Elder statesman and member of the Igbo Leaders of Thought (ILT), Anyim Ude who represented Ebonyi South Senatorial District in the National Assembly from 2007 to 2011 recently turned 80.
In this interview with MAGNUS EZE and CHIJIOKE AGWU in Abakaliki, he tells the abridged story of his life, career, accidental plunge into politics, the Igbo question and other national issues.
Looking back, how do you feel at 80?
First, I have cause to ascribe all the glory to God. I know that there’re some of my mates that are no more. So, it is because of the grace of God that I am able to be alive and still counting. The figure eight is remarkable even though we did not go loud; my children had wanted to celebrate it in a bigger form, inviting all our friends but because of the COVID-19 consideration, insecurity and bereavement to the family, we decided to shift it to a later date. I feel good, I feel strong and I feel a sense of fulfillment that in all the opportunities God gave me especially in print and broadcast media, I did the best I could do. And the best turned out in many cases to be productive and God blessed my efforts.
I started the journey of journalism as a reporter in the defunct Eastern Nigeria Outlook in 1965. We went through the war when the paper was changed to Biafra Sun and at the end, we returned from the war in 1970. And by 1971, I moved over to the broadcast media. I joined East Central State Broadcasting Service first as a Sub Editor to Senior Reporter and later as Chief Reporter until 1976 when the old Imo State was created. Then, those of us journalists were moved to NTA Aba which was the only medium of communication available to the Late Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, who was then a Commander in the Navy. We were there for one year before the Imo Broadcasting Service (IBS) came on air. We were recalled on January 12, 1977; we started organizing IBS in appropriate departments. So, we moved from there until 1979 when the military handed over to President Shehu Shagari. One thing led to the other, by 1981, I was in Radio Nigeria Owerri as a General Manager. And from there we moved on to 1985 when I was appointed Director General of Imo Broadcasting Corporation, merging the radio- IBS with the Imo Television (ITV). We were there from 1985 to 1991 when old Abia State was created; we moved to Abia and founded Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State (BCA) and from there retired after 35 years of service in 1995.
But then we had joined the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State. We came back in 1996, spent six months laying the foundation for Ebonyi State Broadcasting Service known today as Ebonyi Broadcasting Corporation (EBBC). I was among the first set of Commissioners in Ebonyi State. We were only nine under the leadership of Navy Commander Water Feghabo. We were there for a year; there was a change which brought in AIG Simeon Oduoye. We later met in the Senate before he died. I was also Chairman Governing Council of Federal College of Education (Technical) Umunze, Anambra State; that was in 2003 when I decided to go home and rest. Suddenly in November 2006, I was “conscripted” to go to the Senate. I went there, did my best till 2011 when it ended; I decided to live my private life and continue serving the church and society.
But are there any areas that if you had an opportunity, you would have made amends?
Well in my area in broadcast journalism, we were working under what we called analogue age; now is the era of internet or digital era. We did the best we could within what was available to us. We set up certain institutional infrastructures to regulate the media. It was in our time that we created the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON) that brought all the GMs, DGs and MDs of broadcasting houses in Nigeria together from time to time to compare notes and harmonise operations. From that organisation, we also made a case for the setting up of what is now known as National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to regulate the operations of broadcast media in Nigeria. These days when I listen to radio or watch the television and read the papers, I tend to have the feeling that some military rulers then were indeed more tolerant of people’s views than what we are seeing today. But that was our time. I think the media especially the broadcast media appear to be experiencing what I may call ‘over control’ in what they put out. In my time, there was no time any Commissioner for Information or Governor gave me or any of my Directors of News, Current Affairs or Programme any instruction to do certain things along certain lines. Being that we were professionals, we had our codes, rules and regulations governing what we were doing. And so you didn’t need any outsider to come and interfere in what we were doing. But these days, we hear that it’s no longer the same as superior people outside the media houses now insist on the way things must be done regardless of professionalism.
What is your relationship with your community?
I am a community man. But I beg to disappoint you there because I will rather not talk about my contributions to the development of my community; I am currently writing my autobiography. I will like to keep certain things and whet your appetite; to look out for it; hopefully, in the next one year or so. I had hoped that I would publish it to coincide with my 80th birthday but there were some constraints. And if I start singing that song now, it will look as if I am blowing my own trumpet. I think this question should be thrown to my town’s men.
