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Ben Egbuna… A destiny fulfilled in print

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Ben Egbuna was many things to the media: reporter, editor, analyst, administrator, colleague, friend, and mentor. In a distinguished career, characterised by diligence and dedication, he traversed the studios and suites of the Voice of Nigeria and Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, rising to be the first executive director (News) in the former, and director-general in the latter.

Aside from being a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, he was, for a season, also the president of the African Union Of Broadcasting. He was also one of the brains behind the Broadcasters Guild initiative.

He was also a committed family man, who loved his wife, trained his children, and doted on his grandchildren. Like good wine, he held the promise of much fruitfulness even in advanced age until death snatched him away in January 2021.

Before he answered his maker’s call, Ben completed his memoir, A Destiny Fulfilled, which details not only his exploits in the media, but provides useful nuggets on his socialisation, and worldview.

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Pungent and lucid, the 388–page book is a study in the development of an individual and the institutions that destiny took him through. It provides candid close-ups on leading names in the media and politics of his era and unfolds a lot of behind-the-scene happenings in high quarters in public service.

From the classrooms in Enugwu-Ukwu and Enugu in the South East, to Sapele and Warri in the South South, to Lagos and Ota, in the South West, and Kuru in the North Central, Egbuna was at home with excellence anywhere he found it. From the trenches in Abia and Anambra states as a soldier, to the clerical post at Post and Telegraphs Department in Lagos, to the broadcast studios in Ikoyi and Abuja, to reportorial duties in Dar’ Salem, where he interviewed an unassuming President Julius Nyerere at a moment’s notice, Johannesburg, Nairobi, where he confronted racism; London, where he sparred with his boss; Ndjamena, where he escaped gunshots by whiskers, Egbuna weaves a compelling narrative.

It is a picturesque account of grit, of family ties and professional relationships, and of the forces that shape the content and tone of public broadcasting, and Nigerian politics. It is a great gift to the growing literature of the Nigerian media (with a focus on broadcasting) and our politics.

This is Egbuna’s gift to the media, and our country, Nigeria. It is one that deserves to be read by the thinking public for the enduring lessons it offers in journalism education broadcast journalism, management, and leadership.

The book, which is set for public presentation on August 12, 2021 at the MUSON Centre, Lagos, by 11:00am, is riveting memoir, ‘A Destiny Fulfilled’ is a study in the development of an individual and the institutions destiny took him through, filled with candid close-ups on leading names in the media and politics of his era and a lot of behind-the-scene happenings in high quarters in public service.’ Excerpt from the book published by Diamond Publications Limited.

A Destiny Foretold, Chapter 1
“The civil war was for most Biafrans a collective struggle for survival as a nation and as a people. It was also an individual struggle for existence. Biafra lost the war and that collective loss left the individual stranded, alone, in a fresh and equally difficult struggle for rehabilitation, despite the victor’s “no victor, no vanquished” mantra.

There was no “authority” to speak for, or represent the interest of the defeated Biafrans. Those who wielded power in Biafra had either bolted out to escape the obvious repercussions of defeat or had melted into the civilian population in anonymity. Now we were all on our own; every man, every family to themselves; a situation akin to the Biblical “To your tents, O Israel!” [1 Kings 12:16] but which, in this instance, many adapted to: “To your tents, O Biafrans!” Post-war rehabilitation of self was the business of the individual, to devise and manage within the economic and social measures announced by the federal government for the defeated secessionists.

