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Chukwuemeka Ezeife: As an epitome of nationalism takes a final bow

Ezeife: Personal Encounters

By Carl Umegboro

A renowned American philosopher and author of “The Supreme Philosophy of Man”, Alfred Armand Montapert, said, “The monument of a great man is not of granite, marble, or bronze. It consists of his goodness, his deeds, his love, and his compassion.” This attribute fittingly matched the persona of one man, a noble, the Okwadike Igboukwu, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, an economist and elder statesman, born in Igboukwu, Anambra State, on November 20, 1937, but who bid farewell on December 14, 2023, at the Federal Medical Centre, Abuja, at age 85.

Read also: Ezeife: Personal Encounters

The charismatic, eloquent, and fearless advocate of equity and justice on the Nigeria project was a brilliant politician and former governor of Anambra State from January 1992 to November 1993 during the Nigerian Third Republic. From the record, his unwavering commitment to the ideals of democracy and national development is unparalleled. Despite having his constituency in Anambra State, Okwadike took Nigeria as his constituency, as everything that affects any part of the country from the north, middle belt, Niger delta, and southwest to southeast concerned him. Thus, the great icon was a detribalized Nigerian. His hatred of injustice is one virtue the former governor was awesomely and reputably known for.

Possibly, many don’t know all the arrowheads in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) who sacrificed their lives to chase the military out of power during the days of General Sani Abacha. The roll call cannot flow without names like Chief Abraham Adesanya, Ayo Adebanjo, Ayo Opadokun, Olu Falae, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Segun Osoba, and later, returnees from exile including Chief Anthony Enahoro, Ralph Obioha, and John Odigie, amongst others. These brave men resiliently fought the good fight.

Read also: All you need to know about late Anambra ex-governor, Ezeife

Beyond the NADECO project, Dr. Ezeife positively touched many lives in diverse ways too. Apart from the chieftaincy title of ‘Okwadike Igboukwu’, he also bagged numerous chieftaincy titles in many parts of the country, including ‘Garkuwan Fika in Yobe State. In Hausa, ‘Garkuwan’ translates to ‘Shield’ and also ‘Akintolugboye of Egbaland’ from the southwest region. From the dictionary, a’shield’ means a broad piece of defensive armour carried on the arm, or something or someone that protects or defends. This appropriately gives an idea and attests to his personality and principles.

As a product of Harvard University in the United States of America and a man who walks the talk, Ezeife, beyond his advocacy for education, in his community at Igboukwu when in health, often volunteered to teach, interact with, motivate pupils, and watch over the school adjacent to his country home in Igboukwu to underline that charity begins at home. During a personal encounter with him some time ago at his Asokoro residence, you could vividly see passion, devotion to unity, and hunger for a working nation in him.

In one of his valuations of the Nigeria project, he said, “The journey so far seems to be going from light into darkness. Many Nigerians are thinking it is over with Nigeria. Some people are waiting for the total collapse. There is insecurity everywhere. And many people think that nobody shows concern for all the negatives. What is worse today is that conscience is dead in Nigeria.”

As this great icon begins his final journey to mother earth on April 12 at the Eagle Square in Abuja, where a service of songs and a carnival in his honour will be held, and proceeds to his state burial by the Anambra state government on April 19 in Awka and interment at Igboukwu on April 20, and finally climaxed to Thanksgiving on April 21, a myriad of ‘RIP’ is expected from government quarters, but would his cries on the state of the nation, which he described as “going from light to darkness,” be taken seriously?

When people of such nobleness cough or speak, it should pierce the ears. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in keeping with tradition, has expressed sadness over his demise, mourned, and prayed for his soul. Ditto the President of the Senate, Godwill Akpabio; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas; his home state governor, Chukwuma Soludo; other south-east governors, past governors, past and serving legislators, politicians, and distinguished personalities across the nation. The roll call is endless. This is nonetheless commendable. Beyond it, concerted attention should be given to his patriotic cries for an ideal dream nation. That is what should matter.

His passing is a monumental loss to the nation at large. No one needs to be told that the Igbo nation in particular has lost a great gift to mankind. Indisputably, the vacuum Okwadike has left would be difficult to fill. His advisory roles to Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo cannot be overemphasised. He was a voice for the masses, a beacon of integrity, dedication, altruism, and visionary leadership. Okwadike was an exceptional breed in politics, as he understood that the overriding essence of leadership is to improve the lives of the led and not to amass insatiable wealth, as is common in society. During the fourth republic, when he was appointed presidential adviser on political matters by the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the period was famed for vigour and vibrancy. He was also, at the time, a federal permanent secretary, which was also characterised by distinction.

Thus, while the mourning and tributes continue, considering that he overwhelmingly deserved them, it is imperative to also emulate the lifestyle. He believed in doing what was right and fair to everyone. So, it is not sufficient to mourn him in words, but also indeed by walking his talk. Okwadike was never characterised by misappropriation or diversion of public funds, which has become a trademark in the political space and is trending among politicians today. He was rather generous with his legitimate earnings. I recall his question during an interview with him. He disappointedly asked, What do people do with all this massive wealth? I couldn’t find an answer. Indeed, Okwadike was a nation-builder, bridge-builder, peacemaker, detribalized citizen, and patriot. Rest in peace, Okwadike!

Umegboro is a lawyer, public affairs analyst, and writes from Abuja.