Chief Ekaette was a rare public servant, the like of which you cannot find any more. From Monday to Friday, we worked from 8.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. in the night until after the NTA network news. On Saturdays and Sundays, he would resume at 12 mid-day, after Church service onthe latter day, and close by 7.00 p.m. He worked and worked and worked until he became exhausted. After exhaustion, he became ill and then he died like an old soldier on duty.

Till his demise in Abuja on September 25, Chief Ufot Joseph Ekaette (CFR, 1939-2019) achieved many firsts in his life time. He was the longest serving principal secretary to the head of state, General Yakubu Gowon (GCFR), for eight years, a post equivalent to the chief of staff to the president. He was the pioneer director general of the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI). He was the first deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State. He was the longest serving secretary to the government of the federation (SGF). He was the first minister of the Niger Delta. He was a simple man from Ikot-Edor in Onna local government area of Akwa Ibom State. For eight years, I worked with him during his tenure as SGF. I was close to him in office, seeing him like others, especially his devoted and loyal secretary, Mrs. Abiodun Adekunle from Fiditi in Oyo State, who married a retired permanent secretary, Chief Sam Olu Adekunle from Igede in Ekiti State.

Among those who worked with him closely during that period were Dr. Goke Adegoroye, Mr. Tunde Kamilu Kasali, Mr. Tony Ekwerre (chief security officer), Dr. M.T. Minna, Alhaji Saleh Ahidjo (chief of protocol), Prince Kola Adeyemi, Dr. J.N. Obiegwu, Mr. S. A. Adeyeye, Gbadebo Ojokobirikale, Kola Oluwatuyi, Alhaji Salisu Nainna, Bolaji Adebiyi, Ben Ahiante, Seyi Olowokere, Paul Ajayi, Anthony Ejele, and Jalal Arabi. Also, David Oyegun, A.E. Ogbueyi, S.I. Hambolu, Alhaji Kurawa, Mrs. Titi Iroche, Chief Dosu Oyelude, Alhaji Baba Farouk, D.C. Ibe, P.E. Odili, Dr. Banbagide Aliyu, Olusegun Oloriebi Ogunkua, P.S. Egure, and Chief M.O. Onoja. In addition, there was Dr. Adamu Aliyu, Alhaji B.U. Maitambari, Mrs. Oluremi Olowu, Dr. Wole Oluleye, Jonathan Soja, Tom John, Dr. Aboki Zhawa, Dr. B.K. Kaigama, the present Senate leader – Alhaji Yahaya Abdullahi, Samuel Bassey, Danjuma Gambo, Yinka Olanipekun, Bamiyo Osajuyigbe and many others.

When my cousin, Mr. Kayode Akinmade phoned me about his demise, what flashed through my mind was the good times we had together on the eleventh floor of the Federal Secretariat, Abuja. During those eight years, we operated like a family and Chief Ekaette was the head of that happy family. We will miss him. His two children, Uduak and Ubong will miss him. His partner, lover, friend, confidant, adviser and wife of over fifty years, Senator Eme Ekaette (CON) will miss him most. His close friends, including, Dr. Morris Ebong, Major General Edet Akpan, Oba Otudeko, Chief Bassey Ndiokho, former UAC chairman – Chief Friday Okono and others, will equally miss him. He was a good man.

For more than forty-five years, he gave all he had in the service of Nigeria. According to the bio data that he signed before his death, Chief Ekaette Obong Ufot Joseph joined the Federal Civil Service as administrative officer class IV on July 28, 1964 and was posted to the Federal Civil Service Commission with responsibilities for disciplinary matters. Between April and October 1966, he worked in the Cabinet Office and served in the Office of Economic Adviser to the Federal Government as an assistant secretary. He was reposted to the Federal Civil Service Commission on October 17, 1966 and served as acting administrative officer (principal grade) in charge of recruitment, promotions and transfers in the civil service (October 1966-August 1968). Within that period he was promoted administrative officer (principal grade) on November 1, 1967.

From August 1968 to September 1975, Chief Ufot Ekaette was posted to the State House as the principal private secretary to the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces (General Yakubu Gowon) with responsibility for internal administration of the department. He was promoted administrative officer grade II and administrative officer grade I on April 1, 1971 and April 1, 1973 respectively. He was subsequently posted to Federal Ministry of Industries (September 8, 1975 – November 13, 1975) and held the post of deputy permanent secretary there. He also served as chairman, Industrial Training Fund during the period.

On October 1, 1975, Chief Ekaette was promoted to the principal secretary grade, on level 15. He was posted to the Federal Ministry of Information as principal secretary between November 14, 1975 and February 1979, with responsibilities for policy and management, alongside internal administration of the Ministry. During this period, he also served as a board member of the Nigerian Television Authority and presided over a number of ad hoc committees on the restructuring of the Nigerian Television Authority and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), as well as the establishment of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and the Press Council. He was posted to the Federal Ministry of Education as secretary (February – May 1979) with responsibility for personnel management. He also served as chairman of the governing council, National Teachers’ Institute, Kaduna during the period.

Chief Ekaette was posted to the Federal Ministry of National Planning as secretary for finance and administration, grade Level 16 (May 7, 1979 – January 1984) in an acting capacity and was promoted to a substantive position on June 1, 1980. His responsibilities included personnel management, policy formulation and implementation, financial management, co-ordination of Nigeria’s relations with multilateral economic organisations and bilateral economic co-operation with foreign governments and organisations, as well as policy issues relating to the operations of the Federal Office of Statistics, Centre for Management Development (CMD) and the Nigeria Institute for Social and Economic Research (NISER). He participated during the period in several high-level bilateral talks between Nigeria and foreign governments and served as leader of delegations at official level in a number of joint economic commissions between Nigeria and other countries, both in Nigeria and abroad. He was also responsible for coordinating the work of the Ministry at the official level, whenever the permanent secretary was away on leave or on official assignment abroad. He also served as a member of the Administrative Staff Posting and Promotions Committee.

