a stint in teaching before becoming a technocrat, stopping over in politics before totalizing all that into academia – Intervention
Adieu, Nats Agbo – Sir (Dr) Ochapa Ogenyi
It was with heavy heart but total submission to the will of God Almighty that I received the news of the death of my good friend and brother, Nathaniel Onoja Agbo, veteran journalist and Idoma nationalist who passed to glory on 20th June, 2019 at the age of 61 years. Surely, his death is a big loss not only to his immediate family but to his legion of friends spread all over the country, the journalism profession and indeed the Idoma nation. However, as Christians we take solace in the promise of God that Jesus died and rose again and those who are asleep in Jesus, God will bring them with him at eternity.
As the Albanian-Indian Catholic Nun-mother Theresa of Calcutta who died in 1997 famously declared: “Death is nothing else but going home to God, the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity” Also, As Apostle Paul wrote to the church of Thessalonians; “I would not want you to be ignorant, brethrens concerning them who are asleep, that ye sorrow not like others who have no hope”. (I Thess. 4:13).
I also share the views of that great American poet and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said; “it is not the length of life that matters but the depth of life” Nats Agbo lived a most blessed and eventful life.
For a man of such humble background, growing up without any silver spoon, the story of his rise to the top of his profession (Editor of The Voice Newspaper and Associate Editor Newswatch Magazine) is a most fascinating and amazing one. On the family side, he is blessed with a loving wife and several children. My friendship with Nats dates back to the early 80’s when we both worked together at The Voice, the Benue State Government owned newspaper in Makurdi. One of the things that instantly attracted him to me was his enormous capacity for hard work. As a reporter and, later, Editor, he had no closing hours and his output of stories was legendary. Indeed, pasted in the wall of his office as Editor of The Voice was this crisp message;
“There is no substitute for hard work, Never give up. Never stop believing. Never stop fighting” ……(Hope Hicks).
Yes indeed, for Nats, there was no substitute for handwork and he never stopped fighting. As a reporter with Newswatch, he got promoted twice in a year. As a freelance journalist his ability to churn out articles for national newspapers was amazing.
Even on his death bed at Brafus Specialist Hospital, Ogba in Lagos, he continued to fight on. Several times when we spoke on phone, he said; “Oyi, don’t worry, I would soon be out of this place and conclude the work” He was referring to a book project we were both working on.
One major lesson that I learnt from the life of Nats Agbo is that the price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand and the determination that whether we win or loose we have applied the best of our selves to the task at hand.
Finally, as Apostle Paul stated in 2 Timothy 4:7, Nats Agbo fought the good fight, and has finished his race. He has also kept the faith and now there is in store for him the crown of righteousness.
Adieu Nats Agbo! May your gentle soul continue to rest in perfect peace!
Benue State, the Middle Belt and, Indeed, Nigeria Would Miss Nats Agbo – Danusa Ocholi
I received the news of the passing away of Nats Agbo first from Intervention. If had not known Mr Adagbo Onoja, the creator of this platform over the years as a man of truth and honour, I would have taken the report as an April fool joke. It is not because Nats Onoja Agbo is anything but a mortal. It was the tragedy of the departure for whoever knew him.
With the tragic departure of Mr. Agbo, a former editor of The Voice in Makurdi who rose to become General Editor at Newswatch, Benue and indeed the entire Middle Belt Region and the country as a whole have lost an erudite writer and wordsmith. He was an outstanding, prolific writer and investigative journalist. Those of us at Daily Asset will miss a true friend and brother as he made his services available to us at the founding state of the publication and until his leaving us, maintained a weekly column in the daily. He will be greatly missed. May God Almighty accept his soul in paradise in Jesus name, Amen!
Good Bye Nats – Dr. Tivlumun Nyitse
I can’t exactly remember when myself and Nats Onoja Agbo became friends but what I can recall is that, before I became a journalist in the twilight of the 80s, Nats was already a household name in journalism practice in Benue State, having risen to become the editor of The Voice at a very young age.
The voice published by the Benue State government was, at the time, populated by a crop of very resourceful and enterprising reporters and brilliant writers among whom were Tor Uja , Bala Dan Abu, Hinga Biem, late Simon Amase, Joe Nwachukwu, Sebastian Agbinda, Ochapa Ogenyi with whom I had a very personal relationship. Very often I would walk over to The Voice to visit Ochapa from Padopads Harmony Secondary School where I taught English teacher immediately I left the university. Very often, I contributed write-ups which were published in The Voice under Mr. Ogenyi’s purview as the Features Editor. Some of the other contemporaries of Nats at The Voice whom we shared camaraderie included the effervescent late Chris Aba who had made his name as a crack reporter with the Jos based Nigerian Standard, late Genger Tange and, of course, David Agu, whom I later worked with at The Voice. Most of these people with whom Nats worked as colleagues were graduates of Mass Communications from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka or the University of Lagos, the two Nigerian universities that were the pioneers in running a Department of Mass Communications along with two or so polytechnics: The Polytechnic, Ibadan and its counterpart in Enugu and Minna.
