To Michael Awe A tribute

MY PATH and Michael Awe’s crossed after I was appointed editor of The Punch newspaper in 1992. He was one of the brilliant chaps I head-hunted from other newspaper houses with the sole aim of turning around The PUNCH newspaper and positioning it as the flagship of the Nigerian media. Awe (aka Michael West, his pen name) was employed from The Guardian as one of the assistant editors on the newly-created PUNCH Rewrite Desk.

Mike and the others performed excellently well in the assignments given to them. Together with the shift in PUNCH’s orientation from entertainment to a more serious, Business-focused newspaper, Mike was one of those in the engine room of the revolution, so to say, which set the PUNCH titles on the trajectory that has earned it today’s lofty height of the leading Nigerian newspaper.

Mike and the others became known as the Bola Bolawole Boys (BB Boys) because of the passion with which they bought into, and executed my vision for the paper, thereby drawing them very close to me on official as well as personal levels. Whatever success that was recorded at the PUNCH by Bola Bolawole must be shared by the BB Boys and the other staff who keyed into the vision and worked tirelessly to achieve it.

The BB Boys, of course, also included girls and my relationship with most, if not all, of them has endured to date; which was why, everywhere I have worked and in every project I have been involved, Mike had also been a part of it.

When, in 2006 I was appointed Director, Media and Publicity of the Gen. Buba Marwa Presidential Campaign Organization, Mike was involved. When I was appointed MD/Editor-in-Chief of The Westerner newsmagazine, Mike was involved. In my private consultancy business, Mike was involved. He was one of the very few friends who had unqualified access to my home and family.

You knew Mike was around right from the moment he stepped into the sitting room as you hear him mimicking the way one of my daughters would cry after me as a child anytime I was going out and wouldn’t take her along: “Daddiee, huun huun, huun!”  

Mike would forward a countless number of internet posts to me on a daily basis: “Oga, have you seen this? Oga, quickly read or watch this. Oga let’s discuss later” No more of that now! Before going to bed with his column, he would send it to me to vet/offer suggestions. Similarly, I forwarded mine to him for his opinion and proofreading prowess. No more of that now!

Mike in the latter part of his journalism career became famous as a relationship coach. Truth be told, he was good at it and had a large followership. If those things translate into riches, Mike would have died a multi-billionaire! Mike was a music aficionado in the early part of his journalism career. His “Sound Judgment” column was in a class of its own. His critical analysis of music was as professional and well-reasoned as his discussion of relationship issues. At a point, he dabbled into music production and has waxed records to his credit.

Mike was a man of many parts; political activism no less. When I took interest in the “Yoruba nation” project, I took Mike along; attending meetings and brainstorming with like minds. Incidentally, one of such meetings was on June 3/4, a week before his very sad and untimely death.

We travelled together to Ife on many occasions, pursuing this admission; seeking that hostel accommodation or going to offer advice and support to our friend, the VC. Our last trip together was to Cotonou, sleeping in the same hotel, dining and wining together, and sitting side-by-side at the conference.

As I said earlier, Mike was in virtually everything I was involved in. When I was invited as the spokesperson for the Udom Emmanuel Presidential Campaign, he was one of the two friends who held the Lagos/Ibadan axis of the media for me. When a media tour of the astounding projects of Gov. Udom Emmanuel in Akwa Ibom state was organised, Mike was one of the editors on the trip. His vivacity would remain indelible in the memory of the other editors on the trip.

A day before his death, Mike called and said, “Oga, send (x amount of money); I want to get something for you” I hesitated; then he said: “Oga, just send the money. Don’t ask what for. When I bring it, you will see”. So I sent the money. Later that Friday Mike came with two bottles of wine. He boasted it could only be found in a few wine shops in Lagos. He said I should drink a shot after dinner and notice how soundly I would sleep thereafter.

I listened with amusement as he extolled the qualities of the French wine. “Oga, bring a wine glass”. I did. He opened one of the bottles, poured out a drink and said “Oga, drink!” I drank it but then complained: “But you said it should be taken after dinner?” He flashed his trademark smile and said it did not matter. I could still take another shot after dinner.

When he saw how I “spoiled mouth” after the first shot, he took the bottle and read the label. “It’s only 10% alcohol. That doesn’t mean anything” he said, smiling. We discussed various issues. When dinner was not ready on time and it was getting late, I told him he should begin to go home, since he would go by public transport.

My wife insisted he must wait for dinner. “Brother Mike, e ma lo o”, she insisted even as I protested that it was getting too late already. As I escorted him, my wife kept calling him on the phone with the same “don’t go” plea. By the time we got to the gate, my wife caught up with us with a “cooler” in a polythene bag. She handed it over to Mike and turned back. Mike and I continued our discussion for a while and then he left. That was the last I would see of him!

Mike didn’t tell me he was travelling to Ilesa the next day. Possibly, he hadn’t made up his mind on the trip at the point he visited me. Now and again, I wonder: If only Mike had not traded away his car to placate a woman who gave a loan to his (Mike’s) business partner! As a result of that desperate decision, Mike hiked public transport everywhere and had to travel that fateful Saturday in a public transport.

Again, I think all the time about the promised trip to the US that he was so sure would materialize but which did not – from December last year up till the time of his death. What if it had? The plans we had were to go from the US to Brazil, to Cuba, to Mexico, etc! Now that, too, would never be! Too many questions beg for answers! Yet, ultimately, death is a debt we all owe!

Last Friday, Mike – our friend, associate, colleague, coach, father, son, brother, pastor and many other things to many people – went to his final resting place. It was extremely sad and emotional to behold even the few glances I could cast at the activities. I know it must have been the same for many other people.

I thank the family of Mike for labouring through their pains and grief to give our beloved Michael West a befitting burial. They performed excellently well. Next, my sincere appreciation to everyone on the “Michael Awe’s Burial” platform and to many others who identified with the family in cash and in kind, in words of encouragement and in prayers, and in the labours they exerted and the strings they pulled in many directions to see to the success of Mike’s burial.

We thank the Festus Keyamo chambers for taking over the legal angle to the careless accident that cost Mike his dear life when the lawyer we first turned to surprisingly failed us. We shall continue to vigorously pursue the legal angle and the outcome shall be made known to everyone.

I also want to use this medium to appeal to all those who queried the final decision of Mike’s family to bury him in a cemetery despite that we had initially set out to purchase a property for that purpose. The change in plans was a decision taken in good faith, having considered all the options available at the point in time. Besides, the cemetery that the family eventually settled for allayed Mike’s distaste for public/private cemeteries because of the neglect usually associated with many of them. The cemetery where Mike was interred has quality. I pray the management keeps up the standard.

The burial now done, kindly let us continue to remember Mike’s family in our prayers and in whatever other ways we can help them, especially the children, one of whom is still an undergraduate. We should also note that keeping Mike’s memory evergreen and his legacies alive will not end with the befitting burial we have all magnificently accorded him.

For some of us, the journey has just begun and the real task lies ahead!

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