Ben Egbuna Tells It All As “Mr. Radio” – By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
A Destiny Fulfilled by Ben Egbuna; Diamond Publications Ltd, Lagos; 2021; 387pp
It reads stranger than fiction that Ben Egbuna visited a prophet of what he called one of the “rapid result churches” shortly after being a teenage soldier in the Biafra war, and got the prophecy that he would be famous. Ben Egbuna eventually ended up as the Director-General of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria.
Born on February 13, 1949 in Sapele in today’s Delta State to a police constable father who hailed from Enugwu-ukwu town in present-day Anambra State, Ben Egbuna spent 35 years in radio broadcasting as a reporter, presenter, analyst, editor, administrator, the first Executive Director (News) of Voice of Nigeria, and Director-General of FRCN.
He was barely 20 years when the Biafra war ended, and had not completed his secondary school education. Against incredible odds, he travelled to Lagos to see that his father’s house had been taken over by Nigerian soldiers, and he had no documents to prove that the house belonged to his family. Some old school friends in Lagos somewhat rehabilitated him and gave him money to return to the East. He re-entered secondary school but his best subject, Fine Arts, was mysteriously replaced with Physics which he had no stomach for, in the school certificate examination.
He secured employment at the Post and Telecommunications (P&T) Department in Lagos, and then in April 1973 he was offered an appointment by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation as News Assistant Trainee. He bore witness to Col. Bukar Sukar. Musa Dimka’s “daylight coup d’etat” that led to the death of Head of State General Murtala Muhammed.
His first official international assignment was the September 1977 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) conference in Arusha, Tanzania where he interviewed the legendary President Julius Nyerere at short notice.
It was at FRCN, Lagos that she met and married his heartthrob, Betty, after an upsetting wedding cake incident.
Ben Egbuna had to undergo some trying times at the broadcasting house when military rule ended in 1979 and civilians took over with their primordial politics. He was in October 1983 sent to the “Siberia” called Special Programme Unit from the esteemed National Network News Service section where he had been excelling.
He was so frustrated that in 1985 he seriously considered disengaging from the FRCN and taking employment in the about-to-be-born African Guardain magazine as Assistant Editor. Incidentally, it was after Ben Egbuna did not come to the African Guardian with the story of his coverage of the 8th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Nassau, The Bahamas, that I was given a test to write on the conference which led to my employment by the magazine!
The then Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe wanted Ben Egbuna manhandled for a story on IMF but he was let off by Ukiwe’s men who saw that he had done no wrong.
Ben Egbuna headed the reportorial unit at the Constituent Assembly, and when Voice of Nigeria (VON) was created as an autonomous unit of FRCN he took charge of the “Sixty Minutes” programme. He survived the dangerous times of the June 12 Presidential Election annulment. He had a running battle with the new Director-General of VON, Taiwo Alimi.
He was in 2001 nominated for the Senior Executive Course of the influential National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru. The Director-General of NIPSS, General Joseph Garba gave hell to Ben Egbuna, even ordering him to get retired legendary broadcaster, Ikenna Ndaguba, who was holidaying abroad to serve as the emcee at the graduation ceremony – or he would not be allowed to graduate! Somehow Ben Egbuna survived.
He was appointed the Executive Director (News) of VON in October 2005, and the crowning glory came in 2006 when the Minister of Information, Frank Nweke Jr., announced that President Olusegun Obasanjo had given approval for the appointment of Ben Egbuna as the 13th Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the FRCN.
He retired as DG of the FRCN in July 2008 “thankful to God for guarding and guiding me through a demanding career and its many treacherous currents, to a successful, glorious and meritorious end, and the fulfilment of my career destiny.”
Ben Egbuna died on January 28, 2021, and this his memoir had to be published posthumously even though it had been planned for publication and presentation in his lifetime in 2019.
A Destiny Fulfilled by Ben Egbuna, which the publisher Lanre Idowu had availed me the opportunity to read first in manuscript, is a gem – vivid, insightful and well-written.