Eclipse Of Two Nigerian Pricey Trophies: Eulogism On Chief Chukwuemeka Pius Ezeife And Amb. Uche Okeke

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By Godknows Igali, PHD

Anambra State, the heartbeat of the South East of Nigeria found itself prostrate recently when it laid to rest two pricey trophies, namely; His Excellency Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, also known as “Okwadike of Igboukwu” and His Excellency, Ambassador Uchenna Okeke, a celebrated career diplomat, tactician and intelligence strategist. These men were, in different ways two of Nigeria’s greatest contemporary personalities and equality shared much in common.
Chief Ezeife was an economist on rare prompting, top-ranked Federal Civil Servant and an ebullient politician of the highest pedigree. He died on 14th December, 2023 and was buried in his hometown, Igboukwu, on 20th April, 2024 after a spectacular line up of obsequies. On the other hand, Ambassador Uchenna (Uche) Okeke passed on 4th March, 2024 and laid to rest in his hometown, Abagana, eight weeks afterwards.
Besides being great patriots of the country, one other common attribute that they shared was the fact that their two communities, Igboukwu and Abagana, were about 30 minutes apart, in the heart of Igboland, base of the third largest ethnic population in Nigeria. Both were ardent men of faith with Ezeife being a leader of the Christian denomination known as Salvation Army while Uche Okeke was a Knight of the more familiar Church of Nigeria, (Anglican Communion).
About the Battle Axe of Igboukwu
The Igbo ethnic group of Nigeria boasts of one of Africa’s outstanding groups in terms of culture and tradition. Because of the peculiar segmentary nature of society, the place of kinship and other levels of social relationships are paramount in ensuring group stability and ascendancy. Sociologists and social historians have often wondered at the rather acephalous nature of Igbo society which through the various millennia and centuries were amongst the most stable and totally averse to the imperialistic tendencies of their neighbours. Hence, through such formalised groups as the Ozo society and other levels of traditional hierarchy, the Igbo have attained perhaps one of the most stable political systems in Africa.
The significance of Ezeife’s Okwadike title to the historiography of Igbo people derives from the fact that it is through such appreciation that the stable fabric of society is maintained. Archaeological evidence from Igboukwu in not less than three sites brought up artefacts of one of the world’s most sophisticated bronze metal working cultures. The dating of these artefacts show that Ezeife forebears were men who understood the intricate workings of metallurgy as far back as the 9th century. But beyond that is the fact that Igboukwu is one of the hubs for long distance trading and economic activities in all of Igbo land and the rest of the forested areas in Central and West Africa. The Igboukwu history also adduces to the fact that this is one of the most ancient site from which the Igbo ethnic nationality flourished and could have indeed been the hub from where other parts of Nigeria got their knowledge of bronze technology. The Igboukwu itself is close to the Nri from where the Igbos are believed to have had their nascence.
Igboukwu also appears to have been the precursor to the rise of such other places as Awka which is famed for its iron works and metallurgy industry with all the mysticisms and ritualistic authority that came with it.
Ezeife’s title Okwadike can be further explained in several parts: Okwa means a gift while Dike means power. The title Okwadike is therefore the greatest expression of power and strength. This actually manifested in his life as Okwadike lived to become a symbol of Igbo struggle and identity. He personified the dreams of most of the Igbo people worldwide and was known for his courage, outspokenness and character. Although Ezeife was no less a Nigerian, he was unabatingly a champion of Igbo cause within the context of a Nigeria where peace and justice, ethnic harmony and forbearance are the very essence of life. He was dogged, rugged and fierce in his argumentations on why no Nigerian should be superior to another.
He was born on 20th November, 1938 in Umuoji village in Igboukwu in Aguata Local Government. The advantage which he had over many of his peers was the fact that his town Igboukwu was a place of deep culture and tradition. He is not recorded to have attended a primary or secondary school but to adumbrate his strength of character, in days when self taught education was an acceptable norm, he read from home through correspondence courses. He was able to pass all qualifying examinations for admission into the University of Ibadan and obtained a B.Sc Degree in Economics. But being a man of great determination, at Ibadan, he came on top and could therefore easily proceed to the much vaunted Harvard University, an institution that since its founding in 1636 by a Puritan clergyman, John Harvard has continued to pride itself as the world’s best tertiary institution.
