Today, December 8, 2016, the Nigeria Society of Engineers will be conferring one of the highest honours that can possibly be bestowed on an individual in any field of endeavour, on one of its own. This prestigious body is set to institute the Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu Annual Lecture Series. It is in honour of Iwuanyanwu’s stellar contributions to the engineering profession in Nigeria and to the service of humanity. This initiative by the NSE is unprecedented, considering that the lecture series is being instituted during the lifetime of Iwuanyanwu.
It is easy to imagine that the man lived his life and made his mark only in business and politics. But for those who have known him from the beginning, his remarkable exploits in engineering are no news. In fact, he was an engineer of no mean repute. He achieved notable engineering feats, including the design of an ocean berge, using hydraulic technology, design of an innovative rocket system and the Enugu Airport runway, among others.
By all accounts, Iwuanyanwu is a colossus whose reputation is as big as his frame. This doyen of the engineering profession has left a mark that has been difficult to rival, much less surpass in the history of the profession. Straight out of the blocks, as a young engineering graduate, Iwuanyanwu showed remarkable character far exceeding the capacity of his age and experience. He had cut his teeth as an employee of a foreign engineering firm that he later acquired and expanded into a business empire of over 20 companies. In the world of most mortals, this feat only exists in the realm of fairytale. In Iwuanyawu’s world, however, it is perfectly in the man’s character.
The brief recollection above demonstrates, in a rather ironic way, how far Iwuanyanwu has transcended the frontiers of his first calling, even by the very lofty standards that he set in that profession. Since then, he has become a man of so many parts that it is easy to forget that he once towered like a colossus over the engineering profession in Nigeria.
A few men could have ventured into the realm of private enterprise and public service, and left such monumental marks in both sectors. Fewer still could have built an empire while devoting unquantifiable time and resources to the service of society.
Iwuanyanwu has managed to accomplish this feat and much more, traversing different vocations – engineering, construction, public administration, politics, community development, seasoned industrialist with interests in sectors spanning construction, aviation, publishing, sports, etc. It is hard to believe that so much can be packed by any mortal into a single lifetime. Indeed, the man is nothing short of an enigma.
Yet, Iwuanyanwu’s more remarkable achievement lies in his less material contribution to the extremely daunting project of national integration. Exercising both thought leadership and political agency, a few have done more than Iwuanyanwu to forge a consciousness of Nigerian nationalism among his kinsmen. The consistency of his advocacy for national rather than sectional politicking leaves no one in doubt that his commitment to the Nigerian project is a lifelong agenda, and not just the momentary demand of political exigency.
In politics, he has remained a towering personality. As chairman of the unregistered All Nigeria Congress (ANC), which he co-founded with Malam Adamu Chiroma, Malam Umaru Shikafi and other prominent politicians, Iwuanyanwu made a bold statement about his prominent role in the impending democratic dispensation during the General Ibrahim Babangida transition. Later, in the National Republican Convention (NRC), he contested in the party’s presidential primaries. As the transition process continued during the General Sani Abacha regime, he was a frontline member of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), which was founded in his house in Owerri. However, he did not derive any material benefit from its formation, as he was disqualified by the regime for no reason, from contesting for the Senate seat. Yet Iwuanyanwu was undaunted.
As an administrator, the man is integrity personified. While I served as secretary of the Finance Committee and again as secretary of the Contact & Mobilisation Committee of the UNCP, I worked closely with Iwuanyanwu, who was chairman of both committees at the time of my assignment. On both occasions, I learnt a lot from the man.
In a country that has experienced more than its fair dose of identity politics, Iwuanyanwu’s desire to be president of Nigeria was more a mark of his faith in the Nigerian project than a product of ambition. But then his commitment to national integration has not been at the expense of his immediate constituency. Only a few days ago Iwuanyanwu was exhorting his kinsmen to embrace mainstream politics by seeking the highest office in the land, rather than the pursuit of self-determination. Rarely has a Nigerian politician managed to promote national cohesion and also look out for the interest of his community, without conflict in both objectives. Indeed, it is a mark of this dexterity that Iwuanyanwu, who holds the title, Ahaejiagamba, has attracted multiple national honours as well as traditional titles from different parts of the country. Indeed, he can only be described as a quintessential Nigerian.
His cosmopolitan disposition defined much of his personal interaction and political association. In his social, business and political relationships, Iwuanyanwu’s association is not limited by geography or by tribe. North or South, East or West, you are as likely to find his pool of acquaintance in one location as the next. As an accomplished engineer, Iwuanyanwu must have taken the concept of bridge-building very literally into politics, far beyond its figurative connotation.
In all these, Iwuanyanwu has also demonstrated that he is as humane as he is urbane. His interest in people is also not limited by the boundaries of class, which he sees as only artificial. Whether he is setting up an emergency pediatric centre, a blood transfusion centre or cancer diagnosis and treatment units across the country, there appears to be no distinction, in his scale of objectives, between his business interests and his social investments. In giving back to society, Iwuanyanwu has spared no expense and has set no limits. For the man, giving must be a matter of privilege, not a proof of ability. It must have been why the man devoted his entire life to creating a society with the greatest good for the greatest number.
The Iwuanyanwu Annual Lecture Series is, therefore, no more than a fitting recognition for one with such sterling record of service in a profession that is not only distinguished by prestige and by history, but more remarkably by its contribution in radically defining the course of human existence.
But then an award of this magnitude could have been equally well-deserved in any other sphere of human endeavour that has had the benefit of Iwuanyanwu’s involvement. Such honour would have been as fitting in the sphere of private enterprise as in the realm of public service, in the field of sports as in the field of political thought; in media as well as in social development. And even in the sphere of national integration.
If Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu were a subject to be studied in an academic institution, there is no question that these would be the topics of deliberation. The lecture series is designed to commemorate the man, his life and his achievement. It would be a really tall order to expect these lectures to produce other remarkable individuals in the mould of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. But it would be tremendous value to society if those who come after him would imbibe even a modest amount of the incredible lesson that his life holds for this and future generations.
• Ibrahim-Imam wrote in from Abuja.