In 2010, Dr. Emmanuel Okwesilieze Nwodo was 60 years old. He was then the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He had tapped me soon after he became national chairman to be his media adviser, a position I tried to resist because I didn’t want to leave the newsroom, but he insisted. When I told him then how I detested politics, particularly how I never wrote anything positive about PDP because of their arrogance and disregard for rules of democracy, he said that’s why I need to go in there with him to “correct things.”
Eventually, he had his way because, as a journalist, I had always admired the Nwodos, not just for their brilliance and exceptional eloquence, but more for their attitude to real values of life, their inclination to character than wealth.
Few days to his birthday, I had asked him then as the national chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party how he intended to mark his 60th birthday coming up in few days’ time: “nothing, you know I don’t celebrate birthdays like that.”
But this is round figure and you are now the national cof the ruling party in the country, I tried to stress; “It does not change anything. You know there is a lot of work to do, let’s do the work first and celebration can follow later,” he said.
He was not allowed to do the work, but that is a story for the memoir.
The above position explained why, even as the head of a ruling party, Okwey did not celebrate his 60th birthday the drums were not rolled out in Wadata House and various other social and political joints to mark and celebrate the landmark anniversary. So many of his political associates did not like it, as they positioned themselves to celebrate the man they easily always described then as a good man.
My approach to him was prompted by various calls from newspaper houses seeking to know his associates so that they could be approached to congratulate him.
As national chairman of the ruling party, he had so many political “sons and daughters and friends” who would have very willingly made all the noise but for Nwodo the day was for reflections about life, which James Barrie wrote is “a long lesson in humility.”
Okwesilieze is 70 years today, Tuesday, July 28, 2020, and he is still in reflection mood. Why not, you may say, his creator had played game with him. He was trained by his parents to be a medical doctor and he was doing just that as a surgeon opening up human bodies and removing their ailments, not thinking of the rough terrain of politics, but, unknown to him, God had a different plan for him. Even his parents that named him Okwesilieze (whom the King fits) did not think of him as a politician but the natural ruler. His humility and calmness were suitable for a king. The disqualification of his elder brother, constitutional lawyer, Dr. Joe Nwodo, who was cruising to Enugu Government House as a gubernatorial candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in 1992 changed all that.
A reluctant surgeon was dragged out of medical theatre to the theatre of politics to continue and ensure that the dreams and desires of the Nwodos were not allowed to go down the drain. The rest is now history except to say that it became the beginning of a sweet political journey that has helped greatly to keep the relevance of the Nwodos in the political space of the country. It is, therefore, not accidental that his traditional title is Eze Anyanwa, (the king of the stars).
Today, at the age of 70 years, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo has the rare privilege of navigating two professions, medicine and politics, and can beat his chest with accomplishments in the two.
Born on July 28, 1950, to the family of the late Igwe Dr. J.U. Nwodo and Chief Josephine Nwodo, Igwe Okwulora II of Ukehe in Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area of Enugu State, he attended St. Patrick’s Primary School, Iva Valley, between 1956 and 1961, and Holy Ghost Primary School, Ogui, in 1962, before proceeding to Government College, Umuahia, in 1963 from standard five. His secondary education was interrupted between 1966 and 1970 because of the civiI war but, in 1970, he passed the West African School Certificate Examination.
Dr. Nwodo was admitted into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1971 and graduated with M.B.B.S. in 1977. Between 1977 and June 1978, Dr.Nwodo worked as a house officer at the University of Nigeria Teaching hospital (UNTI-I), Enugu, and, during his National Youth Service Corps, June 1978 to June 1979, he worked at the Military Hospital, Jos, and did part-time lecturing in the Faculty of Medicine, Departments of Anatomy and Pharmacology, University of Jos. He became a senior house officer in paediatric surgery at UNTH, Enugu, from July 1979 to February 1980. Between February and April 1980, he attended a course in Basic Medical Science at the Royal College of Surgeons, London. He then proceeded to the University of Belgarde, Yugoslavia, from June 1980 to February 1984, where he specialised in paediatric surgery, and passed with distinction. While training in the Children’s Hospital, Belgrade, from June 1980 to February 1984, he spent one year (January 1983 to December 1983) as a surgical registrar at the Children’s Hospital, Birmingham, England. He returned to Nigeria in 1984 to become the medical director of Zik Avenue Clinic, Uwani, Enugu, and Ukehe Medical Centre and Maternity, Ukehe, a post held until his election as the first executive governor of Enugu State.
