Valentine Obienyem digs into the life of Oseloka Obaze, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the forthcoming Anambra governorship election, who initially was reluctant to return to Nigeria from his base in the United States but now wants to stay for good
Several centuries ago, a young metaphysical Yogi found it difficult explaining Yoga to a non-initiate. Exasperated, he declared that: “It is only through Yoga that Yoga may be known”. We face such frustrations in our daily life.
Not too long ago, the then Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi was going to introduce Mr. Oseloka Obaze to me – as he contemplated how to attract him from the comfort of his United Nations office in New York to join hands in building a new Nigeria. When it seemed I did not take notice of the attributes he used to describe Mr. Obaze, he said: “Val, it needs seeing Oseloka in action, following him through what he does for you to understand the man”. For Obi – who usually administers praises in small doses – to give a full doze on OHO as he is popularly called means there is something spectacular about the man. As far as I was concerned then, may God help us to convince him to come back to Nigeria for me to have the opportunity of studying him, having in view the character traits that Obi had mentioned.
In the meantime, from professional habit, I undertook a background check on Obaze, and established that he is a man of substance and accomplishments. We can actually say with surety about him, as Chathan said of Garibaldi, that he is “One of those men who are no longer to be found but in the pages of Plutarch”. Regarded as the father of Biography, Plutarch, in a language that was distinctly his, pared and compared great Romans with great Greeks, in the hope that he would pass on some moral stimulus or heroic impulse of those great men to his readers.
Oseloka’s life – properly written – will be an inspiration to any one privileged to read it. A native of Ochuche Umuodu in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, a town noted for its affability, he was born in 1955 in Ogidi, the home town of a man that considered him a great friend, Professor Chinua Achebe; a man Oseloka has never ceased reverencing for his character, principles and solid family life. In his E-Mail messages, he permanently signs off with a quote from the literary Icon: “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised”, which also summarises his character. The detailed correspondence of his ideas with those of Achebe – the two men being coins of the same mould and mint though different in dates – is the story for another day.
OHO was inured to self-control by the stoic examples of his parents and teachers. Like all fond parents, they wanted best education for him, such that he attended Christ the King College (CKC) and Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), both in Onitsha. Particularly keen on the primacy of education in the lives of men throughout the ages, he pursued learning relentlessly. He attended the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA, where he obtained a Master’s degree in Political Science and International Relations as well as Nebraska Wesleyan University, where he studied Political Science. He also attended professional courses in a number of internationally-acclaimed institutions in Italy, Austria and Sweden – specializing in varied aspects of international relations and diplomacy, including Dialogue and Mediation. This saw him being part of the UN team that travelled to different countries to promote peace and concord. From his first appointment into the United Nations in 1991 by the then Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cueller, OHO participated in official missions to over 100 countries. His travels make one recall the saying of the wise one that education comes one-fourth from the teacher, one-fourth from travel, one-fourth from experience and the last quarter from books. Indeed, Oseloka Obaze had utilized the opportunities to acquire education from the four noted sources.
In his pilgrimage on earth, OHO has contributed significantly to the advancement of civilization internationally as well to the growth and development of his State and country at large. Prior to his assignments with the United Nations, he had served meritoriously in Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for about a decade – 1982 to 1991. Though progressing in his career, he resigned his appointment on principle due to certain policies antithetical to his strong belief in the universally-acclaimed rights of men. He was promptly engaged by the United Nations, which identified in him the qualities needed to lead men along the parts of universal dignity.
As the Governor of Anambra State determined to lead in accordance with best practices, it was very tough call for Mr. Peter Obi. He sought earnestly for men and women of integrity and competence that would work with him in administration and the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes that would elevate Anambra to a model State. One of the lessons of history is that when we search for good people – like a man searching for a wife – we are faced with the reality that such people are not only in short supply, but difficult to find.
Having identified Oseloka Obaze as a potential member of his team, there was the greater challenge of persuading him to leave the United Nations for home.
It was not an easy task, and it took over a year to conclude the process of OHO’s return. Peter Obi persevered as he knew he would add value to his administration of Anambra State.
Oseloka’s fame is highly acclaimed – to Occidental and Oriental eyes alike. Solid with experience, travel and practical statesmanship, he is really a man of substance. People and institutions who come in contact with him continually express panegyrics of him. His superiors have nothing but eulogies of him even as his contemporaries and subordinates acknowledge his positive drive and frankness. As he disengaged from the service of the United Nations in 2012, the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon said in a personal letter to Obaze dated 26 July, 2012,: “In your long distinguished career … you have proven yourself as a most dedicated, dependable and competent staff member. Throughout your service, you have unfailingly upheld the highest standards of efficiency, competence required of an international civil servant”. In the same vein, one of his erstwhile colleagues gave this testimony: “I have worked with him and I can tell you that he is a first-class diplomat who could re-phrase in courteous elegance, the unvarnished utterances of any master. I can also tell you that he is a model of diplomatic courtesy, his language always polite. He can be described as a realist and a rationalist who pierces the moral phrases of men that govern states to the actual motives of policy.”
As the Secretary to Anambra State Government, those that knew him were aware of what he would do even as people that expressed surprise on why so much energy was committed to wooing one man back home looked at him grudging to prove his mettle. OHO was mettlesome enough, for he started by re-designing the structure and operations of the Office of the Secretary to the State Government to become a centre of attrition rather than attraction. He thus rendered the Office service-oriented in the best professional way possible. Soon, the staff began commenting on his obstinate incorruptibility and addiction to principles, which engendered a veritable epidemic of honesty in that Office. Steadily, everybody started appreciating him, such that whenever a big task or a Committee was needed to tackle any issue, the State Executive Council [EXCO] would be united in saying “Let OHO head it”. Thus, he headed many strategic Committees and became the Anambra’s Ambassador Plenipotentiary. Who best did the State have to interface with the likes of Professors Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Chukwuemeka Ike, among others?
His sally into politics under APGA was short-lived. In an evident conspiracy of the party’s leadership – that he would be even more meticulous than Obi in the use of public funds – OHO was disqualified on the absurd ground that he had no APGA Registration Card! He got the message and laughed over it.
It is on record that he was one of those who expressed a strong desire to quit Anambra Government service after the tenure of Mr. Peter Obi, but was persuaded to stay on by his successor. When things started falling apart in terms of deviation from real governance, he had to resign. It is remarkable that the day he was vacating office, civil servants gathered in great throngs along the path he would drive out from, and many, according to eye witnesses, wept in bidding him farewell. Some carried placards stating: “We have lost a saint”.
As a diplomat, author, poet, arbitrator, counsellor and strategic policy advisor, Oseloka Obaze rivals the best and has received numerous commendations and awards. He possesses the unique combination that would guarantee and attain success in any organization he manages or State he administers. He has the soul of an artist of the poet’s genre – organized, sensuous and almost instinctively possessed of good taste that does not pass moderation to Epicureanism. He is sober and unostentatious, frugal and industrious, curious and studious, loyal and patient, with an incredible capacity for details. These are really welcome antidotes to the recklessness of today.
Of course, he has his faults like any other mortal. Many years ago, Seneca wrote: “I persist in praising not the life that I lead, but that which I ought to lead. I follow it at a mighty distance, crawling”. Of which of us is this not true? But on balance, in the presence of OHO we are warmed up by the fellowship of a man humane, essentially wholesome, and complete.
On the home front, he is happily married to a medical Doctor, Dr. Ofunne Omo Obaze and they are blessed with children.
Obienyem wrote in from Lagos
He was promptly engaged by the United Nations, which identified in him the qualities needed to lead men along the parts of universal dignity.