By Valentine Obienyem
Many centuries ago, a young, metaphysical Yogi found it difficult explaining Yoga to a non-initiate. He ended up in frustration, saying to him, “It is only through Yoga that Yoga may be known.” We face such frustrations in our daily existence. Many years ago, when Mr. Peter Obi was the Governor of Anambra State, he wanted to introduce Mr. Oseloka Obaze to me. That was at a time he was brooding how to get him to leave the comfort of the United Nations in New York and join hands in the building of Nigeria. When he felt I was not getting the excellent attributes he used to describe him, he said: “Val, it needs seeing Oseloka in action, following him through what he does, for you to understand the man.” For Mr. Peter Obi, who usually administers praises in small doses, to give full doze on OHO, as Obaze is popularly called, means there is something spectacular about the man. As far as I was concerned, may God help us to convince him to come back to Nigeria for me to have the opportunity of studying him, having in view the character traits that Mr. Peter Obi had delineated.
At this point, out of inquisitiveness, I had to do a background check on Obaze. I soon discovered that he is a man of substance and accomplishments. We can actually say with surety about him, as Chathan said of Garibaldi, that he is “One of those men who are no longer to be found but in the pages of Plutarch.” Regarded as the father of Biography, Plutarch, in a language that was distinctly his, pared and compared great Romans with great Greeks, hoping that by so doing, he would pass on some moral stimulus, some heroic impulse of those great men, to his readers. Oseloka’s life, properly written, will be an inspiration to any one privileged to read it.
From Ochuche Umuodu in Ogbaru Local Government Area, a town noted for its affability, he was born in 1955 in Ogidi, the home town of a man that considered him a great friend, Prof. Chinua Achebe. A man Oseloka has never ceased reverencing for his character, principles and solid family life. In his email messages, he permanently signs off with a quote from Achebe: ‘’One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” This summarizes his character. It is beyond this work to point out the detailed correspondence of his ideas with those of Achebe; the two men were coins of the same mould and mint, however different in date.
Happily married to a medical Doctor, Dr. Ofunne Omo Obaze, they are blessed with children.
OHO was inured to self -control by his parents’ (teachers’) stoic examples. Like all fond parents, they wanted the best education for him, such that he attended Christ the King College and Dennis Memorial Grammar School, both in Onitsha. Keenly aware of the place of education in the lives of men throughout the ages, he pursued learning relentlessly. He attended the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (USA), where he obtained a Master’s Degree in Political Science and International Relations, as well as Nebraska Wesleyan University, where he read Political Science. He attended certificate courses in world renowned institutions across the world – Italy, Austria, Sweden – where he studied various aspects of international relations and diplomacy, including specialty on Dialogue and Mediation efforts. This saw him being part of the UN team that travelled all over the world in search of peace and brotherhood of all men. This explains why he has been to over 100 countries of the world since his first appointment into the United Nations in 1991 by the then Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cueller. His travels make us recall the saying of the wise one that education comes one fourth from the teacher, one fourth from travel, one forth from experience and one forth from books. He has the opportunity of acquiring education from the four noted sources.
In his pilgrimage on earth, he has contributed his mite to the advancement of civilization and the growth and development of his state, country and the world at large. I say this with surety since he started in the country’s Foreign Ministry, 1982 to 1991. Amidst rapid rise in his career at that time, he had to resign because of certain policies that were antithetical to his beliefs by hindering the universally acclaimed rights of men. The reason for his resignation, which was touchy, informed his immediate engagement by the United Nations. They saw in him, those qualities needed to lead men along the paths of universal dignity.
As the Governor of Anambra State and determined to lead in accordance with the best practices, it was very tough for Mr. Peter Obi. At a point, he was looking for men that were really men, men that would help him in the administration, formulation and implementation of policies that would make Anambra State a model State. One of the lessons of history is that when one searches for good men, like a man searching for a wife, one realises that such people come at a high premium. This search ended in the plans to engage Mr. Oseloka Obaze to return home and help his state and country. But the greater issue still was the process of convincing him.