As the governor of the old Enugu State, he set an agenda for agricultural revolution only secondary to that by the late Dr. M.I. Okpara as the Premier of Eastern Nigeria. His industrial blueprint was poised to place Enugu State on the industrial map of the next millennium. With loan from the African Development Bank (ADB), he was able to give borehole water supply to 50 communities in Nsukka and Enugu senatorial zones and also pipe-borne water from Ezilo Water Scheme to 70 communities in Abakaliki Senatorial Zone. After completing the first phase of rural electrification in his state, he signed another facility with ADB for 70 more communities to be electrified in the state. He had imported all the components for the project by the time he left office. A road network linking all the local government areas of Enugu State to the capital was planned for the state and a loan was already secured from the World Bank for the project.
In the health sector Dr. Nwodo’s administration secured a World Bank facility to refurbish hospitals in Enugu State. The administration also started a Mobile Health Clinic for the rural populace and construction of a School of Nursing at Ogbede in Igbo-Etiti LGA. It is also pertinent to note here that, under his administration, an office complex was donated to the Medical Women Association of Enugu.
His policies of triangular equilibrium and “meriquotocarcy” brought social justice, equity and a sense of belonging to all and sundry in the state.
Following the overthrow of the Third Republic by the Gen. Sani Abacha regime, he returned to his practice in Zik Avenue Clinic Limited, Enugu.
With the emergence of the Fourth Republic he was national secretary of the PDP. In that capacity, he engineered the formation of the biggest political party in Africa. His party has, with his diligent efforts, recorded monumental successes in various elections. It is a historical record in Nigeria today that PDP is the first political party to win more than half the local governments in Nigeria, 28 of the 36 state governors at a time, with majority in the 21 Houses of Assembly, absolute majority in both the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly, and a presidential victory in the general election not equalled by any candidate in any previous election. The selection of the presidential candidate of the PDP at the Jos convention organised by Dr. Nwodo remains one of the most credible and transparent in the history of all emerging democracies in the world.
Dr. Nwodo was re-elected national secretary of his party in Abuja, where he scored the highest vote of all the candidates that vied for the 62 offices available in the PDP National Executive Committee; that was a mark of national acceptance of his credibility, efficiency and doggedness in the administration of his party.
It was, therefore, not by happenstance that, on June 17, 2010, an embattled ruling political party in search of a redeemer fished out Dr. Nwodo and entrusted on him the enormous task of saving a drowning giant. He tried, in his words, to break the barrier and return the party to its owners, the Nigerian people, but that tenure was short-lived due to the dangerous intrigues associated with politics.
In his political life, he lives out the injunction of Albert Einstein that “only a life lived for others is worthwhile.”
Dr. Nwodo has remained an active and principled player in Nigerian politics. He is a member of several clubs and professional organisations, such as the International Paediatric Surgery History Club, British Association of Paediatric Surgeons and the Association of Paediatric Surgeons of Serbia, Yugoslavia. A Catholic by faith and a Knight of St. John International, he is married and has four children and enjoys swimming, golf, squash, reading and discussing current affairs.
It is the humility of Okwesilieze Nwodo that I came to agree with a famous British author, John Ruskin, that “the first test of a truly great man is his humility.” By humility I don’t mean doubt of his powers or hesitation in speaking his opinion, but merely an understanding of the relationship of what he can say and what he can do. Congratulations, Eze Anyanwu.