I celebrate today, a great son of Akwa Ibom State and of the Niger Delta, an extraordinary wordsmith, with an uncanny ability to clothe simple, everyday words with beauty, meaning and the force of logic. Unbelievable that Ray Ekpu is only 70! He has had an everyday presence in our lives for so long that you can easily excuse those who think he’s ageless. What a massive beacon of hope he has been these past 70 years.

What an embodiment of journalistic pleasure and excellence. Some of us read him as our English textbook. Others followed him as the bright star in the firmament. His chequered history of travails and triumph serves as a fitting testimonial to his relentless pursuit of the truth and how to make journalism truly count for what matters.

Someone wrote that where the press is full of good news, half of its good men are in jail. Journalism as Ray knows it involves telling the truth to power and getting knocked down in the process. His frequent trips in and out of jail and brushes with the law bear eloquent testimonies.

As a child growing up in the then South Eastern State which became Cross River State, Ray was one of a rich collection of writers and journalists who shapped the thoughts and opinions of our fathers and forced them to insist that we must read the Nigerian Chronicle at a very tender age. They loved the way he wrote and wanted us to all be like him.

His movement to Sunday Times was celebrated across the state as a well deserved professional promotion and an example that if you worked hard and excelled like Ray, the world will come to you. My father who worked with a government agency was an avid reader of both the Chronicle and Publications of the Daily Times stable and at 87, he’s asked me to thank you on behalf of his generation for the silent impact you had on them who, as young fathers, were in search of role models for their children.

Just that I have never told him your other side: Home grown militancy which I discovered is buried deep within. The entire Niger Delta owes you a debt of gratitude for your journalistic activism which helped to draw attention to the deplorable conditions of oil producing communities. The story goes that as a features writer for The Nigerian Chronicle, your editor assigned you to do a report on the situation in Ibeno where Mobil operated.

What you saw was so heart-wrenching that in addition to filing the reports, you returned to the communities many time and convinced them with words and money to protest the inhumane conditions they were living in. Not only did it produce stories you gladly reported, that action brought real attention to the plight of oil producing communities and resulted in a series of interventions by Mobil and the Federal Government years later. Thank you Sir.

Today, NDDC represents government’s response to underdevelopment in the Niger Delta. Over the past 17 years, the Commission has worked hard to address development challenges of our people and communities. It is work in progress but one in which we are deploying our best ideas and resources.

We are conscious that if we fail, Ray will definitely beam his ray of lights on us and nobody wants to have a 70-year old pro, with 45 years of experience, breathing down his neck. He is just one reason we do not want – and cannot afford – to fail. That’s a debt we owe you Sir.

So on behalf of the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Region you love and have fought so hard for, we say Happy Birthday Sir, and many more happy returns of this day. God bless you

HE Nsima U Ekere
Managing Director
Niger Delta Development Commission

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