I made the first trip with Mr. Peter Obi to New York, where he met with Mr. Oseloka Obaze and the subject was his return home to help in the task of re-moulding Anambra State. It was not easy convincing him, precisely because he knew he was being called to work and not to eat as most men would have construed such a call. It took over a year to conclude the process of his coming back and Obi persevered because he knew what he would add to his government.
Oseloka’s fame is universal. Here is a man of substance, both to Occidental and Oriental eyes: solid with experience, travel and practical statesmanship. Those who came in contact with him daily write panegyrics of him. His superiors have nothing but eulogies of him. Soon after he disengaged from the United Nations in 2012, the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in a personal letter dated 26 July 2012, to Obaze, said these words, “In your long distinguished career… you have proven yourself as a most dedicated, dependable and competent staff member. Throughout your service, you have unfailingly upheld the highest standards of efficiency, competence required of an international civil servant.”
As the Secretary to the State Government, those that knew him were aware of what he would do, but those that expressed surprise on why so much energy should be committed to wooing one man to come back home looked at him longingly to prove his mettle. OHO was mettlesome enough, for he started to re-design everything about the office of the Secretary to the State Government as a centre of attrition rather than attraction. He did this by making the office service-oriented in the best professional way possible. Very soon, the staff in that office started talking about his obstinate incorruptibility and his addiction to principles that sparked a veritable epidemic of honesty in that office.
Gradually, everybody started appreciating him, such that whenever a big task or a committee was needed to tackle any issue the Executive Council would be united in saying “Let OHO head it.” This was how it came about that he headed many committees and was used by Obi, without himself realizing it, as Anambra’s Ambassador Plenipotentiary of the Government. OHO was the best we had to interface with the likes of the late Achebe, Soyinka, Chukwuemeka Ike, among others. He fitted the bill, with one of colleagues confirming thus, “I have worked with him and I can tell you that he is a first-class diplomat who could rephrase in courteous elegance, the unvarnished utterances of his master. I can also tell you that he is a model of diplomatic courtesy, his language always polite. He can be described as a realist and a rationalist who pierces the moral phrases of men that govern states to the actual motives of policy.”
His sally into politics under APGA was short-lived. By what was clearly a conspiracy hatched by the leadership of the party that believed that he would be more meticulous than Obi in the use of public funds, he was disqualified on the laughable ground that he had no party registration card. He understood the message and laughed over it.
OHO was one of those who expressed strong desire to quit Anambra government after the tenure of Mr. Peter Obi, but was persuaded to stay on by his successor. When things started falling apart in terms of deviation from real governance, he had to resign. Remarkable was that the day he was leaving finally, civil servants gathered in great throngs along the path he would drive out from, and many, according to eye witnesses, wept in bidding farewell to him. Some carried placards saying “We have lost a saint”.
As a diplomat, an author, a poet, a mediator, a consultant and strategic policy advisor, he rivals the best and has received uncountable commendations and awards.
OHO has the perfect combination that would hit success in any organization he manages or state he leads. He has the soul of an artist of the poet’s genre – organized, sensuous, and almost instinctively possessed of good taste that does not pass moderation to Epicureanism. He is sober and unostentatious, frugal and industrious, curious and studious, loyal and patient, with a heroic capacity for details. These are really welcome antidotes to the recklessness of today.
Have I written his virtues forgetting his faults? No doubt, like any human being, he has his own character flaws. Who does not have? Many years ago, Seneca wrote: “I persist in praising not the life that I lead, but that which I ought to lead. I follow it at a mighty distance, crawling.”
Of which of us is this not true? But all in all, in the presence of OHO, we are warmed up by the fellowship of a man humane, essentially wholesome, and complete.
Mr. Obienyem wrote from Lagos