Sunday, September 22, 2013

Farewell My Mentor: Adieu, Chuba Okadigbo

 From Ehirim Files Archives
By Ted Onyeji, New York
September 30, 2003


Nigerian vice presidential candidate for the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, gestures during an interview at his home in the state capital Enugu, April 17, 2003. Okadigbo stated no winner from the ANPP would sit in a "police parliament" after alleging gross election rigging during the recent parliamentary elections, the first democratic poll since the end of military rule in 1999.


I met him only once in 1982.  A tall and handsome, oft described as brash, but articulate young political stalwart. He was the youthful, vibrant, educated new breed infusion, appointed to the position of special adviser on political affairs in the second republic, during the Shagari regime.

In his charming characteristic attributes, he became the darling of the young people, and almost single-handedly embodied the hope and aspirations of the youth of Nigeria in general, and especially, that of the Igbo youth, who were still grappling with the notion of one Nigeria, and a sense of political rebirth. It therefore did not come as a surprise, when Chuba Okadigbo embarked on a quest to encourage the youth to participate in the new government, by making himself accessible to them.

Growing up poor, in the trackless jungle of a congested Lagos metropolis, I was among those whose ambition and aspirations was kindled by the glow of this young politician.

After summoning up the courage to write, to convey my admiration for what he meant to me , I was resigned to the realization that most Nigerian politicians were nonchalant to such overtures. Suffice it to say that it came as a pleasant surprise to me, when I received a correspondence from him as follows;

Though belated, I write to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of 23rd November, 1981. I thank you immensely for the kind sentiments expressed therein. You might wish to contact my personal secretary at the above address, for an appointment as to how and when we can meet. With every good wish and a happy new year. Yours sincerely
~~~ Chuba Okadigbo.

Why did I keep this letter for over 20 yrs, you might ask. Your guess is as good as mine.

We arranged to meet at his office in the presidential compound. I had my doubts if this meeting would actually take place, because of the timing. The government was busily engaged in the last minute preparations for a papal visit to Nigeria. Pope John Paul II, was due in the country in 48 hours, and Chuba was charged with the coordination of the arrival.

Nevertheless, I found myself sitting in front of my mentor, in his office, amid the chaos of the incessant phone calls that were prompted by the pending papal visit. Yet, looking rather calm and unruffled, I was treated to the most engaging 30 minutes of conversation with this endearing role model. After apologizing for not being able to spend more time with me, he encouraged me to pursue my ambitions and goals in life, despite the hardship of my background. I saw in him the promise and opportunity that awaited all Nigerians in this dawning era, and I left his office buoyed with hope and enthusiasm, and a feeling of pride and nationalism.

Months later, I was confronted with a tough situation, and had to make a choice. It was hardly a difficult decision for me. I had turned down a supervisory position with my employer, and the perks of the entitlement to a down payment for a Volkswagen beetle. There were bigger and better things for me to accomplish. I was bubbling with vigor, hope and enthusiasm, and the sky was the limit.

That was the aura that Chuba Okadigbo brought to my generation. Though I may not always have agreed with his politics, the fact is undisputable, that no Igbo politician since the second republic have worked more than Chuba, to champion the cause of a wholly inclusive one Nigeria. For this, his reward was vilification and humiliation, even from the highest quarters, for the sheer reason of his origin.

I will never see my mentor again, because his life was snuffed out in a haze of poisonous gas, a testimony to the deference , or lack of , that was accorded a person of his stature.
Perhaps, in an irony, he succumbed to this uncanny but cryptic way of his demise, to lament the final futility of the pursuit of one Nigeria.

As for me and many in my generation, he would always be a mentor and a role model, and would be greatly missed. The tragedy of Nigerian politics is the cannibalization of its best and brightest citizens.

I named my son 'Chuba' 12 yrs ago, representing a continuation of the hope and aspiration that he gave us all.
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