Highly cerebral, consistently stubborn once convinced about a matter and has been a focused person since early childhood when the fear of cane made him a compliant kid. Professor Chinedu Nebo met his wife who he fondly calls Ify in Scripture Union while in secondary school and as an undergraduate, he was ready to tie the nuptial knot with her. Today, apart from his love for God, he says his wife is his highest inspiration. He spoke with Charles Ajunwa and Ahamefula Ogbu
He catches the image of an unyielding person, the very tough type that makes one wonder if he has a soft side. Dressed in a simple jumper, he looked youthful, almost putting a lie to his real age. Asked if he had a romantic side or if it is always work all the way, his response was a stunning reversal of the expectation as he replied: “I have the most wonderful woman any man can have as a wife. Most wonderful! If there is anything called madly in love, we are madly in love. On June 16, we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. I have been in love with this girl for 46 years from when I was 19 years old in secondary school. We married when I was just barely 25 and she was 24. I was 25 years old when our daughter was born and she was born eight days before I got my Bachelor’s Degree. So we have been together that is why at this age that not too old, we have 11 grandchildren. So my wife has been a fantastic help. People say better half but I call her better two thirds because she is a woman of prayer and she loves her husband so much. We have peace at home at all times. You see, I came for this programme and we are here. Most of the places I go to if she is available we go together. We are still much in love and our children refer to us when they talk to each other or their friends as love birds. So yes, it’s not all stern face and everything out but there is a very soft aspect of it. I have the most wonderful family.”
Does the cupid’s arrow through his heart make it a seamless relationship without misunderstanding? Nebo beams a smile before admitting that, “Not that there wouldn’t be, every family, even twins who are identical occasionally have disagreements. But never any disagreements that would cause one ever to begin to insult each other or even to think that it was a mistake. For 41 years of marriage and every day, I thank God for the wife that I married. I have never thought of anybody else as may be or could have been a better choice. Never!”
On childhood memories, he recalls being a cool and compliant child that always wanted to please his parents. “God made me a compliant kid because I dreaded punishment. You see, any lash of the cane that I got was so painful. But it wasn’t so for my brothers. Sometimes I think they enjoyed being spanked. For me, the first that lands I would cry. The thing was so painful. I think they had a leather or rubber skin that they would just be taking the thing as if they were enjoying it. So I dreaded the cane and that made me a compliant child and I had a passion to please my parents and the reason I wanted to be the best in my class so that Mummy and Daddy would be happy because I didn’t want to disappoint them.
“The first time that I refused to come back home was because I was so sick that term that I almost died. I would never forget that. I had this malaria and I was coasting as if I was dying or something like that and I was not in school for quite a while and for the first time I was not the first, I was not the second, I was the third for the first time in history. That day I didn’t come back, my parents had to come looking for me. How could I tell them that two people did better than me? Of course, that was just one term by next term I was the best student. I was a compliant kid because I dreaded the cane. I avoided it. Occasionally, I did something wrong. Occasionally, intentionally too because there was one day my classmates after class we were going home and they went and started plucking mango on the European quarters in G.R.A. in Port Harcourt. I didn’t go with them, I got home somehow my mother heard that I was one of those who went and plucked mango. So she gave me ‘doctor do good’ treatment several lashes. Nothing I would say would stop Mama, she beat me hell.
“The next day, I said okay after school, since I had already been spanked, let me now go and pluck the mango. Stupidly I went; the mango was in front of the house and the house was a white man’s house. So I started throwing the stick for the mango to fall, I didn’t know that the man was stalking me and he caught me and you can imagine almost pissing on my knicker. I told him I’m sorry. Yesterday, people came here and plucked mango and I wasn’t there. I went home my mother beat me. I had already been beaten for the mango I didn’t pluck. He now said get out and thankfully, he didn’t beat me. He just threw me out of the place. So children can do a lot of stupid things. Yes, occasionally one would do something that the parents are not happy with. But generally, I was very obedient.
