It was sometime in year 2000, while in the office of the Minister, in the Ministry of Cooperation and Integration in Africa as Head of Media and Public Relations, my boss, Prof. Jerry Gana had called me into his office to meet a very close friend of his, whose wife was having some issues in her office that required some media attention.
I was briefed on the matter and was to ensure that the necessary media management was handled. I was new on the job and still learning the ropes, so I rushed off to the THISDAY Newspaper’s office in Area 1, Abuja to meet the News Editor, to whom I had been introduced by a friend some months back.
On arrival at THISDAY office, I was told that the News Editor I knew had been replaced by a new person. Flustered and almost confused, I requested to meet the new News Editor.
As I was ushered into the office, a gentleman, who in my view, did not look like a journalist was pointed out to me. As I walked up to him and introduced myself, he beamed a smile, came round and dragged a chair from the next table for me to sit down and said “my name is Dan Unimna” The surname sounded Igbo to me and that made me more relaxed.
So I started my story in Igbo language, as I was prating on, he was just smiling. At a point I stopped and asked what was funny with my story. He calmly said “sorry, I don’t understand that language”. Surprised, I said “but your name is Umunna”, “Unimna” he corrected me. Then I asked, ‘‘Where are you from’’ “Obudu Cross River State” he said.
I started my story afresh in English and handed him some papers that contained useful information on the matter in question. He examined them and said, “ok, I will see what I can do about it” Not very satisfied with that kind of non-committal answer, I leaned towards him and whispered “Please tell me what you want me to do so that this story can come out tomorrow”.
Again that gentle smile and he said “don’t worry I will do my job. You will have something tomorrow”. I went back to my office and waited for the next day with my heart in my mouth. The next day, I saw a beautiful story that addressed the issues comprehensively in THISDAY with Dan Unimna’s byline. That encounter marked the beginning of my over fifteen years friendship and relationship with Dan Unimna.
In 2002, by then Prof. Jerry Gana had been re-deployed to the Ministry of Information and National Orientation, there was a need for a professional as Chief Press Secretary to the Minister. Dan was then Deputy Editor (Daily) of National Interest Newspapers. I reached out to him and made the offer.
He was not persuaded that he could fit into the Civil Service structure. He asked me what the salary would be and whether there would be a car and residential accommodation to go with the job. I said about the salary, I could not say exactly but that it won’t be radically different from mine, then as Personal Assistant, Media and Publicity, which was a Level 12 Step 2 position on a monthly salary of about fifty thousand Naira. I also told him that there may not be a direct official vehicle for him but that something could be worked out. On accommodation, I was point blank that there would be none.
He laughed me to scorn and told me that he had a Peugeot 505 Evolution as official car and the place we were discussing was his official residence paid for by National Interest. He doubted very much if he could consider the offer. I asked him to think over it and get back to me the next day.
While I was struggling to convince Dan to accept the offer, I was also facing a stiffer challenge convincing my friend and direct report then, Ike Neliaku and our boss, Prof. Jerry Gana, before whom I had made so much mouth about a dyed-in-the-wool professional with the right temperament to fit into our ‘loop’.
As none of them knew or had met Dan before, I was asked to give an undertaking to accept full responsibility should anything go wrong with my recommendation. I gladly accepted that conditionality.
Eventually Dan joined us. Not only did he do very well, he quickly earned the confidence and trust of our boss and was immediately admitted into the ‘inner caucus’. One of the signs that one had been admitted into the inner caucus was joining Prof. Gana for lunch at the dining table upstairs.
I studied Theatre Arts at first degree. Dan Unimna was the formal journalism school I attended. He not only taught me practical journalism, he placed his incredible contacts and friends in the media industry at my disposal. Very few people among our friends know that I have never worked directly in any media organisation.
Dan and I went a long way, from friendship we dissolved into family. We exercise as much authority in each other’s home. Our wives and children know this. I cannot capture my relationship with Dan in any one tribute. People around us know us as the ‘odd twins’ one tall and fair in complexion the other dark and short.
I cannot also talk about Dan as a dead person. Because for me, he will never die. We crossed the borders and threshold of friendship into something I doubt has a name or definition. Dan was a calm, collected and deep thinking person. He measured his words. He loved family, nuclear and extended. He respected friends and colleagues.
He was a refined and responsible person, the rare type. Dan loved life. I mean modest, moderate, God-centered life. He was a family man to the core. Each time we traveled by road, he will always delay our return journey by stopping at every roadside market to buy things for his wife. From plantain, to snails, to bush meat, name them. Our return journeys by road were always stormy because I would always object to stopping to buy things. Dan was simply a nice guy.
Even when I took a leave of absence to go work in the Presidency from 2011 to May 2015, we would always find the time to meet to compare notes. We developed a language of our own, such that we could talk about people in their presence without them understanding. We had names for people around us from ‘oracle’ to ‘dibia’ to ‘orange’ etc. We were happy and nothing was wrong with any of us health wise.
I recall sometime in 2009, Dan and I had gone to visit with our mutual friend Yusuf Adi, then Special Assistant Media to the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, at his eleventh floor office at the Federal Secretariat Abuja. As we settled into our seats, Yusuf excused himself to go ease himself. Just then, Dan gripped his seat and told me that the whole room was as if it was turning.
I was confused more by the look on his face than what he said. After a few minutes, just before Yusuf returned to the room, Dan said that the room had stopped turning and I was relieved. We left Yusuf’s office bantering and laughing as usual and forgot completely about the ‘turning room’.
The next day or so, Dan said he was feeling like he had malaria and stopped over at the hospital to see a doctor on his way to the office. He was to later call me from his home that he would not be coming to the office. That the doctor told him his blood pressure was very high and that he needed to rest. That was the genesis of a health challenge that my brother managed till Thursday the 22nd of October, 2015.
There was no time anybody around Dan thought or suspected he was gravely ill. To us all, it was the normal ‘BP’ issues most people our age are managing. The sudden turn of events about his health was as sudden and shocking as the reality of his death.
And so in the early hours of Thursday, 22nd October 2015, one phone I dreaded came through from Kemi, Dan’s wife announcing, amidst wailing, that Dan was gone. I rushed to his home, met him in what I thought a ‘restful sleep’.
I called him by the name we call each other “Young man! Young man! Young man!” and he answered me not. It is very painful for me to recall this. It is even more painful for me to accept the reality that “Dan of the Most High” is gone forever.
Dan, I can’t get you out of my mind. I won’t even attempt to do so, because I know it would be a fruitless effort. To Kemi and Sylvia, I can assure you that the Lord, who alone is God, will step into this situation because words and tears are not enough to console you.
Dan! go in peace. Go rest in the bosom of the Lord.
culled from Thisday
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