DODDAN BARRACKS POLITICS: Obasanjo dissapointed lobbyists for my sake — Nwokedi, Achalla monarch
By BASHIR ADEFAKA
Igwe Alex Nwokedi, a veteran journalist, will be 80 on December 18 and only recently clocked 20 on the throne as Uthokoneze Achalla in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State. He started out as a sports writer with Daily Times. He grew through the ranks to become the Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) from where the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, appointed him his Press Secretary, at the then sent of power, Doddan Barracks, Lagos.
The former Chairman, Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council also served under Obasanjo’s successor, President Shehu Usman Shagari, briefly as Press Secretary before he was redeployed to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as General Manager, Public Affairs. He was also the pioneer Manager, Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN). In this interview held in his palace in Achalla, Nwokedi spoke on his life story, his kingdom and the state of the nation. Excerpts:
Recently you celebrated your 20th anniversary on the throne and, by December 18, you will be 80. What is your life story like?
I didn’t know I was going get to the point I am now when I started. The Lord has done a lot in my life and I am highly appreciative of that.
What was your childhood like?
When I was a child I was a bit rascally. I lived with a teacher, who flogged the hell out of me to make me what I am today, and because of the training I had as a child, I never joked with my education.
How did you become the Press Secretary to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as military Head of State?
They gave him some names to consider, according to the story he himself told. Then he looked at the names and said, ‘Let me pick somebody who will give publicity to me and not to himself.’ Then he selected me.
General Obasanjo is a great man and I will always cherish my being very close to him because I learned a lot from him.
Could you let us into a little of what you learned from him?
I learned from him, for example, to be proactive as the image maker of the commander-in-chief. If he asked me to do something, I would do it to the best of my ability. From him I also learned to tolerate, I learned to cherish, I learned to give good value to whatever I do and I also learned to appreciate whatever God gives me.
General Obasanjo is one of the greatest leaders in (the history of) Nigeria. Obasanjo, Azikiwe, Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, these are men we should cherish in Nigeria. All of us are human beings. We have faults. But I would always cherish my very close association with Obasanjo.
You were a notable Igbo man. At the time you were ripe for marriage and, despite the ethnic issues in Nigeria, you married a Yoruba woman. What was the inspiration?
My father ensured that all of us his children didn’t school in Eastern Region as it was called in those days.
Where did you school?
All of us schooled in Lagos. Honourable Justice Paul Nkemdilim Nwokedi, CON, myself, Akune Willie Nwokedi, Igwe Charley Nwokedi attended St. Gregory’s College, Lagos. So, my father must have his reason for sending us outside Igbo land to school.
Were you able to find out why?
His reason for sending us outside Igbo land to school was to broaden our knowledge and for us to make friends and mix with people from other parts of Nigeria. By this I see my father as one of the greatest men because he thought very far. So, by taking us out of Achalla in the then Eastern Region to school in Lagos, he must have thought that he was sending us to Lagos and to a prestigious college like St. Gregory’s, to widen our knowledge, make friends and broaden our exposure.
You are not a lawyer but virtually all your children are lawyers. Was that your choice or the choice of your brother who is a judge?
I studied law but I stopped half way and went to do international relations.
Again, Nwokedi’s family is a family of lawyers. I think we have about 14 lawyers now.
Family of lawyers? How?
Our father was a court clerk and rose to become Njikoka Customary Court judge. Njikoka at that time included Achalla, Abaagara, Awka and all those communities around Awka. Njikoka in Igbo means it is better to come together and my father was the judge of customary court of that area. So, we were born into the legal system with our father being the judge of a customary court.
I think at the moment, the Nwokedi family is one of the families with largest number of lawyers in Nigeria. We even have a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who is my elder brother’s son, Prince Uche Nwokedi, and in his father, we produced a Supreme Court Judge who was also the pioneer Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
So, you can see that we have a legal background. But in my case, I did law half way and then stopped to study international relations.
On my children, I didn’t tell them what to study but I gave them advice. For example, my nephew, who is a SAN, wanted to do philosophy, economics in Oxford but I told him, no. The advice I give all my children is that, whatever you want to study, first of all do law because law is a utility profession, with it you can do any job.
You can be self-engaged, you can work in a council, you can teach. Law is a utility profession, just like journalism.
But I am very lucky that I went into journalism. I used to be the Secretary of the Nigerian Union Journalists and there are people that I met and whom I will always appreciate Peter Enahoro, Edie Aderinokun, Sam Amuka, Bisi Lawrence, etc. I have always had good friends but one thing is that, my friends’ character does not influence me.
I used to have a friend whose mother was always so happy to see us together. But one day, his sister, I don’t want to mention names, said to me, “How come that this your friend is so bad that any time we are looking for him, we have to go and look for him either in Lion Building or another place? But you don’t behave like him. Both of you are so close but you are so different. You don’t behave like him.
How? Tell me how you manage to cope with him.’ I said nobody can influence my character and that that is how my Lord made me.
But why did you stop your law programme?
I got scholarship to study in the University of Oslo, Norway, that made me to stop my legal studies and change to international relations using that opportunity of scholarship to study abroad.
Now back to your Igbo/Yoruba marriage. How did it play out despite the difference in culture?
By our background, we are not tribalists and we are not clannish. We are not sectionalists. We have broad minds and I married a wife who I would say is one of the best in the world. I am not trying to flatter her but I must tell you that she was the one that tolerated me, not me tolerating her. She tolerated me and all my faults and she assisted me to be what I am today.
Your kingdom of Achalla is different from other Igbo communities as if you come from different sources. What do I not know?
Achalla is a highly cultural community, very traditional. We are what we call Orlu. We are Igbo aborigine. Others are foreigners because they met us here. And really, my family is Igala from the North.
How did your ancestors come from the North to settle in Achalla?
The head of Igala at that time was an elephant hunter. This place was a haven for elephants and so, he hunted from Igala to this place and he became ill and died. Achalla people became afraid that Igala people would come and fight them thinking that they killed their kinsman. So, they buried him in a place called Eke and planted an Iroko tree there to mark it out. Up till today, the Iroko tree is there.
You had once seen the seat of power having worked as image maker to a Head of State. What is your word for the sitting people in government who say they are out to govern with discipline?
You have to discipline yourself first and you do this by not being a tribalist, by not being money-minded, by loving your neighbour as yourself.
When you do these, you can come all out to say that you want to discipline others. A thief, for instance, cannot possibly discipline another thief.
Again, to Nigerian people who are being governed, we are very good people but we should play our complementary role to the role of people in government by also disciplining ourselves. Nobody is perfect but it is noble that when we make mistakes, we try to correct ourselves.
As you are riding towards your 80th birthday, what do you wish for Achalla?
I want to see a very highly educated Achalla where primary schools and colleges are improved. I want to see a generally improved community.
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