By CHARLIE AGBO
It was a sunny afternoon. The date was Saturday, March 27, 1993. The Garden City of Port Harcourt was already charged with the pulsating presence of political heavyweights of the National Republican Convention (NRC), one of the two political parties in Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s transition programme of the 1990s. At the Port Harcourt Civic Centre, venue of the national convention of the NRC, nothing seemed unusual as the hustle and bustle, backslapping and camaraderie characteristic of events of that nature went on.
Speakers took their turns marshalling their manifestos to win the position of standard-bearer of the party as its presidential candidate. Then something happened! The ascension of Dr. Joe Nwodo to the podium! Just like blitzkrieg, just like electricity. As he, deploying his rhetoric, shot the crowd to a wild, rapturous and explosive crescendo, punching the air in each oratorical cycle with his masterful theatre and political choreography, the entrapped audience, ensconced in pleasurable captivity, yielded to the force of nature as the crowd erupted with ricocheting chants of “You don win, you don win, you don win.”
Born Joseph Nnabuchi Nwodo in 1944 to Chief and Mrs J.U. Nwodo, his father was a politician who rose to become minister of works in the Eastern Region, from 1957 to 1958, and minister of commerce and industry from 1959 to 1961.
He attended Saint Joseph’s Primary School, Nsukka, Saint Patrick’s Primary School, Iva Valley, Enugu, and Saint Patrick’s Primary School, Ogbete,Enugu, from 1955 to 1957.
He was also educated at the College of the Immaculate Conception (CIC), Enugu, between 1958 and 1963, and was active in intellectual, leadership and social activities. Some of the positions he held in CIC included School Prefect 1959-1962, president, United States Information Discussion Group, Enugu, Eastern Nigeria, 1962, and president, Debating Society, CIC, 1961-1962. He was also a weekly TV debater, Eastern Nigeria Television Service, Enugu, member First Eleven Hockey Team, CIC, and member of the CIC table tennis and lawn tennis team, 1961-1962.
In 1963, shortly after leaving CIC, young Nwodo travelled to the United Kingdom for further studies and earned his Advanced Levels certificate in Economics, History and British Constitution at Woodnewton Tutorial Establishment, Hanwell Castle, Banbury, Oxfordshire.
He was school prefect and president of the Castle Club, Woodnewton Tutorial Establishment, Oxfordshire. He was also member, 1st Eleven (football) Woodnewton Tutorial Establishment, Oxfordshire.
In September 1964, Dr. Nwodo commenced his Bachelor of Law programme at the London School of Economics. He earned his Bachelor of Law degree in 1967, a Master of Law degree in 1968 and a Ph.D. in 1974.
In addition to his studies, Dr. Nwodo also worked for the BBC, for a tax office in South East London and was also as a teacher at the South East London Technical College.
Upon return to Nigeria in 1974, Dr. Nwodo was determined to make commercial and corporate legal practice his forte and he was to make a fortune out of his choice of specialization. Among his early exploits was the propagation of joint venture and enterprise between Nigeria and foreign companies. He reasoned that such collaboration would exploit comparative advantage and strength of enterprises for mutual benefit. The quick results that came with this exploit led to even more success.
Leveraging the forgoing fact, he explored the possibility of applying for foreign companies, which execute projects on behalf of the Nigerian government, to be exempted from the requirement of registering new companies in Nigeria. This initiative succeeded with the exemption granted several foreign companies, which engaged his service. His practice at this level and the exposure it gave him earned him the opportunity to act a couple of times as Nigerian legal counsel to foreign banks certifying that proposed loan agreements between foreign banks and the Federal Government of Nigeria were legal, valid and enforceable in Nigeria as a condition precedent to the coming into force of such loans. The first bank he did this for was Deutsche Bank AG, and he was able to register and enforce foreign judgements.
Riding the crest of commercial practice only guaranteed him more success and wider accomplishments. For instance, his engagement as the external solicitor to the defunct Nigerian Industrial Development Bank enabled him prepare numerous and diverse loan and mortgage agreements for the financing of many industrial projects.
