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Okadigbo’s untold story: Nigeria’s most intellectually gifted and charismatic Senate President

Chuba, as he was fondly referred to, died on the late evening of Thursday September 25, 2003, while being rushed to the National Hospital, Abuja, following medical complications. The complications were reported to have arisen from inhaled police gas attack on him and General Muhammadu Buhari, along with other defunct ANPP (All Nigeria Peoples Party) politicians, during a rally in Kano Stadium. He was eventually buried on Saturday, December 5, 2003.

During his lifetime, Okadigbo was a renowned politician, an ivory tower intellectual, a philosopher and popular grassroots politician whose fame, based essentially on solid personal achievements, cut across the length and breadth of Nigeria and beyond. And, of course, the “Great Oyi” knew this much. “When fans hail me, presidents feel awkward”, said Okadigbo in his last interview with this reporter in early September, 2003, shortly before his demise.

That Sunday afternoon, Chuba swaggered with some regal confidence to his usual sitting position in the sparsely-furnished living room, a single-seater upholstery chair covered with animal skin. His tall frame accentuated his aristocratic bearing. As he gracefully relapsed into his chair, he quickly adjusted himself; his right arm carefully thrown under the nape of his head in a head-supporting position. This princely poise was typical of Late Dr. (Senator) Chinwuba Godson Wilberforce Okadigbo popularly known as “Chuba”, former Senate President of Nigeria and ex-Vice Presidential candidate of the former All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in the 2003 presidential election.

At the time of speaking with Okadigbo that hot Sunday afternoon, the “Oyi of Oyi” and the “Ekwueme of Ogbunike” in Anambra State, however, was in Lagos to confer with his political supporters. He was around for serious business but he equally had time for other things. Part of which, was this interview that explored the man and the myth called Chuba Okadigbo. For a greater part of his political and academic career which spanned forty-three years, Okadigbo’s politics, philosophy, character and mannerism are well known but the factors that made the entity, the man called Oyi, remained yet unknown to many.

Prior to his exposure to Marxist ideas in East Germany, young Chuba had other influences. As a second year student of St. Patricks’ College, Asaba in Delta State, his late father, Chief Ozota (fight for it) Okadigbo, a District Officer (D.O) in Ogwashi-Ukwu also in Delta State, was in the habit of coercing the young man to educate his mind by reading the daily newspapers and listening to the radio news and summarizing the news items for him. The old man’s favorite dailies then were the Daily Times and the West African Pilot newspapers.  Also, Chuba was exposed to philosophy digest by his father. “That set my mind into the higher realm of philosophy,” he chuckled, adding that “in the College, I was taught civic education which was part of our academic curricular. We were made to know our rights quite early. It also helped to develop my spirit of nationalism. We became nationalists between 1955 and 1959 when Nigeria was looking for her independence. I thank God I had that civic education. So, you can see that I grew up with the idea of freedom; freedom of the mind and freedom of the society. That is why I don’t let anybody, no matter how highly placed to trample on my rights and go scot-free.  I love human freedom. I fight when it is violated.” Okadigbo’s concept of freedom and quest for power was further inculcated in him and in his eight other siblings while growing up. His District Officer father, a tall, lanky native aristocrat in the colonial service and who could be described as a man of authority and power, impressed it on the younger Okadigbo’s that power is beautiful, a gift of God. Power, he told them, is a cold blooded calculation which should be preserved and exercised. The old man made his children to understand that power flows in their family, in their veins; a thing which had been in the Okadigbo family line.

“We were trained to believe that greatness had been with us a long long time” said Oyi, smiling. He continued: “No Okadigbo son or daughter is trained to be a coward. We were born to walk in places of authority through sheer prowess and we have maintained that.” In the family, Chuba’s mother, late Chief (Mrs.) Catherine Anyanwu Okadigbo, a baker, women trainer and mobilizer, radiated power and grace. Tall and gracefully built, she, according to her son Chuba, was known to be the prettiest woman in Ogbunike, in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State. She was also a scion of the aristocracy, a titled chief called “Nne Nmanwu” (Queen Mother of Masquerade) who commanded respect and authority and was, because of her background, solid personal achievement and physical endowment, accepted into the traditional hallowed club of men called “Ndi-Eze” (association of kings and rulers). Catherine, Okadigbo recalls, imparted discipline on her children. From her, young Chuba inherited the gift of oratory, wits, intellectual sophistry, love, personal charm and empathy for fellow men.

