Nena Ndenyi Ngozi Uche
Biography & Tribute
The Shekere is a “bangled”, colourful and highly durable African musical instrument. In many ways, my eldest sister fondly called “Ndy” was a Shekere.
There are so many females that look alike and talk alike but there was only one Ndy who took the ordinary Shekere instrument and glamourised it. Other than the bible, the Shekere became ND’s companion on her numerous visits to the Tabernacle. In Church, she pounded musical notes from the Shekere in the years when clapping in Church was “prohibited”; she raised the Shekere in boisterous praise and worship; and she quietly stroked the beads of the Shekere in private worship moments. I loved to watch my big sister love and praise God and I was inspired.
Ndy was the first child of my parents and first grandchild of our maternal grandparents. A first child can define a family by what he or she does or does not do. She took her position as first child seriously and dared to set very high standards and achieve her targets. Because of the things she did, I could end every paragraph of this tribute with the words “she inspired me”. In the things she did not do, she didn't bring shame to her family and friends and neither did she compromise her integrity or God given personality.
As a Shekere is adorned with layers of beaded bangles, Ndy was adorned with many accomplishments. At the start of her education in Ikoyi, Lagos were primary schools Ayo Manuwa School and St. Saviour's where her class mates in the post-colonial mostly white school included our sister, Aruodo and Wembley Ukwa. When the Nigerian civil war broke out in 1967, the family relocated to Eastern Nigeria and were constantly being moved by our parents to avoid Nigerian military incursions that did not spare civilians. Our father, late Elder Agwu Okereke Uche (Gentleman from Edinburgh) and our mum Nena Ikodiya Uche were both accomplished educationists and they ensured that during the war Ndy, my siblings and other related and unrelated children of school age were home-schooled.
After the war when our father took an appointment as Principal of Government College Umuahia, Ndy resumed formal primary education at Library Avenue Primary School, Umuahia. Later, she gained admission to Union Secondary School, Ibiaku, Akwa Ibom State (her mother's alma mater). She spent one year at Ibiaku before transferring to Federal Government College (FGC), Warri where she completed her secondary education. At FGC Warri, she made lifelong friends who stood with her till the very end and some of whom are here today. From FGC Warri she gained admission into University of Nigeria, Nsukka where she graduated with a Bachelors in Mass Communication. She didn’t stop there and her alumni educational institutions include: International Space University, Strasbourg, France (Diploma); Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA (Masters in Science Journalism); and Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts, USA (Masters in Social Anthropology).
Her education was filled with bangles of qualifications and accomplishments like the Shekere and her career was just as finely shaped and colourful. She started her work career in Kaduna, Nigeria with Ogilvy, Benson and Mather which at the time was the leading advertising firm in Nigeria. As part of her work in advertising and as an attribute to her gorgeous elegance, she did a bit of modelling when it was considered a taboo. She moved to Lagos and was one of the first staff members of The Guardian Newspapers, the flagship of the Nigerian press where she worked with the best stars of Nigerian Journalism such as the late Stanley Macebuh, Eddie Iroh, Dr. Onwuchekwa Jemie, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Lade Bonuola (Ladbone), Dr. Amma Ogan, Pulitzer prize winner Dele Olojede, award winning photographer Summi Smart-Cole, Bisi Ogunbadejo, Jullyette Ukabiala, et all. She wrote the March of Science page where she focused on attainable and practical science for Nigeria. Her subjects included locally fabricated machinery, healing powers of local plants, science personalities and institutions, healthcare and other areas. Her work gave her a lifelong passion for natural healing. She was the only Nigerian Journalist to cover the first World Aids Conferences and the international Aid Agencies took note of her enthusiasm on the job and this opened the door of international sponsorships and internships. One of such was her sponsorship by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the International Space University in France. After her postgraduate programme at Harvard she worked as a banker and teacher in Boston and Baltimore; and as a social worker in Hawaii. But her heart was with journalism and she remained a lifelong journalist working as a freelancer.
Ndy was a frequent traveler and earned the sobriquet “Nomad”. In the days when there were no cellphones in Nigeria, she traversed the ends of the country in search of science news and other reports but she also traveled for other passions. I was in a meeting of the Beats Club, University of Calabar around 1986 (a hip group that organised live entertainment on campus) when she unexpectedly showed up and later brought John Chukwu (who was the leading comedian in Nigeria at the time) to our meeting. Wow! She was part of a multinational group that was briefly in Calabar as a stage-point for their eventually successful quest to reach the summit of Cameroon Mountain. I don’t know any other Nigerian, male or female that has climbed Cameroon Mountain. Such was her passion for life and the summits. Nowhere was too far. It was not surprising that she lived in faraway Hawaii.
Her move to Hawaii was love inspired. At Harvard, she had met Patrick W. Hanifin who subsequently practiced law in Hawaii. As their relationship grew, Ndy moved to Hawaii to marry Patrick. But tragedy struck and Patrick died of an aneurysm before her very eyes. She never really recovered from this and remained in Hawaii for many years after Patrick's death. Eventually, the combined pressure from family and friends led to her return to Mainland USA as she had been ill for a long time and needed their support.
