Yes, Christiane Amanpour is smashing. And Folly Bah Thibault is super radiant. But even if you add Shakuntala Santhiran and Becky Anderson to the mix, I will still go for none of them -I prefer EUGENIA JUMMAI ABU. For those of us who grew up glued to NTA Network News @ 9, (that tanraaaantanraaaan! sound is unforgettable), once the news starts, and it is Eugenia Abu, just know that there is no sleep until 10pm. If Cyril Stober, Nansel Nimyel or Ayinde Soaga com add join am, omo, you go know sey the news for that night go sweet! For seventeen good years, she mesmerized millions of Nigerians on NTA Network Evening News twice a week, as the Assistant Director, Creative Writing and Presentation (later Deputy Director, Training, NTA Headquarters). Many know Eugenia Abu as a super broadcaster but she is a lot more than that. A mother and a wife, she is also a short story writer, mentor, researcher, poet, motivational speaker and multimedia strategist.
Abiyamo zooms in on one of Africa’s most brilliant broadcasters. Learn about her early days, NTA days, her crush on General Yakubu Gowon, her encounter with her husband in the bus, her eyes, her love for ochoku, her marriage, why two men wanted to stab her, the crazy stalker who took a bus all the way from Lagos to Abuja to meet her and many more!
Welcome to the world of Eugenia Abu, NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) screen goddess and one of Nigeria’s most recognized faces (and voice, and of course, smile! I know some of you are already visualizing her smiles already…lol!) Let’s roll!
-The name ‘Eugenia’ is of Greek origin and it means ‘noble’ or ‘well-born’. It is the feminine form of Eugene (or Eugenius/Eugenios). There are various forms and variants of Eugenia and these include Eugena, Geena, Gena, Gene, Eugenie, Evgenia (Evi), Genia, Eugeniah, Evgeniya, Genie, Jeana, Lagina (African American), Gina, Yevgeniya, Zhenya (Russian), Janie, Jennie, Jeena, Evgenija (Macedonian), Eukene (Basque), Jenna and Owena (Welsh).
EARLY DAYS, EDUCATION AND CAREER
Born in Kaduna to the family of Mr. Alfred Yenisa Amodu and Mrs. Josephine Amodu on the 19th October, 1962, she has etched her name as one of Nigeria’s most admired personalities. She attended Queen Amina College in Kaduna for her high school education. Hear her in an interview with ThisDay:
”My childhood was the best anyone could get. I had listening parents who believed very much in education and also believed a child should learn some aspects of school life through play. My parents Mr and Mrs Amodu were phenomenal. She was medical personnel, a hospital matron, a top nursing official and at a time, a midwife, and he was a university lecturer and later a permanent secretary. We lived in a big house on the campus of ABU, Zaria opposite Amina Hall with large grounds and lots of fruit trees. It was a beautiful house. We picnicked a lot when we travelled around Nigeria and my father had a huge library so I disappeared in there a lot. There were eight children and we cooked a lot. All of this made me an excellent cook and a creative person. I had a great childhood and a close knit family. We still are. Every single sibling is a success in his or her own right in their various fields.
There were so many significant moments. But more importantly the fact that we had neighbours who sent food on Sallah Day and we sent food on Christmas Day to everyone, whether they were Christians or Muslims. I grew up believing we were all the same. Things have changed so much now that kids carry forward their parent’s biases. I am from a long line of Christians and Muslims. The late Grand Khadi of Kogi State, Honourable Justice Ustaz Yoonus Abdullah is my maternal uncle, so I was brought up with no religious bias.
My mum was a tough one. She played and laughed, but you could not walk past an elder without greeting or walk in the middle of two persons talking. Hissing was unladylike and tying a wrapper across your chest in public was forbidden. Today, I still complain when I see young people doing the wrong things or being rude. Bad behaviour runs against my grain. Lessons from my parents have stayed with me all my life. When you ride in a car with my father, you cannot throw litter from the window until you get to a dustbin.”
-For primary school, she attended the ABU Staff School, Zaria. It was in the primary school where her white teacher, Mrs. Whittle, sparked her interest and passion for poetry. She was in Primary Three then. At age seven, she was already scribbling some write-ups, dramas and poems. Eugenia Abu is exceptionally grateful to her father, an educationist, for promoting and encouraging her interest in reading and writing. She is always making reference to her, and when she wrote her first book, In the Blink of an Eye, she dedicated it to her late dad, Mr. Alfred Amodu, whom she refers to him as a ‘fantastic man’ and a ‘very private person’. He ensured she read books in his library and encouraged her to purchase books for reading pleasure.
