Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day: Letter To My Father

This post is for my first mentor and editor.

From a very young age, I learnt I could paint pictures with the magic wand and power of words, that I could let my imaginations fly and see, and impact, the world in Technicolor.

Like Aladdin on a magic carpet. Or cupid with wings. I learnt that I could dream, big. And with God, I could make all of them come true, through and through.

My first mentor and editor showed me the first glimpses of the power of faith and big dreams.

He taught me how to read and write the alphabets and my first numbers 1 - 20. At three years old, I knew better than my age mates and those older than me. And I hadn't even started primary school yet.

For most of my early primary school years, teachers from classes ahead of me would call me to read English comprehension lessons to classes filled with older students, in a bid to motivate them to read and do better, because this small boy can read so well. While I was in primary one, I was reading English comprehension lessons to primary two and three students, etc.

They thought I was that good. But they didn't know that small boy had a big teacher at home. My first editor had laid the right, strong foundations for me to build upon into my adulthood.

He edited my first fiction story when I was about eight years old. It was titled, 'One good turn deserves another.' It was published in the widely read Kaduna-based newspaper, Democrat.

I think Abba Kyari, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, was then still the editor with the New Africa Holdings Limited Kaduna, publishers of Democrat newspapers (Okay, I only got to know that recently, thanks to The Cable).

That story made me instantly famous, in my school, among my peers and teachers, who had read my short story.

Today, I write for The PUNCH, Nigeria’s most widely read newspaper (Yeah, we’ve been doing this a long time, baby :)).

At about 15, I wrote my first poem, about Nigeria and the military's rule. It was titled, ‘The anger of the people shall prevail.’ Who did I show it to first? My first editor.

I wrote more poems. About politics, the military regime, and my anger about issues in the country into which I was born. Of course, I showed him the poems.

When he saw the train of my thoughts, poetical rage over Nigeria issues, he offered me an eternal fountain of wisdom. Write about other things and issues, he said, channel your passion into writing about other subjects.

He asked me to write about nature, life, living, and its beauty, and more.

That was where, I think, I picked up the finesse and brilliance of versatility - in my school at home.

So, I followed his advice. Like a doting son follows his loving father. I wrote about nature, life, living, and its beauty; about me, as well as my budding attraction to a lovely girl a street after mine, whom I had then been afraid to say hello to. Title? That girl.

(Dear future wife, I will be your Romeo, Shakespeare, and more :))

As usual, my first mentor/editor’s brilliance and words of wisdom showed me the way to go. And he let me know he was proud of me.

From then on, the eternal faucet of inspiration flowed ceaselessly, and became a brilliant, unending waterfall. The eternal gift.

Growing up, I remember how his encouragement helped the artist in me blossom. When I was about nine or 10 years old, he submitted my fine art entry for an Amnesty International UK drawing competition for kids. I was also top of my class in Fine Arts. I remember drawing most of Walt Disney comic characters, from Darkwing Duck to Mickey Mouse, and Hollywood movie jackets, like Commando, in bold poster papers. I made greeting cards for family and friends.

With his loving guidance, excellent tutelage and more, my first editor gave me the springboard to dream, big. And believe they can come true.

He had long introduced me to a world of books. Reading through them, and listening to audio books on those turntables - Peter Pan, The tortoise and the hare, and others - I learnt to paint pictures with the deft strokes and brushes of words, to breathe life into them by simply writing or talking about them.

Long ago, I promised myself that when I get on a global stage, I would let the world know the significant role my first editor played, and still plays in my life.

Last year, I won the CNN MultiChoice Africa Journalism award. The least I could do was dedicate it to my first mentor and editor.
Like a great artist, his words of wisdom, his loving guidance and divine faith in my talents and potential has helped me, and still helps me, flourish; in unending bloom.

And if I wanted to, I could have become a famous artist or artiste, a world renowned architect, doctor, a scientist, a brilliant mathematician, First-class engineer, or a ground-breaking statesman.

