‘What nonsense DG are you?’
‘No, Honourable Minister, you can’t talk to me like that, with due respect Mr. Minister, you better mind your language… You cant be insulting me just because you are a minister, anybody can be appointed a minister, but it takes some good hard work to rise through the ranks and become a Chief Executive, so please caution yourself, I won’t employ the lady just like that , she must go through the interview process like others to determine her competencies, period!’
That was Ben Egbuna in a heated argument between him and the then Minister of State for Information( look for his name – na Emmanuel Ogbeche and Jackson Lekan Ojo-Fatoye friend).
The Minister wanted Mr. Egbuna, then DG, FRCN to employ a certain lady without undergoing an interview but Mr.Egbuna refused and even when the minister insulted and threatened to sack him he stood his ground.
That was vintage Ben Egbuna. He would not bend, now bow. His then Special Assistant, Mr. Ikechukwu Eze and yours sincerely, his then Personal Assistant, gave him a nick name that just three of us – including his Secretary, Mrs. Gloria Nneke knew – straight rod!
Ben Egbuna was indeed a straight iron rod. No cutting corners , no bending and I was not too comfortable over that because he kept himself in harm’s way. He riaked a good job. Being DG was and never been moi moi. It was and still is a position of affluence and influence, with a lot of gbalamu( according to Julius Ogunro )
One day during the tenure of Mr. Kevin Ejiofor , he received a package from then Governor Goodluck Jonathan of Bayelsa state, after Alamieyeseigha’s removal. When Mr Ejiofor opened the briefcase he suddenly shouted and exclaimed ‘no wonder people don’t want to leave this seat!’
But Ben Egbuna walked away based on principles. Indeed he was not a true Nigerian. The true Nigerian would lie, cringe, beg, roll on the floor , creep like serpent just to keep his post for filthy lucre. Today Chief Executives serve out their tenure, even clock retirement age and stay put, to scheme tenure extension. Ben was not a true Nigerian!
All he was interested in was the job. As his PA I never saw him eat and he hardly laughed. Even his speech pattern was straight and sharp – to the point and no oiling of words or speaking from both sides of his mouth.
He was too frank and straight to allow you even begin gossips to gain some promotion or favours from him.
I said , I could not bring myself to embrace his unbending attitude because he hurt himself and some of us who worked with him. For instance, clearly, Mr Egbuna would have stayed longer in office if he was a true Nigerian. We believe in bootlicking and yes sir, yes sir style of leadership and followership. Mr. Egbuna refused to compromise, he questioned and resisted award of contracts to his supervisory minister of information, late Mr. John Okey without due process. Mr Odey saw this as an affront and began to frustrate all Ben Egbuna’s efforts to reposition FRCN. Indeed Mr Egbuna was not a true Nigerian. Which true Nigerian DG would risk his job like this?
Things became so bad that Mr. Odey would sit on all files from FRCN and refuse to approve them because he hated the guts of the DG. We suffered. We could not even buy papers and ink in the newsrooms and the DGs office. Mr. Odey sustained this wicked onslaught until he frustrated Egbuna out of office.
Please dont misunderstand me.Who am I to hold grudges against Mr. John Odey and his Minister of State. Mr Odey later became my good friend long after he left office as Minister as we had to run things together when I became Chair of the press corp of his party, the PDP. You can’t take away the fact that Mr. Okey was a great party man. Even when things went roughly he remained in his party and worked hard to salvage things. Now that Egbuna has joined him in the great beyond, I hope they would talk things over.
Mr Egbuna was removed from office but not from the world. He left public office with his honour intact. He left with his integrity intact and his head high. But he was not a true Nigerian because true Nigerians are not concerned about integrity. If you mention it they would sarcastically retort – ‘intewhat?’
Egbuna ensured that all attempts from the Ministry, under Mr John Odey, to shortchange the system were rebuffed. He refused to give and refused to collect. ‘Which kine man be that sef’ He paid dearly for it. He was not a true Nigerian. He could have enjoyed the pecks of office for a longer time and made much worldly wealth. But he chose to do what was right. He was not a true Nigerian. True Nigerians don’t behave like that, we find ways of compromising and retain our post only to have sad memories of lost opportunities to better the nation after we leave office. The many tales of such compromises that litter our public life is the reason why Nigeria is today in a sorry state at the intensive care unit of the global hospital gasping for breath with no oxygen mask even in sight.
The few honest men who remain are highly hated and scorned by their friends and family members ‘you get opportunity you no fit run racket, olodo, odeh’
I made this point very loudly during Mr. Egbuna’s send off party which had in attendance, the CEOs of information paratastals such as Prof Tony Iredia (NTA) , Remi Oyo( NAN) and top directors. Even the then new successor of Mr. Egbuna, Alhaji Nuhu Yusuf was in attendance. I must have stepped on toes by spilling the beans, a common PA was not supposed to speak in such a forum Big men, ‘talkless’ of disparaging Very Big men such as Ministers. I was not a true Nigerian. Perhaps I should not have raised spoken or even raise dust at that auspicious occasion. I spoke the avoidable word. Many of the DGs and Directors were experiencing what I talked about but could not talk and were even afraid to betray any expression, nod, smile or clap as I hit ‘a whole Minister of the Federal Republic and his Minister of state’ . They were true Nigerians. They must have thought ,’ this small boy does not understand how the public service works’ I was not a true Nigerian. And I lost the job not long after!
