A group of young Igbo professionals known as Oganiru Friends presented their second annual lecture in 2001. The theme was: “Reawakening the Igbo Nation in the Nigerian Federation”. His Excellency Okwadike Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra state and then President’s Special Adviser on Political Matters, gave that momentous paper.
A great deal of us only had a passing acquaintance with him from his time as the governor of Anambra state. From a distance, we formed opinions about him. Since the majority of us were professionals and under thirty, we tended towards intellection. Our curiosity was piqued even more by the fact that he was an economist with training from Harvard but still managed to embrace a great deal of Igbo culture.
Fortunately, Dr. Ifedi Okwenna, one of us, paved the path as Okwadike’s Special Advisor. It’s not as though Okwadike was inaccessible in any manner. However, assurance was double guaranteed because we had one of who was also with him.
In his characteristic fiery style, Okwadike gave the lecture, introducing our impressionable young minds to ideas that would fundamentally aid the Igbo race in finding its path. In and of itself, Okwadike’s political audacity was demonstrated by the fact that he gave the lecture on the Igbo Renaissance while holding the position of Presidential Political Adviser. His Igbo people first. As predicted, the next day’s papers were covered by his talk and its soundbites.
I took Okwadike on as a mentor after that epochal lecture. I was compare to his declaration when he ran for president in 2003, and I remained in his inner circle through the party primary till death parted us.
I never participated in putting togther a political programme where I didn’t sound Okwadike out. I was also able to take him to several important and historic events where he typically made a difference.
Recently, he had been extremely concerned about the agitations over Biafra and how to temper it without jeopardising Igbo chances in Nigeria and imperilling Igbo land. He simultaneously identified as an Igboist and a nationalist. Due to the extreme delicate balancing involved, very few Igbo Nigerians are able to live up to both expectations combined. Comrade Uche Chukwumerije was another well-known example of a nationalist who was also an authentic Igbo representative and leader.
On occasions, Okwadike called to ask for my opinion on a number of matters, most notably the movement around Biafra. Okwadike thought I was tangential to resolving the Biafra issue and its consequences for the broader Igbo interest, partly because my cousin Uche Mefor served as Nnamdi Kanu’s deputy until recently.
More significantly, Okwadike advocated for a reorganised Nigeria and an independent Biafra by default as a nationalist. I once explained to someone that Biafra being “forced on us” we what I meant by “a Sovereign Biafra by default.” In that scenario, Ndigbo would be forced to turn it into a nation. That was Okwadike’s stance, and it was something that most Ndigbo people agreed upon.
According to Okwadike, Ndigbo should defend their rights within Nigeria; however, if Nigeria believes that Ndigbo would take second or third place, then Ndigbo will have to decide whether to fight if it becomes necessary. To emphasise this point, Okwadike would frequently add, “Eji ndu eme gini.”
Politics was not Okwadike’s forte. He was a political mentor and a statesman of the highest calibre. Whereas conventional politicians were preoccupied with elections, state capture, and primitive accumulation, he was focused on Ndigbo, nation and the next generation. He left behind little in the way of worldly possessions. Just enough was enough for him. He refused to allow Nigeria’s meaningless public life to tarnish his emphasis on the fundamental principles of life.
For this reason, Okwadike topped the list when ASPOF sought to honour a select few Ndi Anambra who had led sublime lives. Once more, I was fortunate enough to be the compere and had the honour of presenting Okwadike’s citation. He was noticeably missing when I called him up to read his citation. His spare, Chief Rob Ezeife, who I met through him, was on hand to fill in for him. He gave the standard explanation that he was unable to attend.
It was eventually revealed to me that he was ill. When I looked up his age again, it was 86, so I assumed it was from ageing. Even while the spirit may still be ready at that age, the body is no longer willing.
Okwadike taught me a great deal about leadership… Leaders and greatness are determined by their bravery, simplicity, selflessness, and willingness to step up for others. Because of this, the foundation of all genuine excellence and leadership is humility.
An authentic Igbo leader was Okwadike. Many have falsely claimed to meet that requirement in order to advance their careers or gain political influence, but Okwadike did not. He was like a general, what concerned his was last served. That kind of life was only possible for a select few men, making many to believe that leaders are born, not created.
There is no doubting Okwadike’s reverent place in history, and he has paved the road for others who genuinely want to be large-scale leaders. Hoq easy it was easy to understand how selfless leadership might be through Okwadike’s lifestyle.
Even while he was incredibly popular at home, the rest of the nation—especially the north—hated and even feared him. He was viewed by them as a true Igbo battle axe, a motivating and inspiring leader who didn’t have time to colour his word. He expressed it is with unapologetic brutality.
He is mourned by the Ndigbo, who will truly miss him. I looked about, but I couldn’t see many people without baggage who could wear his big shoes. He carried no baggage. One of the most important prerequisites for leadership and social criticism is being baggage-free. Because of this, it was difficult for any government to silence Okwadike’s adamant voice by blackmail.
Any flagging would be simply dismissed by him and would be for nothing. He soared above all storms and small minds, just like the eagle.
Okwadike has been the cornerstone of Igbo life, advancement, and survival for the last thirty or more years. There is a significant void that needs to be filled as a result of his departure. Leaders are created by circumstances, and nature detests voids. God forbid, but if an imposter takes Okwadike’s position as the true Igbo leader, Ndigbo will suffer greatly.
Good night, Okwadike, the real patriot and authentic Igbo leader. You have finished a fantastic race, and now you will get the crown meant for extraordinary leaders like you who elevated their lives and left a lasting legacy in the sands of time.
· Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; [email protected]; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.