Prince Emeka Obasi: Life and times of a journalism icon
Emeka Obasi

By OBINNA EZUGWU

On Thursday April 14, Prince Emeka Obasi, the Ezenwata of Ibeku Kingdom, a celebrated journalist and public relations wonderkid, who breathed his last on March 15, after 58 short, but impactful years on mortal earth, was laid to rest at his palatial home in Umuaroko, Ndume, Ibeku, Umuahia, Abia State.

A compendium of intellect whose accurate foretelling events in the Nigerian polity, left even prophets in awe, his sonorous analytic voice would no longer be heard, even as his perpetually smiling face can only be seen on still images. But Obasi left giant footprints in the sands of time, and will forever be remembered for the many lives he touched; for the brilliant articles he left in print and for paths he carved in the sphere of public policy.

Emeka was a very unique personality; intelligent, resourceful, courageous, bold and cheerful. He was an outstanding journalist who made his mark in the profession, said Anyim Pius Anyim, former senate president and close confidant of the departed journalist.

Beyond journalism, Obasi also made his mark in public issues management. The Public Policy Research and Analysis Center (PPRAC), organizers of the annual Zik Prize in Leadership Awards, which he founded and managed very successfully for 25 years, remains one of the most credible platforms that has promoted leadership, patriotism and good governance in Nigeria.”

Indeed, Obasi, was the ideal journalist: an avid reader, he was restless, inquisitive and remarkably enterprising. His creativity, drive and intellect, capped with untrammeled capacity to persevere and persist, even against heavy odds, ensured that he achieved remarkable success in his field.

He held strongly on to the belief that true success in life can only be achieved by dint of hard work, and truly he was hard work personified. He had little patience with the listless, and never hesitated to tell off the indolent. But he loved people, truly cared and went the extra mile to assist others.

He was a truly detribalized Nigerian who judged everyone by the content of their character and not by their circumstances of birth, ethnic origin or creed – a true patriot who contributed his intellect to nation building, as attested to by even Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, who in a tribute to the former commissioner for information in Abia state, remarked that he “lived a patriotic life, contributing to the growth of the nation and welfare of citizens.”

A highly disciplined person, Prince Obasi held on to certain core principles which served as guide to him in all his dealings in life. First, and the most important, he had firm belief in the one and only true God and his son, Jesus Christ, and never wavered in his belief, even on his worst day.

Two, he believed firmly in giving, and would often argue that one who gives never lacks. He was generous, sometimes to a fault. Three, he believed strongly in hard work as the only condition for success and had pursued his work as journalist with so much zeal and in the end, achieved great feats.

“He made a lot of positive impact during his lifetime, contributing meaningfully to the growth and development of journalism in Nigeria as well as politics at the state and federal level,” said Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos State.

Obasis landmark achievements in the media industry are unprecedented as he managed several newspapers, among which are National Mirror, Hallmark and Business Hallmark, thereby providing job opportunities for hundreds of people, especially journalists in different parts of the country.

Sanwo-Olu’s words were re-echoed by his Delta State counterpart, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa.

“Prince Obasi would be remembered for his passion for journalism profession and contributions to good governance in Nigeria, particularly for the setting up of the Public Policy Research and Analysis Centre (PPRAC), organisers of the annual Zik Prize in Leadership Awards which I was privileged to be honoured with in December, 2020,” said Okowa.

An extraordinarily skilled writer, Obasi entertained, educated and sometimes reprimanded through his pen. He is the author and publisher of several books, including Letters From Purgatory 1, Letters From Purgatory 2, A Pencil in Gods Hand, Saved for His Praise, a personal testimony.

“Obasi was not only a journalist but a man of many parts; an excellent and fearless reporter and uncommon essayist who spiced his columns with little known facts, histrionics and captivating drama,” said Chief James Ibori, former governor of Delta State. “Obasi had a knack for facts, names, dates and figures, which made his writing very educating.”

Besides journalism, the late Obasi also thrived in the arena of public relations. Some of the projects that he was to accomplish on this turf included the creation of Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, which he conceived and birthed; Onwuka Kalus Children of Africa Project, the National Arts Foundation, the Yakubu Gowon Centre, the Justice Mohammed Bello Endowment in Jurisprudence and of course, the very notable Public Policy Research and Advocacy Centre (PPRAC), organisers of the Annual Zik Prize in Leadership Awards.

“He used his media influence to advocate for a better Nigeria and also participated actively in the political process as Commissioner for Information in Abia State and as a major force behind the annual Zik Leadership Prize, which identifies and honours leaders for sundry contributions to national development,” said Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State.

“Obasi was a true believer in God, a patriot and thoroughbred professional who deployed his energy and time to whatever assignment he was given till he breathed his last.”

Born 1964 to Isaiah Kanu Obasi and Caroline Eregbo Obasi, Prince Obasi hailed from Umuaroko, Ndume, Ibeku, Abia State.

He started his early education at St Anns Primary School Ahiaeke, Ndume, Ibeku, before proceeding to Ibeku High School, Umuahia Ibeku for his secondary school.

By the time he came into the University of Calabar, Cross River state, from where he was to bag an honours degree in English and Literary Studies in 1987, he was already a quite self-assured young man intent on riding through the clouds of life.

Journalism

Upon graduation, he promptly signed up for what was to be the beginning of an engaging journalism career, one that saw him functioning in the early years as the most enterprising reporter with Quality magazine, a subsidiary of Newswatch magazine, both published by Newswatch Communications Limited, from 1987.

