The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has described the pioneer General Manager of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the late Onuora Nzekwu, as a patriotic Nigerian.
It was at a night of tribute and songs for the 89-year old novelist and editor at the NAN Media Centre in Lagos on Friday.
“He was a patriotic Nigerian, who lived all his life providing selfless service to the nation. It may be hard to find such service in our society today.
“He was a great Nigerian and an exceptional man who helped to build NAN, and also trained so many journalists who have excelled in their various fields.
“He was also a cultural man and his work as Editor of `The Nigeria magazine helped in documenting various aspects of Nigeria’s cultural heritage.
“He was a good writer, who inspired a lot of young ones to appreciate literature,’’ the minister, said in his remarks at “a Night of Tributes,’’ for the late pioneer chief executive of NAN in Lagos.
The minister was represented at the occasion by the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Press Council, Nnamdi Njemanze.
In his tribute, titled `Glorification of a Titan’, the Managing Director of NAN, Bayo Onanuga, described Mr. Nzekwu as a legendary writer, whose novels inspired many during his school days.
“I did not meet him during his time as General Manager, but I think he did a great work being the pioneer head of the agency, with a legacy that has still remained with us.
“I read his book, Eze Goes to School 46 years ago, when I was in Secondary Class Two. I must say we enjoyed the book and shared the experience of Eze.
“Though I never met Pa Nzekwu since he left NAN on 1st of July 1985 after seven years of meritorious service, I met his good legacy.
Many of the staff that have spoken about him did so in glowing terms. “He was a nice man. A man of few words, a good listener” are some of the testimonies that I have heard.
“When he was here, he gave everyone his due. He was fair to everyone,” others said.
“And someone attesting to his financial integrity told me that Papa was in the habit of returning to the Federal treasury unspent allocation.
“It is indeed a big credit to him that no one had spoken ill of him. People had rather spoken fondly of this titan.
“May God Bless His Soul,” Mr. Onanuga said.
The managing director of NAN further said: “Pa Nzekwu crowned all his earthly achievements in 2008, when he was conferred with the Nigerian National Honor of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 2008.
“This came two years after our agency had honoured him at the 30th anniversary with the title, Maker of NAN.”
In another tribute from the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Femi Onialeagbon, who represented the association, said the prolific writer would be missed by his great works, which had left indelible marks in the literary world.
“Without mincing words, he was a great writer who will be sorely missed by all. He was a prolific writer which many of the young generation will look up to,’’ he said.
His daughter, Cordelia Uyanwa, said the simplicity of the literary giant endeared him to many.
“He was a man loved by all. At no point in time will you not find someone outside the family living with us. He accommodated all,’’ she said.
Another daughter, Nwando Idris, described Nzekwu as a man of few words.
“He was a man of few words but prolific in writing. He will always put his thought in the book. He communicated without saying a word.
“We are celebrating his lifetime as a wonderful man, who had a passion for all. He was a disciplinarian but not in the way many Nigerians would think he was,’’ she said.
In a sermon, Seye Kosoko, a pastor, talked about legacies people will leave behind and enjoined all to endeavour to leave good legacies, an example of which Pa Nzekwu has left behind.
Quoting from Proverbs 22, Verse 8, Mr. Kosoko stressed the importance of the inheritance of moral stability, which he said could be found lacking in the society today.
“Our society has placed too much emphasis on monetary values than moral edification,’’ he noted.
The night of tribute was spiced with performances by BJ Sax and Choir Groups and a musical group that rendered some of the loved songs of Pa Nzekwu, which included, Fela’s classic, Water No get Enemy.
Okey Bakassi, who was the anchorman, complemented the performances with rib-cracking jokes.
Mr. Nzekwu, a notable writer and editor, was born in Kafanchan on Feb. 19, 1928.
A teacher and a revered poet early in his working life, Mr. Nzekwu authored several novels which included: Eze goes to School, and its sequel, Eze goes to College, with the great historian Michael Ajayi Crowder published in 1964 and 1988.
He also published `Wand of Noble Wood, `Highlife for Lizards, “Blade Among the Boys, “The Chima Dynasty in Onitsha and `Faith of our Fathers’.
In recognition of his works and contribution to education in Africa, Mr. Nzekwu received the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in 1961.
The award enabled him to study American Methods of Magazine Production in New York.
In 1964, Mr. Nzekwu was awarded a UNESCO Fellowship which allowed him to study Copyright Administration for three months in Geneva, Prague, Paris, London, New York and Washington.
Mr Nzekwu was conferred with the Nigerian National Honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 2008.
He was also honoured during the 30th Anniversary of NAN at Abuja in 1988, where he was presented a plaque with the engraving “Maker of NAN,’’ by the agency.
He joined the Federal Civil Service In January 1956, as an editorial assistant at the Nigeria Magazine Division of the Federal Ministry of Information.
Mr. Nzekwu worked as an editorial assistant from 1956 to 1958. In 1958, he took over the position of editor-in-chief of the magazine.
He continued to run the Nigeria Magazine Division of the Federal Ministry of Information until 1966, when the Nigerian Crisis compelled him to transfer his services to the Eastern Nigeria Public Service.
Mr. Nzekwu began as a senior information officer at Eastern Nigeria, a post where he combined the roles of the Information Ministry and Cultural officer.
In 1968, he was promoted deputy director of the newly-created Cultural Division.
At the end of hostilities in January 1970, Mr. Nzekwu returned to the Federal Ministry of Information in May and was assigned to the information division as senior information officer.
He worked as Protem general manager of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) until July 1, 1979, when he then took over the position of substantive general manager.
Mr. Nzekwu retired from the Nigerian Public Service in 1985, after presiding over the affairs of NAN for nearly eight years and serving his country’s government for 39 years.
He died in Onitsha, his hometown, on April 21, where his remains would be interred on June 30.
The tribute session was attended by many retired personnel, as well as current staff of the agency.