FeaturedNews TrendPolitical Affairs

Iwuanyanwu @80: A life of amazing grace

By Emma Agu

As you read this piece, Owerri, the Imo State capital, would be bristling with activities. Not only Owerri. For indeed, the reason for this celebratory mood, is a man of many parts, a man for all seasons, a national icon who has left indelible footprints on the sands of time. Thus, as the Muslim faithful gather for the traditional Jumaat this Friday, just as their Christian counterparts had done last Sunday, prayers will be offered to God, in thanksgiving for the life of a man whose 80 years on earth rings like a fairy tale.

Chief Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, CFR, the subject of this tribute, will turn 80 on Sunday, 4th September 2022.

The Great Architect of the Universe, the Incomparable God, had fashioned him as a builder of men (and women), a humanist, an extra-ordinary mentor, a pace setter and a great leader. Before the Muslim faithful round off their prayers on Friday, 2nd September, some distinguished alumni of the once all-conquering Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football Club, Owerri, will file out at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri, to honour this epitome of patriotism, who came to the rescue of the then Spartans Football Club before renaming it Iwuanyanwu Nationale.

Though the club now goes by the name Heartland Football Club, not many will forget that without the intervention of Chief (Dr.) Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, CFR, in January 1986, Spartans was already destined for the scrap heaps of history, as no other individual or organisation, accepted to take over the club when the sponsor, the Imo State Government decided to stop funding it. That would have meant job losses, truncated careers, loss of income and disorganized families.

Iwuanyanwu’s patriotic intervention ensured that, for many years, Nationale FC served as the incubator for producing a line of highly successful footballers who became world beaters and some, highly successful investors. Nwankwo Kanu, Emmanuel Amuneke, Mobi Oparaku, Sunny Ikwuagu, Sam Oparanozie and many other members of the Iwuanyanwu Football family, are among the superstars billed to participate in this celebratory event to mark a milestone in the life of this great Nigerian.

The Nationale intervention is emblematic of Iwuanyanwu’s investment philosophy: a nobility of spirit that derives from the premise that, creating wealth at one’s cradle is, perhaps, the greatest contribution the person can make to national development and humanity. Thus, he made Owerri the hub of his sprawling business empire: Hardel & Enic Construction Company, Enic Advertising Ltd, Magil Industries Limited, National Post Newspapers, Sunrise Insurance Brokers and Oriental Airlines. Confirming Iwuanyanwu’s unparalleled contribution to Imo State, in 2021, Achike Udenwa, a former Governor of the state, told a delegation of the Management of Champion Newspapers Limited that after the state government, Chief Iwuanyanwu was the biggest employer of labour in Imo State. We had visited the Governor to acquaint him with plans to commence the production of the Eastern edition of the Champion Newspaper titles in Owerri; an investment that marked the effective commencement of simultaneous printing (of newspapers) in Nigeria.

So, you need not go far, wondering why the Owerri branch of the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists are organizing a lecture to mark Chief Iwuanyanwu’s 80th birthday. It is to appreciate a business mogul whose heart melts for society and who, through his investment in the media, provided several platforms for their colleagues to ply their trade as well as paving the way for very successful engagement in other areas.

Former Information Minister, Labaran Maku, former Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State, Silas Agara, foremost political analyst Emeka Omehie, Mass Comm Professors Olubunmi Ajibade (University of Lagos) and Odicha Ude (Ebonyi State University, the cerebral civil society advocate Nkechi Nwankwo, former Commissioner for Sports in Abia State, Emeka Inyama, the unbeatable multi-lingual sports journalist and Administrator, Paul Bassey and yours sincerely, were among the many journalists who rose to greater heights of achievement, on the back of Chief Iwuanyanwu’s media empire.

Chief Iwuanyanwu many never know that Silas Agara, the humane and hardworking statistics graduate, of the University of Jos, was among the corps members who composed a song to welcome him to the premises of National Post in Owerri, in 1997/98. But he will remember that Mbadiwe Emelumba, the present Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Imo State was pioneer Editor of the National post and if my recollection is correct, Silas Agara served.

That is why the journalists are rolling out the drums in a very big way by attracting the highly cerebral Dr. John Nnia Nwodo, former President-General of Ohanaeze Worldwide, to deliver the birthday lecture at which former President Goodluck Jonathan will preside as Chairman! The block-burster lecture has been tagged “Igbo Quest for Nigeria’s Unity”. How apt! How timely!