But the products of these schools met their match in Nats, a graduate of History from the University of Nsukka. He was a great prose architect and meticulous reporter which he was later to prove when he left The Voice in unpleasant circumstances and joined Newswatch news magazine.
Nats was a very determined and focused person and would spare nothing to get at his target, no matter what it took. He was unassuming and never really bothered about what people said or thought of the choices he made in his life so long as he was convinced that he’s taken the best decision. This is why when he decided to leave The Voice to join the Newswatch which was the flagship of magazine journalism in Nigerian at that time, he quietly ignored the lots of flakes from his friends, admirers and associates for accepting the very bottom entry point even after having been an editor of a respected though provincial newspaper. But Nats soon proved his critics wrong as his output and quality soon showed and before the magazine went dead, the late Nats became one of its shinning stars from churning out cover stories upon cover stories. He became an award winning journalist with the Newswatch and was celebrated nationally. It is, therefore, not surprising that, after Newswatch folded up, Nats went in to book publishing.
I became very close with the late Nats when I was appointed the Director of Press to the then Military Administrator of Benue State, Group Captain Joshua Obademi, (rtd) in December, 1993. Nats made it a point of duty to cover every major programme that the state organized and he used that opportunity to get patronage from the state for his media establishment. I remember vividly when he succeeded in dragging the military administration to visit the Newswatch and interact with its topmost management team led by the veteran Ray Ekpu in 1994. And since then, Nats and myself became very close, calling each other very often, with him making it a point of duty to call me and sometimes visit the house whenever he had cause to be in Benue. I remember very well in 2014 when I aspired to be the governor of Benue state, Nats gave me his full support but with a proviso that he had two governorship aspirants in myself and Hinga Biem. He would always say that, with any of us as governor of Benue State, it was bound to be the moment of reckoning in terms of moving the state forward. I don’t know how he was able to balance his support for me and Biem but he was not conflicted. Till his demise, he related with the two of us in equal measure.
“Okpani koocho, Emichi ehe” was the jovial way we greeted each other whenever we met. How we got this alias will be left for another day if I will ever have another opportunity to tell the story! I missed Nats’ call sometime in May but I returned the call and behold his voice came on line. It was not very sharp but I thought maybe he was just tired and resting. Little did I know that my dear Nats was already very ill. I dashed to see him at his friend’s house where he normally stayed whenever he visited Makurdi. I was downcast immediately I sighted Nats. Our greeting was not as sharp as it used to be, the sickness had already sucked much of his energy. I was shocked and I asked what was wrong with him. He tried to explain. There, I also met his wife whom I was meeting for the first time, his elder sister and an uncle who all came to see him from the village. Nats was no longer the convivial and jovial persona that he has been well known to be. The strength in him had been sapped by the debilitating affliction that had plagued his body. And then the worst happened!
On this faithful Thursday afternoon, I was in my office attending to some of my students when my phone beeped and it was a call from Adagbo Onoja, a common friend of ours. After the usual pleasantries, he asked if I have heard the news and I asked him which news? He told me that he too was still not sure, not wanting to be labeled as the person spreading the sad news of what he had heard: that Nats has just passed on a few hours ago” I expressed shock but with a promise to make some few calls to confirm the veracity of the “rumour” and get back to him. I summoned courage and called Nats number but there was no answer. After a little while, his wife called and what was the answer after the usual phone courtesies: it was that “your friend passed on this morning. He couldn’t make it. The doctor said it was cancer!” I offered a few consoling words, not really knowing what to say to her at that point and I hung up after bidding her goodbye.
It’s quite sad that we have lost a friend, and the journalism profession has lost one of its most resourceful hands, a prose stylist of note. It’s even worst for the Benue media community that, all its brightest ones are departing this world in droves. In the last few years , we’ve lost the veteran Chief David Attah. Chris Abah went many year ago. Hyacinth Ede, Julius Achin, Genger Tange, Achinge Gyuse ,a goal getter of a photo journalist with The Voice and many others to the cold hands of death. It’s been a harvest of deaths. While I join other colleagues to mourn the late Nats, I am, however, consoled in the fact that he did not make mistake when he chose the journalism profession, given the huge success he made of it. He may have died without a huge bank balance or mansions spread all over the place, Nats has left behind an indelible name as a journalist who came, saw and conquered.
As we address him “Okpani ko’ cho” for the last time, may the good lord receive his soul in His warm embrace with mercy till we meet never to part again. Adieu!