Ezeife: The Authentic Igbo Leader and Battle Axe Retires

Ezeife: The Authentic Igbo Leader and Battle Axe Retires

By Law Mefor

Death is never an easy visitor to accept, and Okwadike’s passing—whom I have known closely since 2001—is certainly not one of those occasions. It all began with the first annual lecture organised by the Oganiru Friends, a group of young Igbo professionals. The theme was: “Reawakening the Igbo Nation in the Nigerian Federation”. His Excellency Okwadike Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra state and then President’s Special Adviser on Political Matters, gave that momentous lecture.

A great deal of us only had a passing acquaintance with him from his time as the governor of Anambra state. From a distance, we formed opinions about him. Since the majority of us were professionals and under thirty, we tended towards intellectualism. Our curiosity was piqued even more by the fact that he was an economist with training from Harvard but still managed to embrace a great deal of Igbo culture.

Fortunately, Dr. Ifedi Okwenna, one of us, paved the path as Okwadike’s Special Assistant. It’s not as though Okwadike was inaccessible in any manner. However, assurance was double guaranteed because we had one of us who was also with him.

In his characteristic fiery style, Okwadike gave that moving lecture, introducing our impressionable young minds to ideas that would fundamentally aid the Igbo race in finding its path. In and of itself, Okwadike’s political audacity was demonstrated by the fact that he gave the said lecture on the Igbo Renaissance while holding the position of Presidential Political Adviser. His Igbo people first. As predicted, the next day’s papers were covered by his talk and its soundbites.

I took Okwadike on as a mentor after that epochal lecture. I was the compere at his declaration when he ran for president in 2003, and I remained in his inner circle through the party primary till death parted us. I never participated in putting together a political programme where I didn’t sound Okwadike out.

Recently, he had been extremely concerned about the agitations over Biafra and how to temper it without jeopardising Igbo chances in Nigeria and imperiling Igbo land.

He simultaneously identified as an Igboist and a nationalist. Due to the extremely delicate balance involved, very few Igbo Nigerians can live up to both expectations combined. Comrade Uche Chukwumerije was another well-known example of a  nationalist who was also an authentic Igbo representative and leader.

On occasions, Okwadike called to ask for my opinion on several matters, most notably the movement around Biafra. Okwadike thought I was tangential to resolving the Biafra issue and its consequences for the broader Igbo interest, partly because my cousin Uche Mefor served as Nnamdi Kanu’s deputy until recently.

More significantly, Okwadike advocated for a restructured Nigeria and an independent Biafra by default as a nationalist. I once explained to someone that Biafra being “forced on us” was what I meant by “a Sovereign Biafra by default.” In that scenario, Ndigbo would be forced to turn it into a nation. That was essentially Okwadike’s stance, and it was something that most Igbo people agreed upon.

According to Okwadike, Ndigbo should defend their rights within Nigeria; however, if Nigeria believes that the Igbo would take second or third fiddle, then Ndigbo will have to decide whether to fight if it becomes necessary. To emphasise this point, Okwadike would often add, “Eji ndu eme gini.”

Politics was not Okwadike’s forte per se. He was a political mentor and a statesman of the highest caliber.

Whereas conventional politicians were preoccupied with elections, state capture, and primitive accumulation, Okwadike was focused on Ndigbo, the nation, and the next generation. He left behind little in the way of worldly possessions. Just enough was enough for him. He refused to allow Nigeria’s crude accumulation in public office to blight his emphasis on the intrinsic values of life.

For this reason, Okwadike topped the list when ASPOF during Anambra Day 2023, sought to honour a select few Ndi Anambra who had led sublime lives. Once more, I was fortunate enough to be the compere and had the honour of presenting Okwadike’s citation. He was noticeably missing when I called him up to read his citation.  His brother and Man Friday, Chief Rob Ezeife, whom I met through him, was on hand to fill in for him.

It was eventually revealed that Okwadike was ill. When I looked up his age again, it was 86, so I assumed it was from aging. Even while the spirit may still be ready at that age, the body is no longer willing.

Okwadike taught me a great deal about leadership… Leaders and greatness are determined by their bravery, simplicity, selflessness, and willingness to step up for others. Because of this, the foundation of all genuine excellence and leadership is humility.

Okwadike was an authentic Igbo leader. Many have falsely claimed to meet that position to advance their careers or gain political influence, but Okwadike did not. He was like a general, what concerned him was last served. That kind of life was only possible for a few men,  making many believe that leaders are born, not created.

There is no doubt about Okwadike’s revered place in history, and he has shown an example for others who genuinely want to be leaders of their people. How easy it was to understand how selfless leadership might be through Okwadike’s lifestyle.

Even while he was incredibly popular at home, the rest of the nation—especially the North—hated and even feared him. He was viewed by them as a true Igbo battle axe, a motivating and inspiring leader who didn’t have time to colour his word. He expressed his views on any national issues especially where it concerned Ndigbo with unapologetic brutality.

He is mourned by the Ndigbo, who will truly miss him. I looked about, but I couldn’t see many without baggage who could wear his big shoes. He carried no baggage. One of the most important prerequisites for leadership is being baggage-free. Because of this, it was difficult for any government to silence Okwadike’s strident voice by blackmail.

Okwadike had been the cornerstone of Igbo life, advancement, and survival for the last three decades. There is a significant void that needs to be filled as a result of his departure. Leaders are created by circumstances, and nature detests voids. God forbid, but if an imposter takes Okwadike’s position as the true Igbo leader,  Ndigbo will suffer greatly.

Good night, Okwadike, the real patriot and authentic Igbo leader. You have finished a fantastic race, and now you will get the crown meant for extraordinary leaders like you who elevated their lives and left a lasting legacy for mankind.

· Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.

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