From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu is a typical example of jack of all trades and master of all, having excelled in the field of sports, airline, politics, main professional calling, engineering and many more.
He spoke to Sunday Sun on wide range of issues comprising Igbo presidency, his journey into politics, why he can no longer accept any appointive or elective positions, his biggest regret in life, why Nigeria is not country of his dream, the escalating insecurity in the Southeast and the secret of his successes in many areas of human endeavour.
How will you describe your journey into politics, rough, tough, smooth?
I became a politician by accident because by profession, I am an engineer and scientist. It is a profession I love so much, that elevated me and even gave me money. What happened was that when the then military president, Ibrahim Babangida, lifted ban on political activities, many of the old Igbo politicians were still banned and there was nobody to represent the Igbo. Ekwueme was among the foremost Igbo politicians that people hoped Shehu Shagari would hand over to him in line with what was mutually agreed. But Ekwueme was among those Babangida clamped ban on. I was the only person people considered to have the resources, credibility and the reach to be able to carry the political mantle of the Igbo race. That was how I actually came into politics and when the ban on political activities was lifted, I was more or less compelled then to join political association. I must also say that I have tremendous support from the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and across every ethnic nationalities in the country. The Igbo leaders at that time, the leadership of Ohanaeze spearheaded by the trio of Jerome Udoji, Francis Ibiam and Prof Nwabueze, took me to Nnamdi Azikiwe, the greatest political figure of Igbo extraction then, for endorsement. Most prominent traditional rulers were also part of the delegation to kick-start that my entry into politics. Our political association metamorphosed into a political party, the NRC, and because I was planning to run for the presidency, I didn’t contest the position of the party’s national chairmanship. Tom Ikimi eventually emerged the chairman. I contested the primaries under the then popular Option A4, but Adamu Ciroma emerged the party’s candidate despite my winning substantially in some states. We finally agreed that I will be the running mate to Ciroma, but surprisingly, the presidency made announcement banning all of us. It practically threw us out of the party, creating room for Bashir Tofa to emerge our party’s presidential candidate. After the election, Abiola’s SDP won. But we resolved that instead of instituting legal action, we are going to support Abiola even though we know that there were irregularities like in every election. Since we are very keen to get democracy back, we agreed to support whoever wins. However, the election was annulled. I still contested for president a number of times, totalling three. I can tell you that politics is like infectious madness, once you start, you won’t know when to stop. My final attempt to contest president was in 1999 under the platform of APP. The Igbo have strong aspirants in both APP and PDP with names like Alex Ekwueme and myself, but then the military hierarchy had made up their minds that the presidency must go to Yoruba land to compensate them for the Abiola June 12 debacles. There was, however, no Yoruba candidate in our party strong enough to win the ticket. They pleaded with me, but I told them that I won’t surrender the ticket to anybody. They manoeuvred the system and brought Ogbonnia Onu. I don’t know what they told him, but it was shocking how somebody who lost the governorship ticket in Ebonyi State to Sam Egwu could become the presidential candidate of our party. We have not even voted when they announce him winner. I left Kaduna, the venue of our primaries disappointed and finally joined the PDP. I have remained with the PDP ever since. Interestingly, while Onu was still jubilant and hopeful that he was going to run, they replaced him with Onu Falae as the party candidate. He was really disappointed too.
Will it be right to say that you met your target going into politics?
No. I did not meet my target and I don’t feel fulfilled as such because I did not win any election to actualise my dream of making the country a better place. Nigeria is nowhere a better society. It seems the country is even worse today than what it was then. I am not a happy man because there is no change. In fact, this is not the Nigeria of my dream.
Why have you not left the PDP to join the APC?
I have been in the PDP since 1999. Today, I am the oldest person in the Board of Trustee of the PDP and I am also the oldest person in the NEC of the PDP. I am 79 years going to 80 years next year. At the moment, I am the chairman, Elders Council of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and by that position, I should be non-partisan. So, even if I leave the PDP today, I am not going to join any other party because firstly, I am too old at 80 to run for any election, I won’t accept any political appointment and I can only do the job of Ohanaeze or other responsibility within my community and state as well. I won’t join any party now, but I will be very happy if our people will address certain issues concerning the youths in politics. At the appropriate time, I will give advice to younger politicians on what I think they should do to make politics a huge success.
Is Igbo presidency in 2023 a mission possible?
