BY ETHELBERT OKERE
I first heard of the name Iwuanyanwu (I mean Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu) during my undergraduates days (in the second republic); a day after a certain event organized by the Imo state government, then headed by the late Sam Mbakwe. How the name came was that there were discussions about a certain young man who donated the sum one million naira at the occasion which the government put together to raise funds for a certain project.
I could remember that we had gathered somewhere informally when the topic came up. It was, of course, so fascinating and our excitement knew no bounds. One million naira then (in the late 1970s) was simply mind boggling. And for the next two decades, the name, “Iwuanyanwu” became almost synonymous with philanthropy. But that is not the reason this tribute is considered necessary. Philanthropy yes but it at a point became too common place that it no longer qualified as a yard stick for measuring a person’s worth or contribution to the society. This is especially so in our clime where people stumble on stupendous wealth and because the same society is so permissible, the next thing is to flaunt it through ‘philanthropy’.
Perhaps propelled by the hands of destiny, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu was to leave philanthropy behind, to graduate into a higher pedestal of terrestrial calling that saw him demonstrate qualities that are at once uncommon and unique; attributes which have kept him on top even in the twilight of his earthly sojourn. By the date referred to above, Chief Iwuanyanwu was less than forty years of age.
It is said that in life what matters is not to get to the top but the ability to remain there. For a fellow who climbed to the top so earlier in life, it is needless to say that it must have taken so much dexterity, discipline and singleness of purpose for Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu to have continued to ‘reign’ for over three decades. To be sure, “Iwuanyanwu”, as the brand appellation goes, is not the only fellow who has been able to maintain such a profile but there is a remarkable difference between him (and a few others like him) and majority of Nigeria’s big wigs. Which is that while over ninety per cent of the nation’s rich and famous owe it to political ascendancy, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu is one fellow who was upwardly mobile, politically and socially, even without holding a public office. Yes, he made a shot at the presidency twice but even it was in his failure at each occasion that further set him aside as a fellow through whom the common-place talk of ‘politics without bitterness’ can be best illustrated.
In Nigeria, the commonest things to find are politicians who rebel against the system the moment they fail to realise a political ambition no matter how unrealistic. But not for Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. His experience in 1998 during the grand transition that ushered in the current Republic is most illustrative. Chief Iwuanyanwu was almost picking the presidential ticket of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) at the presidential convention in Kaduna when the clique of retired generals that took it upon itself to pre-determine who would emerge as Nigeria’s president in 1999 struck. From no where, they brought an Ogbonnaya Onu and before anybody could spell “Onu”, he had stepped down for Olu Falae. That was how Nigeria came to have an all-Yoruba presidential contest in 1999.
I always laugh each time I hear people argue that the Igbo had their worst political subterfuge in the ‘defeat’ of Alex Ekwueme at the PDP convention in Jos. But that is not correct. The worst perfidy against the Igbo at that period was the stopping of Iwuanyanwu from getting the APP presidential ticket which was merely a few hours ahead. Had Iwuanyanwu gotten that ticket, it would have been most unlikely that he would have agreed to step down for Olu Falae. And the story would have been different; different in the sense that Ndi Igbo would have had a bargaining power. For, once it became an all-Yoruba affair and with the active collaboration of their traditional political ally, the North, the stage was set for the current ‘it-is-our-turn, next” refrain among the Igbo.
However, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu was to leave all that behind to play a leading role in stabilising the dispensation that eventually emerged. Compare this with a situation where Olu Falae failed, up till now, to concede defeat by his fellow Yoruba, Olusegun Obasanjo. As a matter of fact, that the Yoruba practically turned their back against Obasanjo until 2003 was as a result of the recalcitrant attitude of Falae who found liberty in the puritanical attitude of his Yoruba kinsmen to form the opposition to a government which the entire nation handed to them on a platter of gold.
Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu has continued to be a statesman in national politics in the last thirteen years regardless of the fact that he has never held any political office. There are at time his critics describe him also as AGIP (Any Government In Power) but the truth is that it is perhaps the AGIP syndrome (in Nigerian contest) that is responsible for the collective success in growing our democracy thus far, much to the surprise of the rest of the world. Any body who has been close to the corridors of power in Nigeria would attest to the fact that power holders, again in the Nigeria contest at least, are vulnerable and easily distracted.
Against the backdrop of a society where a great majority are economically deprived due to perennial mis-governance, those who rise to power are always under pressure to perform the miracle; the very root of the messiah-syndrome in our politics. Agree, opposition helps to keep those in office alert but it would certainly be total madness if everybody were to carry a placard against the many failures of those in government of any point in time.
The point being made here in that a deeper look would reveal that it is those people that are referred to as AGIP that provide the needed stability in a polity that is so vulnerable. Some may not be entirely selfless but a fellow like Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu who at less than 40 years of ago could afford to donate one million naira to a public project, more than three decades ago, cannot really be said to be desperately in need of political patronage as the only means of survival.
As in the aphorising that charity begins at home, Chief Iwuanyanwu’s home state, Imo, has benefited hugely from his generally conservative mien. He has helped in stabilizing every administration that has come to the state since 1999. He did that for the administration of Chief Achike Udenwa who at a point faced a most formidable opposition from the highest echelon of the Imo political establishment. Incidentally, Udenwa was to himself play opposition politics during the regime of Ikedi Ohakim. Again, Iwuanyanwu was to play a stabilising role, regardless of the fact that he was benefactor to Senator Ifeanyi Araraume who together with Udenwa gave Ohakim his biggest headache. He is still playing that role, the current madness in Imo state notwithstanding.
There is, however, another sense in which Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu has impacted significantly to the growth of Nigeria outside politics. It is his role in the development of the Nigerian media. Champion newspapers, which he founded in 1988, became a balancing factor in the politico-media equation in the country. Although, Champion was not established as an “Igbo paper”, it offered Ndi Igbo some psychological relief. For, apart from suffering from an apparent complex as a people who were not involved in an evolving national media that was playing a critical role in the onslaught against the military, it offered Ndi Igbo another opportunity, apart from the era of Nnamdi Azikiwe, to have some of their most talented heads in the field of journalism to be discovered.
I was one of those who used the platform of the newspaper to showcase themselves. Apart from the Daily Times which I so much hankered to be part of in the course of my career, Champion was another newspaper where I developed my reportorial skills. Before I joined the newspaper, I had only worked with news magazines. But I discovered that in spite of the fact that writing for news magazine was more intellectually fulfilling, I looked forward to becoming a reporter with a Daily. That opportunity came when I was invited to join the Champion newspapers as its pioneer Business and Economics Editor in 1989. As a matter of fact, some of my most cherished experiences as a journalist were during my days with Champion. Besides that the organization was one of the best managed in the industry (under one of the doyens of Nigerian Journalism, Henry Odukomaiya), I met some of the best editorial hands throughout my career.
All that was because the newspaper company was among the very few whose proprietors allowed the managers to run professionally. It was a well known fact in the industry that Chief Iwuanyanwu never interfered editorially with the newspaper.
Today, the newspaper may not be having it so rosy but pleasant memories of my stay there continues to linger. So do I continue to nurse pleasant feelings of its proprietor, Chief Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, whom I later came to associate quite closely with several years after I left Champion. He remains an inspiration to many of us and as I usually do each time any of my mentors turns the age of three scores and ten, I would say to the good Lord, please may it please Him to let me also count that number and more in my earthly sojourn. And this is wishing Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Aha Eji Aga Mba Ndi Igbo, who turns seventy on September 5, 2012, many more years of fruitful and eventful existence on earth.