I felt their spirit in the hall as I spoke, I had touched where I should not touch. True Nigerians don’t rock the boat, they don’t talk while eating. Me, common PA spoke, Even SA Mr. Ikechukwu Eze, who was my immediate boss did not say ‘pim’. He is a wise man. He knows that Nigerians don’t like truth. Like Egbuna, I was not a true Nigerian. And I guess that was why shortly after Yusuf Nuhu settled down as DG, he sent me packing to the newsroom where I was able to fulfill my then burning desire of becoming NUJ Chairman in FRCN. He never knew he has helping me to fulfill my destiny. I had been troubling Mr. Gbenga Onayiga, our natural NUJ FRCN leader that I wanted to run for the chairmanship of NUJ to reposition the body as it had gone comatose under Mr. Godwin Odemijie(Chairman) and Suleman Musa ( Secretary).No blame them, the duo had served out their tenure and became tired as members were lethargic about union activities. Mr. Onayiga kept telling me ‘we can’t make you NUJ chairman when you are DG’s PA’ And i waited patiently until Nuhu fired me. My removal by Nuhu became a blessing as it gave me the opportunity to work and shine!
Today CEOs of government agencies only surround themselves and fix those from their ethnic groups or those who can bootlick or be their spies. But not so with Ben Egbuna. He inherited me from Mr. Kevin Ejiofor and had the choice of bringing his ‘loyalist’ or tribesman to replace me, but Ben did not. When President Jonathan was coming on board after the demise of Yar’ Adu and many felt that there was to be a change of batton regarding FRCN’s reporter covering the state house, I felt I should give it a shot and after muting the idea with Ikechukwu Eze, I went to see Mr Egbuna. His response was just as he was: “No, I won’t post you to the State House, you are from South South, and the incoming President , Jonathan is also from the same zone. There won’t be balance…” I don’t know if I should commend or condemn him for that but that was Ben Egbuna! Today, those in public office discard national character and equity and surround themselves with their kinsmen. But that’s how to be a good Nigerian. Ben Egbuna was not!
He once told a Minister “Honourable Minister sir, Radio Nigeria needs to have credibility so that you can use it for projection of the Governments image, please allow me cover activities of all Nigerians wether in Government or opposition”.
He insisted on standards. Made sure that everyone who must be employed must go through interviews and thorough screening. The Director , Radio Nigeria investment Ltd, Mr. Mike Yawe , told the story of how he was employed into the corporation in the days of Ben Egbuna:
“In 2006 Radio Nigeria advertised the position of Deputy Director Marketing (Enterprise) in the national dailies and as the Regional Sales Manager North of Honeywell Oil and Gas Ltd, I applied having met all the conditionalities. The interviews started with eighteen candidates down to the last three and eventually yours sincerely was appointed. The DG Ben Egbuna went through a lot of pressure from powerful men in Government who had candidates along the line but Ben Egbuna stood his ground and insisted he was going for the best to be recommended by the interview panel. He stepped on VERY powerful toes as a result.I got the job of a Deputy Director with a FG agency without knowing anybody courtesy of the DG’s sincerity of purpose. I had never met him before the interview and on resumption I discovered his sterling qualities and insistence that the right thing must be done at all times”
As the brutally frank Mike Yawe said, Egbuna stepped on powerful toes and suffered for it. Perhaps his successors ‘learnt’ from his ‘mistake’ and they accepted even goats as staff of the corporation just to survive the ‘mumu’ directives from ministers and legislators in the name of oversight. What was the outcome? These DGs stayed and enjoyed the filthy lucre of office unlike Mr. Egbuna but they destroyed the system.( I no call anybody name ooo) So we now have dunces and untrainable folks manning sensitive positions in organisations like FRCN, NTA,VON and NAN. Because ignorant and selfish politicians dictate how we should run our professional News organisations.
Egbuna’s life and works is a clear testimony that one small man doing the right thing in his small corner somewhere can inspire generations to come, even if the man himself does not reap the direct benefit, nation builders would stand on his shoulders to chart a new course for their nation.
Nigeria will only get better when we decide not to be true Nigerians like Ben Egbuna. The choice is ours!
Mr Egbuna would never miss sending me birthday wishes or calling to make observations on FRCN Network news an insignia of his undying passion for robust journalism.
Sometime ago the creative writer in Mr Egbuna penned these words on his facebook page:”I woke up this morning humming unconsciously that song by Sony Oti (I believe) – “Achuo aja masi afuro udene, ife melu be mmuo”, meaning, if a sacrifice is offered to the gods and vultures are not seen, then something must have happened in the land of the spirits. That got me thinking: have I ever seen a vulture in Lagos? I have lived in Lagos almost all my life but I can’t recall seeing one of that bird in this city. Are there no vultures in Lagos?'” Something has indeed happened in the land of the spirits. Ben Egbuna has joined them!
Adieu boss for life!
Victorson Agbenson, Egbuna’s former Personal Assistant wrote from Abuja.