How does one begin to write about a close friend in the past? When there is a will, they say, there is always a way. So, I will try and say what I know about my brother, friend and political arch-enemy, Ken Tadaferua (I called him Kentucky), who I had the painful privilege of witnessing his transition to glory at 2:05pm on Sunday, June 16th, 2019. I am yet to fully regain my composure after seeing him take his last breath having watched his vital signs fall gradually to nothingness. I still feel a double paroxysm of sadness and joy; one because the reality dawned on me I would never see my friend again until resurrection day, and the other because I felt he finally “conquered” the ghastly pains of Prostate Cancer, which he fought gallantly but stoically for almost six years.
Ken and I come a long way. In the six years during which he engaged Cancer in a spirited fight, Ken and I must have spent literally every other Sunday together. Before this period, over a period of 20 years or so, we had met on the beat-him as an already accomplished journalist and me a rookie Public Relations practitioner at Cadbury Nigeria. It was not long after we met that our common attribute as Free Spirits came into play and we became friends. I’m very faithful to most of my father’s advice and one of them was to always be careful to make friends with people who are more intelligent or better educated and older than me. So, Ken was a natural choice.
There are five things about Ken, which many people know I would say a few words about. There are three other things I will talk about which not many people know about. It may interest you to note that I sought and obtained his permission to say these things and this is really because Ken, like me, was acutely aware that one of the characteristics of living things is death and for someone fighting Stage 4 Cancer, he was spiritually and psychologically prepared for any eventuality. We both agreed on the mantra: When death stared at us, we started back at it! Those who know it know it.
Ken was a very brilliant mind. Those who worked with him in This Week, Business, The Guardian, ThisDay, Guaranty Trust Bank, Intercontinental Bank and his own company, Profound Impact Limited, a Communications Consultancy, can attest to his intelligence and ability for critical thinking and analysis with a good turn of phrase as illustrated in his writings. Perhaps, his best days in journalism were those he spent in Thisday as a member of the Editorial Board and Editor, Nation’s Capital, which is the Bureau Chief in Abuja. Not a few of his colleagues on the Editorial Board and the Editorial staff in Abuja felt his razor-sharp brains, the depth and breadth of his knowledge as well as his leadership skills. I’m told it was the same in the banks, GT and Intercontinental. Ken was a teacher. He was impatient with dull people, a common trait among smart folks.
Ken was a straight arrow. You are almost sure where he stood on issues, any issue. For those who interacted with him in the social space, this would seem like stating the obvious. Ken was neither shy nor scared to take a stand on issues. He was very comfortable on any subject, especially politics and leadership issues as well as matters related to the economy. He took no prisoners in his usually hot, often late night debates. Cancer made Ken lose sleep. So, he engaged himself usefully by taking on anyone who was willing and able to challenge him. Ken would never back down from a debate, except he found you unintelligent or rude. I had a fair share of his brutal shakedowns. On some occasions, he would be in my house or we would be at his and yet “fighting” over Buhari and his government.
Let me share a short story at this point. One afternoon, Ken was in my house. We were watching Arsenal play one of the Manchester pretenders and the boys were misbehaving. On the side, we were having a go at each other over some government and as usual stood on opposite sides. I think we only agreed on Arsenal and football, generally. Our debate raged while we ate Rice and Asun and watched soccer. One of his friends called him and I could overhear the guy asking him why he allows Emeka Oparah to challenge him so openly and sometimes rudely. He told the fellow Emeka was a very bad boy and Buhari apologist and he was determined to teach me a lesson. He then asked the guy to forget Emeka and say hello to somebody. He handed me the phone. I cannot print here the obscenity the gentleman at the other end screamed when I introduced myself. That was Ken. Politics was politics. Friendship was friendship. He wouldn’t let the former affect the latter deleteriously. Otherwise he would exit the discussion. He harbored neither bitterness nor hatred.
Ken was a patriot. He was very passionate about Nigeria- and very badly wanted the country to succeed. You may wish to Google his essays in Premium Times or interventions on Facebook. He took it upon himself not only to highlight the ills of the country, but he preferred simple, practicable solutions to what he thought were self-inflicted problems. He wrote and spoke from his heart, not from his pocket or bank account like many so called critics are doing. He firmly believed in the Nigeria Project and disliked the egregious hijack of the system by common criminals. Sadly, not much changed before he passed away. Shame.
