One of journalism’s icons from the South East of Nigeria would be celebrating his 72nd birthday tomorrow. He is ex-Akokite (University of Lagos Mass Communication graduate, 1984), ex-Staff Writer of Enugu-based Star Printing and Publishing Company Limited, who later rose to become its General Manager; ex-Enugu State Commissioner for Information and a gentleman par excellence. I intend in this piece to use my encounter with Ment Nnomeh to exemplify the thesis that if Nigerians manage their diversity appropriately, they will live together in peace.
In what sounded like an unexampled sacrifice to nationhood taken too far, in 2003, then Governor of Enugu State, Chimaroke Nnamani, appointed me as his Special Assistant. I remember that on a visit to President Olusegun Obasanjo in Aso Rock two or so years later, the president was excited and verbalised it while welcoming us – Enugu State delegation – to the Villa. My mother and many other friends and family members were worried for me. How could I cross several rivers to go and live with people “who eat people,” one of them retorted. Nnomeh and other colleagues offered me a shield from whatever hostilities that might come.
Fast-forward to early 2005. One bright morning, the governor summoned me to his office at the Lion Building and told me that he had told Ossy Ugwuoti, the Chief Press Secretary, to hand over to me. What name did I want my office to bear: Special Adviser or Chief Press Secretary? I was too numb to reply him.
And I walked languidly out of his office and down to the adjoining building, the Press Unit. Gathered were my colleagues – Igbonekwu Ogazimorah, who had then just been named Commissioner in charge of Information; Dan Nwomeh; Nnomeh; Maxwel Ngene; Obiorah Ifo – all Igbo, and the information had filtered to them. I was greeted with a deafening shout of celebration. They carried me shoulder high and their joy knew no bounds. Ugwuoti, their Igbo kinsman, had just been relieved of his duty and an ofe n manu – a pejorative name given to Yoruba – had been asked to take over his office and yet, these Igbo men were happy and excited! That day, I swore never to allow tribal, religious classifications stand by my estimation of humanity.
Nnomeh is widely known for his early morning words of wisdom programme on the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) years ago and was thus appropriately nicknamed Solomon. He deploys his versatility in native wisdom to intervene in discussions and even in his writings. This is wishing the Great Solomon a very happy birthday.