A toast to Vinmartin Ilo at 60, By Udo Jude Ilo

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Reading Time: 5 mins read

Anyone who grew up in the ’80s will recall that owning a television was one of the exclusive luxuries of the rich. The technology for television in rural areas was also uniquely strange. It involves an intricate connection of the black and white television set to a car battery, which you are obligated to go and recharge every other week. Because there was no electric power supply and generators were rarely owned by private individuals, watching television was only possible by powering the set with car batteries. The technology was funny, but television brought so much joy to the neighbourhood  Owning a television also meant you are the rallying point of the community. You command immense convening power. Who didn’t respect a television owner in the ’80s? In Ozalla, a rural community where we lived, we were not one of the fortunate ones. We had to trek for about 10 to 15 minutes to go watch my brother, Vinmartin in the popular television drama series then on NTA called “Ikoro.” Vinmartin, after finishing secondary school, had gone on to star in this weekly drama series, while also hustling for gigs at Radio Nigeria.

I recall this particular day vividly. I was at Central School, Ozalla, doing my after-school classes. I was about six years old then. My parents were teachers and we lived in the Teachers’ Quarters right in the school compound. I looked through the window of the classroom and saw Vin, who then lived in Enugu with one of my aunties, carrying a television set and his friend, Oseloka Zikora, hauling a car battery and walking towards our house. Vin had recently secured a permanent job with Radio Nigeria and had used all of his first salary to buy a television set for our parents. I will never forget the joy on my parents’ faces. It was such a pleasant surprise and on reflection, such a huge sacrifice to make for the family. 40 years later, Vin is still giving joy and making sacrifices, not only for family but for everyone who encounters him.

Vin has always shown a hunger for growth and curiosity for knowledge. When most kids his age were taking life easy after secondary school, Vin, understanding the financial situation of the family, went to work and landed a role in Radio Nigeria, where he quickly became a rising star and a celebrity of a sort, because of his remarkable skills as a newscaster. While working for Radio Nigeria, he also sponsored himself through school, ensuring that he reduced the financial burden of his education on our parents. This streak of hard work, focus, sacrifice and empathy has been the hallmark of his life. Vin spent more than 13 years of his career with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (Radio Nigeria), where he rose to the position of Senior Announcer/Network Newscaster, at a time when Nigeria had no private radio station, and Radio Nigeria was about the only major source of news on radio. For the years he was in Radio Nigeria, listening to his golden voice reading the news and on the many programs he anchored, became a daily culture and ritual for millions of listeners and admirers all over the country and beyond.

Ebubedike Vinmartin Obiora Ilo joined DAAR Communications PLC, owners of the first private radio and TV stations in the country, in 1996. As a pioneer staff, my brother and his colleagues blazed a trail in private sector electronic media in Nigeria. His time in DAAR communication was interrupted in 2007, when he accepted the invitation of the Governor of Enugu State, Mr Sullivan Chime to serve as Special Adviser, Media. What most people do not know was that Vin passed over an opportunity to serve in the Presidency at that time because he felt he had to prioritise his local community. This was one decision that speaks to his altruistic instinct, often at the expense of his own interest. Vin returned to DAAR Communication in 2011. He left DAAR in 2014 as director, Special Duties and South-East Operations, having served in other capacities including Diplomatic/Foreign Correspondent, General Manager State Operations and Zonal Director South-East.

Vin’s time in DAAR communication was eventful. One of Vin’s remarkable works was his extraordinary courage in foiling the unconstitutional removal of the then Governor of Anambra State, Dr Chris Ngige in 2006, through a remarkable live broadcast that has become a reference point in Nigerian media history. His brave reporting of the fatal stampede at the Catholic Adoration Ground in Enugu in 2005, under a very tense and explosive political environment, earned him encomiums as one of Nigeria’s top journalists. Vin has interviewed presidents, world leaders and influencers including the former president of Israel, Shimon Perez.

He is the chief executive officer of Signature Communications Ltd, owners of the newly licensed Signature Television, with studios in Abuja and Enugu, and signaturetv.org, an online TV/multi-media platform, that offers 24/7 breaking news to thousands of subscribers around the world. Over the years, his hunger for knowledge kept taking him back to the classroom. He is a PhD candidate in Development Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and holds an MSc in Development Studies from the same university. 

Vin’s capacity for kindness and sacrifice overflows filial bounds. In the last twenty years, Vin has run a self-funded education foundation that has provided scholarships up to tertiary level to over two hundred and fifty students from his hometown of Adu Achi in Enugu State. His commitment to using education as a tool of empowerment is unflinching and exemplary. My parents fondly call him Obiora (the heart of the people), perhaps as a foretelling of his magnanimity and propensity towards communal wellbeing. He has lived up to that name in his service to his people.

As we celebrate Vin, who my late daughter Natasha started calling Grandpa soon after our dad passed, there is a lot to learn from him in his determination to not be limited by his environment and his insatiable hunger for knowledge. Today, Vin has become many things to a lot of people. To some he is this benefactor who has changed their lives. To others, he is the go-to person for advice and support. For many, he is one of the stars of Nigeria journalism and the golden voice of radio. He is mentor to many and trusted community leader in our state. But to me, he will always be the big brother that had my back since I was little. The one that led me by the hands when I was growing up, and paved the way for me and my siblings to soar. He will always be the one that I raided his wardrobe and the one that dressed me up as young adult when I had a date. When I count my life blessings, I count my brother and my friend. It has been about 40 years since Vin gave our parents the television that gave them so much joy and made them the centre of attention. Vin’s life has been like the gift of a television set to our family and his friends. His love for others powers him forward, and he has been the source of inspiration, love, laughter and learning to us all. Happy birthday big brother.  

Udo Jude Ilo is the Interim Executive Director at the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

 

 

 

 

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