By Anote Ajeluorou
Last Tuesday at the open ground of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Ikoyi, fellow broadcasters, both old and young, gathered to celebrate the passing on of one of their own. Also, the gathering drew friends and family from far and near to say a word or two about Onwa Ikenna Ndaguba, a man for whom accolades poured like palmwine from a fertile raffia palm tree.
Some of the finest broadcasters from Radio Nigeria were in attendance. Those from its TV counterpart, NTA, also made their presence felt. For all that gathered, the opinion was the same: Ndaguba’s life was one of celebration; not even death could take that away from the man commonly referred as The Master of Ceremony!
To underscore his prized place in broadcast history in Nigeria, similar events are being held in parts of the country in celebration of a man appropriately described as, The Man… The Voice… The Commitment! Lagos Television station, LTV8, was on hand to relay live the night of tributes dubbed, An Evening of Reminiscences’. Broadcasters Bisi Olatilo and Bimbo Oloyede anchored the evening event.
To underscore the celebration, moving musical interludes from the Lagos City Chorale directed by Emeka Nwokedi and performance from inimitable Onyeka Onwenu (with Ayo Bankole on the piano) also formed part of the reminiscences for Ndaguba.
And although the Lagos and South-West axis of the national burial committee, organisers of the event, failed to hoist a banner outside the sprawling FRCN’s premises to advertise the event, the number of eminent persons and fellow broadcasters that turned up was ample testimony to how much Ndaguba touched lives while he lived.
Former Director-General of NTA, Mr. Vincent Maduka, praised Ndaguba, whose voice was already resonating in Lagos before he arrived the scene in 1972 from Ibadan. Maduka also praised the distinctive quality of selection and training of Radio Nigeria staff that made them to stand out.
He said, “Ikenna remained till the last a legend. The public sector tends to fall into decay but Ikenna remained and continued to make waves. I hope he made some money from broadcasting. With his talent and skills, he would have made a lot of money in the private sector. Although money is not everything - what he left behind remains. He was the golden voice of the business”.
Chief Femi Adeniyi-Williams simply described Ndaguba as an icon, a man with whom he moved around a lot while they worked together. When he left for advertising, Adeniyi-Williams said he tried to persuade Ndaguba to join up but he refused, adding, “He was a wonderful man; I simpathise with the family”.
Another advertising guru, Biodun Shobanjo, said he knew Ndaguba a little over 40 years, and described him as one of the best in the field. He stated, “At the old NBC, you have to be the best to read news, and he was one of the best. I called him ‘my man’. He would be in the studio doing rehearsals 10 minutes before time. He read properly, especially names.
“He was grade A anchor. He’s done his bit and is gone. The concern now is today’s broadcasters, how they can be like Ikenna, to try and make the best of broadcasting”.
Another of his contemporary and language teacher at the training school, Bode Alalade, confessed to feeling numbed on getting news of Ndaguba’s death. “He was my good friend,” he stated. “He was the finest broadcaster I ever met in my life. He called me ‘the source’ while I called him ‘follow-follow’. I’ll miss him even in death. Ikenna is not dead; he’s living with us because his legacies will live with us.”
Veteran broadcaster, Kevin Ejiofor also lent his voice in reminiscing about the late Ndaguba. “A high master of the art of the spoken word; a gentleman in everything he did, how he walked, played tennis,” Ejiofor eulogised. “How can we pay tribute to him? Ikenna brought care and diligence to how he did all things and attracted people of all ages, and was always the centre where he was”.
Like Shobanjo, Ejiofor tasked broadcasters on making their profession better by forming a body to regulate and monitor standards rather than allowing outsiders without professional know-how to rate practitioners.
PERHAPS, one eminent person whose emotions ran very high during the evening of tribute for Ndaguba was former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku. He knew him for 62 years starting from secondary school when he was 16 and Ndaguba 14. “At 14 Ikenna entered my school, and we were in the same School House,” he told the large gathering. “I immediately recognised the sonority of his voice and his goodness of manners. He was predictable as he did things expected of him. Then he was recruited into broadcasting because of his voice and his eloquence.
“It always gave me pride when his colleagues worldwide spoke fondly about him from the BBC staff to his colleagues in Malasia. It’s not surprising he’s called ‘The Master of Ceremony’! Diligence is an apt word to describe him; he’d research his materials; he was such a thorough man. When he spoke or read the news, it was more than reading the text before him. You get the impression he was speaking to the subject he’s talking about.
“For upcoming broadcasters, they should strive hard and emulate the performance of Ikenna. It’s not easy to speak adequately about Ikenna’s record. Those who know me know that I’m not flippant in my choice of words. But Ikenna was one of the greatest broadcasters all over the world. He had a voice you readily recognised. He has joined the few whose legacies we will remember.”
Another of his contemporaries, Dele Adetiba, described Ndaguba as an accomplished person, who made a success of whatever he laid his hands on; a gentleman who lived without a single scandal to his name. More importantly, he said Ndaguba’s was the passing of an era. And he went on to name the long list of those who had made impact at Radio Nigeria and had since passed on including notable names like Earnest Okonkwo and Yinka Craig.
Adetiba said he was one of the very few of his era still alive and expressed his fears at the rate at which his colleagues have all succumbed to death.
For Kelvin Amaechi, Ndaguba was “an embodiment of sartorial elegance” and that his “humility was overwhelming; he was a superstar to me. He inspired you no matter who you were”.
Former D-G, NTA, Dr. Victoria Ezeokoli, the only lady called to pay tributes to Ndaguba, roused the audience to finer elements of the late broadcaster and the locations of the two foremost broadcast houses. She made no pretensions about what the event was: a moment of mourning for the late broadcaster. She said time had come for people to stop celebrating three score and a half, as it made everyone forget to live longer than they should, otherwise Ndaguba wouldn’t have died yet.
Ezeokoli affirmed her determination to live much longer. She remarked about Ndaguba’s days at NTA and her first memory of the man during the Operation Feed the Nation launch in the late 1970s, and then the liberation fund-raising launch for South West People Organisation (SWAPO) now Namibia, how Ndaguba performed excellently to gladden her as a Nigerian.
The broadcaster, whom Maduka dragged from academic to the newsroom, tasked policymakers to consider allowing a free-flow of persons from radio to TV to enhance the two mediums. She quipped at how the two foremost government-own Radio Nigeria and NTA are located in dangerous neibourhoods – one near a cemetery and the other near Bar Beach! She suggested that the two broadcast stations ought to have been in the same location and away from such zones.
Also to lend a voice to evening proceeding was songstress, Onwenu, who, in spite of the death of her mother, deemed it fit to grace Ndaguba’s evening of reminiscences and also roused the audience in her performance.
In the few encounters she had with the man, Onwenu attested to Ndaguba’s thoroughness and professionalism and how he showed so much love for young ones. Proverbially, Onwenu said, ‘the day you’re mourning someone else is the day you’re also mourning yourself’ to signify that the evening of tributes was for the late Ndaguba as much as it was for all those in attendance.
She said, “He (Ndaguba) hasn’t left us; he is with us. I just lost my own mother; I shouldn’t have been here but I felt I have to…”
Ndaguba’s widow, Carroll, was also in attendance during the event. Her son also performed on the piano.
Some of those in attendance were Ruth Benemasia-Opia, Sienne Allwell-Brown, Taiwo Obileye, John Momoh, Lola Alakija, Sonny Irabor, Cordelia Okpei, Funke Treasure-Durodola, Jones Usen, Segun Thomas and Femi Akintunde-Johnson.