What the young man thought to be a minus in his academic record eventually became a plus for him. “I came to the NCNC Party office in Yaba (Lagos) in 1961 to look for a party secretary’s job. One chief Dafe, then a zikist, was in charge of employment at the party secretariat. After interviewing me, he told me that I hadn’t shown him my testimonial. I was actually hiding it. I told him that he would not like the content; that I was a strike organizer. But he said that they were actually looking for people like me. I was startled. He then employed me despite his discovery of my kind of person. I then wondered to myself how funny this life could be. You see, an employer already knew who you were before employing you.”

All through his 43 years career as a politician and academic, Chuba Okadigbo exhibited certain characteristics that scared some individuals and alienated them from him. He had been described as an arrogant man and very haughty. He said he had often tried to find out from his traducers why they see him in such uncomplimentary light, but discovered that their explanations lack reason, logic and substance. “They certainly can’t say that I am ostentatious,” he argued. “I think that when people can’t understand certain things about me, they call me an arrogant. Secondly, I don’t genuflect under executive table neither do I indulge in crass sycophancy. I certainly don’t reward mediocrity. I don’t waste too much time on useless things. And I say my mind the way I feel. I say the truth and move my arguments logically. So, when such people are overpowered by my arguments, they say I am arrogant. As a journalist, a deputy editor of a national newspaper for that matter, you can see it yourself that I am an accessible person.”

Contrary to media reports shortly before the 2003 presidential election that Okadigbo and his erstwhile political boss, General Muhammadu Buhari had mutual quarrels and political differences, the “Oyi”  debunked all that, saying their relationship at the time was good and rock-solid. While the interview was on-going, General Buhari telephoned Okadigbo several times to discuss numerous political issues with him. The two men laughed heartily during the interaction. Buhari’s wife also phoned Magery, Okadigbo’s wife who was then in London that Sunday afternoon to make little jokes about the media reports of a quarrel between their husbands.

“That report was mischievous and sponsored by our main opponent political party (the PDP), using hack media writers just to give a false impression about the ANPP to the public,” the former Senate President stated. He continued: “The story was the handiwork of desperate political opponents who have failed to deliver the dividends of democracy. I pointed out the failings of these people when I was Senate President and they used public funds and government machinery to fight me.” Just when campaign was going on in some quarters that Okadigbo was not popular and may not deliver the votes of the Igbo’s to the ANPP in 2003 Presidential poll, he contends that his detractors were stingy with the truth.

“I challenge them to follow me to places and to the streets. Whenever I arrive Akanu Ibiam Airport in Enugu or any other airport in this country, for that matter, I am accosted by a mammoth crowd. From Aso Rock to party meetings; to the National Assembly, and to party conventions where party Chairmen, Presidents, Governors, Ministers and other dignitaries are seated, the crowd mob me. They hail me and Presidents and dignitaries feel envious, they feel inferior and awkward. At the International Airports in London and American for instance, I am also being cheered by immigration officials who clear the way for me with respect. That is what those vile critics of me are not happy about. These are the things that make one sound immodest and they say I am arrogant when I react. I am one of the most popular men in this republic as I have always been.” He went on: “Ndigbo love Okadigbo because they value me. They value integrity, merit and knowledge which I have sufficiently. God gave all these to me. It is not by juju. I have natural charisma right from childhood. It is a spiritual gifts and you don’t purchase it. I don’t even know that I have them. God gave them to me and nobody can take them away except the Almighty God. I will go with those natural gifts down to my grave. My charisma is such that if I enter your house and you have dogs, the moment those dogs see me, they stop barking and I stroke them. I once encountered armed robbers on the highway and when I came out of my car, they dropped their guns and hailed me instantly and scrambled to shake my hands. It is all God’s gift. I can’t hide myself. I can’t tell people to stop liking and loving me. I have no apology for being popular. My people like strong men and I am strong. I am only sorry for those boot-lickers. I shall take them on at the appropriate time.”

But Chuba Okadigbo never did. Death botched his plans, his revenge plot. Ten years after the death of this philosopher king, the nation fondly remembers the memories of the renowned democrat, Senator Chuba Okadigbo. Were he to be alive, the “Ikenga Igwuedo” surely would have risen further in his political career or probably would have been considering retirement by now. Okadigbo also would have put in place structures to immortalize himself, his political beliefs and philosophy. He would equally have played significant roles in shooting down the ill-fated third term campaign of the Obasanjo regime. Chuba certainly would have been fair and definite in his position on the contentious issue of power rotation (a.k.a. Presidential zoning). Perhaps, he would have championed the Igbo presidency question, just as he would have been in the fore-front for the reformation of Nigeria’s electoral system ahead of a credible poll in 2015. He would equally have raised the bar on the issue of constitution review process. Okadigbo, as a founding member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), would have equally propounded an effective conflict resolution formula that would deal with the current crisis in the party once and for all. The Nigeria’s National Assembly, particularly the senate, will have found his legislative acumen very useful.

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