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28 Mar Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

An Evening with Eugenia Abu

For its anniversary edition, Friendraiser Community, in collaboration with Vlisco, hosted Mrs. Eugenia Abu at the Silverbird Cinema last Friday. The event started an hour late, a delay for which Inimfon Etuk, the founder of Friendraiser, would apologise and explain it was a result of a clash in scheduling with the cinema. “There was a film showing,” she said, “so we couldn’t set up on time.”

At 7 pm, Ini, as she was called throughout the night, invited the special guest to sit on stage and when she had sat, a video about her life played on a projector. The first scenes of the video were blurred as the lights in the hall were inadvertently left on. The video detailed random facts about her career in broadcasting, writing, mentorship, and the process leading up to her selection as 'Vlisco Woman of the Year 2013'.

Eugenia Abu, discomfited by the effusive praise of her on screen, cast her face aside, smiling, as she does when there is a technical hitch on the NTA Network News at 9.

A panel made up of her friends, colleagues, a relative, and a Caucasian first-time visitor to Nigeria joined her on stage. With Ini as moderator, they attempted to deconstruct her. They praised her in her capacity as a friend, humanitarian. In an attempt to decode her, they probed every aspect of her life, both public and private. How was it possible, it was asked several times, to be as famous and as busy as she was and yet be married with six (well-behaved―according to popular opinion) children? She said she has had help from family, friends, and colleagues. The response was too simple to be satisfactory. There must be something extra she is not telling us, some secret.

The visitor, who was only a week old in Nigeria, expressed surprise at how gorgeously dressed everyone was before asking Aunty Eugenia―that was the preferred form of address for the evening― about the challenges she has encountered in life and how she managed to overcome them . Before responding to her question, Aunty Eugenia stood up, flaunted her gown with extra large, puffy short sleeves, and acknowledged her designer who was in the audience.

When the audience was given the chance to interact with her, more questions about broadcasting, about NTA followed. What advice would she give an aspiring broadcaster? How assertive should a woman be at the work place? Having been spotted reading the news just a day before, was she back to the Network News for real? Could she change the NTA Network News theme song, if she could? Does NTA feel threatened by AIT?

As almost everyone in the hall knew her personally their questions were preceded by flattering anecdotes. I, too, had stories to tell, only my source, childhood memories, was unreliable.

I remember we were neighbours at Assembly Quarters, Makurdi, around 1990. She was maybe married but living alone. Already working as a journalist with NTA or some radio station. Very busy. Never at home. This made her front-yard a convenient rendezvous for children in the neighbourhood. Besides there was the shade and fruit of a fruit tree. I remember the few times she was at home she would make us sweep her frontage. I thought she was mean. Children should play, adults should clean their mess.

First I need to check with older siblings if this episode I hold precious in my head is indeed reality. While the authenticity of that story is pending, I remember her much younger relatives accusing Aunty Eugenia, whose English is as impeccable as a non-native speaker’s can be, of preferring their more eloquent sister to the rest of them. But that should be a story for another evening.

Dog