You may not have encountered my friend turned brother, Chido Onumah. He is an intruiging personality crafted out of raw steel. Not that you could tell from the mollifying voice that greets you on that first encounter, though you will quickly come to agree that it’s softness perfectly compliments a gracious and self-effacing demeanour. As you walk away, you may find yourself believing that this gentleman is too polite and refined for Nigeria, but you couldn’t be more mistaken. Sooner than later, you will come to the profound realization that his voice is the only aspect of him that embodies softness.
Though my recollection of the circumstances leading up to our first meeting remains fuzzy today, I distinctly recall the Sunday afternoon when I made a cold call to Chido after stumbling upon an article he authored for Saharareporters many years before. That very conversation revealed that we shared an identical worldview and vision regarding leadership and accountability.
Prior to that moment, I had nurtured a long-held dream of establishing a media company with a noble purpose – to promote good governance by holding political leaders accountable. One firmly believes that the majority of the issues plaguing the South-East region of Nigeria are a direct consequence of poor governance and sees the power of good journalism as a means to address these pressing concerns. I had it all meticulously planned out except that as a non-media person with less than a pedestrian understanding of how the industry works, I needed a steady and reliable hand to help midwife the process.
Several months later, I was all packed up and ready to fly across the Atlantic to meet with my kindred spirit for the first time in Abuja, my heart brimming with anticipation. Patrick Okigbo III of Nextia, with whom I had also been sharing my thoughts on the issue, was gracious enough to be at that meeting.
As I reflect on that unforgettable moment, I can vividly picture Patrick, a towering figure exuding confidence in his tailored, ash-colored suit. He sat in the corner, his eyes filled with curiosity and deep thoughts. His every word resonating with an understanding of the immense challenges that lay ahead. It was as if he saw in me the courageous explorer ready to embark on an arduous and thankless odyssey, yet immensely rewarding.
During that exploratory meeting, we delved into the feasibility and financial sustainability of establishing an independent media organisation in the South-East , free from the clutches of vested interests. I also sought advice from other influential figures within and outside the media sphere, including my old schoolmate and former aviation minister, Osita Chidoka. Consensus emerged that a media company dedicated to the Southeast was an idea long overdue, although the prospect appeared daunting. Nevertheless, a collective decision was reached to take the leap. It was a moon shot but I went to work.
Four arduous years have passed since our inaugural meeting, and Ikenga Media continues to forge its path, surpassing our initial expectations. Though we acknowledge the journey ahead, we take pride in seeing our idea transcend mere thoughts and manifest as a tangible force. Most significantly, we remain steadfast in our mission to resist the seductive grip of brown envelope journalism and hold those in positions of public trust accountable.
In the ever-evolving landscape of media, Ikengaonline has emerged as a powerful force for change. As a daily online news publication, it has provided a platform to share timely and relevant news. Additionally, the Ikenga Town hall, a monthly participatory program, has fostered engaging discussions led by guest speakers, addressing pressing issues that impact the region.
To it’s credit, Ikenga has commissioned numerous disruptive investigative reports that unveil hidden truths and expose issues that were previously confined to hushed conversations around kitchen tables. These reports have not only raised awareness but have also sparked meaningful dialogue, challenging the status quo and driving positive change.
But this piece is not about Ikenga, it’s about characters, how we are molded and the way societies emerge. Chido grew up in the shadows of Edwin Madunagu, the professor of mathematician-turned celebrated journalist and an icon of the Nigerian socialist movement. He tells the story of how growing up, his idea of fun was spending time at Prof. Madunagu’s office at the Rutam house of the Guardian newspaper, scavenging through every piece of news article he could lay his hands on. This was way before the advent of digital printing.
Eddy himself, a self-confessed Marxist and a socialist, was once described by his ideological soulmate and Emeritus Professor of African and African American Studies and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, Biodun Jeyifo, as “the greatest materialist historian and archivist and of socialism and the Left in Nigeria’s political history.” In his tribute marking the icon’s 75th birthday, Chido had this to say about his mentor: “Apart from my father, perhaps no other person has had as much influence on my life as Comrade Edwin Madunagu and I am proud not only to be associated with him for more than three decades but also to be his protégé.”
Chido met Eddie three decades earlier through his fiery Thursday column on the pages of Guardian newspaper before the opportunity of a physical encounter. He once confessed to me that Eddy’s writings and that of Chinweizu, Godwin Sogolo, Femi Osofisan, Kole Omotoso, G. G. Darah, Olatunji Dare and Onwuchekwa Jemie – all firebrand public intellectuals of that era shaped his thinking and writings of many in his generation. These men walk their talk and this is what marks them apart from the current generation that specialise in writing elegant proses of how soceity should work while providing intellectual cover to unrepentant despots and inept politicians, long on sleaze.
Chido was intentional in not joining the crowd; instead, he sticks to the old rule of “say what you mean and mean what you say,” just like Madunagu and his generation. He is unfazed by material possessions, and his life is the very definition of modesty combined with panache. His outlook is cosmopolitan, and his sense of justice is second to none. He is firmly rooted in his identity and unapologetic about identifying as Igbo. However, his wife is Yoruba, and in addition to being fluent in the language, most of his closest friends and associates are also Yorubas. These are all music to my ears, and this mindset may have been the reason we clicked so quickly.
In my own case, I used to be an avid reader of the Sunday column by one Samuel Olusola Idowu, fondly called Olu Akaraogun. Olu was a columnist for the now-defunct Champion newspaper, owned by the wealthy businessman and politician, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. My weekend rituals back in the late eighties were incomplete without an encounter with Olu’s column titled “Sunday Chat with Olu Akaraogun.”
Even back then, Olu was not one of the most popular columnists, but somehow, he still managed to find his way into my world at such an impressionable age. Reading his column was, to me, like being served escargots de Bourgogne with a glass of my favourite champagne in hand. He certainly kindled my interest in reading, writing, and maybe, to an extent, shaped my worldview. I suspect that was also the case with his other ardent followers.
Olu was highly respected and held in awe, our traditional institutions. He was recognised as a high chief and later was bestowed with the title ””Gbadeto” by Oba Akran of Badagry, Oba Aholu Wenu Toyil. Though he departed from this world in 2005, his legacy lives on in the hallowed grounds of his final resting place in Omu-Ijebu, Ogun State. Regrettably, I never had the privilege of meeting my pen idol before his passing, but the profound impact of his writings continues to resonate within me, eternally vibrant in my cherished memories.
Interaction with people through their writings and role modelling can have a profound impact on moulding minds. When we engage with someone’s writings, whether it’s through books, articles, or online content, we are exposed to their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. Through this interaction, we gain insights into their experiences, knowledge, and beliefs, allowing us to broaden our own understanding and shape our thinking.
Role modelling is another powerful way in which people can shape minds. When we observe someone’s behaviour, values, and attitudes, we tend to internalize and imitate those traits. It is therefore crucial for one to be discerning in the choices of reading materials to consume and the people one chooses to follow.
In this dynamic interplay and through the combination of choosing role models and reading materials that resonate with our values, men can unlock their potential for transformative growth, ultimately shaping their thoughts, beliefs, and actions. We all need heroes in our lives. That’s how men are made.
•Agbo writes from Houston, Texas. Email: [email protected]