He was posted as secretary, Public Service Department in the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of Service (January 12, 1984 – January 31, 1985), responsible for the management of the administrative cadre of the civil service and senior management staff of professional cadre of the service. He was the director, external finance, Ministry of Finance (an alternate governor for Nigeria on the Board of the African Development Bank; February 4, 1985 – January, 1986). He was then permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Industries (January 1986 – February 1987), permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (February – May 1988), director-general, the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI) (June 1988 – March 1989), director-general, Federal Ministry of Social Development, Youth and Sports (March 1989 – March 1990), and also director-general of planning, Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning (January – September 1990).

Chief Ufot Ekaette was appointed the deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, vice chairman of the State Executive Council and State Security Council; and chairman, Finance and General Purposes Committee and State Boundaries Committee. More so, he had statutory responsibilities for local government affairs (September 1990 – January 1992).

He was the chairman of Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja (July 1992 – August 1994) and member of the Assets and Liabilities Sharing Committee, Plateau/Nasarawa States; and Enugu/Abia/Ebonyi States (October 1996 – February 1997).

Chief Ufot Ekaette retired from the Federal Civil Service in February 1994 after 30 years of a distinguished career and engaged in private business thereafter. He was a non-executive director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc (March, 1996 – May 1999). He was appointed secretary to the government of the federation by President Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR), and served between May 1999 and May 2007.

The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (GCFR) appointed him as the pioneer minister, Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA) in January 2009, in which was last political appointment and he served till March 17, 2010.

After his predecessor, Alhaji Gidado Idris (GCON) handed over to him on May 31, 1999, I was introduced to him as a director and spokesman in the State House, and he retained me in that position. Thereafter began my friendship with Chief Ekaette. His instruction, which I followed to the end of his tenure, was that I must review newspapers with him every morning. It was a commandment. Added to my schedule was the collection of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s daily itinery, his speeches and other materials about him from the Villa. Randomly Chief Ekaette would ask me, “Eric, where is the president?”

I discovered early enough his total loyalty to his boss, President Obasanjo, which he made sure never wavered. There was no memo or letter or correspondence, either official or personal, that President Obansanjo didn’t copy Chief Ekaette in, for his perusal and necessary action, as the case may be. Every morning, President Obasanjo will send through Taiwo Ojo, his everlasting loyal secretary, memos and correspondence to Chief Ekaette.

Of the three SGFs that I worked with, Chief Ekaette was the most informed of the activities of government. He and the chief of staff to the president then, Major General Abdullahi Mohammed (CFR), built a personal relationship, second to none in government at the time. There was hardly any hour while in office that he won’t instruct Mrs. Adekunle to “Please call me the chief of staff” or to be told that, “Sir, the chief of staff is on the line”. As a result, President Obasanjo could afford to travel all over the world knowing fully well that he was safe at home and in good hands. It was this bond and friendship that weakened the power and influence of the so-called DREAM TEAM, which was the most powerful group then in the Villa. On May 29, 2004, President Obasanjo appointed Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo as governor of Central Bank to succeed Chief Joseph Oladele Sanusi from Ogbagi in Akoko Local Government Area of Ondo State. I prepared my press release on the new appointment for Chief Ekaette’s signature. He delayed the announcement until I could get in touch with Chief Sanusi. Professor Soludo came to my office wondering why there was a delay in the announcement. It was not until I got Chief Sanusi through Ambassador Isaac Aluko Olokun that Chief Ekaette signed the press release. He felt that making the announcement without the knowledge of Chief Sanusi would be offensive to him. He loved procedure and he was thorough in applying general order regulations of the public service.

He made me know the good people of Akwa Ibom State and the beauty in them. From Etinam to Oron to Eket, Ikot-Abasi, Ikot- Ekpenne — these are places I came to know and drive around. He lived a simple and quiet life too. He knew the discipline of simplicity, which brings nothing but freedom. He was an amazing person. While he was a star, he was not carried away by his stardom. I think he knew early enough that humility is the foundation of all virtues.

In the first week of May 2007, with his tenure as SGF almost over, we were in Ikot-Edor, his village. With less pressure of work, Chief Ekaette was at ease. I asked him about his future after his tenure as SGF, to which he replied that he would love to come back to his village and be happy. “I have been away for too long from home. You know I am a village boy. A village boy who went on an adventure to Lagos and Abuja.” He then stood up and looked at the village from the balcony of his house, “is this place not beautiful and serene”, I answered in the affirmative, “yes sir it is.”

A few months later, President Umaru Yar’adua appointed him the Minister of Niger Delta. The “village boy” could not go home yet. Now that he has answered the final call, the “village boy” will go back home finally in peace.

For the eight years that I worked with Chief Ekaette, he was always conscious of his background and where he came from. He worked so hard to preserve his honesty, integrity and good name. He avoided scandals and conflict. In the alternative, he devoted his energy to his work.

Chief Ekaette was a rare public servant, the like of which you cannot find any more. From Monday to Friday, we worked from 8.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. in the night until after the NTA network news. On Saturdays and Sundays, he would resume at 12 mid-day, after Church service onthe latter day, and close by 7.00 p.m. He worked and worked and worked until he became exhausted. After exhaustion, he became ill and then he died like an old soldier on duty.

In the words of General Douglas MacArthur: “An old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.”

My Oga, farewell.

Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.