George Obiozor, The Enigma, Goes Home
BY OKEY ANUEYIAGU
The last few years, in many respects, have been years of disappointments and losses. The sad passing of several of my longtime friends has been so profoundly heartbreaking. But nothing prepared me for the death of one of my closest soulmates, George Obiozor. His death hit me like a ton of bricks, leaving me in a terrible state of despair and pain.
These years polarity of negatives and deaths has devastated and shaken me, leaving me to often think and wonder that there is something ominous; something wrong with the essence of our existence and journeys on this earth. I have never needed proof that death can be the most capacious certainty of life, but its rapid intimacy to me, lately, has become rather intensely irrefragable and enervating. How then can we be happy and joyful and have laughter when the world is ablaze; when the ones we love and admire are taken away so suddenly from us, leaving us in pain, agony and in sorrow?
Ambassador Professor George Obiozor, or George as he preferred that I called him, and I, became friends some forty or so years ago. The circumstances of our friendship that turned into brotherhood is a story reserved for another day. This man, from the first day I set my eyes on him, despite all his achievements, never exuded the celebrity self-importance arrogance so typical of people of his status. Instead, George exuded warmth, love, humility and delighted in the kindness of small and intimate gestures that pointed him ultimately to greatness.
George was a consummate scholar, a philosopher and a man of expansive knowledge – the type that seems obscure. There was a whole lot of conjecture about who he was, as much about what he meant by his pronouncements and by his dispositions. This man’s ineffable life gave him a sort of mystical quality which provided some of us close to him with interesting perspectives and contrasts in understanding self-awareness, humility and harmony with nature. To him, apparently insignificant things have huge meaning and consequence to the extent that we must focus solely on some distant goal before we misstep and trip over our own feet.
George was like the Greek philosopher, Socrates. He once told me that the unexamined life is not worth living. But like Socrates, he concealed his knowledge by always professing that he knew that he knew nothing and took this as a virtue, setting out to question those professing knowledge and wisdom so that they might teach him. This was an intellectual trick deployed by George which provided him the advantage of catching his contemporaries off-guard and disarming them in debates with superior knowledge which he had in abundance. As confusing as George’s philosophy may appear, it implied that never has a man who has bent himself been able to make others straight. Hanging around George for such a very long time began to make me a veritable thinker. In this particular instance, I began to see a point guiding us to think of how a leader advices or guides others when he himself does not follow what he knows to be right?
George, a veteran international affairs scholar and diplomat had so many sides to his history and life. He reached the pinnacle of every imagined and real apogee of his existence. An astute thinker and a dynamic political scientist, he developed and maintained the most vibrant platform in all facets of his life’s endeavours with ultimate techniques and ambivalence. A world-class expert in international affairs, and a renowned author of many books and journals, George was one of the best and brightest that our world has ever seen and cherished.
George Obiozor was a National Hero. From serving at various levels in government; adviser to Presidents, Director-General of The Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Ambassador to various countries, and a dedicated contributor to the dynamic discourse of our country’s politics, social and economic affairs, he excelled. He helped to formulate and sustain the fundamental questions of our existence, providing us with an understanding of ourselves and the society in which we live.
George served our country well from all levels of endeavor; local, community, regional, national and international. In so doing, he deployed his talent which hit targets no one else could hit, and used his unalloyed genius that hit targets that no one else could see. This man was able to escape our country’s many distractions that tug us from all angles, but transcended into a world of pure contemplation. His ability to use these talents, marked George Obiozor out as true genius as these values shaped, sustained and guided him throughout his extraordinary career.
In George I found a man filled with wisdom, confidence, self-assurance, awareness and courage (although he often referred to himself as “a courageous coward”). In him I found out that a man’s wealth is in his knowledge; in his profound knowledge of love, self, humility and wisdom. George was tried, he was tested, and throughout these periods, I never saw him loose strength or loose faith in life, in his friends, his people and his country. Every step of the way, he had patience, he had endurance, perseverance and courage setting out on a journey of love, seeking truth, justice, equity, peace and understanding.
George and I collaborated and engaged in so many national and international affairs that to mention each one of them will take volumes. The one affair that stood out in the history of Nigerian politics was when we worked together at the 2014 National Conference – a gathering of Nigerians inaugurated by former President Goodluck Jonathan with a mandate to find a lasting solution to resolving issues of national importance. For several months, George and I participated in this Conference with both of us leading a brilliant team of Igbo intelligentsia fashioning out the much touted Igbo position of restructuring that formed the intellectual bedrock of our delegates submission to the government. Our combined intrinsic knowledge of Political Science, and our commitment were valuable assets to our deliberations at the National Conference. Needless to say, that George showcased an unparalleled academic and intellectual clarity with scholarly articulation and insight.
