Ugo Onuoha @ 60: A Tribute
By Luke Okoro
He comes across as an easy going gentleman. He speaks little with a unique gait that would hardly make you to notice his passing across you. But you will not forget his sight and the impression he would leave with you when you encounter him. Sincere, honest, genuine and true in his thoughts and deeds. That is Mr Ugo Onuoha, a former Managing Director of Champion Newspapers Limited, CNL, Lagos. He just turned 60 years on January 3, 2020. He is indeed a true leader and genuine mentor. A man not given to double speak and vain pursuit of the ethereal. He does not compromise on integrity.
At 60, there is every reason to thank God and to celebrate. This is especially so given that the Nigerian space allows a life expectance that is less than 55 years. In fact, there is hardly any day that passes without one hearing about the passing of a close friend or family member to an unplanned eternity in one horrible means or the other. For a country ravaged by poverty and disease, insecurity of lives and property, the attainment of Diamond Jubilee is gratifying. It is therefore my privilege to congratulate you – our dear Ugo – for being there for those of us who had the singular honour to work with you and learn from you. The impact and influence you left in us is indelible. Your exemplary leadership is second to none. No wonder you remained the only Managing Director of CNL who joined as a reporter. Yes, you rose from the rank to become the Editor-In-Chief of the paper.
As the Editor-In-Chief, you showed so much diligence in editing our materials that some of the editors felt ashamed by the time you finally return the scripts fully butchered and bleeding. The story is told that you even edit memos because you cannot stand poor language constructions and literary abuse. You are such an accomplished journalist, complete in professionalism.
As Managing Director, there was pressure for CNL to also stop engagement of interns as our other competitors had done. Rather than being unilateral, you brought the matter before the managers. It was your courage that aligned with a minority position of mine to reason that as graduates of Mass Communication, what would have been our fate if those before us had shut their doors against us by denying us the privilege of doing the internship in their newspaper houses. That argument settled the issue and CNL remained open for interns.
And while the media world was awash with the cleansing of banking sector by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, under Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the now Emir of Kano. We had prepared a material involving one of the banks for your approval. While not directing that the material be dropped, your sublime caution was morally challenging. You reminded us that we should not forget that some of those banks kept us in business as newspaper houses. Besides, you noted as Jesus asked the people who brought the woman caught in adultery before him: who is clean? Indeed, those sitting in judgement may not always be right or better. That sublime counsel helped our position on the matter as news managers. You are so fair-minded.
When CNL was attacked by robbers with all our working tools and cash carted away, there was one staff affected when the inventory was made. The said staff, Christian, was an intern and his laptop was stolen by the robbers. Even when it was difficult to replace all the laptops and other items that were stolen, you made sure that Christian’s laptop was replaced before he went back to school, as you promised. The gentleman was so happy and excited that he came to me to thank the MD on his behalf. That is quintessential Ugo.
When I buried my mother in 2007 at Ohii in Owerri West Council area of Imo State, you did not only come in solidarity with my family, but also assisted us financially. For a fact, I was not an exception because you do it for all the staff and your friends. Such friendships mark you out as another kind of boss. You show love and compassion to all around you. Your church in Ajao estate – where you lived as an editor in those days before you moved to Maryland, your private residence, will always miss you because you represent a true believer in Christ Jesus. The women group saw you as a pattern of a faithful husband. I remember you once gave them a talk on the family and the challenge of building one where peace reigns.
Whereas it was common for men in the professions, especially with the height you attained, to trade with the fair sex; you had remained a man of one wife. Your Princess is enough for you. You are a committed husband and loving father, few fathers are that caring. Your character is solid and stable. You pose a challenge to men in home building. But what is more intriguing, is your disdain for greedy lucre. As the head of Business Desk, Editor of Business and Economy and Editor of the flagship Daily Champion for a period that surpassed over a decade and a half, there was no time you took advantage of your staff or the organization. Even things that came naturally as a privilege were left to your subordinates freely and graciously. You were so contented as a person that reporters and editors under you had houses and bigger cars. Yet, it never bothered you. You believed and still believe that with God all things are possible. And that indeed, the just shall live by faith. That optimism and contentment of character paid off and you have your own private residence today.
For the nearly three decades we came across each other, you have remained a stable personality, unenthusiastic about things that thrill most men of all ages – women, wine and wealth with the attendant fame. Yes, just bear with me to tell you all these because the good men do should also follow them here in the same way their evil will do. When you became Managing Director and realised that I had been left in one position for nearly a decade, you gave me some hope in the system to I committed my youth by giving double promotion, first as deputy editor Daily and then, Sunday Editor. These raises transformed my career, my family and deepened my faith in the unfailing GOD, whose service I have committed the rest of my life in retirement. Your spirit is good and your generation will remain blessed. Your kids will also receive comfort and lifting in due times as you did to some of us.
While it was becoming obvious the expected re-investment to boost the fortunes of CNL was not forthcoming, you had opted to resign without the board asking you to do so. You had told the managers that it was a personal sacrifice. Perhaps, that would encourage the owners to do the needful and to revamp the company. Unfortunately, the re-investment never came and the distress deepened, regrettably. You were also vindicated.
Today, as you savour the next decade, it is important to call your attention to the challenge Apostle Paul gave to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” I Tim 6:12. Congratulations and greater heights.