ANIEKPENO MKPANANG – Enigma, Survivor, Genius!
By Raphael Edem
A few days ago, he was trending all over the media space. He had once more brought his genius to bear on the obsequies of the late musical icon, Chief Uko Akpan Ekpo Umanah. He turned what would have been a routine funeral set up into a spectacle, attracting rave reviews in the process.
As the accolades oozed from all corners of the media space, I resisted the temptation to add my voice to it, safe in the knowledge that in a few days, this diamond in the rough will be marking the diamond jubilee of his existence on this earthly realm and I would have a chance to have my say on his impact on our land and people.
Like a lot of people, I first got to hear him long before I met him. For years, I was an ardent listener to that Saturday afternoon radio programme, Something to Remember, presented by the irrepressible Aniekpeno Tom Mkpanang. He conceptualised and began to present the programme on the then Cross River radio AM station in Abak on June 16, 1984, with the mission of “bringing the past and the future together in the present”. Like the legendary king Midas whose touch turned everything to gold, the programme soon became the toast of the entire place, commanding listenership as far as the signals of the radio station could reach and winning numerous awards in the process, including recognition by the BBC and ultimately becoming Nigeria’s longest running radio program.
I can wager that there was seldom anybody who was old enough to follow radio programming at that time who didn’t tune in to listen to the programme every Saturday, and even when it was moved to Sunday evening. I followed the program religiously, and I can still feel some nostalgia when I recall how much excitement I usually had whenever the programme’s signature tune, Something to Remember by the American band, Dynasty came on air.
With the wide popularity and brand recognition he had garnered on radio, and with his sterling gift of the gab, he was easily the most in-demand Compere and Master of Ceremonies of his day. His very unique way of Mceeing, with scintillating wordplay spiced with appropriate historial facts and anecdotes, held every audience spellbound and proved to be the ladder by which God raised him, rung by tung, to the very apogee of the microphone business.
In 1997, he was the Compere at the official reception for the then military administrator, Navy Captain Joseph Adedurotimi Adeusi (now deceased), as he arrived Akwa Ibom to resume duties. Capt. Adeusi was so enthralled by the outstanding performance of the Compere that he sought to know whom he was. On being told that the gentleman was a secondary school teacher, the MILAD directed that he should be posted to the Government House immediately so that he can resume duties as an Information Officer / Compere, a directive that was carried out with military alacrity!
He served dutifully as the official Master of Ceremonies of the Akwa Ibom State Government all through the tenure of Governor Adeusi and his successor, Group Capt. E. J. Ebiye (now retired). He was further retained in that capacity by Governor Victor Attah until he was plucked from Akwa Ibom by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, who, while on an official visit to Akwa Ibom state, was completely blown away by the superlative performance of Mr. Mkpanang on the microphone that he couldn’t help announcing on the microphone that he was taking this one back with him to the Presidential Villa in Abuja, to wild and deafening applause from a grateful audience. True to his word, President Obasanjo took him back to Abuja, appointed him Special Assistant, and gave him a wider vista to practice his craft. Like a duck to water, Mkpanang took to the job and brought so much verve and vivacity to the microphone business, being master of ceremonies at the nation’s seat of power and compering some of the biggest events in the country at the time, the pick of the pack being the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which Nigeria was hosting for the first time, with twenty-seven Heads of State in attendance. Indeed, the village boy from Ikot Akpa Nkuk in Ukanafun Local Government Area had the world at his feet, further buttressing the fact that the world makes way for the man who knows his way.
As Director of Protocol of the Akwa Ibom State Government from 2007 to 2015, he completely revolutionised protocol practice in the state. For him, there was no small or big assignment, as he approached his everyday duties with single-minded vigour, adding creativity, innovation and a lot of panache to the job. He challenged stereotypes and brought his identity to bear on his assignments. He partnered with the creative industry in the state and gave opportunities to numerous talented sons and daughters of the state to realise their creative potentials. He took on huge assignments, working tirelessly with his team to ensure that the task just wasn’t carried out, but that it was done with a sense of beauty and some style. He conceptualised and executed massive events, a case in point being the scintillating opening ceremony of the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in November 2014, an event that will always be something to remember for everyone who witnessed it. He catapulted a small State Government Christmas Carol service to a world class event by any standards, winning a Guinness World Record in the process.
On a personal note, ever since our paths crossed some thirteen years ago, I have been put through my paces in various areas by this gentleman with an uncanny reputation for doing the seemingly impossible and an unparalleled capacity for hard work. I have seen genuine commitment to any cause he believes in from this gentleman who has no interest in where you come from or what language you speak as long as you are ready to work or learn. He was instrumental to my first trip outside the country, and several other ones thereafter. On getting to know that I was a freelance sports presenter on radio and television, he sent me on an all-expense paid trip to South Africa for the World Cup in 2010, The Olympics in London in 2012, The African Cup of Nations in South Africa in 2013, The World Cup in Brazil in 2014, The English FA Cup Finals at Wembley in 2014, and several other capacity building trips and professional protocol trainings. He has been a bulwark of support to many young people, and is ever ready to project and support as many people as he can who have potentials and are ready to imbibe a culture of hard work and excellence.
A workaholic like non I have ever seen, he has seemingly inexhaustible energy for work and creative engagements. For him, nothing should be done at all if it will not be done as well as it can possibly be. His attention to details is second to none, and he would not give a second thought to restarting an entire process if any detail, no matter how tiny, had been overlooked. He never gets tired of telling those around him that “big things happen when you get small things right’. He takes on the most ardous of tasks and delivers on it with pomp and panoply. Little wonder His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel referred to him as a genius!
It is often said that legends are mythical creatures, but this gentleman is proof that legends indeed eat, breathe, and live among us. He has carved a niche for himself and his legacy is safe in the pantheon on our heroes. Barely three years ago, he was reported to have passed on, but it please God to bring him back to life, and he has become one of very few people who have been lucky enough to read their own obituary!
As he turns sixty today, I raise a toast to celebrate this creator of Something to Remember whose life and achievements will ensure that he will always be someone to remember. I salute this teacher, artist, mentor, creator, broadcaster, innovator, disruptor and mentor. I pay tribute to this multiple Excellence Award winner, a role model to many and an inspiration to even more. I celebrate this husband of the very affable Ama, and father of Idiongomfon, Mokutima and Semaediong. You are God’s gift to Akwa ibom, and Akwa Ibom’s gift to the world. My prayer for you is drawn from Deuteronomy 33:25 “Your bars will be iron and bronze, and as your days, so will your strength be”.
Happy birthday to an enigma, a survivor, a genius!
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