The sterner stuff that Okwadike was made of was seen by the fact that he went to Harvard on a Rockefeller scholarship which going by its founding tenets since 1913 is one of the most competitive and meant for the exceptionally promising. By 1972, Okwadike completed his Masters and PhD degrees in Economics from Harvard. Fresh from such Ivy League institution, he easily became a gold fish that was on display to the global world. He started working as a School Teacher and later a Senior Lecturer at the famous Makarere University in Uganda. Makarere itself was established as far back as 1922 by the colonial government and remains the oldest active university in East Africa. Having risen to the position of an Associate Professor at Makarere, Okwadike shifted back to his alma mater, Harvard University as a Teaching Fellow and also a Consultant in economic matters at one of the world’s leading management consultancies – Arthur d little, which since its establishment in 1936 maintains a reputation as global leader. It was after this stint, that Okwadike came back home to Nigeria to join the Federal Civil Service as an Administrative Officer/Economist and rose through the bureaucratic rungs.
Nigeria has a history of checkered years of military rule and their vacillation of handing over power to civilian administrations. This happened in the First Republic under the hand of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the second Military Head Of State. Again, after the overthrow of the Second Republic on 31st December, 1983 led by President Shehu Shagari, between General Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida, the botched plans for the return of the country from military rule to civilian government continued from 1984 – 1992 when what became known as the Third Republic was established. In his characteristic political idealism, Babangida aided by his political ideologues such as Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, Prof. Omo Omoruyi, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, Dr. Tunji Olagunju, and others came up with the idyllic situation of two political parties, one to the right, National Republican Convention (NRC) and the other one to the left, Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The SDP and NRC had sprouted out after IBB had banned 13 political organisations in 1989 but the SDP came together aggregating the interest of erstwhile groups such as People’s Front of Nigeria, People’s Solidarity Party, and the Nigerian Labour Party. The SDP itself similar to Social Democratic parties, as done in Europe, was centre left and focused on welfarism and fight for social justice. A career diplomat and former Permanent Secretary who was Ezeife’s contemporary in the civil service, Babagana Kingigbe was elected as Chairman of the party in 1989.
In the politics that ensued therefore, Ezeife’s SDP was able to win 51% of the Senate and 57% of the House of Representatives, slightly above its counterpart, the NRC. In the final Governorship election, Ezeife who had brought the SDP to his home state, became one of the elected state chief executives. Given his antecedents as an academic, economist, researcher, scholar and grassroots politician, Ezeife came to Anambra State with a reformist agenda and laid the foundation for this new state. With full understanding of the workings of the federal system, he was wise to quickly transfer two of the tertiary institutions which were state owned ie. Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and Anambra Polytechnic at Oko ( now Federal Polytechnic , Oko) to the federal government to stave off the high cost of running them. His passion for good governance and reforms which he brought remained outpaced almost over 32 years later. The Third Republic became short-lived, following the military coup which occurred again in 1993 with the sliding chaos which came about when the government of Interim President Chief Ernest Shonekan was “coerced to relinquish power in 1992”. Gen. Sani Abacha who inherited power dissolved the Third republic, leaving politicians such as Ezeife to go into the trenches in the fight for the return of the country to democracy.
In post governorship life, Ezeife remained active in politics, espousing social democratic and at times, outright leftists ideologies. When the country came back to politics under what came to be known in 1999 as Fourth Republic, though not an active associate of newly elected President Olusegun Obasanjo’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), he briefly accepted the high profile appointment as Political Adviser. At another period, Ezeife was Member of the Board of the Centre for Democracy and Development. In other spheres he remained very much in the forefront of pursuing various social and political agenda, including championing one of Nigeria’s most attended events on demand for credible elections which held in Awka, capital of his own state in January 2010.
In his latter years, Okwadike toured all over Nigeria and around the world fighting what became known as Igbo presidency. Rightly so, the Igbos with a population estimated at about 40 million people unlike the Yorubas who are placed at about 43 million and Hausa/Fulanis who are estimated at about 65 million have never had the opportunity to rule the country in a democratic era unlike the two other ethnic groups. He brought national consciousness to the clamour for Igbo presidency on the pedestal of the demand for inclusivity and fair play. Besides, Ezeife also called for more integration of Igbos in Nigerian affairs “50 years after the end of the Nigerian civil war”.
Although he condemned the activities of groups such as IPOB, he led the vanguard for the release of its detained leader, Nnamdi Kanu who has remained in government detention since after his abduction from Kenya and return to Nigeria on 19 June 2021. He also remained a very vocal voice on several other matters of common and national interest and became a major commentator on matters of public interest and with his peculiar goatee lifestyle, became a prominent face in all matters of national discourse.