There are several character traits that I can write about Ndy. I was recently reading some of her old emails to me and the headings include: Magnesium and Other Remedies for Diabetes; The Resurrection Power for our Family; Behold all things are new; Alohaaaaaa; Rich Nannies – Biz Idea; Etc. She had a great sense of humour and loved entertainment. She was a great dancer and led her FGC Warri Dance Troupe. She went to watch Luciano Pavarotti perform live. I remember with nostalgia the concerts she took me to in Lagos. At one concert at the French Embassy in Lagos where the great Fela Anikulapo Ransome Kuti performed for the Ambassador and his guests, Ndy commented to me she could not tell between Fela and the Ambassador who was “posing macho”.
Ndy’s love was passionate and totally committed. She gave of herself not expecting anything back. It will be unfair to start naming some of her friends because I may omit some but I remember in the late 1970s she came home with Elizabeth Uwaifo (nee Iyamabo) and in the early 1980s she shared a flat with Ekero Mukoro. Her friends were very supportive when she fell ill.
Ndy took her responsibilities as a Christian seriously. I recall in the 1980s she had brought home a destitute she just met in Church and shared her abode for many months after. She never had much money but many people testify that she was of great help. To my advantage, she pointed me to start work even before I had entered university. She was irked that it was only in Nigeria that young people don’t work during holiday and are pampered. She got me a job at Ox4 Aquarium company at Palmgrove. She also insisted that I get computer literate for my future and enrolled me in a class organised by Sigma Computers around 1984. My teachers in that class later became the leaders of Nigeria’s computer industry.
The Shekere is made of nature and looks frail but in reality, it withstands severe poundings and shakings to create musical notes. Ndy had been ill for a very long time and it is a testament of her grit and disposition to give music to others that many people did not know about her condition. In 1994 she suffered a fall and a fracture and her health took a nosedive which affected her career. But despite being ill, she constantly worried about and supported others with even less severe conditions. Needing care herself, she became a care giver to help others. In her own words to me in her email on March 22, 2012 she wrote “I am a super aide: I provide more value than my salary. I know that if not for my multifaceted education and training my client would either be dead or in a nursing home by now.” When she sent me a blood pressure monitoring device, I wondered how she could afford it. She loved and gave sacrificially. Ndy was a tough fighter – usually for causes and other people…and rarely for herself. She joined causes to fight for religious freedoms, education, healthcare, education and other causes. She was a free spirit yet a conservative. She was the first born again Christian I heard talk about loving gays and argued they were victims.
Despite her international outlook, Ndy was every inch a daughter of Abiriba. She spoke Abiriba language with relish and participated in meetings and activities for developing the Abiriba people and community. I recall in the late 1970s when she had done an extensive audio tape interview with my paternal grandmother (the original Ndenyi - Oduenyi). At that time, grandma was more than 100 years old and she narrated firsthand account of history of Christianity in Abiriba and other historical gold. I won’t tell how those Maxell tapes were lost.
Now, I have lost my big sister…or have I? God visited our home and took my sister but left many blessings for us. Chiefly is God’s promise that those in Christ shall be reunited. God has also showered love on our family because there’s been so much cooperation and unity for ND’s funeral. When I learned about contributions being made by extended family members, I asked why I had not been asked to contribute for previous funerals in the extended family. I was told that this is the first time the extended family is uniting to make such contributions. I am thankful to my big sister for many things and I am thankful to relations and friends; and above all I am thankful to God who gave us the privilege of knowing and sharing our space with Ndy. I have not lost my sister…there are educational institutions, faces, written works, and other things that will always remind me of her. Poignantly, each time I see or hear a Shekere, I shall always remember my big sis Ndy.
Ndy Nena Ngozi Uche was born on June 23, 1960. After a career in Nigeria and other parts of the world, she settled in Middletown upstate New York and worked in the Middletown area until she passed on to glory on August 29, 2017. She is survived by her siblings Aruodo Chinwe Uche, Kalaria Ijeoma Uche, Chinyere Nneji Azike, Okechukwu Uche and Ekeoma Uche.
May her spirit rest in the bosom of God and we will see you again in heaven.
I just started to work on my notes for a lecture to be delivered at a conference later this month of the African Women in the Media at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. I was on the second slide, and had just finished typing Meet Four of My Favourite Female Nigerian Journalists. Thereafter, I began a search, for images, and Nena's was staring at me. Then I saw "Memorial". What does that mean? I knew that she lost her husband but not that she too had died.
Nena and I were pioneers of The Guardian newspaper. She was one of our shining stars. I can't remember how it happened but I was the one who pointed her to the MIT Fellowship in Science Journalism (not even sure whether this was what that programme was called), which she applied for and referred to in this beautiful postcard she had sent to me, when she was in Belgium (yes?).