With two English names - Michael Bush - people wonder where I am from?
I am from Ekpene Ukim in Uruan Local Government Area (LGA) of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. We can call it an airport town because it empties into the Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo.
I was born there but taken to Cameroon when I was two or three years old and was there for nearly twenty years. That was where I attended primary and secondary schools and bore the name Etebong Michael Effiong until….
My parents - Etubom Michael Effiong Mbamba and Deaconess (Mrs) Paulina Michael Effiong - lived in Cameroon for around fifty years but it was my dad, a fisherman, who first lived there. Unfortunately, he recently died and was buried last November.
I think that bearing Bush is the main regret of my life, and to imagine that I used my two hands to do that. That is why to make amends for it, I insist on the title, Akparawa. So, in place of Mr, I always like to use it, because I believe it does tell you that I am an Akwa Ibom person. Otherwise, people call me "Pastor" and even as I like it, if you call me "Pastor Michael Bush" we are still dealing with English words.
How I became Bush
In 1988, I was in Form Four at the Government Secondary School, Ekondo-Titi in the Ndian department, Southwest province of Cameroon.
I had a Cameroonian friend named Michael Nambangi while I was Etebong Michael.
When this my friend and I went out, people would call us Michael and both of us would respond.
But in 1988, when Michael Dukakis and George Bush, Snr (George H. W. Bush) contested the American presidential election, he (Nambangi) decided to support Michael Dukakis while I rooted for George Bush. So, when Bush won, people started calling me Michael Bush.
So, when I came back to Nigeria for the first time in my adult life, in 1990, and knowing that I was going to have a life on radio and television, generally the media, I sought my father's approval to change my name formally to Michael Bush and he granted it, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I've been quite adventurous….
When I was in Year 1 or Year 2 at the University of Uyo, George Bush Jr was then the governor of Texas. I wrote a letter which I posted at the post office then on the campus and he called me by telephone.
I did all sorts of things then.
I also wrote to the then only FM station in town, Radio Akwa Ibom, that I would like to come for audition to work with the station. I was invited for the audition and eventually I joined the station. You will read more about this later.
Thereafter, I wrote to the then Military Administrator of Abia State Navy Captain Temi Ejoor. He invited me to Umuahia and he asked if I wanted anything and I told him that I wanted nothing and that I wrote to him after reading in the papers that he was doing well.
So, when I was getting traction from writing letters and getting responses, I wrote to then Texas Gov Bush, Jr and sent it by post from the university campus. I told him that there is also a Bush in Nigeria. In response, he called me and asked if I wanted to come to America. No, I did not.
Unfortunately I lost many of the documents when I moved to Abuja. I used to keep them.
How I was bundled from Cameroon to Nigeria
By 1986, I was already having too much Cameroonian exposure: all my friends were Cameroonians, everything I was doing and thinking was Cameroon. I was, if you like, Cameroon-centric. It was the English part of Cameroon, although, ironically, my first degree in a Nigerian university was French, but that is another story.
I had also become such a good referee, and anyone in Ekondo-Titi in the mid-eighties would remember me, still as Etebong Michael, the youngest football referee. I was just like fifteen and refereeing big matches. Imagine: in 1986, I was the referee in a match which had my principal, Mr Mukete Charles Njitcho, a fine, hefty, dark guy, as a player. He committed an infraction and I gave him a yellow card.
So, at the point of joining the Cameroonian Referees Association, in 1989 or thereabouts, the question of naturalisation came up and I almost went for it. By this time, I had seen some Nigerians who were playing for the Cameroonian national team and I had drawn some inspiration from them. Although my father was an illiterate, he was deep. He called and asked me: 'They say you want to be a Cameroonian. Are you a Cameroonian?' He said that it would not happen. Rather than wasting time to ask me further questions, he just bundled me back to our village, Ekpene Ukim, sometime in 1990.
My struggle for university admission in Nigeria
I came back with a GCE O-Level certificate with seven subjects.
Media had always been on my mind.
When I was in Cameroon, they had the best radio and television stations I had ever listened to in my life. I never heard one wrong English being spoken. Or, so I assumed. Well, I was not exposed to too many stations. Until I turned thirteen, I had never seen a motor car, and until I turned eighteen, I had never seen a colour television set, air conditioner or even electricity.
