By Ike Abonyi
I am taking this elegy on Dr. Joe Nnabuchi Nwodo, the Agadagbachiruzo of Ukehe, who will be committed to Mother Earth on June 5, 2021, from a question put to me by a young Nigerian journalist, “Who is this Dr. Joe Nwodo they are talking about?”
By his age in his early 30s, he was under five years when Dr. Nwodo took the nation’s political space by storm in 1993.
Their generation never heard of any other Nwodo outside the two Nwodos whose name and image have continued to create problems in news production because of the frequent mix-ups in names and pictures. Here I mean Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, former Governor of old Enugu State who was also the pioneer national secretary and former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and his younger brother, two-time federal minister of aviation and information, respectively, and, lately, the immediate past president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo.
Ahead of these duo in the great Nwodo family is their most elder brother, a constitutional lawyer par excellence who rewrote the history of electioneering in Nigeria during military’s Third Republic.
Nwodo’s political journey is intriguing and stimulating in many ways. When he wanted to be governor of old Enugu State that comprised part of today’s Ebonyi State, he met a strong challenger in one Rev. Hyde Onuaguluchi, another strong political character who roped himself in the controversy of breaking the cross, the church’s symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Nwodo was actually cruising to victory, having mesmerized the electorate with his oratory and virtuosity, when the military authorities banned him and Rev. Onuaguluchi.
Nwodo’s campaign team, in a rare fast-thinking political strategy, moved to tap on his goodwill with the people by drafting his hitherto apolitical brother, a medical doctor, Okwesilieze, to ‘his shirt let brother take’.
The rest is now history as Okwesilieze eventually became the first civilian governor of Enugu State and the first Nsukka person to occupy the position.
Dr. Joe Nwodo was to return to the space again this time on a high pedestal, to run for the Presidency of the country. He became a frontline presidential aspirant of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC).
Nwodo’s history-making in Nigerian politics became manifest when the party arrived the Port Harcourt civic centre venue of the National Convention in 1992 for the election of the presidential standard-bearer. The few minutes given to each aspirants to address the delegates was all Nwodo needed to implant himself not only in the minds of the delegates at the convention but even that of other Nigerians who watched the master showpiece on national television. In that legendary speech, Nwodo amazed the crowd with his all-inclusive political style, filled with several punchlines for eradicating poverty and developing a new wealth base in Nigeria, based on agriculture.
The impact of Nwodo’s presentations was so much that, when he was not picked eventually as standard-bearer, angry Nigerian voters revolted, dumping NRC for the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the alternate party created then by the military.
That was how the late Moshood Abiola, the standard-bearer of the SDP, even defeated the Kano-born Bashir Tofa the NRC standard-bearer, behind whom Nwodo was a runner-up in Port Harcourt. As a young journalist, being Nwodo’s kinsman from Nsukka in Port Harcourt then, I couldn’t have been prouder in life.
The 1993 presidential election was one in which ethnic, religious and geo-political interests were relegated to the background. That was catalyzed by Nwodo who had used his brilliance and disarming oratory to sway the electorate.
But in subsequent republics, the final return to democracy in 1999, Dr. Joe Nwodo had retired to his first love, law.
His health could not support his versatility, as he remained in the background until March 10, 2021, when he joined his ancestors. This denied the younger ones, the Internet age generation, the opportunity of knowing him.
Below is, therefore, the profile of the political iroko of the Third Republic.
Dr. Joseph Nnabuchi Nwodo was born in Nsukka in former Anambra State of Nigeria on January 19, 1944. Joe, as he was fondly called, was born into the prominent political family of Chief Dr. Igwe and Mrs. J.U. Nwodo, a former minister of works Eastern Nigeria, 1957-1958 and minister of commerce and industry, 1959-1961. He was the first male and the second child of the family, filled with several prominent and accomplished personalities, including politicians, medical doctors, lawyers, etc.
From 1955 to 1957, Nwodo attended St. Joseph’s School, Nsukka, St. Patrick’s School, Iva Valley, Enugu, and St. Patrick’s School, Ogbete Enugu, Eastern Nigeria, for his primary education.
