“As We Remember Tina Onwudiwe – African Oyibo”

Barrister Austin Okeke Writes From South Africa.


Declan Okpaleke, in 1999 won the CNN African journalist of the year award in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The current President of South Africa; His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa was the special guest at the event. He had a chat with Declan after the event and congratulated him for his excellent work and achievements.

The zenith any journalist on the African Continent could attain in the field of journalism is to win the covetous award.

This is an annual competition sponsored by CNN to support and empower journalists on the continent.

The award comes with a rich package of money, glamor, recognition, trophy, contracts, a tour of the CNN facilities in the USA and a one-year fellowship program at Harvard.

Most journalists on the African Continent look forward to the event held in Johannesburg, South Africa. They submit entries from which the panel of judges select winners of each category, and then the overall winner of the prestigious award at the end.

Declan Okpaleke won the overall inaugural award in 1999, which was held in Johannesburg. Declan would proceed to win more awards in subsequent years, these were in addition to several other awards he had won in Nigeria.

I am mighty proud to say that Declan was my classmate at Saint Finbar’s Catholic College Akoka in Lagos. He was our Senior Prefect at the time.

Saint Finbar’s Catholic College was home to Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Wakilu Oyenuga, Olumide Banjo, Nduka Ugbade, Samson Siasia, Christopher Anigala, Sunday Joseph, my humble self and hosts of other great soccer stars Nigeria had so far produced.

Let me also add that Declan now wants to contest for a seat in the Federal House of Representatives in 2019; he plans to go do the bidding for his constituency in the Imo State of Nigeria.

He has to win. Not only for fitness for purpose, but also for the sincerity of purpose. These attributes are lacking in the polity of the geographical area currently known as Nigeria.

We must overhaul all the parliamentarians representing the South East of Nigeria. They all are of no good to the Igbo land. They have failed not only the very same people they purport to represent but have gravely offended their land. They must go!

We need a new crop of political leadership in both the States and National levels; we must ensure this come 2019.

Nigerians deserve better than the mess that emanates every day from the National Assembly and the Presidency in Abuja, Nigeria. That is if the geographical area currently known as Nigeria will still hold.


During and around 2001, one fateful Saturday morning, I had visited the late Tina Onwudiwe in her Johannesburg home.

She was there with her two lovely daughters; Camilla Mobolaji Johnson (the brother of a former governor of Lagos state is her father), and Nigi her younger sister. Xolani, her son and her eldest child born of a South African father wasn’t home at the time I arrived.

Tina was down. She couldn’t even stand from her bed; her speeches were slurred. I noticed she wasn’t going to make it without medical attention, I immediately called an ambulance.

She was taken to the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. A private and very expensive hospital it is.

I then informed the Consul General of Nigeria at the time; Ambassador Charles Onwuagbu about what had happened. He asked to speak to the ambulance personnel, this was to guarantee the hospital charges etc.

Ambassador Onwuagbu and Tina are from the same Ogbunike town in the Anambra State of Nigeria.

In no time, the Ambassador subsequently joined us at the hospital to ensure that Tina was admitted without any delay. He later swiped his credit card in fulfillment of his undertaking.

In a few days, Tina was diagnosed with cancer of the lungs. She was a chain smoker in her hay-days, she confessed to me but later quit as she got older.

We knew and were rightly informed that Ambassador Onwuagbu would not sustain the hospital bill for long.

I, as the leader of the Nigerian community in South Africa at the time, reached out to some Nigerians for financial assistance. I managed to raise a few here and there but, it didn’t last for long.

I would later lose one academic year of varsity as a result of Tina’s condition and the task of raising funds for her. I don’t regret putting a stop to my studies for one bit. Someone got to do it, ain’t it?

I became frantic. I was determined not to let down a Nigerian music icon, not on my watch. I know of so many national icons that were abandoned by their countries. What a shame.

Tina would do the same for anyone. She would fight for you.

As fate would have it, the genius, Declan Okpaleke had come again in 2001 for yet another CNN African journalist of the year award. Again, he won a prestigious category.

By this time, he no longer works for the Guardian newspaper in Lagos, he had started his own publication called “the insider magazine“ alongside other renowned journalists in Nigeria.

It occurred to me to take Declan to go visit Tina in the hospital.

Declan and I had planned and decided to publish Tina’s story in Nigeria using the insider newspaper. We had to raise funds by all means possible.

The private hospital was running out of patience on its patient Tina, Ambassador Onwuagbu couldn’t overstretch himself, he has his own family to take care of.

I took Declan to see Tina in the hospital, he did the interview and I took pictures of Tina in dire straits in her hospital bed. I became a photojournalist only for this task.

Declan went back to Nigeria and immediately published the story of Tina’s desperate situation in a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Our plan had worked out exactly the way we had envisioned.


The Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria “PMAN” got hold of the story and ran with it. They immediately contacted Declan, who in turn updated me.

Charlie Boy, Lady D, Onyeka Onwuenu, Vera Adesanya and hosts of other popular Nigerian musicians went to work.

They organized fundraising activities for Tina in Nigeria, whilst my humble self-was in far-away Johannesburg coordinating the much I could.

Nigerians opened their hearts.

They donated money for our noble cause.


The then Lagos State Governor; His Excellency Governor Bola Tinubu gave a substantial amount of money. Well, meaning Nigerians also came to the party.

Charlie Boy, Lady D, Onyeka Onwuenu, and Vera Adesanya flew into Johannesburg with the funds that had been raised.

It was a welcome relief for us in South Africa.

It was a good show of solidarity for one of our own.

Tina died a happy person. She died knowing that she was loved. She elected to be cremated; her dust inside a silver vase is at home in Nigeria.


The same year, I had organized a Trade Mission for the then government of Taraba State of Nigeria.

The delegation was led by His Excellency, Governor Jolly Nyame. He came with a team of 13 delegates; they have come to woo investors to Taraba State.

Just as I was driving with the Governor to the South African Broadcasting Station where I had arranged a live interview for him, I quickly told him about Tina’s story and about her three children that had now been left to fend for themselves.

Governor Jolly Nyame, during his television interview, spoke kindly about Tina, this touched me.

On our way back to his hotel, he wanted to know from me how he could be of help.

I sold him the idea of Jolly Nyame Foundation for Children’s Education. That with it, he could sponsor Tina’s children’s education.

He immediately made me the Trustee.

Told me to come to Nigeria to prepare 9 other children to join with Tina’s 3 children, making a total of 12 children that I am to take to London to further their education. I wailed uncontrollably before the Governor and one other person.

I was astounded. I knew it wasn’t me. It was my alter ego; Jesus Christ the Lion of Judah that was at work in my life once again. Oh dear.


Before this time, the Nigeria Minister for Health at the time; Hon. A B C Nwosu, upon our invitation, had visited Tina’s children with sovereign guarantees to take care of their education. He was in Johannesburg for a Bi-National business.

A similar idea occurred to me recently when the over 100 women protesters were detained and humiliated in Owerri, Nigeria.

The Lion in me roared again.

I successfully raised a few funds to support their lawyers, I was ready to go the extra miles for them had they not been released.

The Lion then went to rest.

I thank you.

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Austin Okeke
Austin Okeke 33 posts

Barrister Austin Okeke Writes From South Africa

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