It would have been his 3rd world cup: Photojournalist loses hand days to leaving for Japan
TEMPO, June 6, 2002
As at 7 p.m. on Saturday, 25 May 2002, John Ebhota, veteran photo journalist of The Comet newspa-per, had a lot of fantasy. He was already imagining the kind of quality and award winning shots he would take at the Japan/Korea World Cup, which he was to cover for his paper. Ebhota was also full of thoughts of how to convince his friend, Churchy, a Japanese photo journalist, also billed to be at the soccer fiesta, to help him raise 10,000 dollars with which he intends to procure the latest model of professional cameras preparatory to his planned establishment of a state-of-the-art photographic studio.
And, Ebhota's wife and children were already looking forward to his trip to Japan. They kept praying for him and hoping that his trip would yield some dividends for the family. Ebhota had indeed gone round to bid farewell to some of his relatives in Lagos, promising to see them on his return from his second World Cup attendance.
But at 8 p.m. that same Saturday evening, Ebhota's hopes and plans - together with his family's huge expectation - went up in smoke. He had boarded a 14-seater Danfo bus on his way to his Okokomaiko home from the National Stadium. But, few meters away from his house, the ill-fated commercial bus somersaulted thrice from the impact of another speeding vehicle that rammed into it from behind. In the ghastly accident, two persons were feared dead while the rest of the passengers were seriously injured. Ebhota's hand was smashed and needed to be amputated. That put paid not only to his planned trip to Japan but it also appeared to have nailed his chequered career.
So, Ebhota, instead of being in Japan, doing what he knows best, has been in the confines of Safehand Hospital located at 53, Old Ojo Road, Lagos, for almost two weeks now. His right hand has been amputated and he may no longer be able to position the camera, focus the lenses and press the shutter.
Ebhota told TEMPO on his hospital bed last week that even though his brilliant career may have been abruptly punctuated, he thanked God for keeping him alive.
Ebhota, 52, is a press photographer excellence. As an active photo journalist, he captured scenes and news with such dexterity that made him the toast of all that had the fortune of working with him. TEMPO learnt that whenever he went to the field, his superiors never doubted his ability to return to the newsroom with the best of photographs. And, in his 23 years chequered career, Ebhota has garnered an array of awards. Among these awards are the Sports Writers' Association of Nigeria (SWAN) award for the Best Photographer (1992), Tinubu Lawn Tennis Best Photographer Award (1999) and 7UP Bottling Company Award for Best Sports' Photographer (1998 and 2001).
Until Saturday, 25 May, Ebhota was the Photo Editor of The Comet newspapers.
He was to have departed for Japan by a South African airline at 11p.m. on Thursday, 30 May 2002, to cover the World Cup. He was one of the pioneer staff of the disbanded Concord newspapers and at some points in his career, he had worked at the Sports' Desks of The Punch and The Guardian.
He started his photo journalism career in 1979. On graduating from the St. Paul's Seminary, Benin, he headed for Agbor in Delta State where he learnt the art of photography under the tutelage of one Mr. Okafor. After his apprenticeship in 1979, Ebhota came to Lagos and took up a job with The Punch newspapers as a photographer. Since then, he has never looked back. He was at France '98, Sydney 2000 Olympics and the African Cup of Nations in Mali early this year. Ebhota told TEMPO that the only country he has not visited in Africa is Malawi.
Ebhota's wife of 27 years and mother of his three children, Rosaland, close to tears, told TEMPO that even though she is thankful to God for keeping her husband alive, she is in pains. "I am a housewife and my husband is a struggling man. What can I do now? My husband can no longer struggle and I don't have money to start a business, what do I do now?" Rosaland asked rhetorically.
Ebhota's younger brother, Augustine, a teacher, said he was still in a state of shock that his brother, who was with him early that Saturday morning, is now without a right hand. He appealed to all his brother's colleagues in the media and other well wishers to come to the aid of the family to ensure that Ebhota's huge hospital bill is settled and that he is rehabilitated after his discharge from the hospital.
The veteran photographer, though now bedridden, insists that a photographer never retires and that for him, all hopes are not lost. In a way that suggests his undying love for his job, Ebhota declared: "If I get the support, I wouldn't mind continuing my job with an artificial hand." He also said that his plan to set up a modern studio is still feasible if he is supported by well-wishers, colleagues and friends.
Meanwhile, Ebhota's colleagues in the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) have appealed to well-meaning Nigerians to come to the aid of Mr.
Ebhota's family in settling the rising hospital bills that is fast becoming unbearable. In a statement signed by its chairman, Frank Ilaboya, the association wants all donations to be channeled to SWAN Secretariat, Press Centre, Indoor Sports Hall of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.
Of course, nothing will be too much for a man who has given his all to his job and to the service of his country, but who is now in his hour of need.