From 1958 to 1963, Nwodo attended College of the Immaculate Conception (CIC), Enugu, for his secondary education and completed his O’ Levels with flying colours in November 1963.
Nwodo travelled to the UK when only 19 years old in September 1963 for his tertiary education.
He completed his A’ Levels in Economics, History and British Constitution in a record three months at Woodnewton Tutorial Establishment, Hanwell Castle Banbury, Oxfordshire, in 1963. He enjoyed reading mainly legal and political books. Mr. Browne, his principal at Oxford, commented, “Nwodo is a very hardworking and diligent student…He is genuinely interested in world problems, both political and legal….He is also a prefect and he can be always relied on to treat people wise and firmly.”
At Oxfordshire, Dr. Nwodo held several positions of responsibility.
After completing his A’ Levels, Nwodo moved to London and began a Bachelor of Law degree at the London School of Economics in September 1964. His father had wanted him to study medicine but he wanted to build on his innate literary prowess and went on to study law. Nwodo studied at the London School of Economics until 1974, completing a Bachelor of Law degree (in 1967), a Master of Law degree (in 1968) and a PhD (in 1974).
In addition to his studies, Nwodo also worked in various jobs in London, including for the BBC, for a tax office in South East London and also as a teacher at the South East London Technical College.
In 1974, Nwodo returned to Nigeria, where he remained living until recently.
Nwodo met his dashing bride and they got married, and were blessed with six children and four grandchildren. His children, famously referred to as the first class squad of six, as they all graduated with first class honours degrees in their various disciplines, are: Mrs. Nkiruka Genevieve Wakeley-Jones, a lawyer and management consultant; Mr. Chukwuemeka Agunechibe Nwodo, a software engineer and banker; Mr. Joseph Nnabuchi Nwodo (Jnr), a lawyer at Dr. J.N. Nwodo & Co. Chambers; Mrs. Chinenye Nwodo Zakariyau, a lawyer; Miss Obiageli Lorraine Nwodo, a chartered accountant (Fellow), MBA; and Dr. Odinaka Nwodo, a surgeon.
He is also survived by four grandchildren, Master Daniel Chinemeze Iwu, Miss. Amelia Ope Zakariyau, Miss Jayden Zakariyu and Miss Adaeze Nwodo
On return to Nigeria, Nwodo established his own legal practice, where he specialized in commercial law.
He was the legal adviser to several formidable German companies, including Fichtel & Sachs AG, a leading manufacturer of motor vehicle clutches and transmission systems in Germany, and Wayss & Freytag AG (sister company to Julius Berger AG).
He was also legal adviser to Machinery and Plant Limited. MAN AG was a formidable German mechanical engineering group and conglomerate that specialized in the distribution of mechanical utilities in Nigeria. Through this retainership, he had at last penetrated into the industrial heartland of Germany, as several other German companies engaged his services.
Perhaps the most challenging legal brief ever executed by Dr. Nwodo was his appointment as legal adviser to a German-Austrian consortium of 17 companies that built the Aladja Steel plant. The project was to use the most modern technology known as the Middrex system to produce the steel. It was at that time the most integrated steel plant in sub-Saharan Africa and was built at a total cost of $1.8 billion. For the consortium, he secured the exemption from registering a new company or companies under the Companies and Allied Matters Act. He applied and obtained expatriate quotas (i.e. work permits) to enable employees of the consortium to execute the project.
Dr. Nwodo would later on become a member of the board of Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company (WRPC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. During his time at WRPC, he facilitated the development of several laws guiding the petroleum industry, and contributed towards resolution of several complex legal disputes.
Up until his point of death, Dr. Nwodo, popularly called Ochendo ‘umu-ogbenyi’ (the protector of the poor), was intent on developing a robust agricultural programme. His legacy is summarized by his ability to create lasting memories across any social circle/demography, simply because of his love for people, particularly the poor. Man of Peace!
•Abonyi, journalist, wrote from Abuja