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Uwakwe Abugu: Life writes a lousy script

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Even at the best of times, mortality has never been a subject that sits easily in conversations let alone in circumstances where it involves a loved one hobbled by an ailment with potentially life-threatening outcome.

In such situations, even discussions about commonplace issues tend to be a torturous experience for families and friends.

This is especially so if it is a protracted ailment as was the case with Mr. Uwakwe Abugu, the late Chief Press Secretary to Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State. 

The weeks preceding his passing on had understandably put a huge emotional strain on his family and friends, but it is testament to his strength of character that he spoke about the sad turn of events without a hint of self-pity and bore his ailment with an unusual grace and candour, neither for once losing his humanity nor ever becoming grumpy.

It was particularly telling that he did not lose his sense of humor even as the ailment to which he would later succumb at an Indian hospital gnawed at him.

Indeed, his appetite for work was never dulled even on his sickbed from where he penned his last backpage column, From My Observatory, in the monthly journal of the Government House Press Unit, Lion Building Watch.

He was appointed Chief Press Secretary on June 15, 2015, a crowning feat for one who lost his father as an infant and had to toil at the farm to survive as a result, along with siblings and his mother of whom he often spoke in glowing terms.

That experience no doubt imbued him with a sound work ethic and some gritty resoluteness that he in turn sought to inculcate in those with whom he worked; an attempt, which sometimes tended to be misconstrued as standoffish attitude.

But he was a good man, one whose goodness you could actually speak about without tongue-in-cheek. And beneath that seemingly stern exterior lay a very simple heart suffused with empathy. 

A major test of character could be discerned in the way individuals behave away from the scrutiny of public glare with limited possibility for applause or censure. For Abugu, there was no different conduct codes for his public and private life.

His life was like a large canvas and he always strived to live by the rectitude he demanded in others.

And if any proof of this was needed, it is evident in the emerging testimonies of his numerous charitable deeds since he passed on, from those to whom he had long been a silent benefactor and to those in whose lives he had played a fatherly role.

It is equally instructive he remained discreet about these gestures. 

That is because Abugu deeply eschewed pomp and never sought validation for his actions; he simply acted according to his convictions, which happily, was shaped by an acute sense of justice most likely forged through years of holding a mirror to the society as a journalist, a profession he eagerly embraced after a stint in the Enugu State civil service.

His near three-decade career in journalism took him through media organisations like Minaj Broadcast International, Vanguard, Daily Independent, Compass and New Telegraph where he was the South-East Bureau Chief before his appointment.

His brilliance and painstaking attention to detail reflected in his works, points that have been affirmed by many ex-colleagues (including this writer who had worked with him at New Telegraph) and which must have hugely impressed the Enugu State governor in appointing him as his spokesperson.

Contemplating the death of Abugu brings to mind lines from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam, a requiem he wrote in 1833 while grieving over the loss of his friend, Arthur Henry Hallam: “That loss is common would not make/ My own less bitter, rather more:/ … I hold it true, whate’er befall;/ I feel it, when I sorrow most;/ ‘Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all.”

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, counseled John Donne. But the world would be told nonetheless this bell tolls for a great man, that its plaintive notes do not simply mourn your departure, but is a homage to friendship as much as it is a clarion call for a return to the virtues of simplicity and sincerity which you easily embodied without pretensions.

Loud has been the outpouring of emotion since news of your death broke across Enugu and beyond, drawing massive condolence messages and visits, with the Nigerian Union of Journalists’ Enugu State branch declaring one week of mourning.

However, there is yet amid all that a numbing silence, which is what one feels, ironically, when the grief is overwhelming.

In that quiet contemplation, I’m reminded of what a great friend you were and in hindsight ponder if you wouldn’t still be here had some things been done differently.

Each time such grim moments descend as your remains were interred yesterday, I draw strength from how stoic you had been despite the many dire prognosis as well as the discipline and love you instilled in your family whose strong bonds are evident and, of course, find solace in Tennyson’s words from his elegiac poem cited earlier: “When I contemplate all alone/ The life that had been thine below,/ And fix my thoughts on all the glow/ To which thy crescent would have grown;/ I see thee sitting crown’d with good,/ A central warmth diffusing bliss.”

We prayed for a redemptive end to your ordeal, hoping you’ll be back at your desk hunched over your computer – or stomping the Lion Building’s Press Unit hallway in that characteristic manner that only you could and throwing your occasional banters.

But, alas, as the playwright Humphrey Bogart once noted: “Life writes a lousy script”. Rest in peace, dear friend, colleague, devout Catholic, wonderful family man and brother. Here’s one bell whose tolling will never cease.

* Ani, formerly Editor of ThisDay, The Saturday Newspaper and later Saturday Telegraph, is a senior communications aide to the governor of Enugu State.


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