Christy Uduak Essien-Igbokwe, MFR
Christy Uduak Essien-Igbokwe, MFR

Christy Uduak Essien-Igbokwe, MFR Champion of Children’s Rights

In 1983 alone, she hauled seven top International Awards in her exciting musical career. She won the Silver Prize at the 6th Seoul Songs Festival, in South Korea; the Grand Prix at the Neewollah Music Festival at Independence, Kansas, USA; International Special Achievement Award of MUSEXPO, Acapulco, Mexico; Certificate of Merit for Song writing and composing at the 10th Annual American Songs Festival, Los Angeles, USA; Audience Favourite Award of International Music Festival at Baker University, USA; and Silver Prize at Second International Music Festival of Oklahoma University, USA.

Before departing this world to the great beyond, she was widely known as Nigeria’s Lady of Songs. Her name is Christiana Essien-Igbokwe, a musical super star from Akwa Ibom State who became motherless at the age of 12. She was living with her late mother’s friend in Aba, the commercial backbone of Abia State. Her mother’s friend was the ‘seer’ who saw the potential in her and encouraged her into singing, and went ahead to buy her a second-hand cassette player to record her songs.

The path to Essien-Igbokwe’s stardom began in singing in her secondary school, then at clubs such as Uka Onu’s Club and Unikoko in Aba. She appeared on Now Sound on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Channel 6, Aba. She joined the cast of The New Masquerade, a popular comedy programme on the NTA in 1976 as Akpeno, the wife of cantankerous character, Jegede Sokoya (Claude Eke). Her role on the show caught the public eye, and she released her debut album Freedom the following year.

Her most-successful music album was the 1981 Ever Liked My Person that was produced by an icon in the industry, Lemmy Jackson. Christy, as she was fondly called by her admirers was never behind on issues affecting women and children. While appearing in early Nollywood films such as Flesh and Blood and Scars of Womanhood, both of which addressed child abuse and female circumcision, she was empowering thousands of women. For desiring to improve life for Nigerian artists, Essien-Igbokwe was credited with initiating the first meeting which formed the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) in 1981. The association was founded a year later; King Sunny Adé was president, Sonny Okosun was vice-president, and she, treasurer.

From 1996 to 1999, she was the PMAN’s first female president.She appeared in many national and international shows and composed and performed Akwa Ibom’s informal anthem, Akwa Ibom Mmi (My Akwa Ibom), in 1987. She operated a shop in Etinan, selling industrial printing machines

Without the doubt, Christy was a blessing to Nigerians in the 70s and 80s. She was responsible for hit songs such as Ife that made the ancient city of Ibadan a fun place, the epic Seun Rere and Akwa Ibom’s unofficial anthem Akwa Ibom Mmi. Such was her impact across the country that whatever language she used to communicate her message evoked emotion and reflection.

Christy Uduak Essien-Igbokwe, MFR (November 11, 1960 – June 30, 2011) was a musician and actress. She was well known for her song, Seun Rere, and as the Chairwoman and Managing Director of Soul Train Entertainment. She sang in Igbo, Ibibio, Efik, Hausa, Yoruba and English.  Her fluency in Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, English and her native Ibibio gave her an appeal which crossed tribal lines.

Essien-Igbokwe was born in Okat, in Onna Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom. The name of the local government area comes from an acronym of the names of the four predominant clans in the area: Oniong, Nnung Ndem, Awa Afaha and Awa.

Social life

Her engaging character as Apeno, in the satirical NTA series rated as the most popular television drama in the 70s and 80s’ helped put her in the limelight. Reacting to her death, Chief Zebrudaya said that since Christy left the set of the New Masquerade, they have not been able to get somebody that could play her role excellently. “Christy carved out a niche for herself, while acting alongside Clarus Mgbojikwe alias Acting Big Man. We missed her on the set. Since she left the production, we have not been able to get somebody to fit into her role. We pray that ‘Chineke’ God should give her a second chance so that she can return to us.”

Outside PMAN, many people did not know how she became president of the group. In 1994 when PMAN was passing through one of its most trying periods, the elders of the association became afraid that the union may break up and so decided to approach Essien-Igbokwe, who was a founding member of the group. The story has it that in the dead of the night some of the group’s elders then, went to the Lady of Songs, at her Onipetesi residence. In one of her interviews, she described that night as a dilemma in her life.

“I was working on my 11th album when some elderly men from PMAN came and forced me to become PMAN president. I was forced because it was not my choice. That was 1994. I did not campaign because it was not my desire. I had already secured a contract for a world tour. We had gone to the American embassy and secured visas for all my musicians.

“They said that since I founded PMAN, I was their mother and must come to stop the problems in the association. They further threatened that If I did not, they would tell the world that I did not mean well for musicians. It was a kind of blackmail”, she said.