You were part of the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State; 25 years after the state was created, what is your impression of the development so far made?
Well, I think we have come a long way. In those days, what we now call the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State started in old Ogoja Province during the colonial era which metamorphosed into old Abakaliki Province. In 1967, General Gowon created 12 states and one of them was the East Central State. We thereafter went to the civil war from 1967-1970. We returned from Biafra to join the East Central State, including what used to be Abakaliki Province. But in 1976, based on pressures from our leaders at the time including late Dr. Akanu Ibiam and late Dr. Pius Okigbo, we had the old Imo and old Anambra states. The old Imo included the area that is today known as Ebonyi South while the old Anambra State included today’s Ebonyi North and Central. I recall with joy that I was part of a delegation that went to Abuja to make case for the creation of Ebonyi State; and we made all the contacts with our leader, former Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief Martin Elechi. At some point, there was a need for Chief Elechi to address a press conference, and the total cost was about N24,000 but we didn’t have the money.
We were looking for our men and compatriots in Abuja to assist. It was so difficult to raise the money. We didn’t even have money to sleep in hotels, unlike our colleagues from other parts of the country who slept in Transcorp Hilton which was known then as NICON NOGA Hotel. I always remember that Ezeogo Dr. Agom Eze and I had to share one bed in late Dr. Agbafor Igwe’s house in Abuja. He was at the time a member of the Constituent Assembly. The important thing was that when we were unable to raise the N24,000 to sponsor the press conference, I remembered that I was the Vice Chairman of the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria, South East at that time. So, I knew the then DGs of NTA, FRCN and VON. We were at Senator Chris Nwankwo’s house in Abuja for the meeting, so I quickly used his telephone to dial the number of the DG NTA at the time, Mohammed Ibrahim, who was the Chairman of BON. I explained to him our predicament and that I needed NTA coverage for the press conference. In less than 10 minutes, the GM NTA Abuja called me saying that his DG asked them to come and cover the press conference free of charge. So, when I look back, I recall that during the struggle, I was making my own contribution from my own angle and others were also doing same. I also remember that there was a meeting in Abakaliki; our delegation came from Abia State. Dr. Agom Eze and I arrived at 6pm and checked in at what used to be Ebonyi Hotel. The meeting started at 7pm at late Omezuo Anthony Ekoh’s house. The meeting lasted throughout the night. That was the day we disagreed on some issues. The disagreement was on location of the state capital and where the first governor would come from. The meeting ended at 6am without any agreement on the contending issues.
But the story there is that we arrived the Ebonyi Hotel that morning; took our bath and quickly went back to Umuahia without sleeping in the rooms we had paid for.
So, what is your view about infrastructure, manpower development and the rest in Ebonyi?
I feel great, and I feel a sense of fulfillment because when we were coming to Abakaliki, we had a rough journey from Enugu to Abakliki in terms of bad road. There was minimal development in old Abakaliki Province. Most roads in or leading to Abakaliki were dusty and in bad shape. But with the coming of the first Military Administrator, the emphasis was on laying the foundation for governance and most basic infrastructures. One of us in the pioneer cabinet, Dr. Sam Egwu became the first civilian governor. Being a university don, he laid so much emphasis on education and manpower development and Ebonyi benefited a lot from his policies. After him was Chief Elechi. He laid emphasis on infrastructure. He built about 33 unity bridges connecting many communities that were hitherto unreachable and built some roads. The third civilian governor, Chief David Umahi is currently on seat. He is doing his best but a fairer assessment will be at the end of his tenure.
The Igbo are today, endangered in Nigeria. What do you advise as the way out of the quagmire?