Because you see, my dad is brilliant like that.

He is not perfect. Like every man, he has his flaws. But through his words and actions, he showed me that I can be all I wanted to be; if I can dream it, write it, believe it and work towards it.

Every day, I remember his words of wisdom. They are significant parts of the luminosity in my guiding lights.

Dear Mr. G. Dean Umukoro, because of you, I can scale great heights hitherto beyond my reach; I can break borders and barriers. I can move mountains and flatten rocks. I can do even more. And I can be. All I want to be.

Dad, you’re not just my first editor. You are my first best friend, my mentor, my very inspiration. I'm mighty proud to be called your son. I'm divinely honoured to call you father.

Muhammad Alli said he was the greatest boxer.

For me, you are the greatest dad. Against the odds, you punched your way through life, on the sheer power of divine faith, focus and an indomitable spirit, and you conquered. You still conquer.

And you give us, your children, family and others, the best you can, in every way possible. You show us the way, to freedom, to the eternal values of life, the beauty of the human soul and spirit, to live the life of beautiful dreams, to make the world a better place, because we pass through it.

Every day, I live purposefully towards becoming a better man, because of you. I live to make you and God proud every day, of the man I am. And the man I become.

You are my champion for life.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you; until the heavens fade.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

For the #ChibokGirls #NeverToBeForgotten

Photo credit:
There are no words for deafening silence
There are no thoughts for numbness
There are no pictures 
Worthy enough for nightmares

There are no buckets enough
To fetch the tears of families
Directly caught in the vortex of this evil
A heinous crime against humanity

This is not a poem
This is for you:
Halima. Hannatu. Mayramu
Hauwa. Iyagana. Liyatu

Fatima. Rebecca. Lugwa
219 Chibok Girls. Our girls
Nigerian schoolgirls
Daughters of the world

In the torrents of shuddering emotions
The world found you
Hidden In the bowels of Sambisa

If only collective rage
On the media, Internet and social media,
-While our government dragged its feet
In denial and utterly shocking silence –

If only a million articles and broadcast
If only a billion and one tweets
Could have saved you
We would have brought you back home by now

Broken by your brazen abduction
By blood sucking vampires in human clothing
Nigeria is still at a loss over your forced absence 
Maybe we should have asked more questions

Right from the start
For your parents and a nation,
It’s been one year
Of gnawing pain, crushing grief

Not knowing exactly where you are...
But we hold on to strands of defiant hope
We believe in your redemption 
You must be rescued

Your safety is a task that must be done!
Cos your freedom would bring healing
And form a part of a nation’s liberation
From the pangs of a failed system

That’s why this army
Would not stay silent

Thus, on the altar of collective rage
And heartfelt supplications
From Abuja’s heart,
China's centre, 
To America’s depth,
In diverse voices
United as one global cry,
We pray for your safety and rescue.

Gives us back our country’s future.


© Arukaino Umukoro, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

#NigeriaDecides #VoteNotFight: Credible and peaceful elections, duty of all Nigerians

Jonathan (l) and Buhari (r). Credits: Punch
It took the United States President Barack Obama about 400 words in two minutes and 30 seconds on Monday, March 23, to remind over 170 million Nigerians of a home truth: The general elections scheduled for March 28 and April 11 presented the country with a great opportunity to stand united and secure the country’s future through the ballot box.

In his special broadcast, Obama mentioned ‘peace/peacefully’ thrice. He also mentioned ‘democratic’ thrice.

Simply put, Obama’s message drove home the importance of a peace, democracy and maintaining democratic structures in the growth and development of any society.

This is the more reason why, like Obama noted, all Nigerians must be able to cast their votes without fear or intimidation. He said, “I call on all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place in democratic elections, and that they would not incite, support or engage in any kind of violence, before, during or after the votes are counted.

