Farewell, Oyi, We’re Going to Miss You
“Your lost friends are not dead, but gone before, advanced a stage or two upon that road which you must travel in the steps they trod.” — Aristophanes (BC 448 – 380)
The first Senate of the 4th Republic of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be known as the Senate of Okadigbo. By one of those odd reasons of fate, I was at the gallery on the day he was elected as the President of the Senate. Again, I was also there the day he was removed. Both events were, to say the least, electrifying, made so by his persona, and for me, his speeches on those days, which I consider as the best in his stable of oratorical works.
I was out of town when I heard the shocking news that Senator Chuba Okadigbo had died. The effect was, nonetheless, no less shattering and devastating. On my return to Abuja, I picked up from my bookshelf, a collection of interviews that he had granted to various print media publications and I could feel the aura of Oyi all over again.
Though he started his journey in Nigeria’s politics in 1959 at the NCNC National Secretariat located at No. 2 Ikorodu Road, Yaba, the life of Dr. Chuba Okadigbo would always be viewed from the prism of his tenure as the President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a position he sought three times before clinching this his most prized desire at the fourth attempt almost on a platter of gold. No doubt, he brought a lot of colour, carriage and charm to the office that will last for a long time to come. In our political development, he will be celebrated as the human symbol of the principle of separation of powers.
All through his walk of life, he would be remembered for his substance and style and at various times he engaged our politics in conversations that were both enriching and stimulating. He never stopped using words to play his particular brand of politics, words that still reverberate in the polity even now, some of which I can recall.
On corruption, he said in 1997 that the audacity with which the treasury is raided has increased with the ferocity of the gun, rather than the dialogue of the ballot. Essential Oyi. He characterised the police invasion of his official residence as executive lawlessness and accused the senators seeking to remove him as Senate President of genuflecting at executive tables. When his colleagues came to negotiate his resignation from office, he refused because he saw it as a deal with falsity. Senator Okadigbo presided over a joint session of the National Assembly only once during his tenure as Senate President to receive President Obasanjo’s presentation of the Appropriation Act 2000 which he described as a posthumous preamble to the 2000 budget. When the issue of deregulation was first muted, he cautioned that it was a magun that was capable of overheating the system. He warned his successor in office of a banana peel placed beside the seat of the senate presidency and saw his decision to withdraw from the presidential race in 2003 as an act of political sagacity and an understanding of political arithmetic.
But for all his philosophical charm and political applause, Dr. Okadigbo did not support the popular calls for a National Conference probably because, at the time, he needed to protect his position as Senate President. As Political Adviser to the President, he did not see anything wrong with the conduct of the 1983 elections, which was generally condemned probably because his party, the National Party of Nigeria had been announced as landslide winners.
Senator Okadigbo is now on the final walk to eternity and the man has left the politics. As Shakespeare wrote in Venus & Adonis, “Alas, poor world, what treasure hast thou lost!”
In his tribute at former US President Richard Nixon’s funeral, then President Bill Clinton used words, which I believe fittingly, sums up Senator Chuba Okadigbo too: “As a public man, he always seemed to believe the greatest sin was remaining passive in the face of challenges. And he never stopped living by that creed. He gave of himself with intelligence and energy and devotion to duty. And his entire country owes him a debt of gratitude for that service. Oh, yes, he knew great controversy amid defeat as well as victory. He made mistakes; and, they, like his accomplishments, are part of his life and record. But the enduring lesson . . . . . is that he never gave up being part of the action and passion of his times.” Need I add more?
So farewell to the:
Ekwueme of Ogbunike;
Okwuloha Ndigbo (FCT);
Orji (Okeosisi) of Anambra State;
Ezeudo na Ihembosi;
Okaome Ndigbo (Orlu);
Ode jim jim of Okigwe;
Enyi Nawfia; and
Oyi of Oyi
The Right Honourable Dr William Wilberforce Chukwuwumba Okadigbo, the 8th President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; Order of Diplomatic Merit – Gwanghwa Medal of Distinguished International Service of the Republic of Korea; and National Order of the Republic of Guinea. Oyi, we’re all going to miss you but I’ve got some of your words in my bookshelf, and they’re not going anywhere!