…How Eddie Bekom influenced my career

By Jacob Ajom

It was in one of those boring mornings of my early days in Lagos in 1986. I had just lost my job at the Nigerian National Supply Company, which was being wound up by the federal government under General Ibrahim Babangida. Hundreds were laid off and I was affected. That was how I lost my first ‘important job’. I was in Administration department of the company, so I saw it coming. I sent my family home as I could not imagine myself living in Lagos, jobless, with a family to carter for.

I was lying on the bed, totally blank. I tried to think about survival but I could hardly grasp anything. Even my consciousness was incomprehensible.

“Kpum kpum kpum”, sounded the knock on the door. Back to reality, I jumped out of bed. I opened the door and there he was, Eddie Bekom, the News Editor of the Patriot Newspapers (now defunct), an Ikeja-based tabloid.

Late Eddie Bekom on hospital bed

“Ah, Eddie, it’s you. Good morning. You look set for work. How kind of you to have come by.” I ushered him in.

“Good morning Jacob,” he responded. Quickly, Eddie asked, “what are you doing?” as he walked in. I told him I was not doing anything but only thinking about where my breakfast would come. I expected sympathy. Instead, Eddie burst into laughter, which I thought was misplaced.

“Look, my friend, go get yourself a bath and dress up. We are going out together.”

“Where to?” I asked.

“You and I are going out together. You must start something today. We have to go together to look for stories,” he said.

“But I am not trained for your kind of job yet. How do you want me to go with you?” I asked.

Eddie would take none of this as he insisted that I joined him. I did his wish and scampered out with him.

He took me to the National Stadium, Lagos where we attended a press conference. After the conference he took me to the office, somewhere in Ikeja. When we got there, he wrote his story and read other stories brought to him by other reporters. I couldn’t fathom exactly what he was doing. It was not a big newspaper so there were few reporters.

We continued that way. Every day we would go to the stadium, to the office and home. After about two or three days in the ‘job’ I asked Eddie, “how do you get your stories?”

Again, he just laughed. “You will soon know how,” he responded, looking at me encouragingly. In my first week as a cub reporter, I slept in the cell and even taken to court. On about the third day on the job, a neighbour who was detained by the Police the previous night returned with news of a lady who cried the whole night in the Police cell. I asked what the story was all about. “The girl killed her Ghanaian boyfriend,” my friend said. After hearing his story, I exclaimed, “this is front page news”. I was excited and proceeded straight to the Ilasamaja Police post with the intention of hearing from the proverbial horse’s mouth.

I got to the station. There were no hiccups as the men at the counter led me to the cell where the suspect was.

This lady was a Ghanaian sex worker. She had a boyfriend. One day, the boy accused her of having an affair with another man. He called to ask her. They disagreed during the discussion and it resulted in a scuffle. She said the boy broke a bottle. It was a piece of the broken bottle that she used to cut her man in self defence.

“Although he suffered some cuts, there was no serious problem. Two weeks later, the boy went to fetch water. He lifted a 50-litre jerry can of water and one of the scars developed in his hand from the wounds he sustained during the fight burst. The wound was infected by tetanus. This resulted in his death. The Police were called in and I was arrested and detained at the Ilasamaja Police post, while investigations continued.”

I got my story. Excited, I made for the way out. The suspect called me back and this conversation ensued between us:

Suspect: “Excuse me sir, when are you taking the case to court?” she asked, innocently.

Me: “I have no business with the court”.

Suspect: “Are you Emma’s (the deceased) brother?”

Me: “No”.

Suspect: “Then who are you?”

Me: “I am a journalist,” I said proudly.

Suspect: “Who is a journalist?” She asked.

Me: “One who writes for a newspaper, for a publication”.

Suddenly she began wailing and crying in a loud voice. “So I will appear in the Daily Times. Why me …” The cry attracted the attention of the superior Police officer on duty. He came out of his small office and asked what was going on in the cell and why the suspect was crying. They had allowed me thinking that I was related to them or a lawyer to defend the girl.

The officers at the counter who led me in denied me. They told the O/C that they had caught a journalist who was interviewing a suspect in detention. The O/C was red in anger. He seized me by the collar of my shirt and demanded my ID Card. I brought out a piece of paper, with the heading, “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN” given me by my News Editor, Eddie Bekom. I was then whisked away to the Divisional Police Headquarters, Isolo. After a brief encounter with the DPO, I knew I was in for a big trouble.

The Police dislike journalists and this man was ready to vent his spleen on me.  “Who sent you to question the suspect. You want to do Police job? You want to be Dele Giwa eh?  Where did you learn your journalism. And you think it is at the Police station you want to practice?”

I kept quiet throughout the questioning. Suddenly I was taken behind the counter and asked to undress. I undressed to my pants and they herded me into the cell.

A very kind Policewoman, an Inspector, helped me to call my office by phone and informed them that I was being detained at the Isolo Police Station. Not long afterwards Eddie arrived. He asked what happened and I relayed the whole story to him. He smiled and told me not to bother as he was going to Oduduwa, the Lagos State Police Headquarters to seek my release from there.

