Ezeife: End of a Fearless Igbo Voice

David-Chyddy Eleke writes that former Anambra State governor and elder statesman, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, was fearless in speaking against anything that was against the Igbo.

Penultimate Thursday, the news of the death of a former gorvernor of Anambra State spread like wild fire. It came in the form of a press statement from a member of his family, Chief Rob Ezeife. The release read: “On behalf of the Ezeife Dynasty of Igbo-Ukwu, I wish to announce the promotion to glory of our most distinguished son, Okwadike, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, CON, a former Federal Permanent Secretary, the first Executive Governor of Anambra State, a former Political Adviser to the President and former Presidential Aspirant. This sad event took place yesterday at 6pm at the Federal Medical Centre, Abuja. More details about the deceased and the arrangements for his State Burial will be announced later.”

Ezeife, a lover and advocate of everything Igbo has proven himself to be one man who can stick his neck for an Igbo cause. On several occasions too, the traditional Igbo chief, who is popularly known as Okwadike had stood for Igbo and also spoken against injustices to his people.

Born at Igbo-Ukwu, Anambra State on 20 November 1939, Ezeife did not attend secondary school, but taught himself through correspondence courses, qualifying for university admission. He earned a BSc in Economics from the University College Ibadan, then attended Harvard University on a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship where he obtained a masters and then PhD degree in 1972. He became a School Headmaster, a lecturer at Makarare University College, Kampala, Uganda, a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University, and a Consultant with Arthur D. Little in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ezeife joined the civil service as an Administrative Officer and rose to the position of Permanent Secretary.

Ezeife later joined politics and was elected governor of Anambra State on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP), holding office from 2 January 1992 to 17 November 1993, when General Sani Abacha took power after a military coup. As governor, he was said to be more interested in planning than in addressing immediate developmental needs, and achieved few tangible results.

He transferred Nnamdi Azikiwe University and Federal Polytechnic, Oko to the federal government, which helped ensure that they survived in the ensuing military regime.

During the Fourth Republic, Ezeife, who described himself as a social democrat, was appointed presidential Adviser on Political Matters to President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Ezeife was, among many other Igbo prominent sons, who had at one time or another visited Nigerian presidents, to advocate for one thing or the other for the Igbo people. His last was the visit to former President Muhammad Buhari in 2022, alongside other Igbo sons, to solicit the release of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr Nnamdi Kanu.

In October 2022, Ezeife who had continuously called for the release of Kanu expressed public anger and frustration over Buhari’s refusal to release Kanu. Speaking in a television interview, Ezeife had said he was ready to kneel down and beg Buhari if that would make him accede to his request to release Kanu.

Coincidentally, Ezeife died just a day before the Supreme Court judgement on the freedom of Kanu. Though Ezeife has already passed on, but it is believed that the judgement which denied Kanu freedom would have saddened the elder statesman, even in death.

Since after the news of his death, there have been a huge outpour of condolences, with many describing him with beautiful adjectives. Anambra State governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, in a statement by his Press Secretary, Mr Christian Aburime, described Ezeife as a man of many hats and a titan. Soludo said his departure would  leave a void that would be difficult to fill.

The statement read in part, “A most illustrious son of the Ezeife Dynasty of Igbo-Ukwu area of Anambra State, Dr. Ezeife, a man of many hats, was a titan in the annals of our state and nation. He was fondly called ‘Okwadike’. His departure leaves a void that will be difficult to fill. However, we find solace in the knowledge that his legacy of service, integrity, and unwavering commitment to the common good will continue to inspire us all.”

On his part, the Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District, Chief  Victor Umeh, described his demise as a huge loss to Nigeria and Ndigbo in particular.

He said: “Dr. Ezeife’s death is another huge loss to Nigeria and Ndigbo in particular. Dr. Ezeife who is more known as Okwadike Igboukwu was a man who grew from grass to grace through uncommon hard work and perseverance. From very difficult beginning, he fought with resilience to acquire education to the top level of bagging a doctorate degree in the renowned Harvard University in America, despite not having a formal Secondary School Education.

“He was a frontline advocate of equality of civil rights for all Nigerians. Dr. Ezeife was an inspirator and motivator. He was very brave and never shielded away from speaking his mind and the truth, no matter whose ox is gored! I mourn his exit, particularly as I am certain that he did not see a Nigeria of his dream before his departure, just like the rest of his compatriots who transited before him. We shall miss his Indefatigable spirit and huge sense of humour.

Also, the senator representing Anambra South senatorial zone, Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah, in a statement by his Media, and Strategic Communications Head, Mr

Kamen Chuks Ogbonna, said: “Apart from being the first civilian governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, was also a highly respected figure in the Southeast geo-political zone and Nigeria in general, who served the country in various capacities.

His vision and contributions to our dear state, particularly in the areas of leadership,  governance, and community development during and after his tenure as a governor, were invaluable, and his dedication to the progress and well-being of our people will always be remembered.”

The family of the late patriot has also promised to notify on details about his burial. This is coming just three weeks after the death of another former Anambra State governor, Chief Chinwoke Mbadinuju, and less than a month to the burial of an Igbo patriot, Prof Ben Nwabueze.

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