Guest Columnist: Kashim Ibrahim-Imam

Today, 8th December 2016, the Nigeria Society of Engineers will be conferring one of the highest honors that can possibly be bestowed on an individual in any field of endeavour, on one of their own. This prestigious body is set to institute the Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu Annual Lecture Series. It is in honour of his stellar contribution to the engineering profession in Nigeria and to the service of humanity. This initiative by the NSE is unprecedented considering that the lecture series is being instituted during the lifetime of Chief Iwuanyanwu.

It is easy to imagine that Chief Iwuanyanwu has made his mark only in business and politics. But for those who have known him from the beginning, his remarkable exploits in his chosen field is no news. In fact, it is on record that before he ventured into sports and then politics, he was already an accomplished engineer with notable feats in Nigeria, including the design of an ocean barge using hydraulic technology, design of an innovative rocket system as well as the design of Enugu Airport runway among others.

By all accounts, Chief Iwuanyanwu is a colossus whose reputation is as big as his frame. This doyen of the engineering profession has left a mark that has been difficult to rival, much less surpass in the history of the profession. Straight out of the blocks, as a young engineering graduate, Chief Iwuanyanwu showed remarkable character far exceeding the capacity of his age and experience. He had cut his teeth as an employee of a foreign engineering firm that he later acquired and expanded into a business empire spanning over twenty companies. In the world of most mortals, this feat only exists in the realm of fairytale. In Iwuanyanwu’s world, however, it is perfectly in his character as a man for whom impossible does not exist.

The brief recollection above demonstrates, in a rather ironic way, how far Chief Iwuanyanwu has transcended the frontiers of his first calling, even by the very lofty standards that he set in that profession. Since then, he has become a man of so many parts such that it is easy to forget that he once towered like a colossus over the engineering profession in Nigeria.

Few men could have ventured into the realm of private enterprise and public service and left such monumental marks in both sectors. Fewer still could have built an empire while devoting unquantifiable time and resources to the service of society. Chief Iwuanyanwu has managed to accomplish this feat and much more, traversing different vocations – engineering, construction, public administration, politics, community development, journalism etc.
A seasoned industrialist with interests in sectors spanning construction, aviation, publishing, sports etc. Chief Iwuanyanwu has demonstrated that with hard work and dedication to duty, there is no limit to what any man can accomplish and that is why he remains a role model for many members of the younger generation. It is hard to believe that so much can be packed by any mortal into a single lifetime.

Yet, Chief Iwuanyanwu’s more remarkable achievement lies in his less material contribution to the extremely daunting project of national integration. Exercising both thought leadership and political dexterity, few have done more than Chief Iwuanyanwu to forge a consciousness of Nigerian nationalism among his kinsmen. The consistency of his advocacy for national rather than sectional politicking leaves no one in doubt that his commitment to the Nigerian project is a lifelong agenda, and not just the momentary demand of political exigency.

In politics, Chief Iwuanyanwu has remained not only nationally relevant but also a towering personality. As chairman of the unregistered All Nigeria Congress (ANC), which he co-founded with Malam Adamu Ciroma, the late Alhaji Umaru Shikafi and other prominent politicians, Chief Iwuanyanwu made a bold statement about his prominent role in the impending (but later aborted) democratic dispensation during the General Ibrahim Babangida transition. Later, in the National Republican Convention (NRC), he contested in the party’s presidential primaries before it was eventually cancelled.

As the transition process continued during the late General Sani Abacha regime, Chief Iwuanyanwu was a frontline member of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) which incidentally was founded in his house in Owerri. However, he did not derive any material benefit from its formation, as he was disqualified by the regime, for no reason, from contesting for the Senate seat. Yet Chief Iwuanyanwu was undaunted.

As an administrator, the Chief Iwuanyanwu is integrity personified. While I served as secretary of the Finance Committee and again as secretary of the Contact & Mobilisation Committee of the UNCP, I worked closely with him at a time he was chairman of both committees. And I learnt a lot from the man.

