Many of those who are not conversant with who Chris Nwabueze Ngige really is, saw a snippet of his characterisation a few days ago in that dramatic episode at the House of Representatives, where he appeared to answer some questions over the suspension of the senior management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund.
I’m sure James Faleke, the Kogi State indigene, who currently represents Ikeja Federal Constituency at the lower legislative chamber of the National Assembly, would have thought twice, if he had an inkling that the Minister of Labour and Employment, would react the way he did. He would probably been more circumspect, cautious and prudent if he did.
I would have been surprised if Ngige had reacted differently, especially if he had allowed that obvious mockery ride without responding the way he did. I was therefore not surprised at his “if you yab me, I yab you 10 times reply. That was vintage Onwa.
Confronted with the same scenario, the late Owelle of Onitsha, Nnamdi Azikiwe, would definitely have employed his well-known Fabian war tactics of wearing an opponent down, by feigning weakness before striking. He would probably have strung a set of soft words that carrying in its bowel a more devastating warhead and deliver same without appearing to do so.
On the other hand, the late Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Ikemba Nnewi, would probably have offered a more frontal attack that would depict the soldier in him as he did a number of times on national issues. Ojukwu would have probably given Faleke a nickname that would have stuck like a second skin and followed him to his grave.
Ngige, is a variant of the two. As he said in during that exchange, he is indeed a Lagos Boy, an euphemism for street wisdom, which, stretched further, implies that having witnessed a lot at the notorious Lagos traffic, bus stops, markets, cinema halls and pubs, very few things would shake him.
This much I can attest to. I cite just one example – that disgraceful incident of July 10, 2003, when he became the first governor to be abducted from office. Immediately the news spread across the country about his kidnap, all roads naturally led to Awka. Amid the confusion arising from the different versions about the incident, I arrived the Choice Hotels, Awka, where he was holing up to meet a sea of heads with security operatives everywhere.
I settled down to dealing with body, tail and even the bone of the story, since, I knew it was clearly impossible contemplating accessing the head of the fish, as a reporter is taught to do in such a hopeless situation. But, then, you never know!
“Do you want to see oga?” When I turned to behold the face bearing the voice behind me, it was one of the governor’s aides who knew our relatioship! How he spotted me in the crowd, I couldn’t fathom. But it was a lucky encounter, one every reporter always craved and would give anything to have.
That was how we waded through the crowd into a wing of the hotel, strewn with all manner of security operatives. It was a smooth ride as everyone obviously recognised the man until we got to the last point. Though the aide explained that it was his boss that sent for me, the security operatives would hear none of it.
They had their instructions and wouldn’t budge. Neither would I, having got thus far. Stalemate! Luckily, my friend and ally, who had at that point, overheard me arguing with the operatives and telling them to go and mention my name to him, sent a message that I was in the clear and should be allowed in.
Even my long relationship with him, did not prepare me for what I saw. Was it the same man for whom all these commotion within this complex and around the whole country that is this relaxed and unperturbed? I had expected a totally harassed, harried and haunted Ngige, jumping at his shadows.
Instead, as he perched on the bed completely relaxed, the only thing that suggested anything was out of place, was the number of the people inside the room that evening. What his countenance didn’t depict, he told me himself, assuring that nothing was amiss and nobody should be unperturbed.
Two things that gladdened my heart as I headed back to Enugu that evening, were the fact that I had a first-hand encounter, perhaps, as the only journalist that saw him in person and did not rely on second-hand statements and that the countenance of my friend betrayed no iota of fear.
Of course, subsequent events bear demonstrable evidence to the fact that the medical doctor-turned politician was not just putting up a face to impress. The entire world watched how this internal calmness came handy even as he launched his own attacks in the political, if not physical war that war that he prosecuted to preserve his government for the three years he was in office as governor of Anambra State.
Only one with such candour could have garnered the mental stability to fathom such a potent strategy of launching a counterattack whose result practically mimicked the David-Goliath battle in modern history.
No doubt, he might have picked up a lesson or two from the benefit of the hindsight, which made him decide to pitch his tent with the people rather than running to Abuja or investing in other counter forces that abounded in the state to do his battle for him.
Apart from some landmark infrastructures such as the Ngige Roads, are the abiding lessons that with resilience and the right mindset, certain things are possible, even in Nigeria. In the most poignant manner, he has succeeded in emphasising the power of the people over that of individuals and of good over evil.
It has been said that even the grass would stand up and fight for the oppressed who has the truth as the standard. Ngige was able to establish that in the anal of Nigerian history. Where are those who thought they had the power and death – the principal actors, who concocted that inglorious episode? Where are the overlords who ordered Anambra to be set ablaze to prove their power?
How does history record the names of AIG Ralph Ige who practically pulled the governor out of his seat on that July 10, the Okey Ude, the deputy governor, eager to upstage his boss in that inglorious scheme? Where are the duo of Wilson Egbo Egbo and Stanley Nnaji, who threw judicial decorum and standards to the wind all in a bid to satisfy their individual whims and caprices? Lessons and more lessons!
Today, he has etched his name across the pages of history as the man who liberated Anambra from bondage. At least, if nothing else matters, that particular aspect of history remains permanent.
At 68, the words of Martin Luther King continue to ring with its abiding message: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Happy birthday, Onwa!
Credit Sunday Igboanugo