He was legal adviser to Fichtel and Sachs AG, a leading manufacturer of motor vehicle clutches and transmission systems in Germany, and Wayss and Freytag AG (sister company to Julius Berger AG). He was legal adviser to a German-Austrian consortium of 17 companies that built the Aladja Steel plant. He also had legal retainerships with Michael Thomas and partner KG, Ferrostaal AG, and a host of others.
In the solid minerals space, he was deeply conversant with the problems associated with coal production in Nigeria. For over a period of 30 years, he provided recurrent legal advice on the development of Nigerian coal. Foremost of his consultation was an investment of $5 billion in Nigerian coal by a consortium headed by Consol Energy INC, an American mining company.
When at the dawn of the 1990s, Babangida rolled out his political transition programme and announced the registration of two political parties, the NRC and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dr. Nwodo, who had for some time been considering running for office, felt the right moment had arrived. The old Enugu State had just been created and he felt that helping the new state weather foundational problems was desirable. He pitched his tent with the NRC.
Dr. Nwodo was a natural campaigner and grassroots political organiser. He was a workaholic on the campaign trail, a restless termite of sorts. No sooner had he marshalled his campaign programme than he set out to turn Enugu State inside out. Youthful, intellectual, swashbuckling and handsome, Nwodo combined all these qualities with the confidence of his pedigree, an accomplished political family. He was going to be difficult to beat.
But then there was Reverend Hyde Onuaguluchi, a televangelist and the fiery founder of God’s Sabbath Mission. His religious programmes on Anambra Broadcasting Service, Anambra Television and the Nigerian Television Authority had made him a household name in Enugu State. That was the man standing between Joe Nwodo and the governorship ticket of the NRC in Enugu State. The stage was then set for a fight of the titans. Enugu State had become a theatre of war, as it were!
As a testimony to the aptness of this characteriaation, the primaries for the election were conducted three times. The first was cancelled because it was alleged that Nwodo’s opponent, through the aid of his supporters, prevented collation of results at the party’s headquarters in Enugu and abducted the returning officer, who absconded with the results for three days and in the end reported to the national headquarters with mutilated results.
The repeat primary took place on November 2, 1991. Dr. Nwodo scored 388,227 votes while Rev. Hyde Onuaguluchi scored 268,665 votes. The supervising panel ordered a run-off owing to the fact that Dr. Nwodo, in their view, did not obtain the necessary territorial spread.
On November 16, 1991, the run-off was held and Dr. Nwodo emerged winner with 395,483 votes against his opponent’s 348,575 votes. One week later, he confirmed his popularity by winning the elections into the four newly created local government councils for his party, NRC, with consequential majority in all the councils.
His opponent published a paid advertisement in the papers in which he claimed to have scored 2,348,986 votes, quadrupling the total number of votes scored in each of the previous elections. The electoral panel found Onuaguluchi’s votes to have been falsified. But this did not stop the National Electoral Commission, headed by Professor Humphrey Nwosu, from cancelling the result of the primaries, which Dr. Nwodo won squarely, and ordering a fresh primary. In addition, Dr. Nwodo and Onuaguluchi were banned from contesting the fresh primaries.
Finding himself in a quandary, Dr. Nwodo decided to field his younger brother, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, a medical doctor who had been active in his (Joe’s campaign) and understood his manifesto. Okwesilieze Nwodo easily won the fresh primary, emerging the party’s governorship candidate. He defeated the candidate of the rival SDP, Gbazueagu Nweke Gbazueagu, and was elected the first civilian governor of the old Enugu State.
Still burning with unquenched desire to serve, even with the bad patch fate had dealt him, Dr. Nwodo, in 1993, sought an even wider platform to serve. He threw his hat into the ring of the presidential election. His outing in the Port Harcourt primaries of the NRC still resonates till date. It was so dramatic that, if it were not for our ethnical balancing and geo-politics, he would have emerged the standard-bearer of the NRC. And who knows what the outcome would have been had he sparred with M.K.O. Abiola? History will resolve this jigsaw.
Dr. Nwodo is survived by his wife, Augustina Nwodo, six children and many grandchildren. As we lower him to Mother Earth, the curtain would have been drawn on a life well lived. Adieu, Dr. Joe Nwodo.