The truth about Igbo presidency is that younger generation of Igbo are losing their self-esteem. They feel that something is wrong because it is not only the challenge of presidency that they are facing. One of my sons had asked me why the Southeast should have five states while other geographical zones have six? I had difficulty answering that question and it is the embarrassment we constantly get from the young generation of Igbo. This is among the things I believe our political leaders can handle and there will be no problem if they are handled. There must be ethnic balancing especially in Nigeria with multi-ethnic and religious group to ensure that everybody feels accommodated. Igbo presidency is not all that matters. In fact, you will be surprised that the Igbo president may not even be the person to solve the various agitations from the region. After all, the northern part of Nigeria has produced presidency more than other regions but it does not reflect much in the development of the area. The fact is that if anybody tells you that Igbo presidency will do miracle in the Southeast or Igboland, the person must be lying. He is going to work with the constitution and all eyes will be on him. The only good thing in Igbo presidency is that it is going to be a psychological boost for the younger generation, feeling that they too can assume the highest position in the land. It will be against their current feelings that they cannot aspire for the position of presidency once you are an Igbo person. That is what we must try to avoid.
What is the biggest lesson you learnt in politics?
I learnt so many lessons in politics. Even though I did not win in the previous attempts I made, I will not say that my journey into politics was a waste. It was a very useful enterprise I ventured into. Without my involvement in political activities, I will not have had the kind of influence I have today. I enjoy enormous influence across all parts of the country. I am very highly respected regarded and equally appreciated by the youths across the country. I have been honoured three times by the Federal Government because they know and worked with me. I am a very detribalised person and have been able to work very well with persons from different tribes and religions. I am one person that can work and produce result across barrier of ethnicity and religion. I will encourage anybody who can go into politics because it is a good venture regardless of whether you win or loss. I don’t regret going into politics even though it is very expensive and costs me so much money.
What is the way forward to the insecurity in the Southeast?
I don’t actually want to talk about that now because it is very complex. I believe that the situation will soon be brought under control.
What is the secret of your successes in multifaceted areas like politics, sports, airline, publishing and engineering?
It boils down to leadership because I found that out early in my life. I started with class prefect because I was very humble and quiet. I was also academically very bright which attracted me to many of my teachers. I believe more in actions than words. More importantly, I learnt how to use the best hands to achieve results. I went for the best hands when I established my airline. I paid them well and allowed them to run the business. When I went into publishing, I did the same, employing best brain in journalism with Henry Odukumaya as the first Managing Director of Champions newspaper. In most cases, especially in engineering, I employed expatriates when I could not get Nigerians to manage. I know that how to run business is basically having good staff. I appointed board of directors who may not be equity holders in the company, but I remunerate them very well and gave them some bonus share sometimes. This method made me to prosper and most times, I could be sleeping and people will be happily working for me because they know that they are working for themselves too.
What do you consider your biggest regret in life?
This is a very deep question that I may not answer in haste. I cannot actually point at anything I will single out as my biggest regret, but I can say that the saddest period of my life was when I lost my wife, Lady Uduora Iwuanyanwu. She was a very good woman and my girlfriend in the university. We courted for six years before we got married. We were married for over 40 years before she died. I was shattered and devastated. However, when I prayed God to give me another comforter, He gave my present wife, Nonye, who has proved to be very good. She has a very adorable son I gave the name Emmanuel having seen all my reflexes in him.
How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered for what I have done to give happiness to humanity and improve the world. My greatest ambition is to make the world better than I met it and I have been able to do that. I feel completely fulfilled and accomplished. I am not a very rich person, but I have been able to have enough to carry out my philanthropic work. I have trained over 5,000 persons in higher institutions. I have been able to build structures in many schools, universities, medical institutions, churches and many more. I made substantial contributions in the building of the Anglican cathedral in Owerri and singlehanded built the one in my dioceses where I spent over N1 billion. I built a blood bank in Imo State when there was nowhere to get blood many years ago and the ones sourced elsewhere were affecting the people. The good news is that the Federal Government has taken it over and expanded it. Another thing that gives me joy is the Imo Airport. It was my brainchild because I conceived the idea and presented it to then military administrator, General Ike Nwachukwu, a man with amazing leadership qualities. The government did not have money to build it, but he was able to galvanise the Imo communities comprising the present day Abia, Imo and some parts of Ebonyi states that started to build the airport. It was largely built by community contribution. After creating Abia, I had to give out N2 million in the name of Owerri zone when the project ran into a hitch. I had to transfer $2 million from my account in New York to be able to make it up. That time, Naira was stronger than Dollar. My interest in airline business was just to make Imo Airport to function. They had refused to open it after completion. They insisted that we had to get an airline. I had a private jet I usually use to shuttle Nigeria and my offices in New York and London, but not an airline. I had to procure four Aircraft that I started the Oriental Airline with just to facilitate the opening of the Imo Airport. Graham Douglas, the then Aviation Minister helped me to secure the operating licence. My entry attracted the like of Okada, Kabo, among others. It was not profitable initially until later. When they all joined I had to stop the airline business because I was not actually interested in it, but I just floated it to make sure Imo Airport becomes operational. I also feel fulfilled that I started Champion newspaper.
When was the turning point of your life?
Well, the turning point of my life was when I was able to execute some contracts as an engineer. I did lots of things like designing of bridges, I also established companies into production, but essentially, engineering actually gave me a lot of my money.