By Soni Daniel
I can remember just like yesterday when the late Ufot Ekaette, sat me down in his Asokoro District home in Abuja on January 8, 2009, just a few days after my return from City University of London, where I had been sponsored by the Associated Press to pursue my second Master’s degree in International Journalism and Online Practice, and he asked me to do him a pitch on what the newly established Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs could do to bring about peace and development in the short and long run.
In that brief encounter, Ekaette did not ask me where I came from and which political party I belonged but simply wanted to know what I thought about Nigeria, Niger Delta and how to make it work better for the people, and I am happy that after doing a page on my notebook, he opted to read on the screen and offered me the job of Special Assistant on Media without seeking to know my village, religion, connection, religious or tribal group.
It is still a surprise to me that the man did not ask to know my father, mother or village till we worked and parted ways in the Niger Delta Ministry and we continued in a father-son relationship till he passed on on September 25, 2019 without seeking to know where I came from. I am happy that he respected and cherished my viewpoints till the last day he passed onto eternal glory. He used to tell me some home truths: “Be contented with what you have; don’t argue too much with your boss because whether you are right or wrong, you’re the loser when your boss sees you as being disloyal even when you’re not”.
If I were to write an epitaph on his tombstone today, I would write something like this: “Here lies the body of an outstanding Nigerian bureaucrat with rare patriotism, integrity, loyalty, dedication and commitment to the service of Nigeria and humanity”.
And, if my late boss were to speak about his sojourn on earth, he would have written something close to what Apostle Paul wrote about his missionary work in 2 Timothy 4:7 saying, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…
It was because of his outstanding work ethics that Nigeria took round almost all the key areas of the nation’s public sector and deployed him strategically for 30 years in the public service and ten solid years in the political spectrum to serve the nation. He did it with sterling qualities and left without any blemish.
In all the places where he served, he distinguished himself as rare public officer and left indelible marks.
Ufot was a highly principled man, who stood for what he strongly believed to be right and just no matter the opinions held by the majority and remained unwavering to his belief till death.
He confessed in his book that although he was not a perfect man, he did his best to do what he considered right. “I cannot claim that I am a holy man but in my life I have striven to be on the path of rectitude, justice, equity and fair play. This has been the source of my disagreement with those who embrace the opposite traits,” he said.
Ufot also believed strongly in God and confessed that the Almighty was solidly behind his success in life, saying, “When God is with you, nothing is impossible; God was with me. Not just then but even now”.
His abiding faith in God and fear for the Almighty apparently explain why he chose not to be repressive despite wielding enormous powers in both the political and civil roles he played at the highest levels of government at different times and remained steadfast until his last day on earth.
Although he was a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and commanded enormous powers as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation for unprecedented eight years, Ufot deliberately remained in the shadow of power and refused to use his position to confer undue advantage on himself or suppress anyone. He equally lived a contended life till the end and did not covert his neighbour’s goods.
Ufot was an embodiment of a good family man, a loving and caring husband of one wife, who devotedly discharged his obligations to his family till he breathed his last.
READ ALSO: If a Nigerian travel home ontop your matter, forget it ― Nigerians jokingly react to Anthony Joshua’s victory
His bosses express a deep sense of loss over his demise, recalling with nostalgia his unparalleled loyalty, honesty, commitment and dedication to the service of Nigeria.
Obasanjo, whom Ufot served as SGF for eight years, spoke about him in glowing terms: “Ufot was very industrious and hardworking; extremely hardworking. He was also a typical public servant, I won’t say civil servant. He knew his onions. He knew when to advise, how to advise. His knowledge of the civil service was very, very deep – at meetings he knew what needed to be done, how it needed to be done, when it needed to be done. He was a public servant of public servants. He did his work almost unobtrusively. He never threw his weight around or imposed himself on anyone.
“But his own secretaryship was one with a difference in the sense that I made use of him because of the knowledge and experience that I knew he had of the civil service. Occasionally, I asked him for advice even on issues that might not be along his line because he had tremendous experience in the civil service. He was very useful. He was not a novice as far as politics was concerned”.
In his own assessment of Ekaette, who worked for seven solid years as his Principal Private Secretary, Gowon poured encomiums on him, describing him as an enigma who understood his job very well and gave his all to the service of Nigeria, pointing out that Nigerians owe him a debt of gratitude for his sacrifice to Nigeria.
“Ekaette was an enigma who understood his duty from the outset of his career and gave his best even at the expense of his personal comfort. He was a workaholic who did not remember the days of the week once he had been given an assignment to deliver. Those who worked under him were elated that they did while those who missed out in serving under his control were sad that they missed an everlasting opportunity to learn the basic tenets of life and service at his feet, a gift that money cannot guarantee.
“Ekaette remained one of my best friends till he died and I have no regret meeting him on the path of life. Indeed, if I were to come back to this world and start my life all over, I would still ask for Ekaette to be part and parcel of my life because of the first impression he made in my life as Nigeria’s Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
“As I look back today and remember all that Ekaette did while we worked together for Nigeria, I feel that Nigerians owe him a debt of gratitude for his sacrifice to the country. He gave his all to make Nigeria a strong and united nation at a time it was very convenient to simply walk away and join her foes to shoot darts at her,” Gowon wrote about his former PPS.
Although Ekaette came into this world in the midst of the First and Second World wars and could have easily been wiped out by the raging atrocities, the hand of God preserved him from any form of harm and made him to become a source of hope and succour to many families who got salt rations through him. Again, despite many setbacks that made many of his contemporaries to stumble and drop out of Probity, Transparency and Accountability.
As Ekaette goes into the great beyond to await the crown of righteousness, which the good Lord will bestow on him at his appearance, it is only fitting to say to him: Adieu, our patriot, our icon, our role model and Mr. Integrity!