Ubon Jimmy Akpan: Sunset at noon
Writing the word ‘late’ or referring to Akparawa Ubon Jimmy Akpan in the past has been the most traumatizing experience for me. The mere fact that I cannot escape the dreaded word or circumvent the reality that he is no more; would never be seen, or exchanged those wisecracks gives me goose pimples. It still appears as if one is in dreamland to be woken by some earthly distraction.
But, this is real. My bosom friend (more of a brother), man Friday and one I can proudly say knew me more than my blood relations, and vice versa is no more! He succumbed to the cold hands of that unwanted and dreaded visitor, Death.
Though we started a primary school on the same day in our village school, we weren’t close until we began to engage in those youthful fancies.
The National Common Entrance saw us in different secondary schools. He headed for HOWAD, Calabar, while AGRAMS in Ukpom was my port of call. We kept in touch and usually looked forward to comparing the note at the end of the school term. But, our shared interest in reading novels, periodicals, newspapers, and magazines both locally and international. Our schools’ Libraries provided us those facilities. The James Hardley Chase series, Sydney Sheldon, Mills and Boon, Onitsha Market Literature series were our favourites.
In the Nigerian Chronicle, a Cross River State-owned publication, we followed writers like Ray Ekpu On Sunday, Etim Anim’s This Life. Dele Giwa’s Parallax Snaps in the Sunday Concord newspaper was also a must-read for us. George F. Will column in America’s Newsweek magazine gave us the international angle to our quest for information and knowledge.
And so, I wasn’t surprised when he showed up from Calabar one evening and announced to me he had picked up a form to read Mass Communications at then Polytechnic, Calabar, then seen as the home of Mass Communications training. I was glad for him but equally told him that my maternal Uncle (who schooled abroad) was working to get me to study in the United States of America. I showed him the Test of English As Foreign Language (TOEFL) form I had filled. In no time, he had gained admission to Polycal while I waited to go to the USA. Unfortunately for me, the admission letter arrived after the provisional period had elapsed at the New York State University, no thanks to our postal system then.
Well, I was to join him (on his prompting) at the Department of Mass Communications, Polycal much later. And we lived out our young adulthood, partly fueled by the state bursary, which we enjoyed. You can as well blame yourself if you missed out in your youthful times. He came out and after a stint with some local media houses, moved to Lagos. Here he pitched tent with The Punch newspaper, and later Champion and along the line, expanded his educational frontiers to the University of Ibadan. He stayed on the maritime beat.
I soon landed a job and used the opportunity to expand my educational base, landing in Edo State and Akoka, Lagos and strutted organizations like Complete communications, Guardian Newspaper, National Sportslink and a spell at Pulse communications, integrated marketing communications. We equally did our bit of the professional Unions. While he became the President of Maritime Reporters Association (MARAN), I emerged as Chairman of Sports Writers’ Association (SWAN), Lagos Chapter and Assistant Secretary, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ).
He made most of his mark at socio-cultural organiSations leading Ibiono Ibom in Lagos, Vice President, Akwa Ibom Association in Lagos as well as Chair, Mboho Mkparawa Ibibio, Lagos Chapter, among many other selfless engagements, while I did a bit of my own, practically being headhunted by him to those roles. Oh, I almost forgot, he even married his beautiful wife, Esther, through my girlfriend then! And once drove away a girl he thought was not good enough for me as a wife!
Akpan was buried yesterday in his hometown, Ibiaku Ikot Oku, Ibiono Ibom Local Council of Akwa Ibom State.
Though we had our share of those disagreements in the more than 40 years we have been closely associated, we understood ourselves, our values and our understanding of humanity. We had issues with anger though that waned as we grew older. In our disagreements, few people would want to intervene. “Don’t mind those twosomes. They will always settle their differences,” Usen Inyangmme or Etim Ekanem would say
So, you can imagine how I felt when I called him and he told me he was not feeling good, and thinking it was common malaria/typhoid ailment, I sauntered to his place to see that the sickness was more serious. Alarmed, we tried all we could to save his life. But, lo and behold, this unsavory story. It hurts to the marrow but I am consoled by the fact that he lived his life well, served humanity and his God. Take a bow brother and friend. May you find favour in the bosom of the Almighty God.
• ‘Uwem-Obong Ankak, a childhood friend and professional colleague of the late Akpan, wrote from Lagos
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