While her return to office was widely celebrated by musicians, her involvement in the Abacha transmuting politics marred her tenure. The late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, allegedly desired to sit tight in office. A youth group galvanised by Daniel Kanu, organised a two-million man march in support of the political aspiration of the military dictator. For leading some musicians to the show, Essien-Igbokwe as PMAN president was seriously criticised for participating in the Abacha must stay campaign in Abuja.

After the incident, and controversies that trailed it, forced her to leave office and settle private business. Charley Boy accused her of embezzling money while in office. In a swift reaction, she claimed that wives of Jeremiah Useni, Abacha and Babangida saved her world from collapse at the time. “They sympathised with my state. One day Mariam Abacha almost broke down in tears and said ‘why did you accept this job? Why are they putting you through all this? That was after they discovered that during my tenure all the money that came to PMAN went to PMAN account and not mine.

‘’In fact, I did not collect their money. I told the treasurer to do his job. So, Dokpesi called Charly Boy to order. Mariam assisted me in facilitating the payments. The ‘Judas’ in my office continued to betray me. They are now saying that my administration was the best and most caring”, she said.

Other International Awards

Outstanding Performance Award at the World Song Festival, L.A. Arts Academy, USA – 1984; Distant Accord Award at the FIDOF Festival in Hollywood, L.A., USA, 1990; Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) Award in Business Management by Cornerstone University & Theological Seminary, Jerusalem, Israel – 2010; and Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) Award in Literature-in-Africa by University of Berkley, Chicago, Illinois, USA – 2010

Local Awards

Lady of Songs by Nigerian Entertainment Writers – 1980; Star Performer Award of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) – 1983; Best Actress Runner-Up Award for Excellence by silver Jubilee Committee of the Nigerian Television Organization of Nigeria (NTA) – 1984; African Music Mother Award by Music Extravaganza’84 in collaboration with African Music Development, New York, USA; Adaha Onna (Pillar of Onna LGA); Akwa Ikwo Eket (The Greatest Singer from Eket Community) by Eket LGA Authority; Aha Nwanyi Ejiagamba 1 of Oru Ahiazu, Mbaise, Imo State; Golden Voice of Africa Award by music Students Association, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; Gold Award of 25 Nigerian Celebrities – 1988; Certificate of Honour by the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Anambra State Council – 1990; Certificate of Recognition by National Film Festival – 1992; Service to the Music Profession Award by PMAN on platform of NIGERIAN MUSIC AWARD (to Christy Essien Igbokwe/Edwin Igbokwe) for their efforts in forming and creating PMAN – 1988; Special Musical Patents Decoration Award – 1994; Merit Award for Excellence in the Field of Music Therapy” by Medical Association of Nigeria; and Award of Honour by Nigeria Institute of Journalism Student’s Union, Ibadan Campus

Others include Certificate of Honour in recognition of her role as a woman of substance and her excellent performance in musical entertainment by National Association of Akwa Ibom Students, University of Ibadan chapter; Grand Fellow of Nigerian Youths by the Nigerian Youth Organisation; Queen of Music International Award by the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, Lagos State and Degbola International Promotions – 1996; Outstanding Achievements Uplifting Female Award by Youth Re-Orientation Movement – 1996; Merit Award in Honour of Care for the Nigerian Child by Broadway International School – 2000; Award of Excellence and Outstanding Leadership Qualities as PMAN first Female President -1998; the Best Dressed Female Musician Award in the Patriotic Dress category at the Nigeria Fashion Show – 1997; Member of the Greatest Performers Award in recognition of her immense contribution to the development and reformation of the world youths – 1996; Award of Excellence as Matron of the Great Eni-Njoku Hall (University of Lagos chapter – 2000; Pacesetter Award in recognition of her vision, initiator and organizer of the First ECOWAS Cultural and Musical Festival & the Entertainment Award – 1997; Lover of Children Award in recognition of her contribution towards child social and welfare development in the society – by legendary Page Boys Club (Socio-Cultural & Humanitarian Club); Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) by Federal Government of Nigeria – 1999; Defender of Children Award by Interclassic Youth Forum (a non-governmental organisation); Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment Industry Award by Top Celebrities Magazine -2010; Merit Award for African Heritage by The Gong African News Magazine – 2010; Honorary Fellowship Award by Institute of Corporate & Business Affairs Management, Nigeria; and Nigerian Woman of Valor Award by National Centre for Women Development, Abuja – 2010.

MATRONSHIP

Matron; Eni-Njoku Hall, University of Lagos, Akwa Ibom Journalists Forum, Kaduna, National Association of Akwa Ibom Students, University of Port Harcourt, Nigerian Youth Tourist Organisation, National Association of Akwa Ibom Students, University of Lagos, Association of Beauty Therapy & Cosmetology of Nigeria, Lagos, Worldwide Twins and Multiple Foundation, and Deputy Vice President/Vice Chairman, Governing Council of Institute of Corporate and Business Affairs Management, Nigeria.

