It’s a high-profile Lagos party, and as Chief of General Staff Aikhomu walks in everybody stands up – except one man!
Aikhomu goes to the sitting man to see if he’s all right only for the man to look up and tell the CGS: “Stop looking at me like hippopotamus!”
Wahala! Bedlam! Damage control…
There’s only one Ashikiwe Adione-Egom, alias Motor-Park Economist.
Ours was a meeting of minds on the Op-ed pages of The Guardian in the 1980s.
He signed off his articles as “Motor-Park Economist” while I signed off my pieces as “Peasant Theatre Director”.
I wondered how a “motor-park economist” wrote in a language beyond the grasp of professors.
Incidentally we ended up in the same newsroom as pioneer staff of the African Guardian magazine, on the Guardian newspaper stable.
Ashikiwe always wore his trademark short knickers.
It was inevitable that the “motor-park professor” and the “peasant theatre rustic” would eventually “clash”.
Ashikiwe had anchored a cover story on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), against the background of falling oil prices that threatened the very existence of Nigeria in the early days of Military President Ibrahim Babangida’s regime in 1986.
Ashikiwe’s report was worthy of a professorial dissertation but Editor Ted Iwere summoned me to rewrite the cover story in a language that the average magazine reader could understand.
The editor’s decision being final, it took me a very long night to understand Ashikiwe’s thesis before I wrote the cover story.
I refrained from putting my byline on the story so as not to draw the ire of Ashikiwe.
When the magazine was published I found out that Editor Iwere had put my name smack as the writer of the cover story.
I made myself scarce from Ashikiwe but was indeed very surprised when he eventually caught sight of me and embraced me, advising me that I had a style that suited literary writing.
He then bought me lunch at the Guardian canteen and adopted me as his bosom brother, sharing his salary with me, for he had no need for money, as he told me.
I had to believe him because he was living in a hotel!
Ashikiwe came to the office one day not in his trademark shorts but in a bespoke black suit complete with tie and a red kerchief jutting out of the breast pocket.
“You poet, I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, dragging me along. “Follow me, I’m going to propose.”
I followed him to the Guardian canteen but I did not see any lady he was about to propose to. He kept buying drinks until very late in the night when both of us had become almost legless!
I came back to the office the very next day only to see Ashikiwe in an even more breathtaking suit with an elegant white lady, a Dane, as his companion.
Born in Ukala-Okpunor in Oshimili North LGA of Delta State, Ashikiwe saw himself as “a full-blooded Igbo” as opposed to the identity crisis of some of his Anioma brethren.
He was a star student and athlete at Kings College, Lagos. He took his educational pursuit to Cambridge University in England where he shared honours with the British champion and latter-day novelist Jeffery Archer in the 100 metres dash.
He left Cambridge University in June 1966, and flew into Lagos just after the July 29, 1966 counter-coup in which the Igbo were routinely killed.
He was detained for seven months at Ikoyi and Kirikiri prisons from July 18, 1967 to March 14, 1968.
He then flew out of Nigeria for Europe on April 18, 1968. He spent 14 years in Denmark and Tanzania, reading and teaching Social Anthropology and Economics.
He, alongside other pursuits, served as an adviser to the Tanzanian Central Bank under the watch of then President Julius Nyerere before returning to Nigeria for good late in 1982.
He quickly built up a solid reputation on the pages of The Guardian when it was set up in 1983 and then became a foundation member of The African Guardian magazine in 1985.
He later became the editor-in-chief of Financial Post newspaper and Business in ECOWAS magazine.
A devout Catholic, he had occasion to branch out into Pentecostalism and served as “Pastor Luke” at the Ibru Centre in Agbarha-Otor. He later returned to Catholicism, of course.
He became attached to the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos and ran a book publishing concern on the side.
He was celebrated as the character Ashiki by our erstwhile colleague in African Guardian Okey Ndibe in the novel Arrows of Rain.
Ashikiwe wrote his 2002 book Globalization at the Crossroads: Capitalism or Communalism with the name Luke Adione-Egom while the 2007 book Economic Mind of God bore the name of Peter Alexander Egom.
On his deathbed at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos, Ashikiwe retained his sense of humour to the very last, telling his friend Tam Fiofori who had come visiting that cancer of the prostrate was unkind to have denied him the God-given ability to walk!
The mourned one passed away in Lagos on March 3, 2013, at the biblical age of “three score and ten”.