LOSING TRUE FRIENDS: ENCOUNTERS WITH BRUME AND NDAGUBA
Reading of the passing of ace broadcaster Ikenna Ndaguba, and Senator Fred Brume technocrat extraordinaire has devastated me. I know that it is an occupational hazard of my attainment of septuagenarian status that I should be prepared to lose friends and colleagues but I can never be truly reconciled to it.
For someone like me whose entire adult life has been circumscribed largely by the goodwill of friends and acquaintances rather than by any special professional qualification this is extremely difficult. While I have utilised a simple talent for communication to build a career my success, or rather my survival, has been entirely dependent on trust in my abilities exhibited by people who believe in my commitment and worth. This is nothing if not a proper definition of friendship. There are many who have exhibited this quality in their relationships with me in Nigeria, and thus helped me survive my 'irrational' decision to adopt West Africa as my homeland for nearly five decades.
Of these hardly anyone could have had more influence on the course of my life than either Fred Brume or Ikenna Ndaguba. My great and true brother and friend, and professional collaborator as producer of my music programmes, Benson 'Ben Jay' Idonije, himself a legendary broadcaster and happily still alive and kicking, will well remember the course of events that put Ikenna and me together.
When NBC2 the first FM station run by the then Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) now known as the FRSC opened in Lagos it was Ikenna who as GM persuaded me to move my fledgling Jazz Hour programme that had been running on a weekly basis on the national network to the new station. This was my first close encounter with Ikenna who had by then already become recognised as one of the nation's true treasures for his impeccable classic style of news reading as well as his impressive traditional production abilities.
Under Ikenna's direction presenters and producers on the new station were encouraged to be more informal and innovative in their style. 'Ben Jay' and myself decided that this would give us an opportunity to try out an interactive and informal studio chat format that would encourage the audience to listen to the music on a more personal level than the more formal and academic presentation that we continued to use on the national network.
What I remember clearly is that while Ikenna was at first querulous about our strategy once it became clear that the audience for jazz was increasingly attracted to the station he became our greatest supporter and was always encouraging us to do more to build the relationship between the audience and the programme. He was a gentleman par excellence even when he had differences with anyone and hardly ever raised his voice in any discussion.
Over the years as we worked together not only on radio but sometimes in his later post-retirement career as high profile Master of Ceremonies in Abuja I discovered remarkable qualities in him such as his penchant for research into the background of those whom he may be slated to introduce during official ceremonies. He was a thorough professional and a dedicated perfectionist when it came to his task as a manager of ceremonial events. In addition to this he was always neat and simple in his dressing whether in the office or in relaxation and like his presentation style as an announcer he was never ostentatious either in his professional conduct or his personal behaviour. Instead he was always reserved and unassuming and his modesty was far outweighed by his profound and unquestioned influence on the broadcasting culture of his homeland.
Ikenna influenced me greatly at a certain time in my life when I was having second thoughts about returning to Nigeria after working for some years in Liberia. He told me that while he seemed to be having a rollicking success as an MC in Abuja he was actually facing hard times because his long broadcasting career had not been rewarded appropriately. In spite of this he said, 'As long as you have health and you can serve humanity just keep on serving for your reward is in the ability to serve.'
This discussion helped me make up my mind to return home and keep on doing my best to give voice to issues that enhance the lives and spirits of the average man and woman. At that time I had devoted a substantial proportion of personal energy and resources to help build peace in Liberia and had watched my efforts crumble. At the same time I felt that in Nigeria the potential for my usefulness had been also compromised. The genesis of this feeling of disenchantment could be traced back to another intervention in my life by a great friend, Fred Brume. He had asked me to join his major effort to establish the Delta Steel Company in Aladja near Warri, as a consultant on public affairs.
This giant development project was the first of its kind anywhere in West Africa. It was going to be a full-scale steel rolling mill using ore imported from all over the world. In other words this was to be a 'first world' industry set up in a 'third world' community. Brume was in charge and he wanted wide coverage of the processes of establishment of this project. He believed that with my contacts in the world of African media internationally I could help achieve this.
Interestingly, when I was approached by Brume we hardly knew each other. He had read my first book 'The State of Black Desire' while schooling in the United States.
On finding that I was living in Nigeria he had sought me out in Lagos to tell me that he believed my dreams for the renewal of the African spirit would come to pass. Another great friend still happily alive, Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, was the catalyst for our first meeting. Almost two years after that Brume was appointed pioneer GM of Delta Steel and although we had not met since the first introduction by Aig-Imoukhuede when he heard that I was living in Benin City he asked another close mutual friend Frank Avan-Nomayo to tell me to come and see him. I remember wondering what on earth a peripatetic poet-broadcaster and sometime journalist would do in a steel factory, but when I did go to see Brume his passion and commitment impressed me. He explained the intricacies of the project and what its objectives would be in a simple and clear manner.
Brume told me that he believed proper information management would help soothe communal fears and enlighten doubters over the relevance and the necessity of the project. As his personal consultant his remarkable strength of character and dedication to doing the right thing kept me involved. Delta Steel came on stream in record time and was recognised as one of the most effective industrial projects ever installed in Africa. Brume wanted a change of focus that would enhance the project's validity.
Some political jobbers saw this as an opportunity to undermine him and he ended up being detained for upwards of three years before eventually being released and vindicated from any wrongdoing by the Hon. Justice Uwaifo. I don't know if he ever received a proper apology from those who tried to disgrace him but for me and for many others who know the truth Fred Brume was a man among men and that is how he will forever be remembered.