This is the system of education in Cameroon. You attend Primary School for seven years and, at the end, you take two examinations, one is for the school leaving certificate while the other is the government common entrance. If you pass List A, you are sponsored by the Cameroonian government to attend the best public secondary schools; if you pass List B, you are on your own, you go to public schools and they are crazily expensive. By God's grace, I passed List A, so I was sponsored through college for five years.
After this, you are expected to sit for the GCE O-Level and there are ten papers out of which you are expected to make four. If you make it, you are expected to go to high school for two years for the A-Level examination. If you make two papers out of five papers, you go straight to university. It is that straightforward.
So, coming to Nigeria, I found out that I had to sit for the Joint Matriculation Examination (JME) of the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB).
In Cameroon, the Number One university in Nigeria then was the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). In fact, I did not even know that there was any other university. So, all I wanted to do was go to UNN to read journalism or mass communications.
So, I sat for the JME and had a cut-off mark of one hundred and seventy-seven, which did not qualify me for admission. So, the following year, I took the examination again and had one hundred and seventy-six. I decided that I was not going to do it another year as I knew what the result would be - one hundred and seventy-five - since the scores were reducing. But the truth was that I had problems with the subjects. I did not have problems with English Language because it is not different from the one in Cameroon; it is universal. The textbooks for Literature-in-English were totally different. I had to also do something called history and the textbooks were also different. Finally, government: there was no subject like that in Cameroon.
I eventually got into the University of Uyo and spent seven years for a four-year course, because of various industrial actions.
I owe my education to my bus-conductor friend
Throughout my university days, I shuttled daily to school from the village. Every day.
I had a friend, a bus conductor, named Cletus Etim, a.k.a. Mentor, living then in Ekpene Ukim but from Ndon Ikot Itie Udong in Nsit Atai LGA. I owe my education to him.
He would sneak me into the 20-seater bus - really an 18-seater but they added two extra seats - to and from the campus. He always reminded me that they would close at six O'clock, and by that time, I was always back at the park, to wait for him, no matter what was happening on campus or anywhere else.
We always left the village early in the morning.
If I missed him in the morning any day, there would be no school, except I had some money and sometimes he would also give me some cash. His cousin, Idonreyin Inyang, a.k.a. Poke Toholo, also a bus conductor then, and he later became a driver and is now vice chairman of Nsit Atia LGA, also helped whenever Mentor was off duty or unavailable when I was ready.
I had made friends with Mentor without knowing who he was or how he would turn out to help me.
Sincerely, I have never made friends with anyone because of the benefits I would derive from them. Never.
Mentor was my angel.
He is still in the village and I just hope that, soon, I will get some angelic blessings his way.
I went daily to UniUyo campus for six months though I wasn't a student, then met another angel
By the way, I did not get admitted into the university through JAMB.
Now, the village is a wrong setting for a growing child. You get into all sorts of peer pressure, all sorts of nonsense. Even my friends who had not gone to school were talking about university education and saying that 'this one has not gone to university.'
So, I started feeling bad, and I said to myself that I must attend university.
So, for about six months, every day, I would take a file and go to the campus as if I was a student. I would just be walking around. For real. I did that every day. Every day.
I was not an impostor, rather I was just exercising my faith.
Then, one day, a man wearing thick lenses - you could see that he did not see well - came to me. He was from my mother's village in the Ibesikpo-Asutan LGA. This man was my other angel. God has always dropped one, at every point of my life.
He asked me what I was always doing there, walking around with a file. I told him I was looking for admission into the university. He asked me if that was how to look for admission?So, I told him my story. He then asked to see my GCE O-Level result.
When he saw it, he screamed: 'What? You mean you have this kind of result?'
He then asked: 'Will you do French?'
I told him: 'Anything that would make me a student.' I had done French at O-Level just as one of the subjects to make up the number of subjects to offer.
He took me to Dr (Mrs) Dorathy Motaze. She was then the head of department of Foreign Languages at the university. She later became a professor. She too screamed when she saw my result. She said they were running a certificate course which did not require me to take the JME although if I had it, it would be a plus.
