Twelve years ago, former President of the Nigerian Senate, Dr. Chuba Wilberforce Okadigbo, died at age 62. He was known for his intellectual capacity which magnified him in his numerous endeavours. He was a statesman, politician, writer, intellectual, philosopher and lecturer. Chuba or Oyi as he was fondly called was born on December 17, 1941. During his primary and secondary school education, he demonstrated a knack for knowledge and a love for fiery debates in which he stunned his peers and elders with his sharp wits.
Onward he went, first to the Blackenburg College of Technology in Germany (1963), and later a Master’s degree in Philosophy from the Karl Marx University, Leipzig, Germany in 1967. Scorning the divide the Cold War sought to impose on the world, he crossed over to the US, where he bagged another Master’s degree in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America, Washington DC in 1972 and later a doctor of Philosophy degree from the same university in 1975.
From 1973 to 1975, he was appointed associate professor of Philosophy by the University of the District of Columbia, Washington D.C.; he subsequently served as adjunct assistant professor of politics, the Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. He also lectured at the Howard University, Washington D.C. Returning to Nigeria, he became a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and served as the director-general of the university’s Centre for Inter-disciplinary and Political Studies. Contrary to what many think, Chuba began his romance with politics in 1959 when he served as organisation secretary of the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) as well as serving as secretary of the academic board of the NCNC.
1977 saw Chuba’s ascent into real political limelight with his election as member, Constituent Assembly, later becoming the deputy national secretary of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). It is important to note that but for a twist of fate, Chuba would have become Governor of Anambra State in the Second Republic, when he slugged it with C.C. Onoh and Alex Ekwueme for the NPN ticket then. Old Anambra was of two zones, Anambra North (Enugu and Ebonyi) and Anambra South (Present day Anambra). Of the two zones; Anambra South had a higher population and voting strength.
Now, while Ekwueme and Chuba ran rings round each other, dividing their strength in Anambra South; CC Onoh had the undivided support of his zone which resulted in the defeat of both Ekwueme and Chuba. One is forced to imagine if Chuba would not have defeated Nwobodo, using Anambra South’s numbers and support. That notwithstanding, he was appointed special adviser on political affairs to President Shehu Shagari.
But, he is most renowned for his emergence and tenure as Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 4th National Assembly, following the removal of Evans Enwerem. Before then, the Senate President, Enwerem, had been embroiled in a certificate scandal, which sought to knock out the confidence Nigerians had in the senate. This was to change with Chuba’s emergence, as he deployed his knowledge and fiery intellectualism to bear on the Senate. In what is depicted as an extraordinary epoch in the history of legislative bodies in Nigeria, the Senate under Chuba shined brightly, the debates were mind-tasking while his leadership was outstanding, as he believed in the total separation of powers and sought to maintain the Senate’s independence from the meddlesomeness of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo who saw the legislative arm as a garrison of the executive.
A nationalist to the core, as seen in his choice of parties’ right from the days of the NCNC to NPN, SDP, PDP and ANPP. His defection to the All Nigerian People’s Party where he, by a deft stroke, played his political arithmetic so well emerging as running mate to Muhammadu Buhari. Chuba’s intellectualism complemented Buhari’s then poor image as seen in the eyes of the Nigerian voter. The duo made an excellent team and did better than Guobadia’s INEC wanted us to believe.
Sadly, on this day whilst attending a rally in Kano State, officers of the Nigerian Police, perhaps out of zealousness or acting a script fired tear gas into a crowd that had lawfully gathered for a rally. Chuba was said to have inhaled much of it, causing him respiratory problems before he gave up the ghost. Can we imagine what Nigeria’s political firmament would have looked like with Chuba still on the scene? It is not in doubt that were he alive today, he would have still influenced the trajectory of Nigeria’s politics, deploying the kind of political arithmetic that is in tandem with today’s reality.
When we remember his role in bringing former Biafran leader, General Emeka Ojukwu, back to Nigeria, where he even threatened to resign his position as an adviser if Ojukwu’s return was not brought to the front burner of the Shagari administration, we are then forced to ask the question will there ever be another Chuba? Can Nigeria afford Nigerians another legend as he was? Chuba Okadigbo was, indeed, an enigma, As he was peerless in life, so is he even in death!
Arinze writes from Abuja