He had been retained in Quality magazine as a Staff Reporter, having done his youth service (NYSC) in the same publication. Within a space of two years, he had won the Best Editorial Staff award, even though he was not originally nominated by his supervisor and editor of the magazine, May Ellen Ezekiel, popularly known by her acronym, MEE. Ezekiel was later to become MEE Mofe Damijo, having got married to popular actor, Richard Mofe Damijo.

In his book, Saved for His Praise, Emeka recalled a particularly memorable event during his time at Quality magazine, “where I cut my teeth in journalism as a Youth Corper, and I flourished luxuriantly.” The event occurred in December 1989 and as he wrote:

“I had just completed my Youth service programme and was only recently employed as a full-time editorial staff. When MEE walked into the Newswatch library where I was reading, she saw me, smiled and asked: Emeka, have you seen your prize? Yes editor, I answered. Then she said, I did not nominate you o! I said, I know, thank all the same.

“I later learnt that MEE had nominated someone else, but the Newswatch Directors overruled her. And their logic was simple. At a special editorial meeting earlier in the year, the Executive Directors of Newswatch consisting of Mr. Ray Ekpu, Mr. Dan Agbese who was the Deputy Editor-In-Chief, Mr. Yakubu Mohammed, who was Managing Editor, held with the staff of Quality magazine, many members of the Quality magazine editorial staff had complained strongly that some members of the editorial staff were dominating the magazine at the expense of others. When they were asked for specific examples, they mentioned Prince Emeka Obasi as one.

“Strangely, Prince Emeka Obasi at the time was only a young corps member who had just been engaged, but here were Reporter/Researchers, Staff Writers, Senior Staff Writers and Assistant Editors complaining that I was dominating the magazine.

“So, at the end of the year, when the Editorial Board called for nominations for editorial staff of the year, and this same reporter who was accused of dominating the magazine was not nominated, they wondered why. And so, they overruled her right at the venue of the party and announced Prince Emeka Obasi as the best editorial staff of the magazine.”

Prince Obasi was to later move with MEE, sometime in 1990, when she founded the Classique magazine, fashioned after Newswatch Communications Quality magazine. He joined as the magazines Features Editor, a meteoric rise for one who had been in active journalism for less than three years. His move to Classique was, however, based on a condition. He would work for just six months.

“I told MEE clearly that I would not stay beyond six months, he wrote in Saved for His Praise,’ Journalism did not seem to offer me a rewarding pathway to the heights I wanted to climb. I regarded it merely as a stepping stone. As much as I was driven by the excitement of the profession, I realised that the material rewards were very limited, if not insignificant, and I had responsibilities. But I stayed on in Classique magazine beyond the six months target I had earlier set. I actually left after seven months.”

Courageous and driven, part of what helped Prince Obasi stay strong and successful on the reporters beat during these early years were his penchant for hard work, his never-say-die spirit and his knack for cultivating and sustaining contacts from among sources that were drawn from a wide variety of interest groups and blocs.

For him, it was a literal case of just give me a place to stand and I will move the world. Added to this was the fact that he, indeed, was a wordsmith who really paid attention to matters of journalistic craftsmanship, linguistic dexterity and artistic finesse.

A voracious reader and one who thus was well positioned to hold and share opinions on diverse issues of interest, a now more astute Emeka Obasi was thereafter to take time out of the daily routine of the news-hunter.

Public Relations

Having resigned from Classique magazine in 1990, he set up his own company, Crown Communications Limited, a public relations outfit. Not long after, he entered into a business combination with a partner which resulted into a new company, Cameo Ad Ventures Limited, and became President and CEO of the new company, with office in high-brow Victoria Island, Lagos.

This relationship endured until the mid-1990s when he pulled out and floated a completely new outfit, Patrioni Limited. It was at Patrioni that The Prince, as he was fondly called, went full throttle and unravelled. Patrioni brought him fully into the world of Public Relations and Public Policy Advisory, Engagement and Consultancy.

He would in 1998 set up Hallmark Newspaper, and thereafter National Mirror in 2005, while at the same time continuing to sustain and juggle about all of the brands that he had birthed in the public service, policy and public relations arena.

Upon his relinquishing ownership of National Mirror to the businessman, Jimoh Ibrahim, in 2009, he set up Business Hallmark. The newspaper grew fast to become, for a long stretch of time, the most outstanding and most respected business publication in the country.

About 2012, he undertook a remapping of his engagements in the media terrain and took the decision to rejig the Business Hallmark brand into a daily, mass circulating product, Hallmark Newspaper. He rode on this course for three years before returning to the publishing of Business Hallmark in 2015.

Public Service

Obasi also had stints in public service. He was engaged as Head of the Media Advisory Committee, Imo State in 1998. He thereafter served as Special Adviser on Media, Research and Strategy to the then Governor of Abia State and now Senator representing Abia North at the National Assembly, Orji Uzor Kalu; and later as Commissioner for Information, Culture, and Tourism, also in his home state of Abia.

But his stint in public service was short-lived. He opted to quit and return to journalism, insisting, despite persuasions by friends and associates, that politics was not his calling and that he could not do what it took to excel in the game.

Prince Obasi never looked back and continued with life as journalist, PR expert and public intellectual who dissected issues with remarkable intelligence and with such foretelling aptitude that left even prophets in awe, until his sad and untimely passage on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, at the age of 58.

He is survived by his wife, Dr (Mrs.) Betty Mankini Emeka-Obasi and four children, Emeka Jnr, Dikachi, Kamsi and Chizaram.

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