It was a calm cool evening exactly 16 years ago in far away Lome Togo. I was literally magnate as I listened to BBC Focus On Africa, my favourite radio program whenever I’m in that Francophone country.
The news struck like a Thunderbolt; Nigeria’s former Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo is dead. I jumped up from my bed and shouted on top of my voice.
My uncle came out and enquired what was happening, I told him, and he shook his head in sadness. I wrongly assumed he hadn’t got the news, but he told me he got the sad news shortly before returning from the office and was yet to overcome the shock. He confessed he knew I would be devastated but would have told me if he knew I was indoors.
Yes, my Uncle would have broken the sad news to me, because he knew I loved Chuba so much as I followed political developments in our nascent democracy then.
The next day, he came back from the office with a copy of one of the Nigerian newspapers bought from a Nigerian vendor.
As I glanced through it, and read in details the controversy surrounding Chuba’s death, my heart bled, and my sorrow grew into uncontrollable anger and bitterness.
Yes, Chuba and his APP Presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and other party stalwarts and Comrades had gathered for a well attended political rally in Kano to protest the controversial 2003 election that saw Olusegun Obasanjo re-elected, when some cruel police officers who were among the Police Officers deployed to disrupt the rally directly sprayed tear gas on Cbuba Okadigbo and other dignitaries.
They all inhaled the poisonous gas and scampered for safety. Sadly, Chuba was badly hit having inhaled large quantity of it as one of the direct targets, coupled with the fact that he was an asthmatic patient.
There was an emergency, and Chuba was swiftly taken out of the stadium, straight to the Kano airport, from where he was flown to Abuja.
Onboard, the jet was his amiable wife, Margery, whom she so loved, eulogized and nicknamed “My Oxygen”
Inside the plane, Chuba was losing consciousness even as his head lay on the laps of his Oxygen(Margery Chuba Okadigbo), and sadly, the badly broken Margery was helpless and had no Oxygen for her Chuba.
Chuba couldn’t make it as he was later pronounced dead on arrival in Abuja. Such was was the tragedy.
Sorrow and sadness filled the air. Anger and frustration held sway. A beautiful soul has been cut short by some beasts obeying the order of an undemocratic bully.
Chuba was an Oracle who overwhelmed many creatures and was completely in charge of his territory.
As an Academic and University Don, he was a philosopher-king who tutored with style and flamboyance. He was an authoritative grammarian, and he was a lover of big words, and when it mattered, he never hesitated to thrill and inspire his audience.
As a politician, he manifested very early the courage and capacity to dare and discover.
As the Senate President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chuba was an institution whose outing was awesome and great enough to complete a whole book.
Obasanjo wanted a senate that would be an arm of the Executive and felt that an Evans Ekwerem would guarantee that, but the majority of the senators wanted an independent senate, and thus went for Okadigbo.
Enwerem emerged but didn’t last, hence the emergence of Chuba.
Obasanjo was the least happy man and subsequently went to work from day one.
Naira notes were flying up and down, Baco Sacks filled with money were guests of the senate on many occasions; Chuba was the target.
Hear him “I’m the Senate, and the senate is me” Many loved him for this, and some hated him for it, but like he once said “It gives dignity for one to stand in what he believes in”
Chuba believed in the independence of the senate, he believed in his authority. He didn’t initiate the wars, Obasanjo repeatedly did, and used his men to create the impression that the emergence of Okadigbo was hitting up the polity.
When the pressure was much to stamped him to submission, he told them that ” I will never prostrate before the President, because like De Sekou of Guinea, my people and I prefer freedom in poverty, to riches in slavery”
When they accused him of being a smoke addict, he laughed them off and explained that “When I sit in my philosophical realm, they will accuse me of smoking and drinking. I used to drink, smoke and womanize, but I have stopped smoking and womanizing, but if it takes drinking to achieve what I have been able to achieve in life, politically, academically, culturally, and to garner the number of chieftaincy titles I have been able to garner, then I recommend a dosage for every Nigerian student”
When they threatened him with impeachment and tried to cajole him to resign, he fired “A leader should not be a quitter, and a quitter should not be a leader. I have escaped seven impeachment moves, and if God says that I will continue to be the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, no man can impeach me”
When some sycophants went to Ota to endorse Obasanjo for re-election, urging others not to run, he dismissed them and described their action as “Scurrilous and houmous, and an exercise in absurdity”
When they fraudulently indicted him and forcefully removed him, he felt hurt, yes, he would have presided over the joint session of the National Assembly that received former President Bill Clinton of the United States a few days later.
He would have glowed, flowed and dazzled from his exalted seat. He would have been in his flamboyant element and he would have been inspired by his Marxist bears to literally set the building on fire, but that wasn’t to be.
The colour and class of the senate were taken away, but Chuba’s courage and capacity remained intact, and his spirit remained unbroken, so he journeyed on.
As the then Vice Presidential running mate to the Nigerian current president, Muhammadu Buhari in 2003, their poster was captioned “The Thinker and Doer of Our Time”. Chuba was to be the Thinker, and Buhari, the Doer. During the campaigns, the talk of the town was Chuba.
From his grave, he inspired his Oxygen, Mrs Margery Chuba Okadigbo to become a distinguished senator, who dutifully represented the same senatorial district Chuba represented.
Chuba’s life was taken away for exercising his right to peacefully protest against perceived injustice, sadly, people are still being denied the same right in the Nigeria of today, 16 years after Chuba’s death.
Yesterday, family, friends, associates, supporters and admirers remembered one of the most erudite scholars, and one of the most flamboyant, colourful and courageous Nigerian political leaders that ever existed, Late Dr Williams Wilberforce Malachi Chinweuba Okadigbo ( The Oyi of Oyi). My prayer is that the remembrance shall afford us the opportunity to reflect on the type of democracy we are practising, even as we strive to uphold those progressive traits and leadership virtues which Dr Chuba Okadigbo manifested while alive.
Continue to rest in peace Philosopher King, Rest in peace the Oyi of Oyi!