Tried as he did, I spent the night in the crappy cell with hordes of hardened criminals. The following morning I was taken to court on two charges. 1. That I conducted myself in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace at the Police Station and 2. That I deceitfully told the Police that I was a relative of the detainee and therefore I should be jailed for committing such crimes against the state.

The Magistrate lambasted the Police for detaining me as the offence, purportedly committed was not as severe as to warrant detention. To Eddie’s delight, I was granted bail.

I went ahead and published my exclusive story. Indeed, the headline was a front page banner. That was my baptism of fire in journalism. As God would have it, the case was struck out in the second hearing and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police was asked to apologise to me for wrongful detention. My attorney asked if we should sue the Police. I told him I was not interested. That week, I told Eddie I would travel to the village.

While in the village, my admission letter from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism got to my uncle in Lagos. I exclaimed, “God answers prayers!” This is because while in the cell, I prayed, “God, if you want me to be a journalist let me go to journalism school”.

That was how I went for proper training. After just one week at school, I knew I fumbled at the Police station because I had no business revealing whom I was to the suspect. That was just a lesson. While at school, I continued writing and getting published, with the help of Eddie. I was already well grounded after I left school.

After my studies, Eddie and I were employed by Sports Fortune Courier, which was the second all sports publication in Nigeria. Eddie was the editor while I was a reporter. Everything about the publication spun around the two of us – from news gathering to the final printed material. It was a weekly publication. On the day of printing we spent the night at Daily Times, our printers. We worked for some months and it folded up. We parted ways. In the late 90s, Eddie who was then with Satellite Newspapers, took me in again, this time as a freelancer.

Eddie Bekom was my teacher, my mentor and godfather.  My early introduction to the national stadium exposed me to a lot of other colleagues. Those were the early days of SWAN, when journalists wore branded ‘T’ shirts to press conferences, when a three-inch story in print was celebrated and when journalists worked without internet. He was a pioneer in many respects.

Eddie Bekom was an industry on motion. He was everything an employer needed in a journalist. He was a linguist, as he spoke Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba fluently. Apart from those three major Nigerian languages, Eddie spoke Efik, Ibibio, Tiv, Obudu and numerous other dialects. Eddie could easily mix with any group. He took delight in bringing up younger people, as he said in his last interview, while on his dying bed, “I believe in sharing knowledge. It is not enough for you to know everything and your follower knows nothing.”

He began his journalism career at the Chronicle, a publication of the Cross River State Newspaper Corporation. He quit Chronicle under hazy circumstances. He then moved to Lagos in the late 1970s. In the second Republic Eddie worked as a Legislative Aide to a certain senator from the north. After the collapse of the second republic, Eddie returned to the press with numerous newspapers.

Despite his brilliance and vast knowledge in the trade, Bekom was not lucky to work in a big publication, except for his stints with  The Chronicle and Satellite Newspapers. Eddie’s biggest problem was his uncompromising nature. He did not know how to go and bow before ‘better placed’ colleagues he felt he was superior to. He wouldn’t want to be bossed by a less knowledgeable colleague. He must get what he wanted, on his own terms.

Apart from print, Eddie later excelled in broadcasting. Initially, I feared he might not make it. Eddie, like his late father was a stammerer. Surprisingly, when he was behind the microphone, Eddie was as fluent and smooth as one could expect from a European. Eddie Bekom’s first experience with broadcasting was made possible by Emeka Odikpo at Radio Nigeria, Ikoyi. Emeka, now retired paired Eddie in their early morning sports programme. The two men, one veteran, the other a ‘beginner’ made the programme a must to radio listeners.

His knowledge in sports reporting set him apart. Eddie was not a passionate everyday football reporter. His focus, in those early days of my association with him was on the so called “lesser sports”: Taekwondo(he held a belt I can’t remember the colour), martial arts generally, boxing, cricket, and so on. I remember, the first day he took me to a cricket match, I fell asleep in the very first inning. I could not understand why one man would hit a ball with a bat and three or more people would be pursuing to catch it. Today, I am proud to say through Eddie’s tutelage and prodding, I am one of the few Nigerian sports writers who know how to report cricket.

Last Sunday, Eddie Bekom, a renowned journalist, broadcaster and Vice President, South-South, of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria passed on.

Until his death, Eddie was a staff of the Cross River State Broadcasting Corporation, (CRBC), Ikom. He was a senior editor at the station. Apart from covering sports, Eddie edited news and presented numerous other programmes.

Eddie met his death after a mysterious fire incident in his home at the Cross River State Housing Estate, Ikom. It was a gas explosion from a neighbour’s kitchen. The fire caught up with Eddie’s wife in her own kitchen and the entire Bekom’s family who were home that evening were caught up in the inferno. No one could explain how a family of six got burnt to the extent that all the victims got second degree burns. They were rushed to a nearby hospital in Ikom where they were treated. Due to the seriousness of the fire, they were taken to Federal Medical Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki in neighbouring Ebonyi State. Bekom’s step daughter died two days after they were taken to the hospital. His wife followed two days after their daughter.

When everyone thought Eddie and the remaining three patients would survive, the biggest shock came July 16, when Eddie, who had granted an interview to a radio station debunking news of his death gave up the ghost. Their little daughter Divine is alive and responding to treatment.

Adieu, Eddie B.

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