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Tribute to Ashikiwe Adione-Egom: The
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 shorts 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
“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 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!