Ambassador Dozie Nwanna
My first encounter with the Hero did not to come until 1989, in Lagos, at the first launch of his book with many seals — Because I am Involved — that most honest writing by a Nigerian leader. I was not disappointed by the cleverly set oeuvre, whose binary message was meant on the one hand to console and update his own brood and, on the other, to confound those who may still bear hate. At the end of a long queue I arrived face to face with the Hero. Standing at attention and presenting my copy of the book for his autograph, he raised his head as if to assess me. It was then that I discovered the man. He had commanding eyes that glared like balls of fire. His presence attracts and arrests like the Ijele masquerade.
Other occasions were in London. I had the privilege of being around the Hero, uncountable times, as he lay on his sick bed. It was painful witnessing the mighty man of valour in his bravest ever struggle. He was so engrossed in the enterprise of the moment, almost never heeding any intruder. One day, I felt bold enough and stretched out my hand. It touched the great one and, unexpectedly, the Ezeigbo moved his head as if to look. He seemed to wink. So electric was the moment that, like the case of “the woman with the issue of blood”, the experience was medicinal.
I believe the Hero fought so valiantly in London just to be able to address Nigeria one more time. He more than achieved it by the arcane syntax and eloquence of his passing. For he actually addressed the world from the Dead!
But the man made his greatest utterances long ago. His audience, unfortunately, were mainly deaf. It reminds one of the religious knowledge stories of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight . . .’’’ It does not seem that that voice was well heeded.
I have always linked that story with another narrative (Matthew: 11) in which Jesus Christ made one of the most haunting remarks of the entire Bible. Upon being told of the demise of John the Baptist, the Lord was reported to have said:
“Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater . . . “
Those words will forever be the most authoritative instruction to mankind to reckon with hierarchy. Its lessons are particularly cogent for Ndigbo, especially so for the bumbling purveyors of the tenuous “Igbo enwe eze” doctrine in their midst.
Further down, on the same passage, we read:
“. . . the kingdom of heaven surfereth violence, and the violent people take it by force . . .”
This remark is like Akulu, the wine from the unadulterated sap of the palm tree, which gets better with age. It encapsulates a warning that has never been more apt for any people or generation than ours. Look well and you will find that it paraphrases the raison d’etre of the Hero and the gist of his advisory to his beloved country. It is also an immortal admonition to anyone anywhere that nowhere is safe from the menace of those who deal by hate and aggression. Security is supreme. Not even ‘the kingdom of heaven’ is immune! For that vision, I salute the blessed eyes that glimpsed our tomorrow yesterday.
The passage concludes: “Whoever has ears, let them hear!”
If there ever was Onyigbo who most embodied that which is typical, remarkable and the best of Ndigbo, it was the Hero, Eze-Igbo Gburugburu , Dim, Chukuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the Ikemba Nnewi, pater and most-beloved leader of Ndigbo, and the eternal Commander-in-Chief of the tireless Forces of Hearts and Minds of the Igbo Spirit. Only he reached that mythical station of being that confers upon any Onyigbo the status of Prince of All Igbo, the unspoken Sovereign. The Hero rightfully claimed this distinction, universally authenticating the doctrine of “Igbo aso eze”.
The Hero was always special: from out of the loins of the truest aristocrat Africa ever had, he was born singular and big like an elephant; completely imbued with cause and grit. While vulnerably caught in the winds from the four corners of his country, he leapt for freedom. So high was the leap that he touched the firmament, peeked at futurity and glanced our common Chi.
Descending like Moses, the Hero met his people at the point on their odyssey where the road hit a fork. Like dazzled hatchlings whose mother had been snatched, the people had been unable to trace the way home unaided. They, the once content people of that country south of the Savannah, where the River Niger, the Imo River and the Cross River, joined by a hundred brooks, bathe the soil and flow home into the Atlantic. They, of the place from which rises the sun, who in inviting others to behold what they were seeing, shouted “Bia fulu” and got misunderstood.
If we could liken the Hero to the tusked one, then perhaps we can say that one misfortune of his otherwise wonderful life was that Nature mistook this elephant for an ant; consistently aggregating him with humans whose eyes were as those of ants. This was specially so among his own people.
Where the Ikemba saw a grain of sand and would waste neither time nor effort on, these people inevitably would see the Zuma rock and, in foolish fright, tarry to wrongly sing “Rock of Ages Cleft for Me” in hope of appeasing the tin gods and demons of their own creation.
For the same reason people perceived and regarded the Hero as different things, just as in the fable of the elephant and the six blind men. This explains why Nigerians were never in agreement on whom and what the man was while he was with us.
But since 26th November 2011, when the man got promoted from these lower courts, every mouth has been speaking, singing. So remarkable has been the harmony that it has become the best advertisement of the real Nigeria and of the big-heartedness of her people! It brought sweet tears to the eyes. It gratified. And it reminded me of the words one of my favourite hymns, City of God How Broad and Far:
“One holy Church, one army strong; one steadfast, high intent; one working band, one harvest song, one King omnipotent.”
Truly, the Ikemba was very distinct in his ways. His life and work defined the Nigeria of our time and will continue to do so until his restless spirit and those of his own ‘blind men’ meet at the junction we would be glad to name ‘Catharsis’. For, in the saga of the Hero’s life there could not be any question of right or wrong — just the needful, executed on either side by persons who merely saw through a glass, darkly.
When it became right, the Hero showed himself again to be the most remarkable Nigerian, outmatching any of his compatriots in forthrightness, forbearance, faith and ferventness in the search for national oneness. In tow, his people are playing to win the award for least provokable Nigerians. Such is truly rare and should be encouraged.
The Hero was indeed many things. He was at once the Enyimba that leads from the front, a reluctant rebel, the people’s Prince, a democrat, and the most candid Nigerian that ever lived. Subsequent events have confirmed he was visionary. It can also be said, as many testimonies point, that his life was ransom for the ultimate joy of every Nigerian. He will now live eternally in the heart of the people that he embraced at the point where roads crossed.
The Hero, who saw his first daylight at Zungeru, cut teeth and lost his innocence as a pranking youth in the Nigerian crucible, Lagos, would have fashioned a triangle when finally he reaches home to join his fathers at Nnewi. His triad of great junctures on the Nigeria arena — his origin in the North, the classic jaunt in the West, punctuated by the bowing out from the East — all encompass a grand legacy, the story of which, when told, will demolish the weak views of those who might seek to pigeon-hole this Complete Nigerian and consign him to a dim corner of his great country. The cherub of Zungeru, who became the wunderkind of Lagos, shall be riding home to his ancestors from Nnewi in a fiery chariot that will be identified by its invisibility to all sinners. Like Elijah!
Yet it should be acknowledged that this Prophet lived a life that is in every sense a triangulation. He epitomised two contradictions: being a vital sinew of the heart of a nation still being built and simultaneously remaining the missing dimension whose unconsciousness to the builders stultified the project. He, who now goes finally home, was ever so involved with Nigeria, trying to help his fellow citizens construct the most equitable country he believed they deserved. He is gone, but may never really leave or be left alone. For the guardian angel already has a post in the hearts and minds of those that fathomed him.
the Hero passes from this mortality, we, who know his sacrifice, can find solace in the fact that he had a full, dutiful, worthy and widely shared life, by which he gave his all and asked for nothing. We may now pray that the departed receives the Mercy and Peace of the Most High, and that he awakens in the bosom of his Almighty Creator.
Ambassador Dozie Nwanna wrote from London.