I am still numb.
Christy Essien Igbokwe.
And I’ve read a lot of the tributes that had been written about her, perhaps none came close to capturing what she did in 51 years than the one written by cerebral writer Femi Akintunde Johnson who wrote; “The only consolation I can conjure is that Christy has joined the greats, and she died well, gloriously. But her life is pretty amazing; just imagine that her 34-year high-fidelity career was crammed into a mere 50 yrs! Wherever you look at Christy Essien-Igbokwe from, the true child of Akwa Ibom, Nigeria and Africa delivered her destiny with peerless vigor and enchanting eagerness”
Indeed amazing is just the word to describe Christy who I had the privilege to meet in the early 90s and at some point over the period of a decade became perhaps one of the closest journalists to her at one point.
As a journalist with The Punch newspaper who covered the entertainment beat, Christy Essien was an easy source of material for me. She lived in The Punch estate and just like Sarah Palin could see Russia from Alaska, I virtually could see Christy Essien’s living room from my desk. So of course, she became an easy source of news for my gossip column.
So I informed the whole world when Christy bought a new car, when she was home, when she was on tour and looking back now, with all sense of irresponsibility, I wrote in my column when I suspected that she was pregnant.
At that point, even though her husband was a director of The Punch then and could virtually have had been fired, Christy called a meeting and asked for a truce. Her terms were very favorable to me. She told me she was pregnant but in exchange for my silence, she would grant me an exclusive into the delivery room with a photographer when the baby was born.
And she did. That was how I was able to have an exclusive story of the birth of Uduak, perhaps one of the exclusives that won me 3 consecutive entertainment writer of the year awards at the then prestigious Nigerian Music Awards. That was how very reliable she was to keep her side of a bargain
I also was once on a road trip with Christy to Jos and Abuja and being close and personal with her, you would just see in her that she was not your ordinary artiste. Her extra ordinary commitment to every single member of her group was incredible. She virtually spent more time listening to them and making sure their demands were met than attending to her own needs. I thought to myself, was Christy Essien-Igbokwe not the star? Was she not the diva? Was she not the reason that we were all gathered? Was she not the person who needs all her needs catered for? Was she not supposed to be the one who has everything at her beck and call? But for her, the answer was no.
In all of the several interviews I had with her over the period of a decade, she was always consistent, She was always quick to say to me, “its not about me, it’s about Nigerian musicians”
And that perhaps is why her history cannot be told without saying what she did to better the lot of Nigerian Musicians. In all the accolades she received, perhaps none meant more to her that the fact that she believed in Nigerian music. She believed in Nigerian artistes, she believed in the welfare of Nigerian artistes. That was why she was the prime mover of the project which became the Performing Musicians Employers association of Nigeria (PMAN), the umbrella body of the musicians in Nigeria. I remember vividly her reaction to a question in an interview she granted me during the heated battle she had with Chief Tony Okoroji in the early 90s over the soul of PMAN then when I confronted her with an allegation that she had been given money by Chief Yemi Akeju of Ideas Communications, she started crying. Her husband was so angry with me that he tried to walk me out of the house, but Christy refused. She told her husband that I was doing my job and he should let me do it. She got herself together, stated her own side of the story and insisted I have dinner before leaving because, according to her “you have no wife that would cook for you” when you get home
That was who Christy was. In my dealings with her, she rarely held any grudges. She would say it as it is and move on. She would pull you up when you are down. She would lift your spirits when you need uplifting and would be a friend if you ask her to be one.
Two years ago, after almost 10 years, I saw Christy again, at the Institute of International Affairs in Lagos. I had made a quick trip to Nigeria for the launching of the book on copyright written by Tony Okoroji which my company had the privilege of Printing and publishing. Christy was looking very tired and I asked her if she was alright. She did not reply my question. She hugged me, asked where I have been. Asked after my family and asked for us to take a picture. Her last words to me were “Jude, don’t be a stranger”. I promised I would not, but I did not keep that promise. Even though I knew that unlike many in her field, Christy was not just jiving. She meant it
May her soul rest in peace. May God grant her husband, Chief Edwin Igbokwe and her 4 sons the fortitude to manage this irreparable loss
Adieu Christy, O seun rere