By Adagbo Onoja
The news of the death of Paul Esah Udenyi came typically Paul. It came as a broadcast on his WhatsApp number. The message was not beyond him at all, Paul being gifted in making pranks. He was, indeed, a graduate of a school of boys who used to wonder, for example, what would happen if someone put a boulder on the railway track. That was as a boy growing up in Agila District in what is now Ado Local Government Area of Benue State. It was the days of functional railways system.
In early 1986, the late Hajiya Bilkisu, editor of The Sunday Triumph at the time sent me to reinforce Paul in Makurdi to clinch a number of stories. I never met him before I was employed in Triumph but Paul and I spent over two weeks together during which we were like been together. By his own testimony, only the fear of the local Catechist made them never do such a thing as putting a stone on the rail track to see what would happen. Still, he grew up with a great deal of fertile, curious and experimental mind that made it easy for him to transform from Marketing to journalism, for instance, without extra or formal training while in the service of the Kano State owned Triumph Publishing Company in the mid-1980s. In doing so, he was able to fill a gap created by the departure of Samson Namo, (now also late) and Ochapa Ogenyi, two crack graduates of the ABU, Zaria Political Science who hitherto served as the Benue State Editor of Triumph.
The WhatsApp message in question was announcing the death of Paul Udenyi. I will call him later to joke if he wasn’t overstretching his prankish inclination and continued what I was doing. It didn’t cross my mind that someone else was posting the story and it was no joke. Something was querying me internally if Paul would go to the extent of indicating exact time and places of wake-keep and all that at his own death. Why not call him and which was what I did. Luckily, the line was picked before it cut but it was not a male voice that came on. Rather, it was a female voice, the voice of Mrs Mary Udenyi, Paul’s wife. And she was forthcoming with details of what happened, how Paul had suffered, raising funds to treat himself for quite some time now. Everything had gone well at last, including a surgery in Abuja but with some of the most modern technology. It had been a successful prostrate operation.
But just as the family was going to now sit back and reflect on a trying past did death arrive. That was last Thursday, exactly a week today, (18/08/2022). Paul had woken up around 3 am, went to the gents, followed by complain of pain at the waist, then struggle to the hospital and then death. A death that leaves behind the wife and nine children!
No one can stop death but friends, colleagues and brothers can share pains and pleasures together and reduce the burden. Survival has, however, distributed us far from each other. Technology which has come to mitigate that came with its own paradox of presence and absence simultaneously. Paul and I are together on a number of WhatsApp platforms. As long as there are no tales of suffering from any angle, the assumption is that everyone else is minimally fine and only coping with day to day survival.
Paul has not been celebrated but he is deserving of a lot of celebration. I have already mentioned one reason for that: the shift from Marketing to crack reporting by pulling the boot rap. That brilliance led to his second accomplishment. That is keeping The Triumph alive in the Benue area. Triumph newspapers came as a breath of fresh air. All those who were part of that team were making a serious contribution to spreading the ideas that powered the newspaper at the time. Third, Paul was the publisher of Crimeguard. Crimeguard was not an online affair but he sustained it over six years before it went down. Considering the number of publications that have gone underground in spite of wealthier owner-publishers, Paul deserves reckoning.
The demise of Paul reminds one too of the demise of Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf, Ujudud Sharif, Emmanuel Yawe and others one may not have heard of their death or cannot recall immediately. These were all journalists in the memorable Triumph family at an interesting time. And who became even more invaluable thereafter!
May the good Lord receive Paul Esah Udenyi into His bossom!
Celebrating Staff Sgt Emmanuel Okochikwu
From Paul Udenyi to Staff Sgt Emmanuel Okochikwu! In a way, it would be an aberration to talk of mourning Okochikwu. His is a celebration of the passing away of one man who can be said to have lived every moment of his life to the fullest. The response could be different if he were asked to comment on his life but how might anyone mourn a soldier who was so sociable?
Of course, no one in this peer group which encountered him in Kaduna in the early 1980s can say anything about him under war conditions. Otherwise, it is doubtful if anyone caught him without a smile dangling on his lips or not permanently, neatly turned out, in army uniform or in mufti or at any time welcoming or ever seen to care whether one was too junior to interact with him.
Staff Sgt Okochikwu killed our image of the soldier as a harsh, unsmiling, unsympathetic terror. That was the image of the soldier we had come to town with as rural urchins. It was not like that with this man. Not having anything to do with the military, we never really had anything to do with him. ‘We’ here refers to the informal group of young guys who came from a same District in Idomaland and got jobs in and around Kaduna in the early 1980s. We had a way of converging in Kaduna nearly every weekend to socialize. One of his sons, Omale Emma, to keep it native, was a member of the club.
To commence our weekly rites of what would now be seen as youthful enthusiasm, we would have to pick him. It never went without having to eat there. It was impossible to escape Staff Sgt Okochikwu or his wife in this regard. It appeared they loved seeing excited young boys gather and chatter in their house as a prelude to leaving with one of theirs. The family did not just entertain with food, the soldier never lacked his own drinks. Meeting him implied mixing with him.
He was a man of style. Without a bloated stomach, he was a spectacle in his starched uniform. No. Of course, he had to retire and to leave 44, the Barrack that came to acquire just that figure in Kaduna town.
The news of his death last week must necessarily bring back memories of this memorable man and his very wife, Madam Margaret who died in 1989. But we can only celebrate such a person, a man of style and natural flair for finesse, in whose language every one of us had a title. His burial is one opportunity, especially for rump of our group to re-enact, temporarily, the Edemoga culture of aja-opi, (my English has not reached to translate this). That would be the only adequate tribute to this real Edemoga man!
Again, may the good Lord also make a big welcome for him up there!