By Philip Agbese
I think, I am least qualified to say this! But with the permission of the Almighty and the power of our ancestors, may I greet, the Awanotun of Agilaland and pillar of our dynasty. I greet the living Oracle of Idomaland; the unswerving journalist of all times, always alive and alert on his duty post, Chief Dan Agbese.
Your Royal Highness Sir, I send you very special fraternal greetings today from the bottom of my heart. You are an embodiment of everything to us in Agila. In your unfading stature, I see the symbol of hope and a bright future. As a father, uncle and community leader, you represent everything meaningful life holds for us , the community and our people.
How I wish my vocabulary was richer, to describe you, with more endearing words. Please, pardon my lexical shortcomings. I have been involved with too many equitable maxims and judgement handed down by respected judges who died long time ago even before I was born.
I am sorry that I could not make it to your last birthday. And the reason, I know is obvious to you. It has always been your desire that we should all get to the zenith of knowledge. You told us, knowledge is power and the greatest weapon to conquer the world.
I was in faraway London, in the United Kingdom (UK) in pursuit of this knowledge. And at a time my teachers were examining me on what they have taught me for months; it was pretty difficult to spare time for any other matter.
Exam fever gripped me, because, I dreaded your admonishment back home, should I fail. So, I held on committedly. But your shadows, played again and again in my subconscious, emboldening me to come out as the best. So, I never ceased burning the midnight candle in order not to disappoint you.
I remembered this special day in your life, but the two minutes to draft the message were devoted to revision studies for exams. When I come out brilliantly, I know you will be happier. With the pressure relaxed a bit, I felt I should craft these few lines to pour my emotions of love and appreciation to you, the pillar of Agilaland .
But I don’t know how to begin. Excitement has overwhelmed me and the trepidation is somewhat getting me crazy. But if distance is the barrier, the pen would bridge the gulf now.
It makes me recall what you told Nigerians, some time in 1994, when the dictatorial regime of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha arrested and detained you over an interview you conducted with Gen. David Mark, which was perilous to his government.
Chief, you were unruffled and unflustered. For you, it was just another confirmation of the power of the pen, being mightier than the sword. Today, I lift the same pen in your eulogies.
So, in faraway UK, I know this pen would adequately compensate my absence. I am equipped by your express conviction to work and bring peace to all humanity. It has been your trademark from Agila to Ado, to Idoma land, Benue State and Nigeria.
I am proud that whether with the ink or any other position you have held in life, your energies are directed towards making the world around you, a more peaceful and safer place to live, where justice and equity prevails. You are a unique specie of humanity.
I look back today and recall with exceeding joy that these are the virtues you have inculcated in us from childhood to the adults we are now. They have been our guiding principles; they open the doors for us in rare places. It makes us sit and dine with kings and princes.
To burden anybody with your benevolence is like mouthing about something too obvious. We cannot quantify it either in naira or gold. But as a proud beneficiary of this benevolence like others, humanity appreciates and rewards us in varying ways, just because we have kept faith with your teachings. We are still flying this flag of kindness and peace, legacies inextricably implanted in us by you.
The Awanotun of Agila land, your love and compassion has gone beyond the boundaries of our immediate community. Anywhere you set your foot, the footprints leave a positive impression and faces smiling infinitely. Whether in rain or sunshine, you are the true leopard I know has never change its spot.
What I shall never allow to desert me, from the treasure of virtues you gave us is the boundless love for the poor and elderly members of our society who are like our parents. I risk sounding blasphemous, but the Holy book only teaches us to respect our mother and father. But you have gone beyond it to teach us that love is the fountain of life and nourishes paternity unbeatably.
This invaluable lesson has armed me to respect both the young and the old anywhere I find myself and never be quick to anger or judgment. Patience and endurance, you told us, each time you came for vacation, are the greatest weapons of progress in life. The echoes still resonate in my mind.
Born on May 20th, 1944 in Agilla to the family of Mr. Philip Agbese Onazi, the district head of Agilaland , Chief Dan Agbese, co-founded Newswatch Magazine with the famous team, prominent among them, Dele Giwa (of blessed memory). He rose to the position of Editor-in-Chief.
But before his stint with Newswatch, Dan Agbese as he is popularly known cut his proverbial teeth in journalism with the New Nigerian newspaper in 1976 and later, the Nigerian Standard. In both instances, he reached the apex of his career by rising to the position of Editor, before opting for independent practice with Newswatch. Sequel to this glorious era, Dan Agbese had also been a teacher and librarian.
Awanotun was educated at the Native Authority School in Otobi and, Government Teachers Training College, Keffi. The pursuit of knowledge took him to the University of Lagos. And in 1976, he earned a degree in journalism from Columbia University, and his brilliant performance earned him the John Taylor prize award.
Later in life, he was appointed a board member and subsequently, Board Chairman, Benue Cement Company (BCC). This is just one of the numerous positions that he held as a statesman. He has written scores of books, including “Fellow Nigerians: Turning Points in the Political History of Nigeria.”
I am proud of this father , who is also my teacher, librarian, ideal journalist, author, mentor and idol. Happy birthday, Sir. And may you age gracefully, Amen.
Agbese is the Okanga 1 of Agilaland and sent in this tribute from London.
Views expressed here are the author’s opinion .