By IKEDI OHAKIM
Chairman Champion Newspapers, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. Birthday anniversaries are ordinarily for thanking God Almighty for the gift of life but in some cases, they go beyond the lives particular individual celebrants. A birthday anniversary for AhaejiagambaNdigbo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, is a celebration for the entire people of Nigeria, not just for his family or his kit and kin in Igbo land. It is an occasion for the entire country to thank God for the gift of Chief Iwuanyanwu to the nation.
Little wonder then that this 75th birthday anniversary celebration for this great icon is being put together by a “national” planning committee that is headed by the Deputy President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator (Dr) Ike Ekweremadu, assisted by another former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Mantu.
The involvement of these personalities, a serving Deputy Senate President and a former, who is highly respected across the country, cannot be surprising. Chief Iwuanyanwu has never held any elective office in the country but he is, without a doubt, a pillar of strength in our collective quest for national cohesion.
By a combination of a rare level headedness and unrepentant nationalist and patriotic disposition, Chief Iwuanyanwu is unarguably one of those whose conduct have made it possible for Nigeria to, for the first time in her history, sustain eighteen unbroken years of democracy.
Not many Nigerians would recall the uncommon contribution he made to ensure an orderly and smooth transition from military to democratic rule between 1998 and 1999. It is to his eternal credit that a crisis of monumental dimension was averted in the then All Peoples Party (APP), after he was denied the presidential ticket of the party, which he had earlier won at the Kaduna Convention; in favour of a fellow who was found to be more amenable to the plot to have an all-Yoruba presidential race in 1999.
The fear of the military clique that was superintending over the transition was that Chief Iwuanyanwu was not going to agree to step down, and so, a plot was hatched to rob him of the ticket which he had won earlier; in favour of another Igbo aspirant. But he took all that with equanimity, having quickly made up his mind that the overall interest of the nation was above his personal political ambition. Had Chief Iwuanyanwu insisted on his mandate, a crisis would most likely have ensued within the APP and perhaps the transition programme would have ran into a hitch.
That incident did not diminish his zeal and enthusiasm in seeing to the entrenchment of democracy and in all the turbulence Nigeria has witnessed in the democratic journey since 1999, Chief Emmanuel ChuwkuemekaIwuanyanwu has played a frontline role in all the efforts at steering the ship of state back to normalcy. Not given to arrogant and frivolous statements, Chief Iwuanyanwu is gifted in the art of reading the political barometer of the time, delineating him with this rare ability to make political moves almost effortlessly and without stirring controversies.
I first began to hear about Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu in my University days especially following his donation of the sum of One Million Naira at a fund raising ceremony hosted by the administration of the late Sam Mbakwe during the second republic. He stunned observers with that gesture, for the simple reason that whereas he was of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the then governor was of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP); and as is well known, there was no love lost between the two parties and their respective leaders. At the time of that event, Chief Iwuanyanwu was just 38 years old.
He has maintained that trajectory of putting the people first before partisan or personal interest. Throughout the 1980s and up till the early 2000s, the name, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, was almost synonymous with philanthropy. He was chairman of virtually every event: fund raising, book launching, weddings etc. across the country. But perhaps what stood him much aside was his interest in creating opportunities for gainful employment for the younger ones.
Through his chain of businesses that spanned civil engineering, real estate, advertising, manufacturing, publishing etc, Chief Iwuanyanwu was one of the few Nigerians who blazed the trail in the elusive search for making the private sector the engine of the national economy. Despite the fact that he did not hold any public office, he was one of the few that realized, quite earlier, that a viable private sector is the only avenue for national economic development.
His pioneering traits took him into newspaper publishing and that move saw the birth of the Champion newspapers which recorded a level of success that took quite a number of people by surprise. After the late Dr.NnamdiAzikiwe, Chief E. C. Iwuanyanwu is the next Igbo to foray into newspaper publishing with a resounding success.
The Champion newspapers changed the face of newspaper publishing in Nigeria because before it, there was this erroneous belief that the industry was the exclusive reserve for people of the former Midwest region. In putting the newspaper together, Chief Iwuanyanwu brought in the best brains in the industry from that area. Notably, the first managing director of the paper was Prince Henry Odukomaiya who had headed the gargantuan Daily Times much earlier.
Among those who passed through the Champion school are, former deputy governor of Nasarawa state and Minister of Information, Mr.Labaran Maku; ace sport administrator and a member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Mr. Paul Bassey, renowned columnist and former Chief Press Secretary to a Nigerian Head of State, Mr. Emma Agu and prolific writer and journalist, Ethelbert Okere.
I was a keen reader of the Champion and as is well known, the newspaper played a leading role in the politics of the aborted third republic during which period I had my first outing in public service as a member of the Imo State Executive Council and Commissioner for Commerce and industry. When several years later it pleased the Almighty God to elevate me to the position of governor of the state, Chief Iwuanyanwu became a pillar of support for my administration. I found his advice quite invaluable. His late wife, Lolo Eudora Iwuanyanwu, also stood behind my spouse, Chioma, and played a leading role in galvanizing the support of Imo women for the administration.
It was the success recorded by Chief Iwuanyanwu in the area of sport that gave my administration the impetus to continue from where he stopped in the handling of the state owned football club, the Heartland Football Club of Owerri, an offshoot of Iwuanyanwu Nationale founded by him. The story is well known of the enviable heights to which Iwuanyanwu Nationale took the game in the entire continent of African. Unfortunately, the club experienced a big setback following an air crash at Tamanreaset, Southern Algeria in which the team lost two players, AimolaOmale and goal keeper, Uche Ikeogu. But undaunted, Chief Iwuanyanwu continued to make giant strides with the club.
However, following his divestment from the club at a later date, it became known as Heartland football club. Thereafter, the club’s fortune began to nose dive but when we took over in 2007, we rebranded it. In 2008, Heartland finished second in the premier league by one point to Kano Pillars and earned automatic place for African Championship slot. We crushed so many clubs with rich history in Africa until we got to the final.
We played the final with TP Mazembe in 2009 in Lubumbashi, tying 2-2 on aggregate but TP Mazembe was awarded the African Champion Trophy on technical grounds, based on the away goal rule, and we got the silver.
Of course, Chief’s contributions to national development have not gone unnoticed. Apart from numerous honours and awards of honorary doctorate degrees (nine in number), Chief Iwuanyanwu is one of the few Nigerians that are recipients of three national honours. He is Member of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (MFR); Officer, Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR), and Commander, Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR).
His pan Nigerian popularity and esteem did not detract him from his commitment to his own kit and kin back home in Imo state. Unlike many elder statesmen of Igbo extraction, Chief Iwuanyanwu resides, not in a choice mansion in Abuja (even though he has one) but right at home in his native Imo state. In fact, he does not give an appointment outside his home or office in Owerri.
But that also puts many of his people in Imo in a sort of quandary: so many things are going wrong in the state in spite of his hug presence. But it is a dilemma that is easily resolvable once the AhaejiagambaNdigbo accepts his rightful role of playing the leader and not allow himself to be led by those who merely use his impeccable testimonial to cover their own shortcomings. My entire family and I join millions of other Nigerians to wish him a happy birthday anniversary and many more years of blissful earthly journey.
OHAKIM, immediate past governor of Imo State, wrote in from Owerri.