By Kola King
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The word of God in the Bible is the only consolation we can hold onto following the news of the sudden passing of Emmanuel Yawe. His death came as a rude shock, hitting me like a thunderbolt. He reportedly died in his sleep on Friday 11th March. He was aged 65. I’m still reeling from shock and disbelief that a friend so full of life has passed onto the great beyond. Emmanuel Yawe exuded confidence and he was a man of great charm. He overflowed with warmth and wit. He was a tall and huge man. But beneath his big frame was a kind heart and gentle spirit. He was an extraordinary gentleman. He was also generous and accommodating. We spoke last October on his birthday. But the call was brief as he had some urgent assignments at hand. As the Publicity Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum, I presumed he had a lot on his plate. Yawe was elected spokesman of the forum in 2020. When I started the Metro newsletter last December he was one of the first set of people to take out a subscription. He had assured me of his support and assistance. I later gathered that he had been hospitalized last December and was discharged afterward. He later began to recover steadily. I learned a day before his death, he went to the hospital to seek an appointment with a doctor. After that, he also took his car to the mechanic for repairs. But death came calling the next day, precisely last Friday. God was kind to him as death took him away in his sleep, without pain and suffering. His exit was gentle and quiet. In short, Yawe was victorious as he had swallowed death up in victory. He had joined the Saints Triumphant in a blaze of glory. Hallelujah!
Emman Yawe was a friend and a brother. We met in 1982 when I joined the New Nigeria Newspapers as a Reporter. Yawe had joined earlier having pivoted from the News Agency of Nigeria to the New Nigeria. He started his journalism career with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in 1980. Naturally, we gravitated towards each other and he took me and my colleague Tawey Zakka under his wings and that was the beginning of solid friendship and brotherhood over the span of four decades. He studied Political Science at the University of Ibadan. We were fresh cub reporters eager to cut our teeth in journalism. He worked on Sunday New Nigeria while Tawey and I worked for the daily. The atmosphere back then was competitive but friendly as we were all eager for scoops and exclusive stories. Back then New Nigeria was a great training ground for reporters. We had great editors and news editors who kept us on our toes and taught us how to swing it.
Yawe was far from being an armchair journalist. He was an intrepid reporter. He had seen action in some troubled spots. He covered the bloody sectarian violence led by Musa Makaniki, an offshoot of Maitatsine, in Yola in the early 80s. He was also on the ground during the Bulumkutu riots in Maiduguri in the late 80s. He gave a good account of himself with his incisive and exclusive reports. He later joined Triumph Newspaper in Kano established by the administration of Governor Abubakar Rimi. Emmanuel Yawe and his colleagues at the Triumph gave New Nigeria a good run for its money. They produced a solid newspaper that established Triumph as a leader in journalism and cemented its reputation as a credible voice from the north.
After a brief stint in the newsroom in Kaduna, I was later transferred to Yola, then in Gongola State where I came under the tutelage of Abubakar Tapidi, my senior colleague who was a great reporter in his own right. Tapidi and Yawe were also close friends and associates. Our paths crossed again in 1983 when Yawe was appointed Press Secretary to the newly elected governor of Gongola State, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur who contested on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). While in Yola, Yawe made my stay there memorable. There was a great deal of anxiety about reporting the new administration in Yola since a friend was now the governor’s Press Secretary. But Yawe came around this by cultivating the press corp in Yola and confiding in us. Despite the camaraderie between us, it did not in any way dilute my assessment of the Bamanga Tukur administration. Besides, he was not in any way patronizing. It’s important to recall that the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo had a strong presence in Gongola State. I had interviewed the gubernatorial candidate of the UPN Rev Wilson Sabiya. The interview was given prominence by the New Nigeria. This didn’t go down well with the NPN in Yola who felt Sabiya didn’t deserve that kind of exposure in a newspaper under the NPN administration. But we’re able to smoothen things out later.
Despite his tight schedule, he joined me from time to time in the army barracks, where I lived with a young officer freshly commissioned from the Nigeria Defence Academy, before eventually getting my own accommodation. As young reporters, we let down our hair at the Officers Mess after the days’ job. Also, Yawe had formed the acquaintance of the young army officers. There were always lively discussions between us and the young army officers. However, the Bamanga Tukur administration was cut short by the military coup of December 1983 which ousted the Shehu Shagari administration.
