2016 has been an interesting year. Yes, interesting, in whichever angle you want to look at it from. The word and the reality called recession has made the year very interesting in Nigeria. It’s been trending in the whole county. Back here in Akwa Ibom, nothing really trended apart from petty issues from politics and governance. Then unfortunately, as the year was about winding down, we had the trendiest topic of the year – the Reigners Bible Church collapse. The world’s focus was on Akwa Ibom but for the wrong reasons. People mourned but as hours and days passed, the Reigners topic started fizzling out. Then entered what I would called the 2nd most trendy topic in the state for the year after the Reigners Bible Church collapse – the Eka Udo confession.
For those who don’t know, Eka Udo is a very popular local fast food restaurant located along Aka Road. People from all walks of life patronize the joint. You can’t claim to be an “Uyo boy”, “Uyo chick”, or an “Uyo anything” without knowing or hearing of Eka Udo. Even JJC in the state’s capital knows Eka Udo.
In the evening of Thursday 29th December, 2016, there were posts on the most used social media platform in the state – Facebook. Most of the posts came in form of questions such as: “Eka Udo I hope it is not true”, “please what I’m I hearing about Eka Udo?”, “what happened to Eka Udo?”, etc.
In the posts, they were funny comments such as “she confessed ooo”, “she uses water used in bathing dead human bodies to cook ooo”, “she confessed and died”, and so on.
Immediately I saw the posts and the comments that followed, it didn’t take up to 5 minutes for me to discern that it was not just a mere rumour, but a wicked one at that.
Eka Udo confessed? Confessed to doing what? Where did she confess? When did she confess? These are simple questions discerning minds should have asked.
Someone confessed and died and there are no pictures, audio or video clips? For this Uyo? Not possible. If that really happened, those spreading the rumour would have been happy spreading the evidence of the confession on social media too.
I’m not an Eka Udo customer. I have eaten from her just once. I went there some years ago in company of Mista Xto and my colleagues at E-101 Magazine ( Aniekan James Ekah, Asteroid Bassey, Nelson NseAbasi and Prince Goldenchyld Simeon). Since we are in a season of confession, I must confess that her food tastes real good but what discouraged me from patronizing her further is the crowd at the joint. I am not graced enough to have the patience to wait in a line for food. The same reason I rarely do buffets at occasions/events. I hate queuing for anything, not just food.
That I’m not her customer does not mean I shouldn’t encourage something good. She is amazing in what she does. She is zealous, committed, passionate, and dedicated to her business and has a great customer relations which is why she is succeeding. I support every good thing and I’m proud of her business strides.
At Aka Road where the joint is located, many fast food joints, acclaimed high-class eateries and restaurants have come and gone but Eka Udo has remained. As far as I’m concerned, Eka Udo has no competitor. Could this be Eka Udo’s crime? But when did having a reliable, consistent and longstanding business brand become a sin to the extent that the owner is branded a witch/wizard or juju-user as Eka Udo is being branded today?
The malicious rumour trended from Thursday evening till the following day. I pitied the “poor” woman and kept asking the same question: “what is her sin”? I reached out to my friend, Aniekan Ekah who has been doing PR for her over the years. He told me he has been calling Eka Udo (on phone) for the past 2 weeks but no response. But luckily, yesterday while we (me and Aniekan) were on duty together, Eka Udo’s phone call came in. She confirmed she was very sick but that she is getting better, stating that her joint is on Christmas break and will be back by January 9th, 2017.
Real name Grace Bassey Etim, Eka Udo has not less than 20 staff in her employ. The business was running even while she was away. As the tradition has been over the years, they simply closed for the year to allow the staff go on Christmas break.
We asked to see her and said she will ask her daughter to bring us to where she is. Hours later, a call came in and it was her daughter. It was heartwarming for me because meeting Eka Udo and hearing from her will go a long way to quelling the nasty gist spreading like wild fire.
It was Terry Pratchett who said that “a lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on”. That sums the situation on ground. Now, I’m about hearing the truth and relating same to the world but I’m pretty sure it won’t fly as the rumour that was peddled.
For someone who has been in the business of selling food for close to 3 decades (since 1991), she is a role model whose consistency should be reckoned and closely studied by those who want to succeed in her kind of business. She started by hawking food on her head, later hawked with wheel barrow, slowly and steadily she progressed in the biz before she got to the level she is today. Putting off another person’s candle with malicious rumour won’t make yours shine brighter. I heard Eka Udo has a very beautiful house which she built with the proceeds from the business. Is that what could warrant such hate on her?