Obama also said, “By casting your ballot, you can help secure your nation’s progress. And this process must be done peacefully.” He also noted that, for elections to be credible, they must be free, fair and peaceful.

Indeed. While the Independent National Electoral Commission must do everything possible within its constitutional powers to ensure it organises free, fair and credible elections; it is not the sole responsibility of the electoral agency alone.

While it is the responsibility of the Nigerian military, the police and all the country’s security agencies to uphold the law and ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order during and after the elections; while the bulk rests on the leaders and candidates to ensure that their supporters do not engage or support any form of violence; it is also the choice of that supporter to choose peace over violence, to choose patriotism over ethnic, religious, political and regional sentiments.

Going by previous elections in the country, it is almost impossible to say categorically that there would not be any kind of violence during the elections. However, it would be fair to say all Nigerians have a choice to decide if they want to be part of a largely peaceful election process.

Thus, ensuring free, fair and credible elections should not only be the sole responsibility of INEC, leaders, political parties and their candidates, it should also be the collective responsibility of all Nigerians.

After decades of military rule and then 16 years of uninterrupted ‘home-grown’ democracy, the upcoming elections come at another critical junction of our nationhood. It is a litmus test of our democratic structures and our national character.

This is the more reason why every Nigerian must see himself as a Nigerian first, before one’s ethnicity, religious or party affiliations. Every Nigerian must work for the collective good, to ensure that the country consolidates on her democratic gains by exercising their constitutional rights peacefully during the elections.

This is another historic opportunity for Nigerians to write the next chapter of Nigeria’s progress by not only voting in the upcoming elections, but also by exercising their constitutional rights peacefully.

“A government of the people, for the people, by the people,” a quote widely accredited to the 16th US President, Abraham Lincoln, is the least Nigerians deserve. Whoever wins the elections should uphold this timeless tenet of democracy.

As a patriotic duty, Nigerians should choose to go about casting their ballots peacefully during the elections, and also maintain the peace after the elections; no strong and enduring democratic structure was ever built on the foundation of violence, political deceit and selfish interests.

Like President Obama rightly quoted from the famous rallying slogan of Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd.) during the civil war, “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.”

This journey begins again with free, fair, credible and peaceful elections. Electoral violence should become a footnote on the pages of our history as a great nation, not a recurring decimal.

Nigeria should become a great nation indeed, where peace and justice truly reigns.

God bless Nigeria.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

2014: No birthday for people born on February 29

Photo: BBC
Leap days come once every four years. ‘Leapling’ or ‘leap year baby’ are terms used to describe a person born on February 29. And for many born on this day, their birthdays usually come with extra treats.

Mr. Jerry Adesewo is in his late thirties, but he has only seen his birth date nine times since his birth over three decades ago.

This is because Adesewo was born on a leap year.

 “If we have to go by the Leap Year, I think I should be nine years old now.  But I’ll be 37 by the end of this month,” said Adesewo, who is a writer and theatre director.

Since he can only celebrate his birthday once every four years, he decided to rewrite the script of his birth.
He said, “I’m not given to extravagant celebration, but I usually celebrate my birthdays with a few friends and my family members. Before now, I picked February 28, March 1, or the last Sunday of February to mark my birthday. I chose the last Sunday because I was born on a Sunday.

“As a young man, I used to feel bad that I didn’t have a birthday celebration every year, especially as my friends always invited me to their birthdays every other year. I decided to pick those three dates to measure up with my friends. It was much later that I had a better understanding and realised I was a very unique person as there are few of us born on February 29. Then, I began to appreciate it even more.”

He said his father prayed for him to be born on February 29.

“When I was younger, my father tried to make me understand my birth date was a special day because he wanted me to be born on that day. I would have been born on the 28th, but my father said he prayed that I would be born the next day because it was a very special day.

“He said my being born on the 29th was the answer to his request. Also, there is this belief among some Christians that the Leap Year was derived after Joshua in the Bible prayed and asked the sun to stand still for a day which caused the one or two days’ delay.  I always tell myself that I am a special being,” he told SUNDAY PUNCH.