For despite Iwuanyanwu’s emotional attachment to Owerri, despite his undying passion for Igboland, here is a man whose commitment to national unity has often provided ammunition for his political opponents, to fire missiles at him. Thus, when he ran for President, a venture he threw his heart and mind into, it was to mainstream the Igbo into a united Nigeria, anchored on justice, equity and fairness. Right from time, Iwuanyanwu had never seen any contradiction in being a committed Igbo man and a nationalistic Nigerian. The activities of his signature philanthropic organisations: Iwuanyanwu National Ambulance and Iwuanyanwu Foundation cut across the nook and cranny of Nigeria. While the former served as first respondents to accident victims as far as Sokoto and Ilesha, the Foundation awarded scholarships to students all over the country.

One of such cases threw up a precarious scenario where the company’s recruitment policy, that placed a huge premium on diversity management entailed that a particular candidate who outshone all others, in a recruitment exercise for reporters, was to be dropped because employing him would disrupt the rigorous diversity balance that was being benchmarked.

However, as pioneer editor of the Daily Champion, I was flustered that a well-intended policy could have the unintended consequence of inflicting injustice to the candidate and denying the organisation the services of a potential superstar. The dilemma was resolved when it was revealed that the candidate in question, a young man from Delta State, was actually a beneficiary of Chief Iwuanyanwu’s scholarship throughout his days at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). At the end of the day, the candidate was employed. The person in question went on to have a very distinguished career in both ThisDay and the SUN newspapers as well as serving as Chief Press Secretary to two ministers of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Such pragmatism has played key roles in Chief Iwuanyanwu’s leadership style. His compassion, sense of duty, profound knowledge of human behaviour, all resonate in various the organisations where he has served the nation with integrity and patriotism. The Raw Materials & Research Institute, the Lottery and Pools Betting Company, the National Sports Development Fund, the Council of the University of Calabar pay tribute to an enduring life of service to country and humanity.

Does the above mean that Chief Iwuanyanwu is a perfect human being? Far from it! He will be the first to admit that he is not perfect. He took everyone, including the clergy through an emotional turmoil, while making a speech when he was being honoured by the Anglican Communion, at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of our Lord (CATOL), Owerri many years ago. With head bowed and inclined at an angle, his eyes misty and voice obviously penitential, Iwuanyanwu remarked that he did not know why God had been so merciful and the Church so gracious despite what, in his words, were his obvious limitations and shortcomings. For minutes, the church remained silent. Then the applause.

That is Iwuanyanwu for you. The loving and caring husband to his beloved late wife, Lady Eudora of blessed memory. Those of us who were close to the family were scared at the fate that could befall him after Lady Eudora’s death. That was the second time I saw him cry. The first was in his bedroom, at his residence in Victoria Island. An Oriental Airline aircraft had crashed in Libya, leading to two fatalities, the Captain and another person on board. I was the General Manager in charge of publications of Champion Newspapers at the time. He had invited me over to discuss the matter. While talking, I noticed that he was sobbing and, muttering words like: “what will I tell the people who lost their dear ones”; “Why did I go into airlines business if it is going to lead to the death of people?”

It is a measure of God’s fidelity that today, at eighty, through years of health challenges, human betrayal, disappointments in politics and several vicissitudes of life, Chief Iwuanyanwu walks the tarmac of the airport in the caring arms of his lovely wife, Frances; that he could still counsel his adorable Children led by Lady Nwadiuto Iheakanwa, play with his grandchildren, laugh with friends and even run around, not as a politician but as a statesman, engaging compatriots all over the country, in search of unity, based on justice. equity and fairness.

His has been an amazing life. I will not be surprised if the hymn, AMAZING GRACE, is sang, all of eighty even times on Sunday September 4, at the birthday service billed for the CATOL, in gratitude to God who has taken Chief Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, CFR, Aha-ejiagamba of Igboland, to this octogenarian milestone.

This is wishing Chief Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu happy birthday and God’s abiding love always.

Emma Agu is pioneer editor of the Daily Champion in 1988, and later, managing director/editor-in-chief for eight years between 2000 and 2008 when he voluntarily disengaged from the newspaper.

Leave a Reply