I told her that I really wanted to be a journalist. She said that it did not matter, that if I passed with an "A" grade, I could be sent to any department I wanted. So, I started the course, made A+ but when it was time for me to switch, she refused, saying that my result was discussed at the departmental board level and that if she sent me to another department, she would be in trouble; that they believed I would make a First Class. I graduated in 1999 but missed the First Class.
How I got into the media space
In 1992, in my first year in the University of Uyo, I applied for audition as a presenter on Radio Akwa Ibom.
There were three women who conducted the audition: Mrs Rosaline Osuji, Mrs Imaobong Udoh and Mrs Margaret Eshiet, who, unfortunately, is late. Four of us, guys, and one lady, went through the audition.
After the audition, they called me and said, I was good but that they could not take me from among the four men, although I was offered to go to their station at Abak, if I wanted. I did not understand what that meant, and I did not know anyone there. But, one of those auditioned, whom I had met there, named Boniface Ebewo, said something which I have not forgotten, as we approached the station's exit. He said that he knew he was not as good as I was but that he had a brother in South Africa who would call someone and that within two weeks he would be offered a position at the station. And that is exactly what happened. Anyhow, he has since left radio to go and do something big for himself.
I went to the Abak station and struggled for a year. I remember that I would pay about one hundred Naira to and fro and when I came back I would be offered twenty Naira as artiste's fees. I remember that I was called one day that I had accumulated fifty-two weeks of the fees. I told them I did not want the money stating that what I had spent was like five times more. There was a guy in the station then called John Phillips. He said if I did not want the money, I should sign for it to take it. I did and he took it.
After about a year at the Abak Station, I ran into a man called Eddy Ekpeyong.
He called me, said he liked what I was doing but he did not see me in the station. I told him that I was sent to Abak, and he wondered what for? He said I should stop going there. I considered him my mentor - I had been listening to him even in Cameroon - and I did as he said. Three months later, he started a programme called Medley Showcase and gave me a three-minute segment called Society Watch. That was how I started my FM radio broadcast. I did that as a freelancer throughout my university days.
No money came from it but I made much more: got invited to be master of ceremonies and the like.
Just as I was graduating from the university, the then General Manager of the Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation (AKBC), Dr (now Prof) Mbuk Mboho, invited me and said I should sign a paper for him. I saw that it was a letter of appointment. I objected that I did not want to work for government. He said I should shut up, that he was not asking me, rather he was ordering me to sign it, and it helped because I had by then been posted to Ondo State for my one-year national youth service. It was the letter that I presented to be redeployed back to Akwa Ibom State.
I worked on the station for one or two years before setting up Bush House Nigeria on 26 July 2003.
From independent production to a licenced broadcaster
For the last seventeen, eighteen years, Bush House Nigeria has been involved in independent production, buying airtime on television and radio.
The high point was in 2009 when my wife, was kidnapped in my bedroom here in Uyo, and we shifted base to Abuja.
We were there till 2019, running a programme, five days a week on Capital FM, and another one-hour independent production called Bush House Nigeria for about three years on the network service of Radio Nigeria.
We had close to fifty staff.
Now, we have been granted a national radio and television licence by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Of course, we will be based in Uyo and by His Grace, by December, we should be on air on 87.7 FM.
Home is the best, despite whatever challenges doing business here. Challenges such as familiarity breeding contempt and therefore less importance placed on one's work.
Yet, we have good and great people who are supportive.
My other interests, the serial dream of being poisoned and marrying my wife
I was appointed in 2018 by Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel to the board of the state's Primary Health Care. This lapses in September (next month).
I am also his Special Adviser on Electronic Media, helping him to sell his achievements and everything Akwa Ibom through the electronic media.
I do not drink.
And, there is a story behind it.
On the night of thirteenth day of February 1990 into the morning of the fourteenth, a much older friend, Akpan Asu, had a dream where he saw me being poisoned by a bottle of Coca-Cola which was my favourite drink. He told me about the dream on the morning of the fourteenth and warned me to be careful. I said "stories" (meaning there was nothing to it).