Maybe that was why information and communications technology manager, Mr. David Aderigbibe, named his son, who was born on February 29, Joshua. He clocks five this February. “Interestingly, I never thought about it. I was just convinced about the name, Joshua, before his christening. But obviously, there is a relationship between Joshua in the bible and the sun standing still.  Whenever his birthday is approaching, I always think of how to go about it since February has 28 days each year and 29 days only in a leap year, which comes once every four years,” he noted.

As he grows older, Joshua has become inquisitive about his birth date. Aderigbibe said his son doesn’t want to hear that there is no February 29 this year.

He said, “Whenever I want to celebrate his birthday on the last day of February, being the 28th, he would ask me, ‘dad, but my birthday is on the 29th. I want to have my birthday on my birth date.’ It is hard explaining to him at his age. He may learn to overlook it as he grows older.

“This year, I know I will get the same look he always gives me. He usually looks lost when I try to explain it to him. I know his young mind finds it hard to understand why the day is missing.”

Every year is a special year, but Aderigbibe noted he would make February 29, 2016, a leap year, more special for his son, who would be seven then.

“For the first time, I am going to design and make him a nice outfit, something to remind us of that particular birthday. I would also bake him a cake with his favourite cartoon character and take him swimming, he likes water a lot, like me,” he said.

For communications and brand strategist, Merrilyn Okeleke, who is in her thirties, she described her birthday as a unique one and noted that she has never felt any different about being born on the February of a leap year.
“My parents usually bought a present for me every non-leap year and told me I was very special. I get teased a lot on my non-leap year birthdays though.  Some friends deliberately tell me that they are planning a birthday bash and want my birthday date; and when I mention 29th, they sigh and promise to do it in a leap year,” she said.

Celebrating her birthdays in her younger days was entirely her parents’ decision. But as an adult, Okeleke now celebrates her birthday on February 26, 27, or she does not celebrate it at all. “It is mostly low-key,” she said, adding that her most memorable birthday was on her 20th birthday.

“It was the first organised by me and not my parents as I was in the tertiary institution then. I got the surprise of my life when my roommate organised a surprise birthday that had the crème de la crème in the school and pushed my popularity up by 100 decibels. I always celebrate the actual February 29 birthday in a special way. At least, I have three years to decide and plan,” she said, smiling. “I look forward to my fortieth birthday,” she added.
For 46-year-old Hilda Egboh, it does not matter whether it was a leap year or not.

“I am a very happy person. So, I always look for any excuse to celebrate. As the 29th falls between February 28 and March 1, I expect pre-birthday wishes on the 28th and post-birthday wishes on the 1st. The actual February 29th birthday period often falls in the Lenten period and being Catholic, the celebrations are a bit more subdued. So, on non-leap years, I celebrate for two days instead of the traditional one day. I always have special birthdays. This year will not be any different,” she told our correspondent.

Since the date comes once every four years, people born on February 29 are considered unique and not very common.

It is said that the odds of being born on a leap day are one in 1,500. With a population of over 160 million, this means there could be about 100,000 Nigerians born on February 29.

Read more here

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Music Nigeria: Ese Peters in Concert

There are few songs that remain evergreen and still give fresh goose pimples each time you listen to it. Like Ese Peters' 'Omote'.

And come this Easter weekend, on Saturday, March 30, at Bogobiri, 9, Maitama Sule, Off Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, Peters would be strumming his guitar and performing Omote, as well as his other hit singles. The best part? You can watch Nigeria's next contemporary/rock music star - for free. Peters is a gifted vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, from Warri, Delta State.

Once an independent artiste, Ese Peters signed a record deal with AbOriginal Music, after last year’s release of his Acoustic EP, Then came 'Omote', which was released on Thursday, September 27, 2012. His hit singles also include Gone, Stay with Me, Walk Away, The Way You Are. Prepare to be impressed on an Easter weekend of beautiful rock ballads from this gifted vocalist.

