- * Day He Was Embarrassed Before His Wife
By Celestine Okafor (Editor-in-Chief)
He emerged from the inner room, though tired, but still radiating his characteristic ebullient mien. This is one aspect of Chief John Nnia Nwodo Jnr. anyone encountering the former two-time Minister, Economist, lawyer, and the immediate past President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, would first notice about him. Not only that, you will come away with the true impression that Nnia is innately affable. He has the ability to flow with people irrespective of class condition. But his assertive disposition sometimes issues an erroneous impression of him as an aloof character.
Some time ago, this writer (Nigerian NewsLeader Editor-in-Chief) was with Nnia Nwodo at his home to discuss, among other things, the secrets of the Nwodo political family in Ukehe, Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area of Nsukka, Enugu state; his politics, private life, and philosophy.
For Nnia Nwodo, childhood years were fun memories. Growing up in Ukehe was more like pain than joy for the young Nwodo. In spite of the fact that he was highly privileged, being the son of a former Parliamentarian and Regional Minister for Commerce and also one of the leading political figures in the old Eastern region of Nigeria, Nnia has tasted the other side of life only familiar to the dregs of the society. As a pupil in Holy Ghost Primary School Enugu and St. Patricks Primary, Iva Valley, also in the Coal City state of Enugu, he was exposed to the crudity and harsh realities of rural life by his Minister father, late Chief John Nnia Ugwuamakofia Nwodo Snr. ensured that the lad grew among his people in the village.
According to Nnia, this was deliberate on the part of his father. He was made to trek every other day to school even though he owned a bicycle. He lived like any other village boy despite the comfort available to him in the town by virtue of his father's position. In the village, Nnia was put in the care of his maternal grandmother who was something of an iron-hand disciplinarian. The old woman dispensed love and discipline in training her grandson who occasionally was obdurate in his ways. In a bid to inculcate in her grandson the virtue of industry, grandma, according to Nnia Nwodo, was in the habit of dispatching him to the village market in Ukehe to hawk wares for her. And whenever he wobbles off the track, he would be made to sit down listlessly at a spot for hours as punishment for his misdemeanor, and that is if he escapes being spanked by the old woman.
The circumstances of Nnia's upbringing however made him to be conversant with the two extremes of life - a life of joy and of pain and hardship. Now in college, specifically at the Christ Immaculate Conception (CIC) Enugu, Nnia's situation did not even get any better. His expectation of a more dignified and respectable treatment by his parent did come until he became a University undergraduate at the nation's premier University, Ibadan, Oyo state. Even as a college boy, the younger Nwodo was still made to spend some time with his roots in the village, Ukehe. Not only that, he fetched firewoods and went to farms to till the farmland for his grandmother who had become so influential in his life and in the lives of his sibling brothers and sisters.
His minister father who laid much emphasis on good and qualitative education however ensured that Nnia Nwodo attended good schools but not without the children and relations of his father's domestic servants like drivers and event stewards. This, indeed, is a gesture very rare among contemporary top government functionaries who would only want their kids to attend exclusive schools. "My father did not believe in such class distinctions and segregation", says Nwodo. "He was a man of the people who lived for others. He used his resources to build schools for his community and to train children other than his own kids. But he gave us the best within his ability. Our father trained us not to feel differently from other children and neither should we be treated differently. My father believed that a privileged position is merely an accident of birth. So he didn't encourage such differentials, and generations of leaders like him also did not encourage such things".
Shortly after the civil war and while still in college, Nnia became a bus driver and conductor. During the school vacation, he drove his father's bus, picking passengers on the streets of 9th Mile, Enugu to Otukpo, Benue state. "I also drove a taxi cab bought in England then by my elder brother Joe", Nnia said. Among the Nwodo brothers and sisters, namely - Chief (Mrs) Grace Obayi (a former Commissioner for Education in the old Anambra state), Dr Joe Nwodo, popularly known as the 'Agadagbachili Uzo 1 of Ukehe' (a former governorship candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention, NRC, Enugu state in the ill-fated third republic and an ex-Presidential aspirant) who died recently; Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo (former governor of Enugu state and also a former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP); Chief John Nnia Nwodo himself (a former Minister of State for Aviation in the Shehu Shagari Presidency and Minister of Information and ex-leader of the Ohaneze Ndigbo) and then Prof (Mrs) Valerie Epiphany Azinge (a lawyer and former Secretary of the 2014 Political Reform Conference), in that order, there is a high level of unity and understanding.
But there are occasional sharp disagreements among them on issues ranging from family, political to philosophical or ideological inclinations. During such moments, arguments and voices are raised and positions could be varied and extreme, but only one person decides what generally prevails and that is the eldest daughter, Mrs Grace Obayi. Reason: "My father left it somewhere in his will that in the event of any disagreeable situation, Grace (eldest sister) should have the last word", said Nnia Nwodo. "Whatever she says is what everybody follows, and she has not failed one bit in that responsibility". And because of this assigned role and also by virtue of her supreme position among the Nwodo siblings, Mrs. Grace Obayi is somewhat of a family matriarch. To the Nwodos, she has successfully stepped into their late mother's (Chief Mrs Josephine Obayi) shoes.
