By *Kikefomo wan-Mbulai
[Originally titled: Zachary Nkwo (1948 – 2017): My Recollections, Stitched]
When Zachary Nkwo passed on to eternity on June 4, 2017, any Cameroonian who had been contemporaneous to his heyday at our National Radio would have agreed that there, had fallen a national monument of our post-independent cultural landscape.
Verily, he did rise from his first timid steps, in the mid 70s in the Littoral Provincial Station in Douala to, alongside Abel Mbengue at the French Language arm of this cultural institution, evolve to a veritable colossus who grandly bestrode our cultural world of sports broadcast.
I recall in junior secondary, following his live, field coverage and commentaries over the Douala Station during the Sunday afternoon sports programme and then on Tuesday evenings when we would cluster around radio sets to follow the review programme, Sports Panorama. By then in his baby days into broadcasting, he was not as yet making the impression on us.
One main reason: he had the looming Titanic figure of Peter Essoka, the radio hero of the 1972 African Nations’ Cup, to contend with. Essoka had apparently met Mark Niboh, Gideon Taka and Denis Lafon and others in the sports service, but his juvenile zeal, trenchant voice, rapid delivery, linguistic dexterity and moments of declamatory flights, when he observed blatant refereeing partiality (recall his famous tirade in Zaire? … Shame to African football …) had endeared him to the national audience and projected him to the pinnacle of English sports commentary.
Around the time of Zach’s entrance into the scene, there was also the young Willy Chindo, whom we very much admired and who was seen as one to possibly step into Essoka’s big shoes.
Zack’s explosion unto to the national scene was to come towards the late 70s when he moved to the national station in Yaounde. There, his talent and destiny would harmoniously marry and very soon he would become a household name, an artist whom every student in West Cameroon aspiring to sports journalism would seek to emulate.
The late 70s to the early 80s when Zachary Nkwo’s talent exploded and hit its apogee is also the period when, propelled by a rare blend of talent, Cameroonian football clubs and the national squad were to, through anthological performances; inscribe the nation in the African and World maps of football.
The mythic clubs; Canon and Tonnere of Yaounde, Union Douala; the talent-suffused generation that secured Cameroon’s qualification for the 1982 World Cup in Spain and came back with a clean slate; no defeat, and the squad that would bring back the first African Nations’ Cup from Abidjan 84.
These were the years when this talent, incarnated in Milla, Manga, Ekoule, Emana, Nguea, Abega, Mbida, Tokoto, Eboue, Kunde, Doumbe Lea, Aoudou, Akono, Ndjeya, Mbom, Sinkot, Nkono, Bell, and so on, struck terror in African soccer arena.
These were the years of the epic matches, clubs and national squad confounded: Mouloudia, Hafia, Horoya, Rangers, Bendel Insurance, Shooting Stars, Enugu Rangers, Mufulira Wanderers, Gor Mahia, A.S Vita, A.S Bilima, Sekondi Hazakas; Keneitra, Cameroon-Morocco in the Ahamdou Ahidjo Stadium for the ticket to Spain 82, and so on.
It was the period during which he would draw much priceless inspiration from his continental compeers like Ernest Okonkwo of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and Denis Liwewe, the ace Zambian football commentator. They are the zenith, the years of Abel Mbengue, Daniel-Anicet Noah, Eloundou Nzie, Jomo Kevin, Michael Ndze, and ZACHARY NKWO.
I came to know Zach during this period in my undergraduate years in Yaounde, in the early 80s through an uncle, a colleague of his. Taciturn, epigrammatic in conversation, deceptively shy in appearance: all traits that once he assumed the microphone for the national audience, seemed to fall off like serpentine scales.
Indeed, one could hardly compromise his self-effacing personality with the voice that, in the years of the radio, in the absence of television images, succeeded, like the Greek dramatic poets and their Elizabethan and French neo-classic inheritors, through the power of the verb, in re-creating vivid images of scenes hundreds and thousands of miles away, and whipping up the whole expanse of the national territory into a collective football frenzy.
Of course, the recompense would come: Ahidjo’s decoration of the Trio, Abel Mbengue, Daniel-Anicet Noah and ZACHARY NKWO, consequent on the triumph of Canon over A.S Bilima in Zaire in 1981, and some three years later, another presidential laurel following the first nations’ cup lifted by the Abega-led squad in Abidjan, 1984.
I recall meeting him at close levels in Buea on two occasions in which, from his breast-pocket, he produced a black-and-white photo with Ahidjo which immortalised one of these presidential recompenses.
It would appear that he had the habit of moving with this heirloom close to his heart; apparently, in one way or the other, his heart did, in Platonic fashion, rise to ethereal spheres to commune with Ahidjo’s spirit, the man who gave formal, absolute legitimacy to his lionisation.
In a hot testimony, just hours after Zach’s crossing of the bar, his long time colleague, Abel Mbengue, spoke of their generation’s devotion to work, the strive for perfection, without any forethoughts to symbolic and material benefits, decrying the atmosphere of intrigue and backstabbing, the spirit of graft and callousness that now reigns in sports department, their erstwhile professional homestead.
And it is here, that pitting Zack and his generation against their hireling-minded inheritors at the state audio-visual media house, we should draw a lesson. For, now, it is the ducat that reigns and rules, with talent pure, unalloyed, needing but a fertile turf on which to sprout and blossom, thrown to the winds, choked by thorns and barren, craggy rocks.
His generation might not have been one of professional saints (after all, which one ever was or shall be?) but it was one for which an unswerving devotion to work and an indefatigable quest for excellence were the leitmotifs, the professional pilot stars.
Today, lady mediocre seems to have comfortably set up her sanctuary and throne in the estate they bequeathed to the incoming generations, and now young practitioners of the arts of the pen and the microphone duly and eagerly prostrate before her for their initiation and acquisition of red feathers.
We can only pray and hope that some archival work has been done on the superlative feats of Zachary Nkwo and his generation, so that, someday in future, when a curious child wonders aloud, “Bsut Papa, how did you people live matches in those days without television images?” the father will simply pick up a Zachary Nkwo live-commentary cassette, slot into a player and with nostalgia, beckon, “now my child, sans commentaires, there we plunge back into the golden age of radio commentaries.”
Kikefomo wan-Mbulai: Philologist