On Thursday, 17 March 2016, Chief Arthur C. I. Mbanefo (Odu of Onitsha), the author, invited me to his house to be introduced to some acquaintances of his who wanted to meet me for a business discussion. It was after that meeting that Odu hinted me that his book was almost ready and that I would be the reviewer of the book. He reminded me that I made him write the book and said something to the effect that the book publisher felt I was the natural choice to do the job. I simply thanked Odu and left without properly thinking through the task in front of me.
Then on Monday, April 4, 2016, as I was boarding a BA flight from London to Abuja, I got the following SMS, “Good evening ABC, It’s been a while since we saw each other. If you are around, I would be happy if you would make contact. A copy of my book is now available for you to enable you start preparation of your review of the book for 11th June 2016. Regards. Odu” That was the author.
I responded immediately, “Good evening Odu. I am on my way to Abuja from London Sir. I will come and see you tomorrow evening Sir.” Odu wrote again before the flight took off- “Many thanks for your quick reply. I shall be out for dinner tomorrow night. Any time on Wednesday will be perfect. Have a safe flight. Odu”. What a polite man of order.
So on Wednesday April 6, I visited Odu at night and he handed me a copy of the book and I left after we chatted for about half an hour to catch up on many matters of interest. As soon as I entered my car to drive home, a Soliloquy ensued-“What have I just accepted to do? Book review? On whom? Odu? Shouldn’t I have offered to do a presentation instead? Have I set myself up? Did Odu make a mistake? To review a book the audience would love to see a literary scholar, a renowned journalist or a University Professor.
I was neither a student of literature nor history even at O- level!. To Review an autobiography of HE, Ambassador, Chief Arthur C. I. Mbanefo (Odu Of Onitsha) FCA, MFR, CON, an accomplished professional, an ambassador plenipotentiary, an astute corporate guru, a statesman, a patriot, a global citizen, a traditionalist and custodian of culture, a philanthropist, an intelligentsia, academic luminary, a consummate diplomat, a fine gentleman and very many more- this would not be an easy task for just a lay man. For he is indeed not just fulfilled but many find fulfillment in him.
In packaging this book, the publishers have exhibited excellence in craftsmanship. The cover page showed one of the finest pictures of the graceful Chief. That picture reminds me of Odu’s extreme kindness which many would discover once they associate closely with him. The Book is an exposé of Odu’s innermost persona- a kind hearted man. The face of charity, of a generous Odu. It is as if the picture were saying softly, “so how can I be of help?” The serenity in those eyes exudes love and charm. Then the colour contrast and separation blends with this image of beauty.
The title: ‘A Fulfilled Life of Service’
At first this might sound immodest. But this is the Truth. The Author depicts honour and integrity. Odu will say it the way it is. Once it is the truth. I also wondered, could it have been “An accomplished life.”But no. “Fulfillment” goes beyond “Accomplishment”. For while the later comes with a lot of efforts and hard work, the former goes with happiness and effortless giving of oneself in service.
The arrangement and style:
As Odu would say, “the reference point is oneself”. The book has been perfectly arranged in four distinct but related parts. The order speaks eloquently of the author’s discipline and orderliness, which makes the book an easy, read. Preceding the narration is a well-selected eulogy of the author and the book by eminent and distinguished men of diverse calling.
This part of the book brings true meaning to what Odu represents- Service to mankind. In keeping with his humility, he chose to write in the third person and avoided the “I” syndrome. It also reminded me of the striking attributes Odu III shared with his late father, Chief Isaac Anieka Mbanefo (Odu II) who wrote a book at the age of 92. The author edited this book in 2010, which gave out as souvenir during his 80th birthday. I requested for a copy of the late Titan’s book, ‘A Friend of the gods’. This was the forerunner to the present book.Various aspects of the prologue effectively conveyed what to expect as one reads the book.
Naturally, the part where Odu gave compliments to ABC Orjiako put a smile on my face. But what the author did not say is that all attempts I made to bring authors from both Nigeria and London yielded no fruits as none of those I brought could phantom even the peripheries of Odu’s life. Consequently, the “A Fulfilled Life of Service” became an autobiography, the masterful piece we are presented with today. And rightly so because, having read the book several times over, I came to the conclusion that the project could not have worked otherwise. Meanwhile, the author maybe planning another book “before his 92nd birthday.” Like father, like son.
This covers his parentage, birth, growing up, education and professional training. The opening page of this part leading to the first chapter, displaces a magnificent picture of a young and handsome Arthur at 26, in England 1956. Chapter one of this book has direct bearing with ‘A friend of the gods’. It elaborates the rich pedigree of the author’s including the progenitor of the Mbanefos, Egbuka Mbanefo Iwegbu, his great grandfather and the 5th in the long lineage, which makes the author the 8th in his generational lineage based on the combined accounts of the two books.
In Chapter 7, in search of American professional experience, 1965, he demonstrated his abilities and scored another first. The first black man to work at Lybrand, Ross Brother & Montgomery. During this time, he came face to face with professional divergence between Accounting in England and America. Arthur stood his ground.
The Biafran Shuttle Diplomat and Ojukwu’s Special Envoy
This section of the book evokes a lot of passion and emotions, especially for a Biafran boy like me. This part clearly provided numerous evidences of heinous war crimes, purposeful starvation of innocent Biafran children. The author’s multiple engagements during this time portrayed him invincible, for want of a better word. He obviously was gallantry in executing the various tasks assigned to him in absolute confidence and trust by the Biafran Leader, General Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu.
Role in the service of Nigeria as an ultimate diplomat at the United Nations
Obviously, the author’s life has been eventful from the onset. His achievements are monumental. But his UN outing where he served for 45 months was distinguishing.
For not only did His Excellency, Ambassador Arthur C. I. Mbanefo (Odu), interact with men and women at the highest global echelon, he excelled among peers. He stood taller than most people both in height and the legacies he left behind. He interacted with the high and mighty and gave a good account of himself and represented Nigeria, Africa and the developing countries excellently well. He emerged the natural leader of the diplomatic corps. His appointment by President Obasanjo was a surprise to him because unlike many political appointees he never lobbied for the position.
Orjiako, Chairman of Seplat Oil, writes from Lagos