The concert is presented by AbOriginal music.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

They are the Champions! Purple Krown College Enugu Win NNPC/SHELL Cup

We are the Champions: Purple Krown team in celebration mood
Like Sunday Mba, whose goal ensured the Super Eagles of Nigeria were crowned Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON, champions in South Africa 2013, Uzodinma Emmanuel, of Purple Krown College, Enugu, who was eventually named the Most Valuable Player of the NNPC/Shell Cup championship, scored the only goal of the game in the NNPC/Shell Cup final played on Sunday, March 24, at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. However, Emmanuel's 50th minute goal was a cool dispatch from the penalty spot. His goal ensured that his school, Purple Krown College, Enugu, were crowned champions of the 15th edition of the NNPC/Shell Cup as they ran away with a 1-0 victory over Government Secondary School (GSS), Wuse, Abuja, in an entertaining final.

In the first half, both teams put on a fine display of skill and attacking intent, and had numerous scoring opportunities, but lacked the decisive final touch in the 18-yard box. Like the first, the second half was also full of high end drama and action, as the two teams made tactical changes to find the winning touch, until Emmanuel’s decisive goal in the 50th minute. From then on, the Wuse lads raised the tempo of their game and searched desperately for an equaliser, but the Enugu team proved to be the better side for most part of the game. In the end, there was going to be one winner. Purple Krown College held on to win their first trophy in Nigeria’s biggest school football competition. For their victory, the team won N2.5 million cash prize for sports development in the school, while each of the players received N50, 000. As runners-up, GSS Wuse went home with N1.4 million, while the players got N45, 000 each.

Mutiu Sunmonu (MD Shell), Nigeria Sports Minister, Purple Krown  captain
On their way to the final, Purple Krown College thrashed Government College, Ibadan, 4-1 in the first semi-final. While Government Secondary School, Wuse, qualified via a 9-8 penalty shootout win against Government Arabic College, Kano, in the second semi-final. The game had finished 1-1 at full time. With this historic win, Purple Krown also earned a place at the invitational school football competition in the United States of America, courtesy of the Nigeria School Sports Federation, NSSF.

In an also exciting third place play-off, Government Arabic College, Gwale, Kano, finished third with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Government College, Ibadan, Oyo. The Gwale lads also carted home N500,000 for their school’s sports development and N40,000 for each of the players. While the fourth placed team received N400,000 for their school and N35,000 for each of the players. The winning team, runners-up, third place and fourth placed teams all received certificates of participation.

“People have come to appreciate the quality of the game, year in, year out, because the quality has been improving. It has made us more proud than we have ever felt before,” said Mutiu Sunmonu, Country Chair of Shell Companies in Nigeria and Managing Director, Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, on why the NNPC/Shell Cup is regarded as the biggest Secondary School football competition in Nigeria today. “The interesting aspect of this for the players is that they do not have to drop out of school to pursue a career in football. We are organising this at secondary schools so that our students will understand that education is very important and that the development of sports will make them complete. That is what we want to imbibe in the leaders of tomorrow,” said Engineer Ben Akaakar, Technical Assistant to Group Managing Director GMD, NNPC, Engineer Andrew Yakubu. The Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, as well as many other distinguished guests, graced the occasion.

Special awards were also presented to outstanding players during the championship. Osayeme Joshua (Purple Krown College, Enugu) bagged the highest goal scorer award with six goals and Arinze Okpanpa (Purple Crown College, Enugu) was named the best defender. While Faisal Ali (Government Arabic College, Kano) won the best goalkeeper award and Malomo Taofeek (Government College Ibadan) was adjudged the best midfielder.

