By CrossRiverWatch Admin
Being the first of a three part series by the son of the late journalist, Ernest Etim-Bassey as part of events leading to the 20th anniversary celebration of his father.
To Edwin Madunagu: loyal, forthright and a true leftist, even though we should different political views.
As the 20th anniversary of my Father’s passing draws near and we plan for it, I now realize that an evocative shadow provided me with two vivid templates for life.
Professionally, his life and times relay a wealth of journalistic knowledge and service to cause, people and State, honed by decades of sacrifice, experience, and more sacrifice; personally, his life was a cautionary tale of everything my mother thought me not to do. That shadow was my late father, Chief Ernest Etim-Bassey.
Drawing a complete picture of my late father is difficult. His career as a journalist, social critic and rights advocate is frustratingly under chronicled, and he was eclipsed by death at such an early age.
We do know that my father was a difficult man, and his personal failing made him maligned unjustly. Yet he was a judicious servant to cause, people and State, praised for his passion, dedication and braveness by peers and critiques alike.
Almost 20 years ago my father passed away. It was a death too young, at 62. And, as I move each day closer to that age, I realize with increasing clarity just how young it really was.
Besides the loss, the worse thing about his passing away is the very idea that people will forget about him because of our society’s ignorance of history and its contempt for forthrightness.
My father was an institution, an unapologetic social critic and an activist who made no pretense of his calling as a public writer who directly addressed our deepest political guilts and some of the thorniest issues of his day.
In his memoir dated July 12th, 1996 he writes; “My motives were reformist, and I agree with Stalin that the writer should serve his society.”
He had long been committed to social reform by means of social activism.
By writing about him today, and talking about him to my friends and family, particularly, my sons Jason (Ubong) and Aiden (Ani), he lives on. It is what I owe to him, his beloved Cross River state has conveniently forgotten about him.
In the last two decades several Cross Riverian leaders of opinion including my father left this earth. And in efforts to show the humanity of these leaders of opinion, tributes poured in, mostly speaking to their faith, unyielding values, vision and service to the people.
Like many young African intellectuals growing up in the 50s and 60s, my father was born with the knowledge of his lifes mission. Struck by the inhumanity suffered by colonized societies in the hands of conquering nations, he would find around him many young revolutionaries who wanted to “set things right.”
By this time he had become highly influenced by the works of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Max who wrote about a system that promoted the establishment of egalitarian, classless, stateless societies based on common ownership of the means of production and property in general.
My earliest memory of childhood is looking outside my bedroom window at 1 Academy and seeing my father in a huddle, chatting away passionately with all manners of visitors who frequented the house for different reasons. What I did not quite understand then was that my father was a man of the people.
My father was not all serious and cheerless though, during the period I lived with him at 1 Academy, the fun part of the day was when he returned from work in the evenings and we would often look through his parcels in the mail; he was in the process of building up a personal library.
Almost every mail brought in parcels in those days contained books, and I would watch him open the parcels with infinite care and childish exuberance. He would show me the new titles which ranged from history to religion to philosophy to architecture to gardening, and so on.
One category of books that were conspicuous by their absence was novels; he did not seem to have any use for them.
While he was not what anyone would call effusive, he rarely complained about anything. He found enjoyment in life, and wished it to others. And like all of us, he was an imperfect human being; his faults were very glaring and many found his ways quiet frustrating, and sometimes distasteful. It is important to reiterate this.
Sometimes I wonder if he sacrificed too much and reflect on what he would have done differently. But, then, how much is too much in relation to a cause you believe in? What had he sacrificed? A brilliant career in journalism or the Federal Civil Service leading perhaps to wealth and more wealth? Was his a wasted life?
William Etim-Bassey, an expert in contemporary warfare, writes from Calabar, the Cross River State capital