Charity Programmes

Christy’s involvement in charity programmes dates back to 1980 when she started championing the cause of the less privileged in our society especially the Nigerian Child. This is also evidenced in her works such as: Show a Little Bit of Kindness, Do You Hear Me Children?, Seun Rere, Hear the Call, and Onwegh Ihe Ka Nnwa Na Uwa (Nothing is greater than child). Royalty from the sales of her past albums remains directed towards charity projects and the needy in our society.

She single-handedly pursued and executed charity projects in the following states: Adamawa where she raised funds used by the state government to fence, equip, renovate and provide drinkable water and main pump to the state’s only rehabilitation centre (at Jada) for the handicapped; Rivers State; where she raised funds for the Catholic Children’s Home and Psychiatric School; Enugu State where she fully equipped refectory for the School of the Blind, Deaf and Dumb, Ogbete, Enugu; Plateau Sate where she raised funds through Command Performances to provide scholarship endowment fund for able-bodied and handicapped children of the state origin; dedication of all proceeds from her tenth album to Essential Childcare Foundation’s coffer; scores of students under her scholarship studying in various institutions within the country; in Liberia before the civil war, she (considering how popular she was there) was the guest of that country’s government; to raise fund for improvement of the only television organization (then) during President Samuel Doe’s tenure; and in Ghana where she was invited to raise fund and also launch potential Tourism in Ghana that is still booming till today. This was in 1994.

Outstanding Achievements

Formation of PMAN: With her ideas and husband’s support, she recorded the feat as the brain behind the formation of the only recognised body for musicians in the country aptly called Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria (PMAN) in 1982. It is meant to cater for the welfare and protection of Nigerian musicians and their rights, nationally and internationally. When the Union was heading for extinction, she was dragged to head it so as to revive her baby. This culminated in her serving as PMAN President for two terms and remains, till date, the only female so far to have headed a trade union in Nigeria.

She is a founding member of the Performing and Mechanical Rights Society (PMRS) of Nigeria and was the Chairman of the Board for two consecutive terms; becoming the second female to head the Society – after Chief (Mrs.) Keji Okunowo. The society is majorly concerned with the general responsibility of negotiating, collecting and distributing royalties on behalf of musical copyright owners who are mostly its members.

It is on record that what the littoral states in Nigeria are enjoying today is as a result of the abrogation of the obnoxious onshore and offshore oil dichotomy which was made possible by God through Christy’s final push. She mounted campaign of persuasion that saw the regime of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida initiate and abrogate the dichotomy; thereby putting paid to the struggle that lasted decades.

It was through her interventional effort that the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) remains today as separate entity. When it was planned for scrapping or merging with the Nigeria Police Force, she brought pressure to bear on the federal government and thus the FRSC was spared till today. This again was during the tenure of Military President Ibrahim Babangida.

It is a fact that granting license for the private telephony started from the regime of late General Sani Abacha. Christy had to intervene by pushing forward the idea that the world is fast changing in telecommunication. The idea came to her when a private telephone company (EMIS) that had its equipment and staff ready approached her with their predicament as a result of license denial. She fought this and thus EMIS became the first privately licensed telecommunication company; others then followed with ease.

Discography

Freedom (LP, Album) Anodisc Records 1977; Patience (LP) Anodisc Records 1978; Time Waits For No One (LP) Blackspot (2), Decca 1978; One Understanding (LP) Afrodisia 1979; Give Me A Chance (LP, Gat) Afrodisia 1980; Ever Liked My Person? (2 versions) Lagos International Records, Skylark Records 1981; It’s Time (LP, Album) EMI (Nigeria) 1982; Taking My Time (LP, yel) Soul Train Records 1986; Hear The Call (LP) Ivory 1990; Mysteries of Life (LP) Soul Train Records 1992; and All of a Sudden (LP) Soul Train/Apex Entertainment 2011 (TBR)

Later life and death

Before her demise, she was running a non-governmental organisation, Essential Child Care Foundation, concerned with child welfare and rights. She passed on to eternity after a brief illness. Her husband of more than 31 years, Edwin Igbokwe, said Christy made her last public appearance at the finals of the Idol Nigeria, a reality show, where she sang one of her favourite songs, Seun Rere. She was said to be ill for only three days.

Christy joined Igbokwe, then Managing Director of Punch Nigeria Ltd, in October 1979. The marriage produced four sons (Obiora Chukwuemeka, Chinwuba Kenechukwu Kaka, Solomon Chukwukadibia Olubunmi, and Lucky Samuel Azubueze) and three grandchildren: Elizabeth Uduak, Christiana Chizaramekpeleamaka Ijeoma, and David.