By Ethelbert Okere
The death of Chief Innocent Diala Nwoga is a personal loss to me because by it, I lost an opportunity to do one thing that would have most probably shot me to the very apogee of my career as a writer. As a corollary, it serves both as a punishment for my proclivity for procrastination and a warning that I must exorcise myself of that ugly habit forthwith. I have heard several that there is a spirit of procrastination, an evil one that keeps you from going ahead with thoughtful ideas. Now, I say to it, the evil spirit: Holy Ghost, Fire! Holy Ghost, Fire!
I am greatly pained that I was unable to come up with a book on him as we had both agreed. I am all the more pained that it was he who kept on asking me: “When are we seeing”. And I kept giving one excuse or the other even when it was quite clear to me that it would be a great privilege to be associated with a book on such an icon. I am certain that missing such an opportunity is a thing I will regret for a long time to come.
I could remember my last telephone conversation with him sometime in October of last year. I had called him to say that I wanted to bring him a complimentary copy of my latest book then, THE LAST ORDER, which was on the 2019 general elections. He replied that he was not going to be at home that day but that I could take the book to his wife who was at home. And because I was to travel out of Owerri just the next morning, I had to endeavor to get the book across to him. So, I drove to his residence at Works Layout, Owerri not with one book but three: A copy of THE LAST ORDER and a copy, each, of my two latest novels: OGBANJE CURRENCY and REBEL CATTLE FROM KATSINA. Once I went into the compound, I told the guard that I wanted to see madam. But as I was still explaining my mission, behold the fair-complexioned Mama at the balcony upstairs already saying “welcome” to me. I told her that I had books to deliver to Chief and from the way she sounded, I believed that her husband must have told her to expect me. Madam asked me to give the books to a young man who had come out of the building, to bring it to her. I did that, thanked her, and left.
At about 7 pm the following day, my phone rang. The caller’s identity was not in my contact but once I picked the call, it was unmistaken who was on the other side. “Ethel, my name is Innocent Nwoga”. I returned the courtesy and he went straight to thank me for the books. “I didn’t know you also write novels, but I was fascinated by the book in the last election. I read it all night”. I thanked him but before I could finish, he continued: “When are we seeing. You keep postponing this thing”. Well, he had beaten me to it again. But I managed to tell another ‘lie’; which was that I would see him as soon as I came back from my trip. And that turned out to be my last ‘lie’ to him. I did not go to see him. The ‘evil’ spirit was yet to leave me. On March 25, 2020, news came that he had passed on. What a shame to me. Has the ‘evil’ spirit – of procrastination – triumphed over me? Not at all. The death of Dede Anyi Nwoga has only taught me one final bitter lesson.
Our discussion on the possibility of a book by me on Nna Anyi Nwoga started in November 2016, at the Oguta home of Senator Arthur Nzeribe who was then marking his 78 birthday. I had written an article entitled: “Ogbuagu, Were You or Were You Not Sick”, and which appeared in both Owerri-based and national newspapers on that particular day. Inside the living room were some dignitaries including Nna Anyi Nwoga. I managed to get in there and upon getting closer to greet him, I discovered that he had a copy of one of the newspapers which had the article on its back page. He pointed at the article and said: “I like this”. I thanked him and he said: “Make out time, for us to see”.
I become familiar with Chief I.D. Nwoga while I was serving in the administration of Governor Ikedi Ohakim, first as Executive Assistant, Public Affairs, and later, as Special Adviser, Public Enlightenment, and Documentary. During that period, he dignified nearly every government function with his presence, and apart from that he was the chairman of Imo Elders Council, it was a well-known fact that he supported and encouraged the governor without any pretenses. On one or two occasions, the governor had sent me to him on errands and subsequently, I discovered he was also fond of me, always telling me that I “write very well”.
The scenario of 2016 was recreated on November 2, 2018, the day Senator Nzeribe marked his 80th birthday anniversary. The setting was the same Haven of Peace, Oguta. This time around, I had done a book on the celebrant under the title: “ARTHUR: BY AN EYE WITNESS”. The book was dedicated specifically to mark his 80th birthday and its publication marked the realization of something I had very much looked forward to. Haven worked closely with the Senator, particularly while he was in the senate, I had things about him which I had promised myself to put together so that Nigerians can know what really took place in those turbulent days on the floor of the red chambers.
The book was given out free to dignitaries at the occasion and Chief I.D, Nwoga, was, of course, present. I went to where he was sitting to greet him and just like what happened two years earlier, he brandished his own copy and said: “Ethel, You Did This Again”. To cut the story short, I discovered he quite appreciated what I had done, and again, we agreed to “see”.
As I join millions of other Nigerians to bid farewell to this great leader, a first-class bureaucrat and elder statesman, my pain is twofold: One, my “lies” and, two, like every other Imolites, nay, Nigerians, the pain of losing such a generalissimo of sorts at a time like this. If we take our state, Imo, as a paradigm, however, one question that would readily come to mind today is: What would have been his position on certain current issues in our state? What, for example, would have been his position on the current attempt by some elements into misleading the hapless people of the state that it is possible to retrieve the governorship mandate from the sitting governor, His Excellency, Senator Hope Uzodimma?
I am aware that at the heat of the legal fireworks that led to the exit of His Excellency, Governor Emeka Ihedioha, and the entry of Uzodimma, he, Nna Anyi Nwoga stood with the former not necessarily because Ihedioha was a fellow Mbaise man. So, would his attitude to the current brain wave inside some overzealous party men and camp members be: “Alleluia, Ihedioha Is Coming Back?”. Of course, no. Chief I.D Nwoga was made of sterner stuff. On the contrary, we are today bidding farewell to a fellow who had no stomach for clannishness. Equity and fair play were his watchwords. How did I know?
Among other accomplishments, the late statesman presided over the affairs of the Imo state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the very beginning of its reign as a ruling party both at the national and state level. For the primary election to determine the party’s gubernatorial candidate at the very first beginning of the current Fourth Republic, each of the three zones – Okigwe, Orlu, and Owerri – laid claims to the office of the governor. And there were stars studied aspirants from all the zones, each with a deep pocket.
But contrary to fears of an implosion within the party, the primary election, superintended over by Chief Nwoga, was effortless. In fact, it was even said that the fellow who emerged came to a fifth position out of about six aspirants. But there was not the slightest protest. Conversely, the fellow who was believed to have come in the first position, but was asked to “step down” was (is) from Owerri zone, the same zone as Chief I. D. Nwoga.
The party went ahead to win the first governorship election; despite the fact that the outgoing military administration in the state was believed to have had sympathy for the candidate of the opposition party, the All Peoples Party (APP). How Nwoga did it remains a study in political engineering but perhaps more significant is the fact that since that feat, the same party, I mean its Imo state chapter, has become an epitome of rancor and partisan braggadocio. Yes, the contour of partisan engagements has changed since his time as chairman but not to the extent that those who call themselves leaders cannot, for the overall interest of the people, but personal and partisan idiosyncrasies overboard.
Of course, 86 is a “ripe” age to transit into the bosom of the Lord but for a state that is now suffering from the dearth of leaders of stature, the exit of Dede Anyi Nwoga is of utmost regret. We shall not completely despair but that’s hoping that the present gladiators would spare a moment on those ideals he cherished and bequeathed us with.