Joe Nwankwo, what a time to say goodbye…
By Lillian Okenwa
Joe was a clown. As judicial correspondents back in the days, many of us felt he was in the wrong profession. Comedy should have been the choice we told him. There was no dull moment with Joe. Frankly, what journalism gained, the entertainment world lost Big time in Joe. Joe will say the most outrageous thing with a straight face and sometimes with gesticulations, while you’re reeling with laughter, gripping your sides at the same time lest they explode. It’s hard to imagine Joe is gone.
Joe was full of paradoxes. Quick-tempered with a razor-sharp tongue, he never shied away from a fight but strangely, Joe is also a peacemaker. How someone who’s quick to stir up a fight could also be a peacemaker is a puzzle but that’s Joe for you.
In 2015, he invited me to become the pioneer Law Editor of the AUTHORITY Newspaper. He was Executive Director (Publications). When we met, he already had my engagement letter waiting, but I told Joe I could only do it as a consultant. Without missing a beat, he said, Lillian, go and change the letter to suit what you want to do for us.
Joe was a loyal friend. He knew how to maintain friendships and I’ll give you one example or two. Long before the Supreme Court of Nigeria had a Director of Press, and Information, Chris Unigwe who retired as Director of Planning, Research, and Statistics was in charge of the media. And so, his office was the convergence point for Judicial journalists in Abuja. Also because Unigwe went beyond officialdom to make our coverage of the Supreme Court easy, he became our friend. Along the line, a lifetime friendship was forged between him, me (Thisday), Joe (Daily Times), and a few others but as the years rolled by the relationship between him and Joe got stronger. They saw each other nearly every day and became close family friends.
Unigwe is an outdoor man that loves hanging out with the boys and so when his wife died in February 2022, Joe knowing how lonely he was and taking into consideration that he would not be hanging out until such a time, visited him every day. Joe would go about his business during the day and then drive to Unigwe’s house in the evening where he would remain until late at night before going home.
That was their show until December 13, 2022; the day Argentina and Croatia played that epic semifinal. Until the match was over, Joe did not show up as usual. Thereafter, Unigwe called to ask why he didn’t turn up. Joe explained that he was not feeling too well but was getting better. They discussed the match and agreed to meet up the following day. In the morning, Unigwe called to know how he was doing but he didn’t pick up the call. He called a second time, yet no response. He then decided to leave for work and call again later. On settling down in his office, Unigwe called a third time and this time a tearful female voice was heard on the other side instead of Joe’s. Joe had passed that morning and they’d been trying to reach him (Unigwe), she said. It was a surreal moment…
I was still in denial when I, journalists who had crossed paths with Joe in Abuja and Unigwe converged in front of the morgue that 14 December 2022 evening awaiting the hearse man that would convey him that night to Akwa in Anambra State. I was still in denial when the white Toyota Sienna sped in and backed up to the morgue entrance. I was still in denial when the vehicle trunk opened as if readying for some cargo to be hurled in. I was still in denial until some men emerged bearing a white body bag which they hefted into the trunk of the vehicle. I hadn’t the courage like others to go closer and get a final look at him but my two hands involuntarily flew to the top of my head for I was beholding a very bad dream….
Chief (Sir) Joseph Nwankwo who introduced himself as Ofunkpụlụ Nri (the number 1 of Nri) was born 50 years ago in Anambra state. Nri, an ancient town in Anambra state, Nigeria is popularly credited and revered as being the cradle of Igbo civilization, culture, and religious practices.
Joe who rose through the ranks of journalism worked in several media houses including Daily Times, The Sun, and Daily Independent, before becoming one of the founding Directors of The AUTHORITY Newspaper. He was survived by a wife and three children.
Culled from Law and Society Magazine