A few weeks ago, I wrote about Zik and the Minister’s Krola. I’m sure some of you still recall the journey through my true life experience with the late Owelle.
While introducing the subject, I indicated that I was at sea between him and Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was more exciting to be with. Well that confusion still subsists. I’m still struggling. For one, as a journalist, you’ll always make your editor happy the day you filed a story on either of the two and be sure of your front page hit, more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey.
Unlike Zik, who makes you feel so relaxed, Ojukwu manages to keep you on the edge of your seat even with all the courtesies depicting his English training background. I never heard him utter a word of aggression that deliberately put anyone in a state of discomfiture. Yet, there was always that threat somewhere hovering in the perspective. Picture being with Obierika and Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. You might just be close.
I don’t ever remember being offered a drink in Ojukwu’s house unlike Zik where sharing Tia Maria and Comfort, his favourite, was a traditional. Perhaps tradition.
As a strict military officer of the highest tradition, drinking while working might not be part of the ethnics unlike Zik who knew that journalists drink at work.
Perhaps, it might be Zik was always happy seeing journalists, those who took over the profession he pioneered.
I never saw Ojukwu drink either. Oh! I think just one day when one of his friends, a white man came visiting. He was introduced as an author who had been pressuring him to write THE BOOK instead of a book. We were already deep into the interview when the man came around. That was the first time I saw Ojukwu take a drink. Else, it was strictly business. Now who cared about drinks anyway when with the late Ikemba Nnewi. He was the drink himself and you could get drunk just listening to him.
Needless to say that like Zik, Ojukwu was also a man of wits, quite crafty with words. I not only had the privilege of having private sessions with him, but watching his public outings too. As a journalist, I couldn’t count the number of times I became so bored with longish speeches from other people. But I never heard of it that anybody appealing for silence during Ojukwu’s speeches. The only interruptions, would always be the intermittent loud ovations.
Do I even remind you? Have you forgotten “The Best President Nigeria Never Had?” The world is still referencing that expression till date, still debating on the true meaning. Surely some of us still remember his address to some military officers where he reminded them that looking around he couldn’t help but see officers of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, amongst whom he not only commanded but commanded their commanders, which threw the entire hall in rapturous if not chaotic ovation.
Remember why he said he didn’t want to be addressed as Chief? Because Chief and Thief sound alike and he wanted to be sure which one he was being addressed.
Now, laugh at me if you would! It was from him I heard the expression “glass cage.” “Jonah in the belly of the whale.” He used it to depict the condition of the Igbo in Nigeria. I was there when he greeted the late Ken Saro Wiwa: Ken Good morning! Recall the Biafrans accused Ken and his group of leading the Nigerian forces through the creeks to attack them. The selfsame Ken, it was had come to solicit the help of the same Ojukwu, the leader of the same Biafra to agitate against the same perceived forces after the table turned, when Ken’s native Ogoni was now at the receiving end, like the Igbo Biafra. You see the reason for the greeting. It was at the Cinema Hall of Hotel Presidential, Enugu. I was there.
But the expression that gave me the greatest nightmare was “Red Herring!” Never heard of it before. There was nothing I didn’t do to break the jinx. Not only had I not heard the expression, I didn’t get the pronunciation right, apparently because of Ojukwu’s Queen’s English phonetics. Dictionary couldn’t help because I had no idea. Yet I couldn’t apply the journalists’ rule of if in doubt, leave out. Not with Ojukwu. Every word mattered.
It was like the day I heard Tabular Rasa from Anthony Aniagolu, former Justice of the Supreme Court, which I spelt as pronounced, Tabulairaza. Fred Ohwahwa, then Editor, The Guardian on Sunday, who published the interview, took care of that. Then, Doctor Udenta Udenta used the word Paradigm, which I was pronouncing “PARADIGIM” until Dozie Okebalama, then of Punch, quietly gave the correct pronunciation.
But in that of Red Herring, there was no help. I battled for hours. I would rewind my tape, get to the same spot, get stuck again until I decided enough. I simply jumping into my car drove to University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus (UNEC), met a lecturer friend of mine, I had so many of them then who used to make my office their rendezvous! Gbam! Just one play and the answer. Red Herring! I couldn’t even wait for further niceties! Chai! What Red Herring did to me that day. But it was all for Ojukwu. That I could leave everything else to go and check just one word in an ivory tower, underscores my sentiments.
Well, back to the basics. I remember asking him then if he would do the same thing all over again and his response. He first chuckled and asked me how I expected him, then he was in his 70s, to do the same thing he did in his 30s.
Then the one I would never forget. It was his take on corruption. I had naturally raised the issue. Again his usual smile. Then this: “If I see a long shinny car slithering through the street like a huge serpent, I’ll be among those that would clasp my hands across my chest and watch in awe. But the next opportunity I have with the owner, I’ll ask him, Oga, how come? And if he tells me that he has a tree behind his house which mints money, I’ll beg him to cut a little and graft in the tree behind my own house. If he doesn’t show me that tree, I’ll leave him with equal revulsion as I admired his car.”
Why did I write this today? Of all the things I learned from Ojukwu, the most valuable, most important, is that germaine question – Oga How Come? The day you begin to ask that question is the beginning of your contentment as a person. That’s the day stolen money and those who flaunt them will recede to the background and earnings from the sweat of your brow, no matter how little, will take the centre of your earthly desires. Then you begin developing the right attitude of revulsion rather than admiration to bad money and unexplained, unexplainable and ill-gotten wealth, whether from 419, yahoo yahoo, armed robbery, pen or gun.
Yes! Perhaps, the more people ask the question and develop the attitude, the less less cheers the thieves will get. And with less cheers might come less pride and ego, and less desire to steal. Because, come to think of it, the more cheers they get the more they steal. That’s the fuel that fires them.
To be sure. Ojukwu didn’t speak out of jealousy. Not even his worst enemy could accuse him of that. This was the son of Nigeria’s first generation richest man. He scoffed at wealth, mocked money for its sake and virtually threw up at dirty money.
Learn to throw up at dirty money as well. Learn by beginning to ask – Oga how come? That way, we might be on the way to taming the huge monster of corruption, the reason corrupt people would increase petrol price and electricity tariff and tell you to GO AND DIE. Kpom! – The Tiny Voice