Final Home Return of the Abagana Top Envoy
Abagana itself is the chief town of Njikoka LGA of Anambra state and many times, is thought to be an extension of the great commercial metropolis of Onitsha which actually is about 20 miles apart. Similar to Igboukwu and places like Nri or Awka, Abagana is a town of great history and is held with sufficient reverence in all of Igboland. Within the tapestry of igbo socio-politics, the Igwe Abagana who is at the apex of traditional authority enjoys a special status. But beyond town’s special place in Igbo historical traditions, it is known for the major part role the played during the Nigerian civil war. It was where the Biafran side which was eventually defeated was able to record its first major victory in March 1967 and where the Nigerian variant of what would appear to be a set of cluster bombs called “ogbunigwe” were used.
It is against this backdrop that one of Nigeria’s leading diplomatists, Amb. Uche Okeke was born in 1944 to the family of Chief Matthias and his wife, Victoria Okeke. Although he was just the third of eight children, he proved to be the most brilliant from very early years. Hence, quite early, his brilliance took him to the best academic institutions that were available at the time, of which the Government College, Afikpo founded in 1952 stood out. Some of the outstanding alumni of Afikpo include Prof. Ibekwe Chinwenzu, a contemporary of Uche Okeke who later turned to become one of the leading political philosophers in Nigeria. His outstanding book, “The West And The Rest Of Us” published in 1975 shows the stuff of which the school was made off. The former Governor of Ebonyi State and now Minister of Works, David Umahi is a latter descendant of the same school. Other Scholars include the famous Nigerian diplomat, Amb. Joseph Ayalogu who was Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva.
Shortly after college education, he proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Nsukka took off as one of the first public universities in Nigeria in 1960. Uche joined the sixth set in 1966 and graduated with a B.A degree in Journalism in 1971. He was immediately recruited into the Nigerian Diplomatic Service. For a young man with distinct brilliance and outstanding character, he was soon found fit and posted to several countries around the world. He easily became synonymous with sweet flow in command of English language and was known for his outstanding tact and decorum. With quiet anonymity and great dedication, he carried out some of the most tasking foreign representation assignments and special duties. He ultimately became Nigeria’s Acting High Commissioner in London and later became appointed Ambassador to Romania. When the Nigeria Intelligence Agency was established in 1986, he was among the first set of fine officers from the main diplomatic service who crossed over to the new body and rose in 1999 to became the fifth Director- General/Chief Executive of the Agency. In that capacity, he served until 2007 and carried out some of the most enduring reforms and contributions to nation’s peace and security at a delicate post military rule era. At the global level, he earned great repute as an outstanding Intelligence Chief. Indeed, it was his effort that led to the formation of Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), in 2000, which is today at the forefront of fighting extremism and terror on the continent.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
Nations throughout human history have never been built by angelic beings. But by men of virtue, courage and patriotism. Men, who at any time had a focus on tireless service, selflessness, and pursuit of the golden fleece of national honour. Marcus Aurelius Antonio was a Roman philosopher of stoic genre and later an Emperor who ruled from 161AD to 181AD; but was adjudged more as one of five “Good Emperors”. Looking at the whole epistemology of human existence, he concluded, as one is wont to do for both Ezeife and Okeke “The true worth of a man is to be measured by the objectives he pursues”.
But then mortality dwarfs up to the imperative of divine approbation over human transiency. However, is the soothing religious balm that: “Certainly there awaits a rest to him that labours.” Both Okwadike and the hawk-eyed Diplomat in two dissimilar ways toiled for Nigeria in its journey of statehood. They bore a common cord. That is placing nation above self and toiling until they reached the touchline. Thanks goodness, Nigeria honoured them respectively with toply distinctions of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) and Officer of the Order of the Federal (OFR). Although they have now “faded like the stars of the morning”, but of conscious memorial shall be their works; in all of Nigeria, and no less amongst Ndi Anambra and their wives, children and families, for whom our hearts remain binded in prayers.

Adieu, great patriots!

Igali is a former Ambassador and retired Federal Permanent Secretary

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