On the night of the fourteenth going into the morning of the fifteenth, I dreamt that my Coca-Cola drink was poisoned. I believed that it was psychological, because of what my friend had told me. On the night of the fifteenth into the morning of the sixteenth, my mother called me and said 'Akpan Aku, what she calls me, and it means Mother's First Son, I saw you being poisoned by a bottle of Coke.' From that sixteenth day of February 1990 till date, I have not tasted any beverage in a bottle. Or put in a cup. Only water. Why? Because my mother's dreams always came to pass like magic. You see, my mother had eleven children for my father and lost six of them, three boys and three girls. For those ones she lost, she would wake up and tell me, 'this your brother or sister would die today.' And, that was what happened. So the moment she told me about my Coke being poisoned, I needed no confirmation.
Finally, my wife.
I only hope that things get better so that I can celebrate this woman whose story I am about to tell you.
By 2004, I had started an independent production on television, AM Express Extra, fashioned after late Yinka Craig's AM Express on the NTA Network. I ran mine on the local NTA (Channel 12, Uyo) from nine O'clock immediately after Craig's ended. There was nothing like it on local television; it was so beautiful. People liked it. The then Akwa Ibom State Governor Obong Victor Attah said publicly that he would not call any meeting until the time the programme finished.
One day, a client had come to the station to see me while the programme was running and she had to wait.
There also was this young lady whose face appeared familiar. Yes, she attended the University of Uyo, where she read communication arts up to master's degree level, and knew me because I was part of the Students Union radio and then she would come to the station and would not greet me. So, on that day, it was the man with her, who I found out was her boss at The Presidency - her workplace - a northerner named Mr Shehu, who came to greet me. She did not even wave at me or anything. I said to myself, 'this lady has not stopped this idea of not greeting me.' I just looked at her as I used to do on campus. Eventually, she said to me the Sunday after when we met at church - Christ Chapel International Churches of Rev Tunde Joda - that she asked Mr Shehu why he left the room to go and greet me and the boss asked him if she did not know me as a superstar. So, I said that if her boss came to greet me, why did she not? She said why should she and was I not that small boy in the university that she used to see. We both laughed about it. So, I said to her to continue with her life and that I would soon marry her. And she said that I can never marry her.
But, that day when we met in church, she had said that her mother was around and she invited me to come and greet her.
So, I went with a friend, John Ekanem, who was by then married, and the mother cooked vegetable soup.
I told John that this was the kind of girl that one should marry. He said I should go and marry her I left it at that.
I invited the mother, Ezinne Helen Ikeanyionwu, to my programme. She came and told the story of how she married and all that. Later, this woman who would later be my wife called me and asked where I was, and I said I was in my house, and she asked that I direct her there.
She drove into our compound, parked her car, asked for my bedroom, and told me she wanted to sleep for an hour and did not want any disturbance. She slept for one hour, woke, went into her car, thanked me and drove off.
I asked myself what kind of thing was that?
The next time we met, I said to her that I could just marry her. She said I could go ahead but asked how much I had. I said I had one hundred and fifty thousand Naira. She asked for the money. I said to her someone owed me the amount. She asked if I wanted to marry her with the money someone was owing me? I said that I believe that he would pay. She said that she was going to her village and asked if I wanted to come and see her parents.
So, I got my friend, John Ekanem, we hired a Peugeot 505 driven by one Kevin and we all went to Umuahia. En route, we quarrelled when I asked where we were going (that took so long) and at some point, I told Kevin to turn back. Kevin said he was not turning back and John Ekanem who was with the driver in front said the same thing.
We got to the village, Ahaba Imenyi (in Isikuato LGA) and the parents were so friendly. The father, Chief Robert Ikeanyionwu Ojukwu, laughed at me, that I did not have money and I wanted to marry (her daughter). My wife already had a master's degree then but I do not remember spending up to twenty thousand Naira; the father cut down on so many things. For the traditional marriage on the fourteenth of August 2004, I am not sure I spent up to two hundred thousand Naira.
On my own family side, my mother liked my fiance but she said I should wait for my father. The moment my father saw her, he said, 'this is your wife.'
We had our church wedding on the twenty-first of August 2004 and Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, represented the father.
Looking back today, if I have the opportunity to marry Mrs Nneka Irene Bush again, I would not hesitate because she is everything a wife should be.
Many thanks to XL FM 106.9 Uyo for local support in Akwa Ibom State. Please visit https://xl1069.fm for an enriching radio experience.
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Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
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