I beg leave of you to pause my reflections of Biafra 2.1 to acknowledge the passage of a big masquerade in Nigeria, Chief Abdulaziz Chibuzor Ude, the Odu n’eje Ogu of Abor in Enugu State. His title, Odu n’eje Ogu Abor, translated, means “Lion that fights battles for Ndi Abor.”
His Abor people had good reasons for giving him the title. We heard that the education of the majority of bright Abor youths was sponsored, in Nigeria and overseas, by the venerable chief.
Although Enugu born and bred, he was very much at home in Lagos, the commercial and cultural capital of Nigeria, as he was in London and New York, where he maintained palatial homes. And boy, did he have a first-class education! From Oxford (UK) to Columbia (US) after finishing as the first head boy of the famous CIC High School, Enugu, his home state.
For most Nigerians, Abdulaziz Ude was like The Great Gatsby, the fictional character created by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in at least one respect: Not much is known about this almost reclusive billionaire beyond his extensive and breathtaking acts of philanthropy. Even northern Muslims were taken aback by testimonies of the man who converted to Islam and remained a faithful disciple of the religion till the end. From what we have been able to read in the media, many Nigerian Muslims did not know him even though they heard his name quite a lot in the mosques, arising from his quiet contributions packaged from the little corner of Lagos called Awolowo Road.
59 Awolowo Road was a bridge builder.
At the end of the day, two questions remain hanging in the air about him: how did he make his money and why did he convert from Christianity to Islam? It is possible that, in the nearest future, these questions will be answered in a satisfactory manner. However, we know that there is a most likely location where the answer may be found. Not in books. Not in tapes. Not in whispers or gossip. But in the four walls of a house.
The house in question is 59 Awolowo Road in Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria. This two-storey building can be said to represent the global headquarters of late Chief Ude’s extensive business empire. It is also a home of dreams that flowered and dreams that died. But one thing remained constant throughout the time that big dreamers thronged the building, longing to see the dream-maker. The godfather never slept, waiting patiently to welcome and empower the thousands who yearned for a chance to restore happiness to their lives.
59 Awolowo Road was a happiness factory.
The first time I visited 59 Awolowo Road – and also heard the name Abdulaziz Chibuzor Ude – it was to see my good friend, the late Ashikiwe Adione-Egom, the self-styled Motor Park Economist. Ashikiwe returned from Europe to The Guardian, the self-styled flagship of the Nigerian press, and began to tease economists and the intelligentsia with a peculiar brand of economic philosophy. For the dream-maker, it may have been his love of brilliant people that brought them together after Ashikiwe left The Guardian.
Or it may be because both he and Ashikiwe were members of the uppity Oxbridge Club – the exclusive club of gentry who studied in Oxford and Cambridge universities in the United Kingdom. For me today, the answer can only be told by the four walls of 59 Awolowo Road. What I do know is only what I reported in The Guardian on Sunday after my encounter with my old friend. Ashikiwe was smoking a cigar with a bottle of cognac in front of him all the time we talked. And when I popped the question that was agitating my mind – how he could have saved enough money to go into publishing, with a fashionable address to boot, he laughed and told me that it was courtesy of an Oxbridge gentleman called Bernard Abdulaziz Chibuzor Ude. He mentioned all the names to let me know how intimate they were as friends. But he asked that I omit the Bernard in the name.
When I mentioned to a friend in the newsroom what I heard, he did a double take.
“That’s the guy on Newswatch masthead as a director!” my friend exclaimed.
“That guy must be rich.”
It was then that I remembered where I saw the name before. I went back to the library, brought out the magazine and began to study all the names there again, so that I would not be blindsided in the future. The names that jumped at me were Ime Umana, Abdulaziz Ude, Alex Akinyele and the famous quartet who were the front-office warriors of the magazine, Giwa, Ekpu, Agbese and Mohammed. We knew about Umana and Akinyele and our senior colleagues. But Ude was a big fat question mark. Who was he?
59 Awolowo Road was a house of mystery.
The answer to this question is not even too clear today, based on the testimonies about him that we’ve read. What made the matter more serious for me was that I was told that my interview with Ashikiwe became a source of friction between him and his benefactor, long before The Financial Post hit the newsstands. Hearing this, I didn’t have the courage to go back and ask him to give me a background on the man that decided to float a magazine and keep his identify quiet.
Of all the tributes that have been written on the man since his passing, the one that cut very deeply with me was the statement from President Muhammadu Buhari, as released by Malam Shehu Garba. The President described Ude as “one of the most unostentatious philanthropists in the country,” someone who worked for humanity without making any noise about it.
And then this:
“Doing goodness without bragging about is one of the greatest virtues and the late Abdulaziz Ude had passed such a test of humility with distinction.”
I had hitherto wished that, somehow, it would be possible for someone to be allowed access to dig into the files at 59 Awolowo Road to answer the burning questions about the man. But after reading the President on the matter, I thought it was as well that we let matters be.
My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to meet the man. Not because he was unapproachable, as we now know, but because I never tried.
Today, I wish that somehow I can sidle to the walls of a two-storey building and listen as I am told the answers to the questions. But I know that there are no answers that will invalidate the invaluable stamp that Abdulaziz Ude has made on quiet philanthropy and that his spirit will ever live on the stories that his benefactors will continue to tell and retell, to build a mystic that defines what it is to become truly human in a broken world.
• Ogbuagu is the
publisher of Enugu Metro (enugumetro.com)