Before 2003, Prof. Maurice Iwu’s name had not yet been etched on the public psyche like a recurrent decimal. By the same token, not many would have known or heard of Umukabia, the sedate rural community in Ehime Mbano LGA of Imo State, Nigeria, the ancestral home of Prof. Iwu.
However, that year, something significant happened: just as Iwu, a professor of pharmacognosy, was completing his contract as a research fellow at the Walter Reed Institute of Research in the United States, he was appointed as federal commissioner to represent the South-East geo-political zone on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He was subsequently appointed chairman of the all-powerful commission on June 9, 2005 following the completion of duty of the then chairman, the late Dr. Abel Guobadia. Ever since, both Iwu and Umukabia have not been the same again.
Following Iwu’s appointment, Umukabia acquired a larger-than-life status. Dignitaries from various parts of the country will swear that they have known Umukabia from time immemorial, probably from Iwu’s university days. It is possible that some of the dignitaries are politicians. But Iwu is a man of many parts, a man of the people: in the church, he is not just a benefactor and a Papal Knight, he is the vice chairman of the diocesan council of the Catholic Diocese of Okigwe, the highest decision making body in the diocese. To wit, the church he built in Umukabia ranks as one of the most comfortable that can be found anywhere in the country. Thus, Catholic clergymen and women, members of the laity and many others usually besiege his home in Umukabia, especially at festive periods. Besides, Iwu is a quiet philanthropist, an entrepreneur and a social engineer who spends his time mentoring people from all places of life, especially his community. With such a pedigree, it is not surprising that his home is a Mecca of sorts, or a Jerusalem, if you are pointedly particularistic!
As Easter approaches, the road to Umukabia will, as is usual, be adorned with decorations and memorabilia, all leading to Iwu’s home. But this time, it will be for a different, or, if you like, additional reason. From the academia, industry, politics, Christendom, other religious groups, etc, people from all walks of life will head to Umukabia. They will come to honour the matriarch of the Iwu family, the woman who, for over 50 years, single-handedly raised Iwu and his siblings. For many years, from the family house at No. 106, Jubilee Road, in Aba, in today’s Abia State of Nigeria, she withstood formidable odds, painstakingly knitting the family she inherited from her late husband into a proud dynasty of successful academicians, businessmen, administrators and politicians. When her husband died, she adroitly positioned herself for the role of mother and father, something akin to the reputation of black mothers in the United States of America in the 1960s and 1970s.
A dogged and highly disciplined wife, mother and mentor, she is reputed to have inculcated in her children the virtues of the fear of God, honesty, hard work, humility and charity. To understand the rough terrain of Aba through the ages is to appreciate what she must have undergone running her business while at the same time raising the children. Even with the support of the extended family, it would certainly have been no mean task.
From the evidence before us, it is obvious that she did an outstanding job of her charge as mother, mentor and provider. First, she raised all her children to accept God as the ultimate factor in their lives. An ardent Catholic, the story is told that she regarded the donation of a church building by Iwu to the Umukabia community as the greatest achievement ever made by her family. Second, she imbued in them the virtue of hard work and the principle that grace upon enterprise with charity was the most potent combination for lasting happiness. Even at old age, she never departed from these principles; she continued to run her business, which, according to her relations, was geared more towards providing means of livelihood for her workers than for profit-making.
With this rich background, it is not surprising that Iwu and his siblings have recorded outstanding successes in life. As the story goes, the former INEC chairman inherited his ruggedness from her, a quality that played out in the heady days of the 2007 transition from President Olusegun Obasanjo to his successor. It will be recalled that, due to the haywire political events of the era, uncertainty had loomed large over whether the presidential election would hold or not. Even after Iwu had defied all odds and conducted the election, speculations were rife that a judicial ambush would truncate the announcement of the result. Iwu, we were told, considered such a scenario a big risk that would throw the country into a destabilising political conundrum.
As the story goes, whenever such challenges cropped up, she would get herself holed-up in the chapel, praying for God’s guidance but always with the firm instruction that her son should never deviate from the truth. It is, therefore, not surprising that Iwu sidestepped the shenanigans of the moment and announced the result that brought the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to power. In future, scholars will record that as a political masterstroke, a deft and bold move, carefully considered and perfectly executed by a patriot who was more preoccupied with national stability than short-term personal benefits. Through Iwu’s bold position, from the fears of a break-up, the nation picked up the pieces of its chequered evolution and has since moved on.
Those who knew the matron of the Iwu family, this Amazon of a woman, this redoubtable family builder, this quintessential messenger of Christ, this mother, whom I had the privilege of meeting twice, both times at the homes of her son Cosmas Iwu, in Owerri and Umukabia, credit her with the courage component in Prof. Iwu’s DNA, a quality that ensured that democracy was not truncated in 2007.
As you would have guessed, we have been talking about Nneoma Eunice Nkwoada Iwu, the mother of Prof. Maurice Iwu and many biological and sociological children, including Cosmas Iwu, one-time secretary to the government of Imo State; the mother-in-law of Mrs. Kate Iwu, Mrs. Patricia Iwu and others; the grandmother of the forthright and sagacious policy analyst and administrator, Mrs. Ijeoma Iwu-Nwafor, and many others; the arrowhead of the Iwu business empire; a repository of the pristine Igbo values of honesty and hard work and the friend of the poor. She joined the Saints Triumphant on January 6, 2018, after a life of service to God and humanity.
Nneoma Eunice Nkwoada Iwu will be laid to rest in the Iwu family compound at Umukabia on Friday, March 16, 2018. The burial will be preceded by a wake mass at 5pm today, March 15, and funeral mass at 10am tomorrow, March 16, 2018, both at the St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Umuezeala, Umukabia.
As should be expected, the road to Maurice Iwu’s home will witness the kind of traffic it has never seen before. For the Umukabia community, it promises to present a memory of a lifetime, to consummate the legacy that this doyen of the Catholic faith, this quintessential community leader, is leaving behind. This is definitely one touching moment for the Iwu family. We commiserate with Prof and the family. To the praise and glory of God, we bid Mama perfect rest in the bossom of the Lord.
• Agu, former MD, Champion Newspapers, writes from Abuja.