By Benjamin Njoku
They were like identical twins from different mothers. From the now rested Concord Press of Nigeria Limited, publishers of defunct National Concord, Saturday Concord and Sunday Concord newspapers, where they nurtured their friendship and got bonded in the early 1990s till last year, when death snatched one of them, Dimgba Igwe and Mike Awoyinfa have indeed proved to everyone that their friendship was beyond this world.
They remained inseparable like Siamese twins.
Theirs was a friendship made in heaven. It was perhaps on the basis of their deeply-rooted friendship that when Dimgba was killed on September 6, last year by a hit-and-run driver near his Ago, Okota, Lagos residence, many thought that Mike would not have the emotional strength to carry on with life without his closest friend and confidant.
But lo and behold! Almost one year after the death of Igwe, Awoyinfa lives on. But not without being confronted on daily basis by the indelible memories of the things he shared in common with his departed colleague and friend whom he often referred to as his boss. Truly, Mike was devastated and down. But he is recovering.
Dimgba died few hours after he was taken to the emergency surgery ward of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja after the accident, on teh 6th of September, 2014. At the Igwe family’s Okota residences during the week, Awoyinfa went down memory lane, recalling how he got bonded with Igwe several years ago, and what life has been like after one year of his exit.
Awoyinfa was speaking ahead of preparation for the public presentation of their latest book, 50 World Editors: Conversation with Journalism Masters on Trends and Best Practices, to mark one year of Igwe’s exit. The public presentation, to be attended by President Muhammadu Buhari and other dignitaries will hold on September 15 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos.
Awoyinfa’s story was touchy, painful and laden with emotions. While he recounted his memorable moments with the late media icon, Awoyinfa showed deep pain. Intermittently, his voice trembled and his eyes heavy, battling to hold back tears.
In a low voice, he began, “It’s almost a year that Dimgba was killed. It hasn’t been an easy journey for me at all, but we thank God. God has been very faithful. Everybody knows that we were twins, and that we did everything in common. We had this partnership that was very strong and profitable for the two of us. It was a partnership made in heaven. Dimgba was a man I trusted so much. I trusted him with everything including my life. I am older than Dimgba, but most often, I saw him as a senior partner or a boss. He was the enforcer and the headmaster in this relationship. I used to fear him in a way, because I am a man about town, a reporter.
I like to move around, but he was the editor of this relationship. He watched my back for me. These are some of the things I have missed about him. Freedom is a dangerous thing. In this world, everybody needs a master. You need somebody to fear and one who cautions you when you are going astray. I really miss Dimgba. I miss his managerial role, his pastoral role, because in a way he was my pastor too. Anything I wrote, he had to edit it, but right now, I am my own editor, my own pastor, and my own manager.”
According to him, it took them ten years to write their latest book, 50 World Editors. For them, it is not only the best book they have ever written as journalists, but it is a book that shows how much they love the journalism profession.
“We love the profession so much that we had to travel round the world, interviewing editors of the biggest newspapers that you can ever imagine”, Awoyinfa confided. “We asked them to recount the stories of their different journeys into journalism, the highlights of their journalistic careers. We had to attend international conferences not only to listen to symposiums but also to look out for iconic journalists. Immediately they delivered their papers, we hijacked them. At the end of these travels, this is what we got, a book involving interviews with 50 world editors. This is one book
I can boast of. This is the bible of journalism. After this, I don’t think I can write any other book on journalism again.”
Recounting how Igwe’s death affected him emotionally and psychologically for the past one year, Awoyinfa said the experience was traumatic, adding that Igwe’s death is akin to him dying too. “When one dies, it is as if the other has died too”, he said in a low voice.
He continued: “I remember when I travelled to London, where my son, Taiwo lives and works with British Telecoms. My family had gone there for a vacation as well as to celebrate with my son who bagged a Masters Degree (MBA) in one of the universities in London. I didn’t feel like travelling then, but Dimgba insisted that I must accompany my family to celebrate with my son.
“For me, Dimgba’s word was always law. Whatever he said I should do, that’s what I did. That was the first time I would ever travel without him. I never knew it was going to be the last time we would see each other. While in London, we were almost talking on daily basis on the phone. A night before he died, I was returning from where I went to shop, and I was telling him all the books I had bought for him. He also told me about a lecture he was going to deliver on the development in his home town on that Saturday morning. Excitedly, he expressed how he was going to wow his people, only for me to wake up the following day to get a call from Lagos that something terrible had happened. I asked what?
“Later, the caller broke the news of his death to me. It was the last thing I ever imagined. When the caller had said that it was a bad news, and that I should be on my way back to Nigeria, I had thought armed robbers had gone to burgle my house or it was on fire. It would have been better that my house was on fire and let everything I have laboured for perish, but let me have my friend. It was the worst day of my life; everybody was rolling on the floor, wailing. It’s a day I don’t want to remember again. The pain of Dimgba’s death won’t leave me. It’s always there. It hasn’t been easy emotionally, but God is faithful. Most of the time, I just have the feeling that he’s somewhere there, watching. I don’t want to disappoint him.
Everything he dreamt of achieving, I want to make sure that his dreams don’t die. My happiness is that Dimgba saw our latest book before he met his untimely death. He held the book firmly, after which we shook hands and congratulated ourselves. Remembering those pictures in my heart gives me joy.
“As long as I live, I don’t think that Dimgba Igwe’s name will be erased from people’s memories. Every September, there will be a book launch in his memory: Dimgba Igwe Book Launch. As long as I am living, in every September, I will endeavour to produce a book in his memory so that the legacy he left behind will be sustained. He’s still my co-author, even in the grave. I want to forge ahead and wherever he is today, I want him to feel very proud of me. Things are moving on fine. Dimgba’s last son has just been admitted into Covenant University to read Economics.”
Expressing disappointment with the nation’s health sector, where Igwe had to be in four hours of pain in a hospital without any medical attention before he finally gave up the ghost, Awoyinfa said those are the things that get him angry each time he remembers how his friend bled to death.
According to him, it was as if Dimgba foresaw his own death. “A few days before his death”, Awoyinfa recounted, “the late Dimgba was telling our General Manager, Gloria that, assuming one had an accident around this Okota area, which nearby hospital would the person be rushed to? That was a question he could not answer. It’s so sad.”
He said Igwe was determined to survive the accident, only if he had gotten help on time. On the hit-and-run driver that killed Igwe, Awoyinfa said the deceased himself would have forgiven whoever that killed him, adding that “what do I stand to gain by going to the police station to inquire if they have arrested the man that killed Dimgba. Will an arrest of the man who killed Dimgba bring him back to life? My own attitude is not to look back, so that I will not turn into a pillar of salt.” On plans to immortalize the late media icon, Awoyinfa said a foundation is being set up in his memory.