By UZODINMA NWALA
HE was a political colossus. His pharaohic human frame, gift of the gab, acute political sagacity and realism and unusual audacity combined to produce the foundation of what we can call the Chuba mystique!
By the time I returned from study leave in 1977 to rejoin the Philosophy Programme at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Chuba had gone to Lagos as an elected delegate of the 1977-78 National Constitutional Conference. The Nsukka School of Radicals headed by the indefatigable Ikenna Nzimiro was missing him but felt consoled that another radical philosophy scholar had joined them. The Group has so much respect for Chuba’s intellect and political sagacity but felt uncomfortable that he was not a marxist radical.
At the time, Nigerians all over the world were debating the Draft Constitution of 1977 written by the ‘Fifty Wise men’ as they were called. While in the USA, I was President of the Nigeria Study Group and our Group had submitted a position paper on the debate over the Draft Constitution. A Second Memorandum from the Nigerian Citizens in the US, also published like ours in the Tony Momoh’s Daily Times sponsored publication – Great Debate – came from another group of Nigerians headed by Tunde Adeniran and George Obiozor.
The debate on the post-military Federal Constitution sponsored by the Obasanjo military regime centered around the choice between the Capitalist and Socialist models of development. One item that aroused so much fervor was the demand for – “One man, one plot” to be inserted in the new Constitution. I was dispatched to Lagos by the Nsukka Group with the assignment of reaching out to Mazi S. G. Ikoku (known in the heydays of anti-colonialism as a fine Marxist scholar) and the fiery Dr Chuba Okadigbo to canvass, among other things, the demand for ‘one man, one plot’. My meeting with Chuba was full of excitement on both sides.
He had been told about my return and I had been told about him as a very popular and eloquent radical scholar. We discussed well into the night. As for the campaign for ‘one man, one plot’. Chuba told me that he had been elected to the Constituent Assembly by the power of money men (i.e. the Capitalists who invariably were the people who owned several plots in different cities in the country). He said that he was elected by the Power of Money Men and they didn’t send him to Lagos to come and attack their property. Therefore, he would not be in the forefront of that campaign. That was quintessential Chuba, the political realist.
When he came back later, from the Constituent Assembly, Chuba and I spent over four hours on one memorable day at the CEC engaged in deep political, ideological and philosophical discussion. One key issue was on his proposal that both of us should go into politics and that we should work with those who were packaging a political formation that eventually metamorphosed into the National Party of Nigeria (the NPN). I objected to the proposal on ideological grounds but told him that it was dangerous for two philosophers to be swallowed by the power of money men, He chuckled – that trade mark chuckle of Chuba.
Chuba was one man no-one can ignore in any political setting, What can you ignore – is it his tall beautiful human frame, is it the force of his personality, his superlative gift of the gab, is it his unnerving sense of humour, sharp wit? Eventually, he became the main intellectual backbone of the NPN. Meanwhile, the Nsukka Group had become very vocal against the ruling class ideology and we decided to invite and confront our colleague. We arranged for the students to invite him to a symposium where he was to speak followed by me.
As soon as Chuba arrived Nsukka with his Special Assistant, Dr George Obiozor and the rest of his team, they retired to the Continuing Education Center (CEC) to prepare. When I got into his room at the CEC, there I saw about two cartons of beer and Chuba was drinking more than everybody else as if it was water, with his wit, self-control and common sense still intact. In later years, he told me the secret behind his ability to drink so much beer and any other alcohol like water, without losing control.
Chuba got to know that I was to speak after him. To him it was going to be an ideological confrontation. When he rose to speak, he left the topic assigned to him which had to do with the programme of the party and government whose political adviser and theoretician he was. Instead Chuba, went after socialists and socialism. He spoke about the atheism of the socialists and the brutal regime in the Eastern countries, etc.
The Priests in the audience hailed him and forgot that he had once fallen out with them while he was on the staff. Meanwhile, Chuba had succeeded in shifting attention from the anticipated criticism of the policies of his government which the socialists regarded as reactionary.
What is the secret behind Chuba’s capacity to drink and still keep his wits intact? Chuba told me the story of his stay in a major Hotel in Yamoussoukro, capital of Ivory Coast while he was on the mission to bring back General Emeka Ojukwu from exile. Right there in the hotel were other diplomats some of whom were in conversation with him. He noticed a particular diplomat from Senegal who was fond of visiting the rest room from time to time just like Chuba was doing. The diplomat was also drinking profusely like himself.
So he, Chuba, became curious. And so the next time as the diplomat went in, Chuba allowed a few seconds and burst into the rest room and caught the man throwing two tablets of analgesic into his mouth and swallowing them with water. Chuba chuckled. So, you, you, you too know this secret! Both of them started to laugh and Chuba swallowed his own two tablets of analgesic.
They returned to their seats and continued their conversation as soberly as before, Chuba had immense gift of the gab. He displays it in every expression he uttered. I once confronted him and took objection to the news that he had open sharp disagreement with his first wife. Chuba said to me ‘Uzo, it is not that she was not right, rather I was protesting against her manner of protest’. Then came ASUU and I was leading the University teachers, (as first and so far the only Executive General Secretary of the Academic Staff Union of Universities-ASUU). That strike was the first major earth-shaking confrontation between the University scholars and the Government – this time the Government of President Alhaji Shehu Shagari, whose Political Adviser was my friend, Chuba Okadigbo.
To be concluded tomorrow
Prof Nwala is the President Alaigbo
Development Foundation (ADF), Abuja