-Her first choice was law:
“I didn’t find television. Rather, television found me. It was by accident. I wanted to be a lawyer but while waiting at home for my admission into Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, I became bored. There was a radio station having its test transmission in Makurdi and I went there for a part-time job. I was auditioned and I became the first female voice on Radio Benue. By the time admission results came in 1979, I did not get Law but English. I went to school but was going back to the station every quarter for vacation job. After graduation, I took a job with the Benue State Ministry of Information and eventually anchored a programme on television for the ministry.
-She attended the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria where she studied English Language and finished in the 1981 (ABU graduates, naturally ahead…lol!). While a student in ABU, she was the acting editor of the English literary magazine, Kuka, and she also ran for the post of the Vice President of the Students’ Union Government (SUG). She later bagged a masters degree at the City University, London in 1991, where she studied Communication Policy Studies (with emphasis on communication, media studies, radio spectrum and satellite technology). Her MA dissertation was on ‘The Role of the Radio in Women and Development’, and made use of the late Maryam Babangida’s Better Life Programme as the case study. In a class of 37, two finished with distinctions, Eugenia was one of the two. She got a place for a PhD too but she was missing her family so much and had to head for Nigeria. She later bagged another another masters degree in Creative Writing from Keele University, Staffordshire, England.
-Also an outstanding motivational speaker, Mrs. Eugenia Abu delivered the Nigerian Independence Anniversary Lecture in 2009 in Perth, Australia.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
EUGENIA ABU: My family, a good book, life and the spiritual, achievers, charitable persons, ordinary everyday people doing extraordinary things.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
EUGENIA ABU: I believe success is how much one has been able to impact positively on one’s environment and persons around them.
In the fifty years you’ve lived, what moments have stood out for you, moments you will never forget?
My marriage, the birth of all my children and the unforgettable years I spent with my parents who have now gone before us. Also on the profession, the many people I met for interviews from cobblers to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
My life is in the hands of God. I am not a politician. My own kind of feminism is not the western strand. It’s for me equal opportunity for both men and women. A woman who is qualified must never be upstaged for a man who is not as qualified.
-She said she got into the television industry by accident. In 1979, she worked with the radio as a part-time broadcaster instead of sitting at home while waiting for her university admission to ‘click’. She explained: I found myself in broadcasting by accident. I was waiting for my university admission in 1979, when a radio station started doing test transmission in Makurdi. Out of boredom I went there to find out what they were doing. At the time I didn’t really take it as something that I will do in life; I just did it to fill time while I was waiting.
-As a youth corper, she later worked at the Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC), then Ogun State Radio, Abeokuta. After that, she joined the Benue State Ministry of Education, Makurdi and worked for half a year. It was there she was assigned with the production and presentation of a programme, Benue State Government Half Hour. That was her first time of presenting on television. She learnt over time, and after her wedding, she was convinced to join NTA by the General Manager of NTA Makurdi, Engineer Isaac Wakombo. She was drafted from the Ministry of Information where she worked as the Information Officer.
-She started out as a journalist with The Guardian in Lagos and delved into the world of broadcasting for the first time at Nigerian Television Authority in Makurdi, Benue State, where she was a TV anchor. By the time she joined the national network, she had already spent a decade in Makurdi. When she returned from the United Kingdom and was posted to NTA Headquarters, people did not believe she even had children considering her small size then.
-She has interviewed presidents, business entrepreneurs, artisans and even the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.
-Many know her as a broadcaster but she is also a fine writer, female rights advocate and a women development consultant. Between 2002 and 2007, she was a Guest Lecturer at the NTA TV College, Rayfield, Jos, Plateau State and taught Elocution. There, she met and lectured more than 200 aspiring and professional broadcasters.
-She fell in love with Jos and described it thus: Beautifully laced with some of the finest flora and fauna in the land, Jos remains one of the most alluring, geographic and touristic destinations in Nigeria. With a temperate weather to die for, fruits and fresh vegetables always in season, Jos remains one of my favourite cities in the country. I have discussed severally with my friends in Jos that as soon as God blesses me with some funds I shall build a country home in Jos where I can take friends and family for a holiday, where I can write in safety and harmony, mingling with nature at its best.
-And she was devastated with the senseless violence in Jos: it is a piece about the pain in my heart and the salty tears that come unannounced as I view the gory pictures from Jos and I hear the stories of victims, survivors, escapists, attacks, counterattacks and the wailing of children. My heart refuses to sleep in the face of such tragedy, in the face of Rwanda at play, in the face of accusations and counteraccusations. This piece is a piece for fallen victims and unwilling heroes, of hatred and anger, of blood and bloodthirstiness and of my insides becoming mushed up, watery……. sad ……. unhappy.
I speak as a woman….. as a mother, as a sister, as a friend. I speak as a mother…l speak those loud noises in my head that only I can hear when I look at women in the aching stories, who have lost six children to the carnage………. actors in a real life horror movie
I speak…….. shouting in my spirit about labour pangs for every child that died in the crisis over the years. For I know as as a woman that one never knows at birth whether mother or baby will survive. I speak as a woman …. about death, about burying one’s children.