In a nation that has experienced more than its fair dose of identity politics, Chief Iwuanyanwu’s desire to be president of our country was more a mark of his faith in the Nigerian project than a product of ambition. But even at that, his commitment to national integration has not been at the expense of his immediate constituency. He remains a proud Igbo man who would never compromise the good of his people for anything.

Only a few days ago, Chief Iwuanyanwu was exhorting his kinsmen to embrace mainstream politics by seeking the highest office in the land, rather than the pursuit of self determination. Rarely has a Nigerian politician managed to promote national cohesion and also look out for the interest of his community, without conflict in both objectives. Indeed it is a mark of this dexterity that Ahaejiagamba has attracted multiple national honors as well as traditional titles from different parts of the country. Indeed Chief Iwuanyanwu can only be described as a quintessential Nigerian.

In many ways, Chief Iwuanyanwu’s cosmopolitan disposition has defined much of his personal interaction and political association. In his social, business and political relationships, his association has never been limited by geography or by tribe. North or South, East or West, you are as likely to find his pool of acquaintance in one location as the next. As an accomplished engineer, Chief Iwuanyanwu must have taken the concept of bridge-building very literally into politics, far beyond its figurative connotation.

In all these, Chief Iwuanyanwu has also demonstrated that he is as humane as he is urbane. His interest in people is also not limited by the boundaries of class, which he sees as only artificial. Whether he is setting up an emergency pediatric center, a blood transfusion center or cancer diagnosis and treatment units across the country, there appear to be no distinction, in his scale of objectives, between his business interests and his social investments. In giving back to society, Chief Iwuanyanwu has spared no expense and has set no limits. For the man, giving must be a matter of privilege, not a proof of ability. It must have been why the man devoted his entire life to creating a society with the greatest good for the greatest number.

Chief Iwuanyanwu’s perspective about “success” and material accomplishment also helps to explain his approach to social causes. He believes that the course of his life and career can be attributed more to providence than to any other factor. Yet for a man who has accomplished so much by sheer hard work and perseverance, such attitude is exceedingly humbling.

The Iwuanyanwu Annual Lecture Series is therefore no more than a fitting recognition for one with such sterling record of service in a profession that is not only distinguished by prestige and by history, but more remarkably by its contribution in radically defining the course of human existence. But then an award of this magnitude could have been equally well-deserved in any other sphere of human endeavour that has had the benefit of Chief Iwuanyanwu’s involvement. Such honor would have been as fitting in the sphere of private enterprise as in the realm of public service; in the field of sports as in the field of political thought; in media as well as in social development. And even in the sphere of national integration.

No doubt the Annual Lecture Series will serve as both platform and fertile ground for the propagation of the ideals and the social, political and economic philosophy that has driven Chief Iwuanyanwu throughout his life and career. It is to be expected that the lectures would be created around intellectual themes such as creative enterprise, around social and political pluralism, around popular capitalism, around social liberalism. The lectures would also be laced with a generous dose of lessons in doggedness, in perseverance, in humility and in compassion.

If Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu were a subject to be studied in an academic institution, there is no question that these would be the topics of deliberation. The lecture series is designed to commemorate the man, his life and his achievement. It would be a really tall order to expect these lectures to produce other remarkable individuals in the mould of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. But it would be tremendous value to society if those who come after him would imbibe even a modest amount of the incredible lesson that his life hold for this and future generations.

As the clock ticks tantalizingly close to the inaugural lecture, I can only add my humble felicitation to the deluge of tributes that are bound to flow from far and wide. In truth there can neither be enough words nor enough space to express our admiration for Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, or our appreciation to God for giving us this gem of unquantifiable value. Still, this moment cannot go by without offering a token of acknowledgement.
Congratulations Ahaejiagamba of the universe.

• Kashim Ibrahim-Imam, entrepreneur, farmer and politician was the Presidential Adviser on Senate Matters to President Olusegun Obasanjo