Saturday, March 20, 2021 12:47 pm
By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Ours was a meeting of minds on the OP-ED pages of The Guardian in the 1980s. He signed off his articles as “Motor-Park Economist” while I signed off my pieces as “Peasant Theatre Director”. I was in wonder why a “motor-park economist” wrote in a language that could only be grasped by only seasoned professors. I did not have to wonder for a long time before we met physically in the same office as pioneer staff of the African Guardian magazine. The man was then known as Ashikiwe Adione-Egom but was later in life addressed as “Pastor Luke” and Peter Alexander Egom.
The news-feature magazine African Guardian, with Ted Iwere as editor and Andy Akporugo as editor-in-chief, had in my humble opinion the most distinguished staff ever gathered anywhere, notably Eddie Iroh, Sully Abu, Pini Jason, Greg Obong-Oshotse, Okey Ndibe, Ada Momah, Ngozi Ojidoh, Kingsley Osadolor, Fred Ohwahwa, Joni Akpederi, Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, Stanley Amah, Ola Alakija, Seun Sonoiki, George Ola Davies etc. Of course, Ashikiwe who always wore short knickers to the office stood out. It was inevitable, as arranged by Editor Ted Iwere, that the “motor-park professor” and the “peasant theatre rustic” would somewhat “clash”. Ashikiwe as the head of the economic team had anchored a cover story on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) against the background of falling oil prices that threatened the very existence of Nigeria in the early days of Military President Ibrahim Babangida’s regime in 1986. Ashikiwe’s report was worthy of a professorial dissertation but Editor Iwere felt it could not be understood by the common reader. I was then summoned by the editor to write the cover story in a language that the average magazine reader could get along with. I could not say no, for in the business, the editor’s word is final.
It took me a very long night to get to grips with the meat of Ashikiwe’s offering, before I finally settled down to write the cover story. I refrained from putting my byline on the story so as not to draw the ire of Ashikiwe. When the magazine was published I found out that Editor Iwere had put my name smack as the writer of the cover story. I promptly decided to make myself very scarce from Ashikiwe’s presence. I was indeed very surprised when he eventually caught sight of me and embraced me, advising me that I had a style that suited literary writing which will bode me well in writing novels. He then bought me lunch at the Guardian canteen. He instantly adopted me as his bosom brother, sharing his salary with me, for he had no need for money, as he told me. I had to believe him because he was living in the hotel!
I cannot forget the day Ashikiwe came to the office, not in his trademark shorts, but in this bespoke black suit complete with tie and a red kerchief jutting out of the breast pocket. He was waiting for me, and promptly accosted me.
“You poet, I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, dragging me along. “Follow me, I’m going to propose.”
I followed him to the Guardian canteen but I did not see any lady he was about to propose to. He kept buying drinks until very late in the night without making the announced proposal.
I came back to the office the very next morning only to see Ashikiwe in an even more breathtaking suit with an elegant white lady, a Dane, as his companion. There was no need for words. We had a very silent launch thereafter before he departed with the ever-smiling lady.
Born in Ukala-Okpunor in Oshimili North LGA of Delta State, Ashikiwe saw himself as “a full-blooded Igbo” that runs counter to what he termed the identity crisis of some of his Anioma brethren. He was a star student and athlete at Kings College, Lagos. He took his educational pursuit to the esteemed, Downing College of Cambridge University in England where he used to share honours with the British champion and latter-day novelist Jeffery Archer, author of The Prodigal Daughter, in the 100 metres dash.
He left Cambridge University in June 1966, and flew into Lagos after the July 29, 1966 counter-coup in which the Igbo were routinely killed. He was detained for seven months at Ikoyi and Kirikiri prisons from July 18, 1967 to March 14, 1968. He then flew out of Nigeria for Europe on April 18, 1968. He spent 14 years in Denmark and Tanzania, reading and teaching Social Anthropology and Economics. He alongside other pursuits served as an adviser to the Tanzanian Central Bank under the watch of then President Julius Nyerere before returning to Nigeria for good late in 1982.
He quickly built up a solid reputation on the pages of The Guardian when it was set up in 1983 and then became a foundation member of The African Guardian magazine in 1985. He later became the editor-in-chief of Financial Post newspaper and Business in ECOWAS magazine.
A devout Catholic, he had occasion to branch out into Pentecostalism and served as Pastor Luke at the Ibru Centre in Agbarha-Otor. He later returned to Catholicism of course. He became attached to the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos and ran a book publishing concern on the side. He was celebrated as the character Ashiki by his former colleague Okey Ndibe in the novel Arrows of Rain published in the esteemed Heinemann African Writers Series.
He wrote his 2002 book Globalization at the Crossroads: Capitalism or Communalism with the name Luke Adione-Egom while the 2007 book Economic Mind of God bore the name of Peter Alexander Egom. The latter book was dedicated to his grandchildren Laerke, Magnus and Kasper.
He had a liking for living in hotels, and even on his bed at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos he retained his sense of humour to the very last, telling his friend Tam Fiofori who had come visiting that cancer of the prostrate was unkind to have denied him the God-given ability to walk!