Magnus Eze, Enugu
It was a season of celebrations in Enugu as three distinguished indigenes marked their birthdays in a particular weekend.
Chief (Mrs.) Grace Obayi of the Nwodo scion of Ukehe who turned 80 on March 9, opened the floodgate with a well attended ceremony on Saturday, May 11. The following day was something else as the Coal City stood still for Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu who turned 57 and second republic Governor of Old Anambra State, Senator Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo. He clocked 79 on May 9, but the state chapter of Ohanaeze Ndigbo chose May 12 to celebrate him.
The events practically grounded the state as people from within and outside trooped into Enugu in honour of the two top politicians. There was gridlock in and around the Independence Layout where the two venues were located.
Notable personalities who attended the functions included Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo; Sen. Chimaroke Nnamani; Sen. Ben Obi; and Senators Victor Umeh, Obinna Ogba, Sam Anyanwu, Peter Nwaoboshi, formal National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, former Minister of State Foreign Affairs, Chief Dubem Onyia and oil magnet, Prince Arthur Eze, among others.
A key fallout of Ekweremadu’s celebration which was organised by the Enugu West Parliament was his announcement that he may not seek re-election into the senate in 2023.
“My dear brothers and sisters, you must admit that no matter how melodious a song may be, it will definitely have an end. Therefore, as I thank you for these 16 memorable and splendid years as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; as I thank my distinguished colleagues for honouring me as the Deputy President of the Senate for three consecutive times; as we recall the accomplishments of the projects of my representation in the last 16 years; as I acknowledge your kindness in keeping me in the Senate for these 16 years; and as I prepare to further represent you by your mandate for the next four years, let me seek your understanding and indulgence to now announce that this will be my last term as your Senator,” he stated.
Setting the tempo for the day, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who chaired the occasion described Nwobodo as the father of Enugu state and one of the greatest living Nigerian politicians.
He eulogised the former minister of Youths and Sports for his visionary leadership as Governor of old Anambra state and for his ability to be a rallying point at some point.
Nwodo therefore, urged the celebrant to unite the Igbo, beginning with Enugu state, stressing that Ndigbo needed his wise counsel most at the moment being the oldest Igbo politician of stature; next only to first republic Minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi.
Also, President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Enugu state, Chief Alex Ogbonnia harped on the need for the Igbo to celebrate men and women of formidable accomplishments amongst them.
According to him, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization owes it a duty to promote honour, dignity, hard work, discipline, justice, equity, selfless service and integrity amongst the Igbo. He added that the celebration was in line with the Ohanaeze philosophy to extol talents, unassailable accomplishments and exemplary life wherever they are found.
He said: “As the conscience of the Igbo nation, we owe it as a duty to our people to always promote the truth and ensure that it is not suppressed.”
Ogbonnia noted that one of the major benefits of celebrating great men is because it serves both as a guide and an inspiration to the younger generation.
“The youths should be persuaded to know that at an age many of them are still groping and floundering, Jim had developed the requisite perspectives and the acumen to become an entrepreneurial behemoth of world renown.
“It was also in his thirties that he won election and was sworn in as the first executive governor of the Old Anambra State,” the Ohanaeze leader stated.
He further said that it was paradoxical for Ndigbo to bemoan the demise of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Dr. Michael Okpara, Dr. Sam Mbakwe, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Chief C. C. Onoh, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, and many others but will not celebrate such phenomenal personalities like Nwobodo; Ekweremadu, Nnamani, Ugwuanyi and others from the state.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo, he said “believes that the more we celebrate our own, it will not only redound to the vital role of Enugu in the affairs of the Igbo nation but will help to nurture our youths towards transcendental virtues.”
In the speech titled, “The truth shall prevail (Eziokwu g’aputa ihe); reminiscent of Nwobodo’s philosophical remark when the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) robbed him of his re-election in 1983, Ogbonnia disclosed that this year’s event was preparatory to his 80th birthday.
He announced that there will be an international colloquium in honour of Nwobodo at 80, where “Nigeria and the world will on Saturday, May 9, 2020, know that in Enugu state, there is an aggressive achiever, amiable leader, consensus-builder, change agent, compassionate spirit, trail blazer, motivator, mobilizer, and harmonizer of alliances, mythical personality and a devout Christian votary.”
Still on the essence of the celebration, Ohanaeze said the second republic governor in a space of four years revolutionised the education sector in the old Anambra State, comprising the present States of Enugu, Anambra and greater part of Ebonyi.
He initiated the policy of one secondary school per community with a school bus and generating set as complements; bursary awards to all the students of the old Anambra state in all the higher institutions in Nigeria; award of scholarship to indigent students, etc. Nwobodo was the first governor to establish a State-owned University- the multi-campus-based Anambra State University of Science and Technology, ASUTECH, which has birthed the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) Enugu; Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU) Awka and Ebonyi State University (EBSU) Abakaliki.
Some other achievements by Nwobodo, include the establishment of Enugu State Television, Channel 50, Enugu; Ikenga Hotels, Nsukka and Awka, Sunrise Flour Mills, Enugu; Building Materials Factory, Ezzamgbo; Aluminum Products Factory, Ohebedim; metallurgical factory, Ozubulu; Specialist Hospital, Abakaliki; Anambra State Vegetable Oil Products (AVOP), Nachi; Nike Lake Resort, Enugu; Enugu and Onitsha water schemes; rural electrification project to several communities; access roads; Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, etc. And at an impressionable young age, he was the Chairman of the Enugu Rangers International Football Club.
According to him, the all-conquering Enugu Rangers represented the Igbo resurrection, Igbo consciousness, irrepressibility, Igbo dignity and pride. It was the social soul of the entire Igbo. That was the Rangers that the young Jim Nwobodo was considered most suitable to lead from 1976-1979. Jim was then on the lips and hearts of every Igbo.
Considering his role in uplifting the dignity of Enugu people in particular, they said he is to Enugu what Barrack Obama is to the Blacks all over the world.
Several other persons paid tribute to the elder statesman including former governor of the state; Sen. Chimaroke Nnamani who had long political disagreement with Nwobodo but they made up recently, to the point that he called him “my boss” at the occasion.
Responding, Nwobodo said that he has accepted to challenge to unite the Igbo even as he wished he would be an Igbo in his next life. He identified the continued denial of the people of southeast the position of president as one of the major injustices against Ndigbo, and warned that peace will continue to elude the country until the injustices meted to Ndigbo were resolved.
“I would be an Igbo in my next life. Once we can love ourselves the sky will be our limit. There is IPOB because there is no job. Graduates of 10 years without jobs can’t just keep quiet.
“I have accepted the challenge of uniting Ndigbo. Dr Chimaroke Nnamani now calls me boss and I am overwhelmed and surprised at the marvellous works of God.
“Nigeria should give Ndigbo their share of the country. How can you revolve power just among a particular set of Nigerians? I will not disappoint Ndigbo and I must always stand by the truth,” he said.