The winning goal
“We want to see players from the NNPC/Shell Cup represent Nigeria in major championship and we also want to see them grow academically because it is not all about football. Education is very important and that is why our theme is; football and education should go hand-in-hand,” said Shola Akinwale, managing director, Worldwide Sports Limited, consultants to the NNPC/Shell Cup. “The future is bright for these boys because they have potentials. The development is positive but the end result is priority. After here, what’s next for the lads? The National School Sports coaches should harness their potentials to form the platform for the national Under 16 teams,” said Kudur Umar, public relations officer, NSSF. Umar also added that the NNPC/Shell Cup will continue to be the breeding ground for talented football stars in Nigeria. Over the years, the competition has produced notable names such as Chinedu Obasi, Ambrose Vanzekin, and many others who have represented Nigeria in international football competitions.

Monday, February 11, 2013


In a pulsating final played on Sunday, February 10, Stephen Keshi tutored Super Eagles defeated the Stallions of Burkina Faso 1-0 to win the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa

Sunday Mba’s lone spectacular strike in the 40th minute was enough to win Nigeria its third Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title in the 2013 final against the Stallions of Burkina Faso played on Sunday, February 10, at the Soccer City, Johannesburg.

Mba, a player who plies his trade in the Nigeria Premier League, wore jersey number 19, and more interestingly ended the country’s 19-year wait for AFCON title. Nigeria last won the AFCON title on home soil in 1980 and 1994 in Tunisia. Against the odds, Coach Stephen Keshi also made history as he became the first Nigerian coach to lead the Super Eagles to the title. He also becomes the second man to win it both as a player and a coach, the first being the late Mahmoud El Gohary who led Egypt to the AFCON title in 1998.

The match kicked off at a frenetic pace with nerves showing on both sides as they battled for supremacy in possession and play. Although the Eagles looked the more settled as the first half progressed, they failed to capitalize on their dominant possession. The absence of striker Emmanuel Emenike due to injury was glaring as the Eagles were unable to convert the numerous chances they created, with returnee striker IK Uche and Brown Ideye, failing to make any visible impact. This was until the 40th minute when Mba struck a sweet volley into the far corner of the post from inside the Burkinabe box. Mba’s goal came from a determined run by the Warri Wolves/Enugu Rangers player after Victor Moses and Brown Ideye had failed to capitalise on gilt edged chances seconds earlier.

The second half continued like the first, with both teams trying to grab the match by the scruff of the neck at the midfield. Although the Stallions seem to have gained confidence from their bright start at the second, they were not able to create clear cut chances, like the Eagles. The efforts of their star players; Jonathan Pitroipa, whose unjust red card in the semi-final against Ghana was reversed and Aristides Bance were neutralized by the Eagles’ defence, which put up an excellent shift throughout the match. Wilfried Sanou almost snatched a late equaliser for Burkina Faso, but Vincent Enyeama’s reflexes saved the day for Keshi and the Eagles. Ahmed Musa could have sealed the match with a second goal but fell embarrassingly inside the Burkina box after being put through on goal. The Eagles held on for the four minutes of added time to be crowned champions of Africa in the 2013 final watched by 85,000 fans.

“I am overjoyed at the stunning victory of the Super Eagles which has seen Nigeria emerge as the champions of the African Cup of Nations, 2013. Well done Patriots, you have done Nigeria proud. 2013 is obviously the year of Nigeria. We have emerged as a beacon of hope on the African continent by proving to Africa and the world that a strong Nigerian team put together and trained by a Nigerian coach can stand the test of time and successfully rise to the challenge of a most formidable opponent. The Nigerian spirit stands strong and steady as we march to the destination of greatness. I doff my fedora hat to this great squad that has brought laughter and happiness to our homes. Nigerians are grateful. We thank God. We thank you,” said President Goodluck Jonathan, in his congratulatory message to the team, who are billed to be hosted to a grand reception in Abuja on Tuesday, February 12.

With this victory, Nigeria would now represent Africa at the FIFA Confederations Cup slated for June in Brazil, where they would play against European and World champions Spain, Uruguay and Tahiti. Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Italy make the other group.