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I was 20-and-a-half years old and I should have completed my secondary education three years earlier in 1967, but as at January 1970, I had not. Yet I had gone through situations and acquired experience that I might, under normal circumstances, not have had at my age. I had gone through military training and orientation; I had slept in trenches, in the bush for weeks and even months; I had crawled in muddy water, gone without food for days involuntarily; I could handle weapons – rifle, machine-gun, grenade, – and I had learned skills for physical combat. I had been a trainer of soldiers, an infantry officer leading men much older than me in battle. I had seen people die violently in battle, and human corpses lying unattended; I had experienced the brutality of war. I had lived independent of my parents, far away from their oversight and control. I now smoked cigarette. The tough and difficult times in training and in the battlefield, seemed to have imbued in me emotional and physical strength and wisdom beyond my age. I had become street-wise, transformed from the pampered, city-bred lad that I had been. Those thirty months of the civil war had not only disrupted my education, they had impacted on my total being. They had exposed me to experiences I might never have had in my lifetime.”

Soldier Boy, Chapter 2
“I tried to rise to my feet but was restrained by a sharp pain on my right knee that I had hit on the edge of the gutter as I dived for cover. I sat there watching the Red Cross and other emergency service personnel evacuating the dead and seriously wounded persons. I managed to limp home, and for some days that chaotic scene played repeatedly in my mind. I had been lucky again to escape death or serious injury; would I be so lucky a third time?”

“Although I made my entry into the world from the port town of Sapele located in Delta State, Mid-west of Nigeria, my roots are actually in the South-east of the country, specifically in the town called Enugwu-Ukwu. This ancient town is about a half-hour’s drive from the Onitsha end of the famous Niger Bridge in the East and on the old Onitsha-Enugu Expressway. Enugwu-Ukwu is situated in central Anambra State and has as neighbours Nawfia to the north, Abagana and Ukpo to the south, Agukwu, Nimo and Nise to the east and Enugwu-Agidi to the west…

My Roots, Chapter 3
Pre-Christianity Enugwu-Ukwu was predominantly polygamous and marriage was considered a mark of responsibility of the man. It was not dignifying for a grown-up man to be single when he was old enough to be married. Thus a man who failed or refused to marry at the right age was regarded as irresponsible. Such a person was treated with little or no regard by his peers and the community generally. Polygamy is no longer fashionable in the town, perhaps because a majority of the people now profess the Christian faith. But there are some men even among Christians who have two or more wives…

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“In 1957, my father was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He was happy; the family was joyous. It was a reward for dedication, hard work and productivity and it was expected to bring a measure of comfort and prestige to the family and upgrade our social status in the barracks. But this promotion marked the beginning of turbulence in our lives. We became nomadic, moving from one town to another ever so frequently. For us the children, it meant that we changed schools very often.

My father had a reputation as a very good police investigator and prosecutor. He had on display in our sitting room five certificates of commendation for his achievements which were in glass frames and hung on the wall. As a result of his acclaimed competence, he was in hot demand by the various station commanders in the region and we found ourselves constantly on the move. For example, towards the end of 1957, my father was transferred from Sapele to Burutu. We arrived in Burutu in a police Bedford lorry in the early afternoon. My mother, my younger brother Osita, and my sisters Maria and Okwuoma, and I waited in the vehicle while my father went to report his arrival at the station and to be allocated his residential accommodation in the new station. After what seemed to my mother an unduly long interval, he returned with news that we were going back to Sapele. He had been re-transferred from Burutu even before we stepped down from the vehicle that conveyed us there.”

Barracks Boy, Chapter 4
“I wept all that day and was moody and inconsolable for many days. How could she label me a “stubborn child”? I couldn’t understand it. Only a few months ago she had branded me a “tearful weakling” scared stiff of the cane. Indeed, I was very scared of the cane and would scream and cry even before the stick touched my body. I, therefore, did everything I could to avoid being caned. But one never was able to escape Madam Vicky’s whip – not me or Joseph or Charity. We managed always to incur her displeasure and invite her ubiquitous cane. For instance, when our madam complained that we were dirty because we wore our domestic clothes for three days without washing them, we began to change and wash our clothes daily. But we got reprimanded for wasting the laundry soap by washing clothes too frequently. If we brushed her shoes without applying shoe polish we got caned for not doing it well and when we used polish on the shoes we were sanctioned for wasting polish.”

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Ben Egbuna
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