I speak as a woman….. barring politics and whatever factors have led to these sufferings where more often than not a woman’s views are not sought when carnage, war, hatred become the norm. I speak… knowing that when men agree to disagree, women hold the short end of the stick becoming victims of the destruction, dislocation and death.
I speak as a woman because I know where it hurts when an emptiness claims your being at the sight of headless children, disembowelled women, gutted intestines and a missing husband.
I speak the thoughts of tear-ridden women who wake to find everyone dead in their homestead except the lonely dog whose howling is ceaseless at dawn.
-Another low moment in her life was when she lost her good friend and colleague, Miss Olatokunboh Fehintola Ajayi in August 2000 at the age of 37. She says of her late friend:
“We miss Tokunbo Ajayi very much. She was a very special broadcaster with very special skills and very professional to the core. Tokunbo my friend, and when she died I was totally shattered, partly because, today in broadcasting you are not likely to see such professional. At the top, yes, but at the bottom, it is an all comers affair. You see a lot of people who think they are pretty, but fail to understand that beauty is not synonymous with professionalism.” Her own sister too would later pass away in January 2006 but in the face of these tragic events, she has managed to derive strength from within, and even serve as an inspiration to others.
LOVE, MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Eugenia Abu said her husband was quite unusually bold when they met. He had just secured a job at the radio station where she was doing her own holiday job, and the guy went around saying he would marry her. She was pissed off and felt he was just too full of himself, no date, no courtship, no nothing, just straight to marriage!
One day she was going home in a bus and the guy left his car and jumped inside the bus with her and said he would follow her home. She was alarmed, it was a time when your parents will murder you if they even see you cuddling with a man not to talk of bringing him home. Which home? The world go end dat day. She was pleading with him to alight from the bus before she gets to her bus stop. At a point the bus driver said:
Madam, please marry him na. He has been begging you since, please marry him na.
This further infuriated Eugenia Abu. She fired back at the driver asking who sought his opinion. The driver, whom she did not know from Adam, responded that when he gets home, he would pray so that Eugenia marries the man begging her persistently…lol Well, to cut the story short sha, Mr. Thompson Abu persisted and she later melted. She said she fell for his sense of humour, his focus and other amiable qualities. After her youth service, he proposed and she said yelz.
In 1983, she was just 21 then, she got married to him and the union is blessed with kids. She describes her children as “the most adorable children in the world and a blessing.” She also says that all her success and strength come from her family. A staunch Catholic, she says:
Everything I have become, it is because they were there for me. No one must sacrifice career for family.It is always better to give up the career if you are not coping, but balance is the key. It is doable.
Of her husband, she said:
I met him at the radio station where I was doing my vacation job. He was already working. He has been my anchor encouraging me to fly as high as I can. He is a good man, an excellent husband and a great father to our children. He is calm, patient and focused and taught me how to manage life and people. He is also a man of deep faith. Most admirable.
REALLY INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT EUGENIA ABU
– Well, although she got married early, that did not stop the constant stream of admirers and scarily, stalkers. One was so extreme that he stalked her for six months, writing her letters upon letters, proclaiming his undying love and his plans for marriage with her. The guy left Lagos and went all the way to Abuja by bus to see her. Eugenia, was truly scared when the stalker arrived her home and met her. She told him Eugenia was not home but the dude insisted they told him she’d be returning that day. She had to call on the security guards to bundle him out…lol!
-One night, she was walking down the street after interviewing a businessman and philanthropist in Makurdi. All of a sudden, she was accosted by two people armed with knives and they threatened to stab her to death. She said she was almost killed that eerie night and she was all by herself. She said the attackers accused her saying because she felt she was educated, she felt she could embarrass their oga by asking him questions anyhow. Poor Eugenia said all she wanted was to showcase the budding Makurdi entrepreneur to the society so others could emulate him. After she explained herself to them, the attackers slipped into the night, like pacified black cobras.
-As a 12-year-old girl, she was totally enchanted by the charm of the then Nigerian head of state, General Yakubu Gowon. She felt he was the most handsome man in the universe and kept telling herself she had to marry him. She even wrote a long letter to the head of state stating how much she admires him and gave her dad to post for her. Her dad made the suggestion in the first instance. But she never got a reply. Years later, she would meet Gowon in person in London and she told him she did not get a response and they all laughed it off.
HONOURS, POSITIONS AND MEMBERSHIPS
-Eugenia Abu is a distinguished member of numerous national and international bodies. Some of these are:
– The Abuja Green Society
-Human Rights Commission
-Lagos State Grant Management Council
She has this to tell the world:
“I don’t consider myself a star; I am a public figure and a role model. A star does not believe anyone shines brighter or better and this is not always true. A role model is an exemplary figure.”