Then, one sunny afternoon George rang me up and in that familiar voice of his roared into the receiver: “Anueyiagu, where are you, are you at home”? Before I could say yes, the ever-bubbling George announce that he was on his way to my Ikoyi home. Upon arrival, he did not allow me a moment to offer him any refreshment as he went straight to the point of his visit. He appeared anxious and a bit apprehensive; demeanors that he hardly exhibited. “I want to be the President General of Ohaneze, I want to lead the Igbo, … I want to save and serve our people…” he told me in a now subdued voice. He glanced around as if he was making sure that there was no one with us, and we were alone. He continued: “You are the first person I am speaking to about this… even Grace does not know about my decision … I need your approval and support”. I was lost for words and needed time to ponder and digest this heavy stuff that my brother dropped on me. I called for drinks and some well-marinated fried ram meat. George proceeded for hours to lecture me on why he was the right fit for the position. He told me that he would use his well-known diplomatic experience, and his national and international network of contacts to serve the Igbo well, and that the Igbo needed him at this time to improve our relationship with other Nigerian groups. I said nothing, but continued to listen to our country’s number one diplomat trying to convince me and enlist my approval and support.
George persisted, and when I noticed that he had become rather emphatic with a bead or two of sweat dancing on his forehead, I asked him to give me time to think about this project. That was not about to happen, as he continued to release his verbal manifestos. He told me that his regime will promote and advance Igbo ideas and ideals and will ensure the protection of all that we hold dear. As if he sensed that I was not clearly capturing his drift, George stood up, and like an orator on a political podium thundered: “My friend, I have the capacity and experience to execute these specific Igbo roles and agenda… I understand the political trajectories and nuances of our people and I know God’s hands is in our struggles … support me, and we will deliver the Igbo from this bondage…, I want an Igbo to be president of this country and we have the capacity to deliver this dream… I will make sure we get what we deserve”.
George was a strategist. He wanted to capture me, because as he said, I had the ears of some other important Igbo. He wanted me to speak to Professor Joe Irukwu, Chief Emeka Anyoku, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, General Ike Nwachukwu, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, Alhaji Abdulaziz Ude, Senator Ben Ndi Obi, Chief Sonny Odogwu, The Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe, Admiral Ndubisi Kanu, and some other prominent Igbo citizens, about his ambition, and get them onboard.
Instantly, I told George that I didn’t think it was the right decision for him to aspire to this position. Not because he lacked the wisdom of leadership, but because I doubted if he had the stomach to bear the brunt of the murkiness of Igbo domestic wahala. Besides, I insisted that the rigors of this job was becoming rather excruciating. Within space and time, George became the head of Ohaneze, and with it making all the difference leading to a more relevant fluid and propulsive regime and experience. He chose to do things his way without wanting to turn his regime into anything formulaic or predictable. He became a good leader and began to move the Igbo agenda forward.
A man’s character and status can tell us a huge amount about the people around him. George was like a great tree that can do many things. It can sanctify or nurture, expose or protect, become a strong impenetrable shelter, be warm, cool and welcoming. George had the reputation of an Iroko tree; strong, everlasting and can see from afar. His sight was visionary. Examples of this man’s wisdom and foresight are many, but I must not hesitate to give one that concerned me personally. I once gave a Lecture to an audience and thereafter received standing ovation that lasted longer than usual. George who was in the audience pulled me aside after the Lecture, and in his usual candid but disarmingly soft manner, said to me: “Anueyiagu, you are so brilliant, so fortunate to have all the gifts that one can desire from God… this your God is a very partial one ooo. But listen, don’t let anyone know that you are brilliant… that you have brain… hide it… the more they think that you’re a mumu, the better …”
That incredible admonition by George Obiozor, which in essence loosely translated to mean that pride goes before a fall, and that humility is the antidote to the fall that is the shame of the prideful, has been my guiding light. This undoubtedly, is the raison d’etre of everything I have attempted to be in life today.
In October of 2022, two months before George died, he came over to see me. This time in a premonitional way, told me that he was planning a Lecture on the history of our country’s nationalism. He had chosen a Lecturer, the erudite professor of history, Jide Osuntokun. Now, he needed a title for the Lecture and I readily provided one; “There was a Country”. George shook his head, laughed heartily, and said that I was too radical. He wanted me to plan this Lecture and serve as a Moderator. I did all he wanted and we had what in my opinion, I considered to be the most successful and consequential public lecture in the history of our country’s political affairs. It was indeed, a befitting send off for George Obiozor at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, an institute that he once headed.
I have written my fair share about relations and friends who have died, about our fears of death, and also about my hatred of death itself. When George died, I began to once again ask myself how do I know that in hating death and its fetish breath, I am not like people who got lost in their early childhood and did not know their way home? And I thought about the anxieties and stress that death cause us. Since we humans don’t know much about death, why do we fear it so much? To me, with my knowledge of philosophy, I think that we need not fear or hate death, because as it appears to disrupt our natural state of tranquility, its ultimate destinations are unknown. Why do we fear, hate and worry about what is ultimately real, what awaits us after death, or other insoluble puzzles or uncertainties? My belief, which I have tried to substitute for my hatred for death, is that by relinquishing such fruitless fear and hatred, I, and possibly others, can find and achieve happiness while alive. These fundamental philosophical questions and approach were issues that George and I dwelt on, and they changed, inspired and explored so many aspects of life for me.
George Is Gone.
George Obiozor the enigmatic genius will be deeply missed, but his Spirit, his Soul and his entire being will live on through the exceptional body of his work and the legacy of his existence.
I feel very lucky and fortunate to have known this man. But of all the means which are procured by wisdom to ensure HAPPINESS throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is the acquisition of FRIENDS.
George Was A Real Friend
Good Bye Brother
Dr. Okey Anueyiagu
A Political Economist
Writes from Ikoyi Lagos