Everyone, including the wives and the husbands of the Nwodo brothers and sisters, differs to her. It is not uncommon to see either Grace or Joe (who was also something of a patriarch in the family) traveling overseas on vacation with the children of Nnia or Okwesilieze along with theirs. That is the extent of the unity and cooperation existing in the family of the Nwodos. This spirit of unity is one of the greatest legacies left behind by their late father, a former Regional Minister of State for Commerce and His Royal Highness, the former Igwe of Ukehe, Chief John Nnia .U. Nwodo (Snr.). But in spite of the fact that he is about the fourth down the line of the Nwodo dynasty siblings, Nnia is quite brilliant, focused, highly endowed, and well determined. He and his late elder brother, Dr Joe Nwodo, inherited from their father, his gift of oratory and high intellect. Just like Joe who was reputed to be the most gifted in oratorial skill, according to Nnia, also a former Presidential aspirant of the defunct All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), has a knack for holding his audience spell-bound with his flow of flowery oratorical language which he often delivers with clinical precision and coherence.
But Nnia Nwodo, however, sees no big deal about such a rare display of oratorial endowment generally seen as a plus for any man of the soapbox like him. "I feel very flattered actually when people adulate what they describe as my oratory, but l don't really see any big deal about it", Nnia confesses with absolute humility and sincerity. "You see, l don't really see me as someone who is so gifted in that aspect of oratory among us. My elder brother, Joe, is more gifted in oratory than any of us. He really takes after our father. I think this thing runs in our family and our late dad was like that. In fact, that was what stood him out among politicians and leaders of his era".
On a closer inquisition, it was discovered that among the Nwodo brothers, Dr Okwesilieze, also a former Senatorial candidate of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) for Enugu North as well as a former National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was about the most cool-headed. The eldest, Joe, was something akin to that, but Nnia is entirely different. He is a bit temperamental and downright cyclonic in his ways, and he would often insist in his own logic. "I was a pugnacious, cantankerous and insubordinate fellow in the family", Nnia Nwodo reveals, adding that "at least, that is the way my father describes me. My father used those words on me, but he loves me just like he loved every one of us his children. The old man loved all his boys and girls because we all took one thing after him".
At home with him during this close-up interview, this writer carefully observed John Nnia Nwodo Jnr. interact with his beloved late wife and eminent Jurist, Hon. Justice (Mrs) Regina Obiageli Nwodo, who, until her passage on August 6, 2013, at the age of 54, was a Judge of the Federal Court of Appeal, Abuja Division. The nuptial affection between them was evident during her lifetime. They were indeed as close as the Siamese twins in their love life. The ebony beautiful, ever calm and brilliant learned Judge, a daughter of a renowned multi-millionaire industrialist and business tycoon of the old school from Abagana, Anambra State, Sir (Chief) Joe Ozoemena Nwankwu (the Onwa na etiliora of Abagana) was described by Nnia as a quiet, dutiful, loving, respectful and level-headed woman and mother of four.
Justice Regina Oby Nwodo was a British-trained lawyer from the University of Middlesex and the London School of Economics. She began her legal career in 1985 and was appointed a Magistrate in Enugu. Her death in 2013 which shook the entire Nigerian Judicial bench and the bar as well, was highly celebrated essentially on account of what Nnia described as her unique and admirable character. As a Judge, she had no patience with lawyers who were sloppy in their cases before her court, neither was she ever associated with any sordid act of corrupt malpractice as a judicial officer.
But in the Nwodo dynastic family, "her lordship" (as Nnia's late wife was wont to be officially addressed as a judge of a higher court jurisdiction), just like any of the wives of the Nwodo brothers, melts in. "My wife is like any other wife of my brothers. They are as we (the Nwodos) are", Nnia said. "I think they would have no choice because it is like behaving like the Romans when you find yourself in Rome. It is difficult to distinguish among them who is whose wife. We did not have those walls between us, so they can't have that between them". Nnia and his Jurist wife flowed together, and the fact that they were trained in law also helped.
As a lawyer, Nnia Nwodo belongs to the bar while his late wife belonged to the bench. But as a politician, he insulates his wife, particularly, and his children from his political activities. And she too never discussed cases before her court with him before going to the courtroom for her judicial proceedings. "We understand these differences and it helps to shield us from interfering unduly in each other's trade". But Nnia recalls one humiliating experience in which a policeman thoroughly embarrassed him in his wife's court. She was still a court magistrate then. "I just came to the court obviously to see her on some urgent matters, not knowing that the court was already in session with my wife presiding. A policeman, her court orderly, shouted at me for not traditionally bowing to her lordship before leaving the courtroom, and l was so embarrassed and humiliated. When my wife came home that day, l asked her to kneel down before me immediately to atone for the embarrassment l had suffered in her court. I reminded them that l am in charge at home since she is the boss out there in the courtroom. She then laughed and told me that that was okay by her if only she would be the boss out there while l remain in charge here in the house. In fact, it was an experience l will never forget", Nnia Nwodo stated amidst laughter with his interviewer. NNL.