CELEBRATING GENTLEMAN MIKE EJEAGHA AT 92 BY CYRIL U. ORJI

Mike is 92!! Oh my goodness!! This is awesome. It wasn’t long ago I was wondering with a friend if “Gentleman” Mike Ejeagha was still alive. Thank goodness he is.

Yeah, I was a small boy in Chukwuani Street, Coal Camp and Mike was living one street away at Abagana Street. His younger brother, my namesake, Cy, (Cyril Ejeagha) was a photographer. He had one of the best photo studios in Coal Camp. It was called “Cy Pictures.”

If my recollection is correct, that was at 29 or 31 Calabar Street. I can still see in my mind’s eyes all the buildings around that area in Calabar Street. Directly opposite the building housing Mike’s studio was a building owned by a well known family — the Ogbutor family. My elder sister was a friend to one of the Ogbutor girls. Mike’s yard, as a multi-tenant building was commonly referred to, and the Ogbutor yard were/are at the intersection of Calabar street and Goldsmith Avenue. This intersection was popular because a “public pump” was also located there. Although there was another “public pump” at Abagana and Goldsmith Avenue, the pump near “Cy pictures” was more popular because it gave us the excuse to spend time watching pictures at “Cy Pictures.” By the way the only photo studio that compared with “Cy Pictures” or was slightly ahead of it was “Paragon Photos” at, I believe, 14 Agbani Road, also in Coal Camp. No one who lived in Coal Camp during this period would wonder where 14 Agbani Road was. This huge commercial building not only housed “Paragon Photos,” it also housed “Super Wireless Radio” — the best electronics store in town.

Coal Camp was designed by the colonial masters and had the grid layout of Manhattan New York. It had/has three parallel avenues running down what I can best picture as from North to South with a number of intersecting streets running from East to West. The primary avenue was/is Agbani road. This major road starts probably at Agbani — a small town near Enugu, through Awkunanaw — a suburb of Enugu, then Uwani with the prominent Esso filling station at the junction of Agbani Road and Ziks Avenue. Agbani road continues to Gariki and Uno Okpete entering Coal Camp at Ogbunike Street and leaving Coal Camp after Mission Avenue and Clerks’ quarters. At Clerks’ quarters you could veer right to Mgbemene street through “Mmiri Ani” (a small stream) to C.I.C Enugu and Psychiatric Hospital led by the well known Dr. Izuora. Alternatively, you could veer left and continue onto the Ogbete main market.

As kids we colloquially referred to Agbani Road as “First Main Road.” The other two avenues were/are Goldsmith Avenue or “Second Main Road” and a very short “Third Main Road” which actually did not run the entire length of Coal Camp. If it had a formal name, it has skipped me. But I recall clearly that it did not go beyond Taylor Avenue because beyond that was St. Peter’s CMS Primary School which started at about Eke Street and stretched all the way to Mission Avenue before St. Patrick’s Catholic Primary School kicked in.

But we’re talking about Gentleman Mike Ejiagha.

Mike’s wife Chibuzor was very pretty. I knew her very well and can still imagine her face in my mind’s eyes. But Chibuzor died very young. If my recollection is correct, Chibuzor died in childbirth. Mike loved Chibuzor so much that when Chibuzor died, many never believed Mike would survive her death. But by God’s grace, Mike was able to let out his sorrow and pain through his music. In memory of Chibuzor, Mike released what should have been a Platinum single “Nwanyi Mma,” (Beautiful woman or beautiful wife.)

I have searched the internet and still unable to find this single. I’ll continue my search. But for those old enough, this is my best reconstruction of “Nwayi Mma.” (I may probably be way off but the melody remains in my mind.)

“Nwanyi mma aghalu nwa ya o, nwe solu egwu gi-ta we naa … (Beautiful woman has left her child and died with guitar music)
Emesie oga afu nu’ya oh, emesie oga afu nu’ya (Eventually she’ll meet the child, she’ll meet the child)
Chibuzor nwa nnem ghariba …” (Chibuzor, my dear, bye bye)
It was a sorrowful love song for the ages.

Yes, Mike is from Owa-Imezi. I know that area very well. Especially towards the tail end of the civil war, Owa-Imezi became a strategic commercial town between the Biafran side and the Nigerians soldiers in Enugu. The popular Owa-Imezi market called “Orie Owa” (a market that held every native week on Orie) at a point towards the end of the civil war became a key market for “Afia attack.” (Attack market.) “Orie-Owa” became that middlemarket between Nigeria and Biafra. The traders in “Orie Owa” knew the “safe” roads to sneak into Enugu and buy merchandise from the Nigerian side which they sold to those coming from the Biafran side — Nnewi, Otu Ocha, etc.

After the war, Mike, like the rest of us, returned to Enugu. If my recollection is correct, Mike couldn’t afford the musical instruments he had before the war. It’s safe to assume he lost most of them during the war. That was when Mike started “Akuko ne Egwu” — “Story In Music.” If my recollection is still with me, my late elder brother, Dr. A. S. Orji, with one of his good friends, Mr. Enebe (or something close to that) were among the first to sing chorus for Mike after the war. But as time went on, my brother moved on, entering the University of Nigeria Nsukka. Mr. Enebe who was also a Grade 2 teacher at that time, most likely also moved on. I also went back to school to complete my secondary education. And from that time on, I followed Gentleman Mike only casually. At that time, Mike’s music was no longer too appealing to my age group. What with The Wings, The Hygrades, Ofege, etc. then in vogue.

By the way, as a quick aside, I was a fan of the Hygrades because the “Hygrades were the creation of Enugu-based guitarist and producer Goddy Oku.” (https://www.last.fm/music/The+Hygrades/+wiki) In 1965, Goddy Oku was a class 5 student at Government Comprehensive Secondary School Port Harcourt. I was in class 1 at that time and both of us were in Kennedy House. I still recall vividly the day some of us ran to tell Goddy that the WASC French exam had started. Goddy was busy playing his guitar near the lawn tennis court overlooking the creek at the backend of Kennedy House.

I am excited to learn that Gentleman Mike is 92 years young today. May God continue to guide and guard him. This write-up may not come his way, but he should remain rest assured that Coal Camp will always love him. Happy birthday Gentleman Mike.

2 thoughts on “Celebrating Gentleman Mike Ejeagha At 92 By Cyril U. Orji”
  1. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO AN ENTERTAIMENT LEGEND
    Mike Ejeagha
    Thanks indeed for taking us back to 70s reminding me of CY and PARAGON Photo.
    I did patronize both and the pictures are still fresh as if I took them yesterday.
    I was serving in Ogbete Market and in the close of the daily sales we troop to Mike was displaying his gifted skill .
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY MIKE
    May His grace be with you in Jesus name

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