While on our way to visit her, Aniekan Ekah re-narrated the story of how top Central Bank Directors came to Uyo and fell in love with Eka Udo’s food. He said the eggheads of the apex bank came for a conference in Uyo, they asked for where they could eat good food. He said he took them to top places they sell food but they were not satisfied. On a particular morning, he took them to Eka Udo and after eating her food, they fell in love with her dishes and bought all their meals from Eka Udo till they left the state. Ekah said those men still call him from their base to ask of Eka Udo. I hate giving unnecessary credit to satan/evil and I make bold to say that Eka Udo’s rise has been a product of several factors enveloped by God’s grace.
On the visit, we were joined by Special Assistant to the Governor on ICT, Mr. Solomon Eyo. Immediately I saw her, I knew she had just escaped a terrible illness. She couldn’t talk well. She didn’t see us. We only tried to introduce ourselves to her. She immediately recognized Solomon Eyo’s voice (they have known themselves for a long time) and after some explaining, she recognized her PR man, Aniekan Ekah. I am not her customer so I didn’t bother introducing myself.
Akwa Ibom People, you wanted hearing Eka Udo’s confession, right? Okay, I will narrate her confession (of what happened to her) to you. She told us she has been down since November 25, 2016.
“I started feeling sick on Thursday (November 24th). In the evening, I asked my people to make food for me to eat; after eating, I went to sleep. On Friday, as early as 7am I moved with “Udo mmi” (the popular second son) and went to Ideal Clinic. At Ideal Clinic, my health got worse and the doctor gave me injection, gave me some pills to swallow and placed me on drip. Around 4pm, I couldn’t eat again. I asked my daughter to call one of my sisters-in-the-Lord (she is in the payer band). When she came, she asked me “Eka Udo what is the matter”? I explained the situation to her. She called other members of the prayer band and they prayed for me. Around 7pm, the situation got worse and they took me out to Anua (St. Luke’s Hospital). I was seeing very well as at that time. At Anua, the following morning I resembled a thief that has just been burnt. People started crying. They carried out some tests. The result came out and they said it was Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS)”, Eka Udo narrated.
Now, Stevens–Johnson syndrome is a form of toxic epidermal necrolysis, is a life-threatening skin condition, in which cell death causes the epidermis to separate from the dermis. The syndrome is thought to be a hypersensitivity complex that affects the skin and the mucous membranes. The best known causes are certain medications (such as lamotrigine), but it can also be due to infections, or more rarely, cancers.
SJS is named for Albert Mason Stevens and Frank Chambliss Johnson, American pediatricians who jointly published a description of the disorder in the American Journal of Diseases of Children in 1922.
SJS usually begins with fever, sore throat, and fatigue, which is commonly misdiagnosed and therefore treated with antibiotics. Ulcers and other lesions begin to appear in the mucous membranes, almost always in the mouth and lips, but also in the genital and anal regions. Those in the mouth are usually extremely painful and reduce the patient’s ability to eat or drink. Conjunctivitis of the eyes occurs in about 30% of children who develop SJS. A rash of round lesions about an inch across arises on the face, trunk, arms and legs, and soles of the feet, but usually not the scalp.
SJS is thought to arise from a disorder of the immune system. The immune reaction can be triggered by drugs or infections. Genetic factors are associated with a predisposition to SJS. The cause of SJS is unknown in one-quarter to one-half of cases. This sickness kills people under 3 days.
Eka Udo is not a superhuman. Just like every other human being, she is susceptible to sickness. Who doesn’t fall sick? I fall sick, you fall sick, we all fall sick. So if we all fall sick, why is her own different? Why is she making news? Did she do anything wrong by always cooking for Uyo? Or, maybe since she has turned to a ‘celebrity’ she deserves no privacy.
For a whole year, she stresses herself and while most of us enjoy early morning sleep, she wakes up and starts preparing food to feed Uyo using the oldest cooking fuel ever known to man – firewood.
Cooking with firewood for over 300 days in a year with its attendant effects can certainly make someone fall sick and it kills a lot of Nigerian women annually.
The use of firewood for cooking poses a great health risk on the users, especially on the respiratory organs. Though Eka Udo may not be suffering from respiratory sickness, the heat alone that emanates from the ‘ebuk’ is enough to make one fall sick. As someone whose mom used to render catering services by cooking with firewood, I know what that woman (Eka Udo) has been passing through everyday by cooking with firewood. “Body no be firewood, e go tire and fall sick”.
“The WHO says that over 98,000 Nigerian women die annually from the use of firewood. “If a woman cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is equivalent to smoking between three and 20 packets of cigarette a day. The death from this sector contributes to 10 per cent of global annual death and it is bigger than tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS and malaria combined, and it is only killing women”, said Mrs Bahijjahtu Abubakar, an official of the Federal Ministry of Environment.