Ken was very thorough. He had to be. He was an Editor’s Editor. Sometimes, he would call me to grumble over the fallen and still falling standards of education as manifested in the quality of spoken and written English. His classmates at the University of Ibadan, where he got both his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Communications Arts never tire to talk about his academic cum linguistic prowess. You could only tell Ken’s Urhobo etymology, whenever he dabbles into typical Waffi Pidgin English-usually in unserious circumstances. At one point, I told him to join the ranks of the late Bayo Oguntuase, Ndaeyo Uko and Ebere Wabara to write a weekly column on the Use of English. The pedestrian write-ups peddled on social media pissed him so much, but here was a man already pissed off by his poor health caused by Cancer, which was ravaging his body and guzzling his savings! Still, he wrote with so much attention to detail, a trait very well-known in every organization he worked for. He even got into trouble many times with some of his bosses, who didn’t consider his insistence of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s very essential for business. He would rather walk the straight and narrow path- the road less travelled.
Ken was a generous man. Large at heart, he was a firm believer in benevolence and charity. He would easily give of his time, his money and himself, if it came to that. From his sickbed, Ken took care of many people. He contributed swiftly to charity causes, which have become perhaps the only social safety net in the absence of a thriving Health Insurance in Nigeria. On two occasions, when he was first to respond to such Calls to Action, I questioned him on the sense in spending his dwindled resources, which he badly needed. But Ken believed so much in helping others and assured me he was all right. Sadly, I am not sure he got much help from friends during his 6-year fight against Cancer. This perhaps was partly because he kept his health condition mostly to himself being a very private kind of person.
And the other thing about Ken: He was stoic. Very stoic. He bore his cross with patience, humility, equanimity, dignity and silence. He was gallant, absolutely so. He went everywhere in search of a cure. He spent all he saved, sold most of his earthly belongings to beat Cancer. He discovered all sorts of Natural Remedies. He avoided Chemotherapy until his last year on earth. He believed chemo kills faster than Cancer. Perhaps, that was why he stayed strong for so long without many knowing even with his initial diagnosis of Stage-4 Cancer. Up to last week, Ken believed he would beat the Big C. The pains were too much, but he bore them with grace and an uncommon belief in and reverence for his Creator. Ken was a Catholic, not Roaming, but Roman. He missed neither morning nor afternoon Masses, when he could drive. What a lucky man he was to have had such a long rope to make good with God. He totally and wholeheartedly surrendered to God and forgave all who trespassed against him. This he assured every time our conversation gravitated to matters spiritual.
Now, not many knew Ken didn’t have a wife. He also didn’t have children. It was not by choice. He tried marriage once but it failed woefully. I was his Best man. We both agreed while he was alive not to discuss the topic but rather consign it to the dustbin of better-forgotten memories. I will respect my friend. But let me share with you what happened the day before and on the day of his wedding. Coming to Marina through the notorious Apapa traffic, Ken got to the church after the rehearsals were over. I can still recall his very apologetic conversation with the Vicar while his wife (ex-wife now) boiled over with rage. Then, on the wedding day, Ohi Alegbe, who was the designated Master of Ceremonies did not show up. So, I took off my jacket and anchored the event. We still laughed about the two incidents recently. And Ken was like I should just stop talking about the MC work except I wanted him to pay me for it. Beneath the facade of a fierce mien lay a river of refined humor.
Sometime ago someone once claimed to have had a son for Ken, out of a dalliance that neither lasted long nor tasted well. He accepted the child but resolutely denied the paternity, which he proved 5 or so years later with a DNA Test. The lady later apologized. So, Ken, who has lost his parents and recently lost his only brother is leaving behind many cousins including Mr. Austin Tadaferua as well as an armada of friends, followers and admirers.
Ken was also somewhat difficult or fastidious. Being a perfectionist, he was hard to please. This probably explains why he married so late, first and foremost, and couldn’t remarry after the first attempt. Do you know he lived through these testy years almost by himself? He couldn’t imagine Househelp or Caregiver meeting his expectations. One of such Caregivers abandoned after seeing a Catholic Priest visit a couple of times to pray with Ken. The Poor boy must feared his boss was about to die and fled! That was about three years ago.
If at all, Ken’s only regret would be that he could not write the book we planned, a manual more or less on how to fight and beat Cancer. He had it all stitched together in his mind. He believed he would beat Cancer. He was only waiting for his miracle to come alas it never came. Ken died fighting Cancer. I watched him die. No, I watched his body die but his spirit and his legacy of love, truth and benevolence will never die.
Rest in peace, Kentucky!
– Oparah is Director Corporate Communications & CSR at Airtel Nigeria