Tuesday, 16 March 2021

REMEMBERING DR. JOE NWODO

Dr. Joe Nwodo

Wordshot Amaechi Ugwele
 

I still remember the white NRC conference bag I got from the National Republican Convention delegates conference in Port Harcourt. I was not a delegate but was in good terms with some young Turks working in the political office of Rufus Ada George who eventually got elected as the governor of Rivers State where the convention held. Then, as a year one student of the University of Port Harcourt who was being led into activism and politics by the troika of Hippolytus Onah, Ibuchukwu EgbuodikeNohebedim Ezike and Chris Ezugwu, all my well respected seniors, such gatherings held endless appeals to me.

 
 
I was so proud to carry it around the campus then singularly because of the stellar performance of Dr. Joe Nwodo at that convention. He was so eloquent that he had sent the delegates, well respected men and women, all screaming and at the edge of their seats like a bunch of youths under the spell of a rockstar in a well delivered concert.

 

Dr. Joe Nwodo was phenomenal. Some of us from our part of the state had barely known who he was until he emerged. And when he came, he had come like a ruffle. But before one could form any impression of what he was like, he had built up into a gale force wind that soon swept out his boastful but very strong opponent, Dr. Hyde Onuaguluchi, like paper in a tornado. Dr. Joe Nwodo made Hyde to hide, although after a fierce and very blistering intra party contest.

 

I still remember when he visited Ohodo on a campaign stop over from his trail. I had not yet encountered him at the Port Harcourt convention. I was just a lad who was privileged to have been assigned to serve them at the high table. I remember I wore a white long sleeved shirt with a tie that was particularly long, as it was the fashion then. I had flipped it over my back as I bent to pick up the bowl of kola nut to pass round. It suddenly came lose and dropped into the kola nut.

 

I froze in embarrassment. Dr. Joe Nwodo looked at me, smiled and gently said, "young man don't worry. I think your tie is both clean and beautiful! Just pass it round." I still remember that reassuring, gentle nods of his head as he looked through his dark rimmed thick specks as our eyes briefly met. Of course, he wore that his characteristic dark safari suit, with the diagonal white strip across the shoulder. He looked exactly as he appeared on his campaign posters, if not better.

 

Apart from being struck by his huge frame, I had also found his flawless skin and well groomed hair very appealing. He looked aristocratic, healthy, very trustworthy and charismatic that when he addressed the people, charm just issued forth. He spoke the Ukehe dialect with perfect local cadences that rendered his oratorical prowess very much wholesome to our ears. His few English language sentences of course gave me some quotable quotes I had in my bag for years.

 

The other event that I will never forget was the day of the NRC gubernatorial primary elections. I was visiting an uncle at 9th Mile Corner. He had won. And as his victory party drove down from Enugu to Ukehe House, I excitedly jumped onto one of the open vans that conveyed supporters. As the long line of supporters got to Unity Hospital, along the old road, he ordered it to a stop. He came down and went in to see two young men on admission there. They had been attacked by Dr. Onuaguluchi supporters during a campaign visit to Achi a few days back.

 

He offered his words of comfort to them and also expressed his appreciation for their sacrifices and support, pledging these would never be in vain. As I watched from the window where I had crept up with a handful of others, to look at his huge figure protectively loomed over the boys on the beds, I somehow wished I had been one of them!

Well, we saw how it all ended, in the grossest deprivation and violation of one's political rights as was carried out against him and some other Nigerians by the military junta of General Ibrahim Babangida. However, one of the most beautiful moments of the time was seeing Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, his younger brother, rising from the ashes of the premature termination of his quest to find his true calling in politics. It was like Joe had given him some breath of life, in addition to the campaign dress he wore to everyone's admiration and sentimental attraction.

 

Dr. Okwi, like from nowhere, became the Governor of Enugu State. But before then, he was able to most effectively upon replacing his brother, sell himself to Enugu people as he was recognised to also possess the legendary Nwodo political savviness and oratorical prowess with which he had smothered Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu on all the debates they had. We have come to see how Okwi's political trajectory would go on to curve even higher up, leading to his occupying many more high profile positions in his career that has remained active to this day.

 

So, as Dr. Joe Nwodo's heartbreaking disqualification had fortuitously opened the door of success to his younger sibling to become a governor, he also made our people in Enugu North Senatorial District to know that, yes, we can do it. A lot of our people who are today doing well for themselves in politics are of that generation whose Dr. Joe Nwodo's emergence into the scene had inspired to discover and nurture themselves into different leadership positions.

 

Rest in peace Agadagbachriuzo! Adieu the gentle giant who was a trail blazer!

 

By

Wordshot Amaechi Ugwele

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