By OBINNA EZUGWU
It was a time to thank God and offer worship to Him for the life of late Prince Emeka Obasi, a public relations expert and publisher of Business Hallmark Newspaper who passed away on Tuesday March 15, when family, friends and well-wishers gathered on Friday evening at the Trinity House, Trinity Avenue, Victoria Island, Lagos for his Service of Songs, the first in a series of events leading to his final journey home in Umuahia, Abia State on April 14.
The well attended event which witnessed worship songs and prayers, also offered many of the late publisher’s friends, brothers and former colleagues an opportunity to reminisce about the wonderful life he lived in his 58-year sojourn on mother earth.
On the occasion, notable personalities like Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, minister of transportation and former governor Rivers State; Dr. Alex Otti, former bank CEO and governorship candidate; Dele Momodu, publisher of Ovation magazine and presidential hopeful, among others, took turns to pay tribute to the departed.
Emeka was a brilliant journalist – Amaechi
In his remarks at the event, Amaechi, the transport minister, who said he had been friends with Prince Obasi from a very young age, described as a brilliant journalist who was exceptional in his calling.
Amaechi said Obasi’s passing came to him as a surprise, as he didn’t expect him to die so soon.
“It is difficult to speak when somebody who is close to you just died. I used to have this believe that when you are 50 to 60 years, life is just starting, but Emeka’s death got me really frightened because he was just a year older than me. And honestly, I didn’t expect that he would die so soon. We thought he would do whatever it took to stay alive, but his death has taught me a lesson, that not even money can’t buy you health when the time comes,” Amaechi said.
According to the minister, he had spoken with another friend of the late publisher, and they were ready to assist in any form to ensure that whatever is necessary is done to ensure that he survived, but unfortunately he passed on.
“We were actually ready to do everything it took to make sure he survived, but I’m really disappointed that he had to die. However, you and I know that it is beyond us. It is God that decides. But we take solace in the fact that Emeka lived a wonderful life. He was such a good journalist,” he said.
“I met him at a very young age; we were quite young at the time and we remained close as friends. We told jokes to each other and when he made me realize that he was ill, I discussed with another close friend of ours, and we decided that we were going to do whatever it took to help him. So, when that friend called me to say that Emeka was dead, it was shocking to me.
“It’s not easy for me to be here, but I had to come to honour him, and I hope that all of us who are his friends will stand by the family when the need arises.”
Emeka was a merchant of hope, refused to prepare us for his death- Dr. Otti
Dr. Alex Otti, public intellectual and former bank chief, described the late publisher, who is a close friend of his, as merchant of hope who was almost optimistic about life and had refused to prepare them, his friends, for his passing.
Otti who said Prince Obasi’s death is still like a dream to him, even though it’s true.
“It is still like a dream, but it’s true. On that Monday morning when I had the privilege of driving Emeka to the hospital in Ikeja, little did I know that it was the last time I was going to see him. As I said in my tribute, Emeka was a merchant of hope and he refused to prepare us for what we are doing today,” he said.
He had so much energy and radiated so much courage. Of course, we should have known that he was down with a very rare auto immune disease, which gives you a maximum of two years, since 2014, but because of the energy in him and the optimism he radiated, we never thought that this day would come so soon. And of course, he battled it for eight years.
“He had assured me that he was OK. And each time you come to him, even though he struggled to breathe without the oxygen, his smiles never disappeared. In fact, he would be the one encouraging you and it was a bit funny because you were the one trying to sympathize with him. He would ask you to have hope, but more importantly, he accepted Jesus Christ wholeheartedly. I’m left in no doubt about where he is headed.”
Dr. Otti also paid tribute to the wife of the diseased, Dr. Betty, describing her as a wonderful woman who took very good care of her husband throughout the period of her illness.
“Dr. Betty, his wife, is a wonderful woman. Betty is a medical doctor but she put everything about her life on hold since 2014, to care for Emeka and the family. She is a caregiver, a nurse and a wife; she is everything,” Otti said.
Emeka personified bravery, courage, elegance – Momodu
Paying tribute to the late Prince Obasi at the event, Dele Momodu, presidential hopeful and media mogul, described him as bright star who made great impact in his lifetime.
Momodu who went down memory lane to 1990 when he first met Prince Obasi at Classique Magazine, then published by May Ellen Ezekial, said he stood out at the time as a very courageous journalist.
“I meet Prince Emeka, as we called him, at Classique Magazine in 1990. He was very brave, very colorful and very regal. His confidence stood him out. Classique was a lifestyle magazine and Emeka was a personification of that elegance. The way he dressed and the way he spoke, he exuded elegance and we all loved him,” Momodu said.
“I didn’t know he was sick as such because he would always call me and in the course of our conversations, he would only say he is just down. And the last time we spoke, he was asking me to speak to a president they wanted to give an award. He was still asking for the usual things. That was Emeka for you.
“Even though we mourn him, I congratulate his family because it is not how long you live, it is how well, and Emeka lived a good life. He touched many lives positively and that something to be grateful for.”
He had a brilliant career – Bisi Olatilo
Also paying tribute to the late Obasi, popular TV host and founder of Biscon TV, Chief Bisi Olatilo, said he had a great career and made huge impact even though he didn’t live long.
Olatilo said the late publisher treated him like his elder brother, and he had so much love and admiration for him.
“Emeka treated me like his elder brother. He showed me so much respect and I loved him,” he said.
