To Egenti, A Powered, Powerful Voice

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AT IMT, circa 1979-1983, everyone knew everyone for something. IMT was not where you passed without people knowing you; it had little to do with the numbers, for entrance to IMT was so competitive that you took at least two examinations, written, one in a location close to you, another in Enugu, the base of the school.

If you were named Bright, and brilliant in chemical engineering, you became Bright Chemical. Students were so designated, and lived up to the billings, even exceeded them.

People were civil, civilised, and contested their ideas with intellectual fecundity that belied that fact that they were students. Our teachers respected us, and we paid them dues due them in ideas, more ideas. Disagreements were resolved with bias for better ideas, which always were a mix of ideas from different sides of the debates.

There were many powerful voices, more powerful interests as the return to civilian rule was in its virgin days. You had to be something to be heard above the brilliant dins that we freely generated in a competitive spirit that got one often lost in the melee over spectra of positions and posturing.

IMT ensured that atmosphere from the competitive examinations in which candidates, whether in the arts, sciences, technology and the things in-between, wrote the same examinations. Your acclaim to brilliance would be humbled by geometrical convolutions that assaulted expectations. You almost asked yourself whether you were taking the right examinations.

We arrived at IMT to meet an academic robustness that almost guaranteed that an electrical engineering student would speak about the arts in ways that made you check your tugging doubts by asking intermittently, “What did you say you are studying?” Those were the days.

One of the powerful voices I never missed a chance to listen to was Uwaezuoke (now Ezim) Onyekwere. He was mostly known as Egenti (he who listens not). He was in the Students Union leadership, and he had presence (tall, so tall) and a ringing voice (a good broadcaster too) to match it. He put both to good uses.

We had the simple role of goading him with our dedicated shouts of, “most powerful”, for that was the battle call he required. Reluctantly – I now suspect it was a ploy – he would move to the podium, which turned out to be wherever he was addressing us, it could be a bus, and unleash an emotive speech. We would not listen to the end before acting.

“Most powerful students of this most powerful institution,” he would begin. The rest of the speech would be lost in the noise of his introduction. Our ears would be only for the conclusion, which typically would be, “I most powerfully move, that we most powerfully move, and most powerfully confront the issues that confront us”. Nobody I knew ever used “ powerful” and “powerfully” so poignantly. More rings of “most powerful” would rent the air as we proceeded to “action”.

The speeches were the last resort. They followed failure of school management and governments to be “reasonable”. We then marched, healthy students, well-fed on foods and facts, engaged governments more aggressively (minimal destruction, for we were often asked to pay for anything destroyed, and we had a high sense of ownership of the school) to resolve the issues.

Egenti was as popular as they come. The audacity of telling everyone that you were “stone deaf”, counter conservative, if you please, and living it out, was something that many found intriguing.

Then he put his height to further use by playing volleyball for IMT at inter-school competitions. We loved to hear his voice mobilising us to “action” beyond the gates of IMT.

An occurring nexus of mediating factors and influences – age, long service to the causes of humanity (even womanity), family, friends, foes – must have conspired to temper the range, rev, and resonance of the voice, yet we remember every bit of the zeal that went into students unionism then, and the great ideas about liberties, speech, association, thinking, negotiations they ingrained in us.

My most powerful, most powered birthday wishes to a man of great convictions, and who is never afraid to make them known. I wish you more years of discerning service to a society that needs reasonable voices, now than ever.

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