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Pip, the veteran journalist

This week I want to salute the integrity and tenacity of Mr. Philip Paulinus Onyeuyo Iwuagwu, the veteran journalist who was laid to rest on Thursday, 19th May 2016 at his home, Iho – Dimeze, Ikeduru L.G.A, Imo State. His funeral was celebrated with The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the League of Veteran Journalists (LVJ) and people of his community in full attendance.
In the life of Pip Iwuagwu one can appropriately situate what Winston Churchill said that “there is no limit to the ingenuity of man if it is properly applied under conditions of peace and justice”. I regret that Pip’s ingenuity was not fully applied. Because he chose to be a journalist, Pip virtually lived a full cycle of life of turmoil, at a time when his society’s power to destroy surpassed its power to create, uphold and edify. Talent meant nothing to it. But despite the gloomy, crushing circumstances of his life, he lived for 81 eventful, personally fulfilling years, never abdicating this calling to serve humanity in the role of a journalist. He had staying power in a thankless job.
He never stopped talking of the shock of the sudden termination of his appointment as the editor of the Imo state government newspaper, the STATESMAN, when the military struck and removed the civilian government under which he served. With that went his incisive column, BURNING ISSUES which he used to tell the military the home, bitter truths about their misrule. At that position he regarded himself as having arrived in his career. But that was not to be.  He was driven into the dreary job market again, most unprepared for that station that put his life in reverse gear.
The same doggedness and effectiveness that saw him through as a regular employee in the government also saw him through as a freelance who employed himself, walking the streets of Owerri taking menial, almost unrewarded jobs as reporter, advert agent, editorial consultant, public relations advisor, correspondent on lineage and what have you. All these lasted for short spells and made his life look like a rolling stone. But his stone gathered moss. His creativity always came into play all his life. With that he trained his five children in the best universities. He did this all alone as his wife died 22 years ago.
Not much was written and broadcast about the life and death of Pip, the veteran journalist whom I describe as the very model of a modern journalist. Why? This is because he was not known and valued in his professional constituency where he spent all his life; in which he should have rightfully been celebrated as its doyen.
Pip Iwuagwu’s quiet and cold passage did not speak well of the way the government of the day and the people of the pen profession themselves treat their members at death as if nothing had happened. Yet these are trailblazers for today’s practitioners who they should send away with noisy, uproarious publicity more than anyone else in gratitude and recognition of their resourcefulness. Pip must have taught most the present day highly placed journalists on the job, helping to make them what they are today. But they neglected to write something about this mentor of theirs.
That veteran Pip Iwuagwu has been buried should not be the end of him. He will not be forgotten too soon. The lessons from his life could be inexhaustible. His children in their tribute to him said something about his unpublished books (two of them). There, they gave just the odds and ends of his biography and life story.
The details are still hidden in his unpublished titles: Rulers of Nigeria (1914 – 2007) and (Too hard to forget) a novel on the Nigerian civil war. These will make interesting reading and broadcast materials any day if lifted from the manuscripts and publicized. Pip had an experience he always talked about: He was the lone voice that vehemently condemned the detention of Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme in Kirikiri after the coup that removed them from power, whereas then President, Shehu Shagari was kept comfortably under house arrest. For this he was harassed and booted out of his top job. No one came to his rescue in that travail, not even Dr Ekwueme.
It was an Igbo cause he championed alone and suffered for it personally. Had Pip not been maltreated by his society, even at death, he might have been a celebrity for all times as in civilized societies. However, he must be remembered still for his 56 years (1960 – 2016) of manly toil as a journalist. He never ceased to be a journalist until he took ill and died. No one knows how adequate was his medical attention as a sick old man. Who cared?
Veteran Pip Iwuagwu was born in 1935, the second son and fifth child of his parents. Perhaps he foresaw the hectic days ahead in journalism when he took interest in wrestling and boxing as a youth at Holy Ghost College, Owerri. That made him resilient, resourceful and hardworking in later life.
Though a journalist, we look at Pip Iwuagwu from the level of statesmanship. He was a consummate statesman. He had passion and energy and palpable desire to defend the afflicted, the poor and those he felt were cheated. From the time he joined the writing profession he opted to work as a proprietor, as an initiator and as an innovator. He started with the Shell-BP house journal (Rig View & Shell-BP Bulletin) when the company struck its first ever oil find in Nigeria in his home town, Iho Dimeze and made him their material clerk, public relations officer and editor of their journal. He pioneered, edited, co-founded at least 12 publications most of which have survived today.
Those who have no regard for veterans like Pip Iwuagwu may be entitled to their harmless indulgence, but Pip’s legacy will remain, the legacy of truthfulness, courage, forthrightness, resourcefulness, stickling to detail, fearlessness and professionalism. In this regard, the death of Pip Iwuagwu seems the death of an era. His era was the sunny side of journalism. “To the dead we owe only the truth”. We should keep faith with this Voltaire’s dictum.
Journalists, let’s celebrate our own. Anya le ke ya. Tears must be shed in print when our own depart. Government, know also that without journalists you have no outlet. You must value them in life and at death.

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