I will like to recall that all that should be said about this problem has been said by different groups in Igbo land; the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Alaigbo Development Foundation, and others. Apart from belonging to Ohanaeze, I also belong to Igbo Leaders of Thought led by Prof. Ben Nwabueze, a legal luminary. In all those organizations, we are all working for the interest of Ndigbo and virtually all the well-known names in Igbo land belong to these organizations. We have made proposals and contacts for the well-being of Ndigbo for government to do things that will benefit Ndigbo. Don’t forget we came out from war in 1970 and the slogan was ‘No victor, no vanquished.’ But over time from 1970, we have seen evidence that the slogan has a question mark. Are you sure there was no vanquished? Some regimes came and took deliberate steps to assuage Ndigbo, to do a few things that would benefit Ndigbo; to make them forget those things that led to the war. But at this point in time, things appear different. For instance, if you recall, when Niger Delta militants were blowing up oil and gas pipelines in their area, it was a big problem because it was affecting the nation’s oil production. But it was during late President Musa Yar’dua’s regime that he decided to do what no other leader had done. He invited them for talks and negotiation. He took several steps to make contacts with those militants. All that led to what later emerged as the Amnesty programme which ended the agitations in the Niger Delta. I expect that if there are such agitations in Igbo land today, looking back at what Yar’dua did, I expect the President to reach out to the agitators, hold talks with them and find out what the problems are. We can never be tired of talking. At the end of the day, dialogue is the answer. Even in international disputes or wars, at the end of the day, they go back to the conference table. Some of us who saw the war are praying that our children and children’s children and all the people in Igbo land must never see war again in their life time.
Dr. Akanu Ibiam was your role model; what did you learn from him?
He taught us the values of honesty, sincerity and integrity. Ezeogo, Elder, Dr. Akanu Ibiam was the first indigenous principal of Hope Waddel Training Institute in Calabar up to 1959 when I left the Institution. He later became the governor of Old Eastern Nigeria in 1960 and joined us in establishing the Presbyterian Church in Enugu. I was a leader of young people in the church right from the time that we came to Enugu in 1960. There was no Presbyterian Church; so, I was attending Methodist Church until we built our own church. We came back from war in 1971, and saw our church damaged. But during the war; one of the Reverend Ministers did something that struck me. In Orlu where I ended up as a Chief Correspondent in Biafra, we had Caritas Catholic Organizations. They were bringing relief materials from outside the country. They also had World Council of Churches that also brought their own. One of the ministers was involved in a scandal of selling some of those relief materials.
And so when we came back in 1971, I said to myself how can this man really mount the pulpit and continue to preach to me. I stopped going to church for a while. An Elder in our church was asking after me, and later sent for me. He asked why I stopped coming to church and I explained what the minister did. He told me that Dr. Akanu Ibiam wanted to see me and I obeyed. I was shivering standing before him. So, he asked me the same question and I told him the same story. And he asked me in Igbo dialect if it was man or God that I go to church to worship. That I should start coming to church, stressing that it is God and not man that we worship. That was how I resumed going to our church.
You said you were “conscripted” into politics. What are those things you don’t like about politics?
Well, politicians have rules and regulations in their constitution that they don’t keep. If an organization is not properly regulated, where there are no consequences for deviating from the rules; that looks like lawlessness. For politicians, it appears anything goes. They recruit young men and women, buy drugs and give to them to inject into their system to make them look high and fear nothing; arm them and call them ‘my boys’ and send them to go and fight, kill and die. Those of us who take our religion seriously don’t support such things. When I was campaigning for the senate, I made it clear to my team that anybody that fought anyone because of me would be handed over to the police. So, don’t make any trouble on my behalf and that worked for me. At a time, within my four years, I heard that some young men in Ivo, my LGA and maybe Ebonyi South, complained that since I became a Senator that there were no more jobs for them. For me, I don’t get involved in violence. But when you start discussing issues that have element of unjust treatment on people, I refuse to be part of it.
As an elder statesman, what do you think Nigeria should do to find a solution to challenging security issues?
At 80, I should say it as it is. Over time, we had seen similar situations. I take delight in watching the television and listening to the analysis of people. There is nothing that should be said that has not been said. There is no advice that should be given that has not been given by so many elder statesmen in the country. There is a government in place, the Federal Government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari. He has the last word on this matter. The last word is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Call it national conference, call it anything, people must come together to talk. He can decide to call all political leaders, past and present, former Presidents, leaders of ethnic organizations for dialogue. At the end, there must be a solution or a way out. There is an organisation called the National Assembly, they should be part of it. There is no way we can avoid talking. Nigerians must dialogue to avoid the gathering cloud of war.