While some may see possessions as their greatest source of happiness, Nebo has a different value system and sees his best experience in life as “The first time I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ. It was like I was coasting in the air. The thought of heaven is like I was already in heaven experiencing all kinds of things but also marital bliss. People would think that being Vice-Chancellor two times, minister, these things give joy. I think that one remarkable thing that I got being a Vice-Chancellor was high blood pressure. So that is the reward I got from being a Vice-Chancellor because I gave my heart and life to it. So it’s not easy. All that glitters is not gold and uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Those things don’t bring joy. They may bring momentary happiness and things like that and if you are seeing peoples’ problems solved a lot of joy. By the grace of God, I have seen so many lives transformed as a result of my leadership. So it gives a lot of joy but the greatest of all is this relationship I have with this unique wonderful wife that God has given to me. I couldn’t trade that for anything else. That one is a constant source of joy.”
On the flip side of life that has given him sadness, he waxed philosophical, saying, “Well, you know when you put in your best and it appears your best is not good enough. You have a situation where you have ideas that can flow and transform things and nobody wants to listen to you and nobody cares. For instance, we didn’t have an opportunity to do what we wanted to do. President Jonathan had all wonderful intention for the power sector and given more time I believed that things would have changed. Unfortunately, we couldn’t complete the agenda we had. After not being in office, I’m still doing research on power and I’m getting results. So it’s not the office, it’s just that one could have done a lot more if you have the capacity and you have the backing of government to do that. So I would say such things made me sad and sometimes looking at young people I cry that a lot wasting away.
“Brains being swept into the garbage on a daily basis because of the insensitive system we have. Not that I’m against quota system, there should be quota system to some extent. Where somebody scores four points or two points and gets admission and another person with 65 points cannot get because you are from a state where people are doing better. I think that kind of frustration makes one very sad and then when I look at those at the helm of affairs and seeing that most of them, beginning from the executive to the legislative both at the federal and state levels and I see a preponderance of mediocrity. I feel sad for the future generation. That we are mortgaging the future of this country, it’s like we have sold Nigeria to the devil but it’s my hope and prayer that God will change all that.”
Professor Nebo was once quoted as asserting that incompetence was worse than corruption, does he really mean that? Hear him: “Yes. I said it and I have no apologies for that. Incompetence is worse than corruption. Take it this way, if you are corrupt and you are intelligent and competent, it means that what you are supposed to do you are doing it. But because you are a thief, you are stealing what you are not supposed to steal but you are still performing. But if you are ‘righteous’ but the brain is empty and you are incompetent, you don’t know what to do it means that resources you have, you can’t even utilise them for the good of anybody. So at the end of the day who performs better? Is it not the corrupt competent one that leads ahead of the incompetent corrupt one, so I think that incompetence is much worse than corruption. Corruption is horrible, it’s abhorrent, we should never allow our country to muddle up in the pod muddle of filth and stench of corruption. It’s the mother of all underdevelopment. Yes, but something is worse than that and that is incompetence, much worse than corruption but ‘wahala dey ’ when you add incompetence to corruption. When you add incompetence to corruption, it means that your steps will forever be recursive. One step forward three steps backward.”
He relaxes by spending time with his wife “as we pray a lot, I spend a lot of time with my wife. We pray a lot. We sing a lot. We fellowship a lot and I occasionally have some good times with my friends, schoolmates my classmates but I spend a good amount in the service of the Lord. Thankfully, we have children that are in different places. We can always go there spend a week, two weeks sometimes three or four weeks and then come back. But I spend a lot of time in ministry and that helps to unwind because it’s done of the presence of the Lord. I do exercise.”
Faith in God is his motivating factor as well as belief that the human mind can conquer any horrifying situations. His philosophy of life is not to let self-preservation stop him from doing right. He feels posterity, not popularity that matters, a reason he sent cultists including children of his parishioners, generals and other influential people out of campuses as well as “removed a Dean from office because his son failed he went against the policy and the regulation of the faculty and the university and refused to reverse what he did. When they wanted me to sign N180 million certificates after I had gone and looked at everything they did in that Library (UNN) and it wasn’t worth up to N5m, I said no. When I found out that they had wanted to do it even without me, I wrote to the Central Bank Governor not to release that money. At the end of the day, they still went and thankfully I had written and they couldn’t get that money. That Library was completed in my tenure.”