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Iwuanyanwu @ 81: Good Wine Tasting Better with Age

In this brief tribute, EMMA AGU pays glowing tribute to elder statesman, businessman, politician, philanthropist and sports entrepreneur, Chief Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, CFR.

Agu, pioneer editor (1988-1992) of the Daily Champion, the flagship publication of Chief Iwuanyanwu’s Champion Newspapers Limited, had a 20-year career in the Champion Group, disengaging in 2008 after serving as managing director/editor-in-chief between 2000 and 2008, the last two as group managing director.

Naturally, people tend to slow down as they age. But for Chief Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, CFR (and a retinue of other well-deserved titles!) the opposite is the case. Like a good wine that tastes better with age, every passing day, Iwuanyanwu keeps appreciating in value as a foremost nationalist, bridge-builder, patriot and statesman.

At 81 (September 4), the Imo State-born civil engineer, politician, philanthropist, businessman and statesman has recently turned on such spectacular public service credentials that confirm his standing as an exceptionally gifted patriot, organizer, trailblazer and national icon.

Two years ago when he announced his retirement from partisan politics, saying that he was fulfilled, many had thought that he would take a back seat from public affairs. He would have been justified if he had chosen that path.

For a man who devoted much of his earlier years to creating multi-dimensional value in engineering, publishing, commerce, aviation, banking, insurance, sports (football), the blue economy and more, this tireless  civil engineer, politician, philanthropist, businessman and statesman had long earned his plaudits.

So what is the Ahaejiagamba of Igboland (the title given to him by all the traditional rulers in Igboland) still looking for in the public space? Shouldn’t he retire to a quiet life, taking care of his large estate made up of his wife, children, grandchildren and a horde of relations, political associates and friends? What about the church to which, many years ago, he had pledged to bequeath the bulk of his sprawling estate?

Only those who understand how Chief Iwuanyanwu is wired will appreciate his seeming restiveness. In the twenty years that I had the privilege of working with him, he registered an indelible impression on me as a compassionate and foremost advocate of justice, equity and fairness qualities, I came to understand, he inherited from his parents, Pa Bernard and Lady Hulder Iwuanyanwu, both of blessed memory from Umuohii Atta in Ikeduru Local Government of Imo State in Nigeria.

Ever since I got in close contact with him, Chief Iwuanyanwu has always held the view that equity, justice and fairness were irreducible requirements, indeed spiritual conditions for peace and all human progress to which he was ready to commit every effort, every resource and as I saw him on occasions between 1993 and 1998, even his life. His Royal Highness Eze Emma Nnabuife, Sir Bon. Unachukwu, Sir Chuks Ekomaru, SAN, Hon C.I.D. Maduabum, Barrister Eze Nwauwa and a few others will recall those nocturnal meetings where, despite entreaties from the urbane and soft-spoken ‘guardian angel’ of the house for him to pedal softly, “Chief” despite his well-known soft spot for Lady Eudora of blessed memory, would politely insist that, for him, to tread the path of equity, fairness and justice was a matter of honour that could not be traded for personal comfort or mere physical existence.

Nearly two decades after those heady days, I did not know how to react when I read about Chief Iwuanyanwu’s emergence as President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo following the demise of the immediate past president-general of the body, the late Professor George Obiozor. In a fashion that had characterized my relationship with him over the years (he is my nwa-nwa, Igbo for maternal uncle and a very privileged status in Igboland), I called to express my surprise but at the same time stating that I understood why he accepted to “stand in the gap” for his beloved Igbo ethnic nationality. It is a mark of his humility that despite the age difference between us let alone that he was my employer, he never got offended each time I took advantage of that norm.

Get it right: though he had stated that he was fulfilled, I always knew that he had many unfulfilled expectations: a united Nigeria where every citizen would be accorded equal opportunities; a Nigeria where his children, indeed every Nigerian child would, in the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jnr. “one day live in a country where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin (replace with ethnicity or religion) but by the content of their character (add competence)”. 

I understood that typical of Iwuanyanwu, his ingrained sense of justice could not allow him to sit by in the face of the arrogant and unconscionable display of insensitivity and nepotism by a few privileged persons whose actions and inactions not only posed and continue to pose an existential threat to the Igbo race but constitute an ever-present danger to the unity and stability of the country.

From the United States where he presided over the reintegration of Nigerian-Americans of Igbo extraction, to his hectic schedule consulting with various stakeholder groups all over the country, and the South-East where his towering image, political experience and relentless zeal have been deployed to restore unity among the governors, it looks like the Ohanaeze presidency has provided for Chief Iwuanyanwu the platform for checking off some of the items on his long shopping list when he ran for president of Nigeria.

For years, Iwuanyanwu has been a foremost advocate of the maxim that charity should start at home. Except for Champion Newspapers that started in Lagos, virtually all his other businesses had their headquarters in Owerri, also his base, for many years.

Those who are familiar with his investment profile will see the hand of fate in his present role as President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide. It could not have come at a better time than when the vagaries of national politics and the threat to the Igbo race, in some parts of Nigeria, has made the much touted ‘think home’ strategy an existential imperative. All the signs indicate that Chief Iwuanyanwu will lead Ohanaeze to succeed in the objective of restoring peace and progress to Igboland.

The Igbo race and Nigeria as a whole should be grateful that, Iwuanyanwu at 81, is deploying his rich experience in Nigerian politics, wide social network and the formidable bridges he has built as a philanthropist and statesman, in the task of building a Nigeria in which his Igbo, like every other ethnic group, is provided a level playing field to not only enjoy the bounties of the earth but to guarantee a strong and united country that would be able to withstand the inevitable headwinds of nation-building.

To Chairman (as I have always called Chief Iwuanyanwu), this is your boy, Emmanuel (he is one of the few persons who would pronounce my name in full and I always loved it), wishing you happy birthday and many happy returns of the day.

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