I remember Emman cracking a joke saying that “Kola your friends came to arrest my boss in the dead of night. Some of us took to our heels.” But I interjected, saying, “our friends,” and we both burst into laughter. Governor Bamanga Tukur like other political leaders was arrested by soldiers during the coup and kept in detention. I remember that night of December 31, 1983, because after bringing about the arrest of the political leaders some of the young officers later drove in their military jeeps to my house in Federal Housing Estate, Yola at about 2 am where they woke me up to celebrate the sacking of the Shagari administration. The atmosphere that night was surreal and electric. We all nursed the hope that things will change for the better. Just as Yawe had earlier informed me, the officers had regaled me with stories of their adventure at the Government House which they stormed with their jeeps and guns. Sadly some of the young officers later paid the supreme price when they were drafted to ECOMOG operations during the Liberian civil war.
At any rate, Emman Yawe returned to journalism and picked up the threads of his life from where he had left in New Nigeria. After the release of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur by the new military regime, he had requested Yawe to join him in his company but he politely turned that offer down. He preferred to concentrate his attention on journalism. Journalism seemed to run in his blood. By 1984 I had moved to Makurdi, Benue State as the State Editor. During this period I had the opportunity to visit Zaki Biam, via Gboko with Emman to see his parents. His tall and beautiful mother lavishly entertained us with a sumptuous meal of pounded yam, a mixture of vegetable and melon soup, filled with a generous serving of bushmeat and fresh fish. He also took me around Zaki Biam where we visited the famous yam market and where for the first time I saw long rows of yam pyramids, a veritable tribute to the industry of Tiv farmers. Indeed because of our friendship, I had become a Tiv by association. On my posting back to Kaduna in December 1985, Emman Yawe came to my rescue as he accommodated me in his place at Malali until I got my own accommodation. Once again, he demonstrated a large heart when he agreed to accommodate a colleague from Yola, late Tanko Wuma, a broadcaster and Senior Producer, Gongola Broadcasting Corporation who had relocated to Kaduna to join Radio Nigeria. Tanko had requested that I help put a word across to Emman because he wasn’t close to him. To my surprise, he acquiesced. By the end of 1986, we had both moved to Kano. Yawe had joined Triumph newspaper while I was appointed Chief Correspondent of Concord Group of Newspapers.
Thereafter he was appointed Managing Director of Gongola Press Limited. He also served as Director-General, Governor’s Office. Still, his love for journalism saw him return to the profession after serving the Gongola State government. The allure of politics did not dampen his love and enthusiasm for journalism. Indeed, he was a soldier of journalism. He held several top editorial positions in several media organizations. He served as Editor, Sunday Triumph, 1984 -1987; President, World Vision Communications, 1993- 1999. He was at various times Editor, Crystal news magazine; Managing Director, Sentinel newspapers; Editorial Board member, Peoples Daily newspaper and member, Editorial Board of Advisers, The Point newspaper.
At the heart of this, Emmanuel Yawe was an intrepid reporter, a consummate editor, an author, and a successful newspaper executive. During his time at the Gongola Press Limited, he was the youngest executive of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN). He was an active member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. His commitment to the craft of journalism was without peer. He gave journalism his all. Also, he was a community leader. As a journalist, he was an authority on middle belt politics and he was a firm believer in the unity of this great country. This was evident by the positive role he played as the Spokesman for the Arewa Consultative Forum. By his pronouncements, Yawe helped to douse tension and uphold national unity. Simply put, he had transformed into a statesman. Even though events of the past few years had stretched the patience of many patriots thin, Emmanuel Yawe remained till the end a firm believer in the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria.
A cosmopolitan man, he had made friends across the length and breadth of the country. One of the unique qualities of Yawe was his fealty to friends. When Abubakar Tapidi died he took his children under his wings and acted as a surrogate father to them. He stood by that family through thick and thin, attending the children’s graduation and wedding ceremonies in Kaltungo, Gombe State. Also, when my debut novel A Place in the Sun was published and released in 2016 by Verity Publishers, Pretoria, South Africa, Emman was gracious enough to read and review it, despite his tight schedule. He also gave the review adequate prominence in The Peoples Daily and several other newspapers. Above all, he was a great patriot and a proud Tiv man, and a true Nigerian. At the bottom of this, Emmanuel Yawe was a gentle giant and a good man. He lived a purposeful and impactful life. Having said that, we are reconciled to the inevitability of death, for every man born of a woman must taste death, sooner than later. Finally, may his gentle soul rest in peace. And may the Lord comfort his wife and children and all the family members he left behind.