Narrating her ordeal further, Eka Udo said “the sickness was bigger than Anua i.e St. Luke’s Hospital. I was transferred to Teaching Hospital (University of Uyo Teaching Hospital). I was there for more than three weeks. I didn’t want anybody to see me. I didn’t tell my staff. I have not told my neighbours. I didn’t allow the information to get to any of my brothers, uncles or relative. It is only my church members who knew that I was sick.
“Have you seen my mouth? (She has not been able to close her mouth). Is this the mouth I used in confessing that I used “mmong okpo owo” to cook and thereafter I died? Every single person that saw me cried. I can only drink water. Have you seen as people could spoil some other person’s name and business? I have not confessed anything. I am in the church. My pastor told me to forgive anybody who wronged me or had any misunderstanding with me”, she said.
As she narrated further, it got emotional as she asked what she has done wrong to Uyo to deserve such blackmail. She could barely open her mouth as a result of the damage the heat and burns have done to her lips, tongue and the mouth in general.
“The heat has affected my eyes. I am trying to open my eyes but I can’t open, I can’t see anything. Why I don’t want people to see me is because of my eye. I’m getting better. The heat that remained inside my body is what is affecting me now. I have been sick for over a month. What have I done to Uyo that my name is being sung everywhere? What did I do wrong? So, can’t someone fall sick again? Some people get sick for 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 4 months, 5 months or more. What have I done to Uyo? (Crying)”, said the popular food vendor.
When we mentioned to her that people have risen to her defence, telling her that notable names like Onofiok Luke, Raphael Edem and Mista Xto have all made posts or comments on social media supporting her and her biz, she ended up having kind words for the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, suggesting that people may have been jealous of her because the number 3 man in the state also patronizes her.
“Onofiok Luke eats from my place and people get jealous. Onofiok Luke has been eating from me since he was a very very young man, when he was nothing in Uyo. And he is something today and he is still humble to come and eat at Eka Udo’s place. Go and tell Onofiok that I am alive”.
“They said I confessed at my joint and after confessing I died. I’m not dead. They just hate me in Uyo. I don’t know how and what to do with these my eyes. That is my only problem for now. I can only see shadow. It was a terrible heat”, she said.
She said she has found favour before God and man, little wonder newspapers write about her and her business positively even without her knowledge.
“People now like me and do things for me for free. Newspapers write about Eka Udo and bring it to me free of charge. It is only God that is keeping me. They had started destroying my name. (Started crying, saying God please don’t disgrace me). I am not dead. I have done no evil. I have touched nothing evil. I am a child of God. I will start selling again at my food joint next year”, she concluded.
Her first daughter, while speaking to us said her mom was dead and but is back to life. She said the woman passes through excruciating pains in her throat before she can swallow water. She stated that people have called from far and wide, including Brazil and India to find out if what they saw on the social media is true.
It was Shannon L. Alder who said: “often people that criticise your life are usually the same people that don’t know the price you paid to get where you are today. True friends see the full picture of your soul”.
Eka Udo has paid her dues and has upped her game over the years which is why she is where she is today. Correct me if I’m wrong, I think she is the first local food seller that I’ve seen sell her food in a buffet style. Now, that’s a beautiful innovation.
Pull-down-syndrome has killed many businesses in Uyo. When someone starts making money they say it is “unam okuk”. And I ask in pidgin, if blood money dey make sense like that why you no follow go do am instead of to stay one corner dey spoil another person business?
She uses “mmong okpo owo”, abi? I ask again, does this woman not cook in an open space close to where she sells the food? Does she hide to put the “mmong okpo owo” on the food? Which mortuary does she get the “mmong okpo owo” from? And she has been buying the “mmong okpo owo” for over 20 years without being exposed. Methinks she has a dead body permanently kept in her house which she embalms and uses the water to cook. Foolish talks everywhere. Without apologies, I make bold to say that the gullibility of some Akwa Ibomites is so sickening. I wonder if the number of rationale human beings have reduced in the state that we condescend to this level. What a mental slavery. Oh Uyo! Akwa Ibom I hail thee!
Akwa Ibom rumour mongers, please leave someone’s mother alone. Instead of making Eka Udo to trend on social media for the wrong reasons, we should be making her trend with the hashtag #PrayForEkaUdo.
For Eka Udo, let me leave her with these words from the inspirational author, Shannon L. Alder. “There will always be someone willing to hurt you, put you down, gossip about you, belittle your accomplishments and judge your soul. It is a fact that we all must face. However, if you realize that God is a best friend that stands beside you when others cast stones you will never be afraid, never feel worthless and never feel alone.”