“He succeeded early in life and we his close friends -those you could consider his elder brothers – were worried that he wasn’t married. So, we constituted ourselves into a committee that now focused on making sure that he got a wife, and when the whole issue got sorted out, he thanked me specially for the role I played.
“I cannot say much more than what has been said. We were all saddened by the death that cut short his brilliant career, but we take solace in the fact that he lived a good life. Emeka did so many things and he succeeded in almost everything he did. I’m proud to have known Emeka, and I thank those who interceded when he needed prayers.”
Knowing him was the greatest thing that happened to my life – Uche Chris
Equally paying tribute to the late Prince Obasi, Mr. Uche Chris, the managing editor of Business Hallmark, which he published, said coming across him was the best event that happened in his life.
“Knowing Publisher, as well called him, was the greatest thing that happened in my life. It was in 2006 and I was in Port Harcourt, but my family was here in Lagos. I wanted to return to Lagos, but I needed to have something doing in the state. So, I saw an advert he placed that cost N360, 000 and I was the only person that applied for the job. He used to say that it was good value for him to have gotten me through that advert. And since then, we have been working together,” Mr. Chris said.
“The first time I met him; the day I came for an interview, the first question he asked me was, ‘What book are you reading now?’ That’s the question he never failed to ask any applicant and woe betide you if you say you were not reading any book. He loved excellence and valued hard work.
“I had applied for the role of editor, but he said I would give me deputy editor since he didn’t know much about me. But within one month, he made me the editor and subsequently promoted three times within a short period of time.”
I lost a great mentor and friend – Ramon Nasir
Mr. Ramon Nasir, head of corporate communications at the United Bank for Africa (UBA), noted in his own remarks, that the late Obasi was a mentor who took him by the hand and guided him through life.
He also paid tribute to the courage displayed by the deceased even on his sickbed.
“I lost a great man. I saw him few days before he died, I used to go to his house and like somebody said, he was a merchant of hope. I’m quite an emotional person and anytime I go to see him, he would see the cry in me, but he would quickly say to me, “Ramon, please, God is in control.” He would be the person consoling me,” Mr. Nasir said.
“Few days before his death, he couldn’t talk. So, he signalled me to be saying something, and as I was talking he was just nodding his head. But at some point, I couldn’t control myself any more, so I had to go outside.”
Mr. Nasir said he got to know Obasi more than a decade and a half ago as rookie media relations officer, and he played a very instrumental role in his growth in the profession.
“I got to know Prince about 16 years ago, as a rookie media relations officer and he was so instrumental to my development. I called him my mentor. He practically held my hands and showed me the way in the profession and I will be ever grateful. He was a good man, and in Dr. Betty, his wife, I saw a very wonderful wife. She left everything else to carter to her husband, and I pray that God gives her the strength.”
Emeka was a great philanthropist who helped many – Okezie Obasi
Hon. Okezie Obasi, a house of assembly hopeful and younger brother of the late publisher, in his own tribute, said his late brother was a philanthropist who assisted so many people.
“It is very difficult to believe that my brother is gone. We were very close and spoke three times every day. He taught me almost everything I know about life. He was a compassionate person; very charitable, and had style and elegance. He was a man of courage. He was brutally honest when he is passionate about any issue,” Obasi said.
“He was a philanthropist who helped the under privileged. In Umuahia, I have list of widows that he gives money on a monthly basis. In February, shortly before his death, he started building a health centre in our village. There is a widow he is currently building a three-bedroom house for, which is at the point of completion. He cared about others and often asked after people.
“Lately, he often said to me that things are very difficult and would ask me how people are coping. Then he would send me money to give to certain people and say, ‘Go there personally and give them, don’t send anybody.’
“One thing I find remarkable about him is that he has a very strong memory. He remembers things that happened 30 to 40 years ago, even before I was born. Our grandmother worshipped at Church of Christ, and he decided that because she worshipped there, he must sink a borehole for the church. He did that two months ago. The month that he died, he gave me N1 million to give to an Anglican Church where my mother worshipped.”
Emeka was a great intellectual – Tony Chiejina
Also paying tribute to the late Obasi, Anthony Chiejina, head of corporate communications at the Dangote Group, said he was a great intellectual who read voraciously.
‘I liken Emeka to Winston Churchill, he was a very committed man; very bright and highly talented. He succeeded in almost everything he did. He was such a gifted man and was very courageous. Emeka was somebody who would stand and tell you the truth at any point,” he said.
“He was always there for me. In my difficult years, he kept advising me, even when he took ill, it was the same.
“He was a restless man who read a lot. I also read a lot so, each time we were together, we were always exchanging ideas. Meeting Emeka was always a sort intellectual boxing contest. And throughout the period of his illness, he displayed the same courage, the same fighting spirit; the same zeal and the same love God and humanity.
“I learned a lot of from him. He was a man people easily loved. My boss, Alhaji Aliko Dangote would always ask me, ‘Have you gone to see Emeka? Leave the office, go and see him and report to me.’
“Importantly, Emeka married a woman that is the finest of the finest I’ve ever seen, Dr. Betty. She took care of Emeka so well, and often I went to the house, not just to see him, but to enjoy the wonderful meal she always prepared. may God bless her.”
He will sorely missed – Marc Wabara
Speaking in a recorded tribute, Sir Marc Wabara, former bank chairman, noted that Obasi would be missed by many.
“Emeka will be sorely missed by friends and family and I pray that God grants the family the strength to bear the loss,” he said.
“Our consolation is that before Emeka died, he gave his life totally to Christ. And although we are mourning him, we know that he is with Christ in heaven.”