Joe Nwodo: The political iroko of the 3rd Republic

By Ike Abonyi

I am taking this elegy on Dr Joe Nnabuchi Nwodo, the Agadagbachiruzo of Ukehe who will be committed to Mother Earth on June 5, 2021 from a question put to me by a young Nigeria Journalist, Who is this Dr Joe Nwodo they are talking about? By his age in his early 30s he was under five years when Dr Nwodo took the nation’s political space by storm in 1993.

Their generation never heard of any other Nwodo outside the two Nwodos whose name and image have continued to create problems in news production because of the frequent mix ups in names and pictures. Here I mean Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, former Governor of old Enugu state who was also the pioneer National Secretary and former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and his junior brother two time federal Minister, of Aviation and Information respectively and lately the immediate past President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo.

Ahead of these duo in the great Nwodo family is their most senior brother, a constitutional lawyer per excellence who rewrote the history of electioneering in Nigeria during military midwife third republic.

Dr Nwodo’s political journey is intriguing and stimulating in many ways. When he wanted to be governor of old Enugu state that comprises some part of today’s Ebonyi state, he met a strong challenger in one Rev Hyde Onuaguluchi, another strong political character who roped himself in the controversy of breaking the cross, the church’s symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Nwodo was actually cruising to victory having mesmerized the electorates with his oratory and virtuosity when the military authorities banned him and Rev Onuaguluchi.

Nwodo’s campaign team in a rare fast thinking political strategy moved to tap on his already existing goodwill to the people by drafting his hitherto apolitical brother, a medical doctor, Okwesilieze to ‘his shirt let brother take’.

The rest is now history as Okwesilieze eventually became the first civilian governor of Enugu state and the first Nsukka person to occupy the position. Dr Joe Nwodo was to return to the space again this time at a high pedestal, to run for the Presidency of the country. He became a frontline Presidential aspirant of the defunct National Republican Convention, NRC.

Nwodo’s history making in Nigeria politics became manifest when the party arrived Port Harcourt civic center venue of the National Convention in 1992 for the election of the Presidential flag bearer. The few minutes given by each aspirants to address the delegates was all Dr Nwodo needed to implant himself not only in the minds of the delegates at the convention but even that of other Nigerians who had watched the master show piece on national television. In that legendary speech Nwodo amazed the crowd with his all all-inclusive political style, filled with several punchlines for eradicating poverty, and developing a new wealth base in Nigeria, based on Agriculture.

The impact of Nwodo’s presentations was much that when he was not picked eventually as flag bearer, the angry Nigerian voters revolted dumping NRC for the Social Democratic Party, SDP, the alternate party created then by the military.

That was how late Moshood Abiola the flag bearer of SDP even defeated the Kano born Bashir Tofa the NRC flag bearer whom Nwodo was a runner up in Port Harcourt. As a young Journalist being Nwodo’s kinsman from Nsukka in Port Harcourt then, I shouldn’t have been prouder in life.

The 1993 Presidential election was one that ethnic, religious and geo- political interests were relegated to the background. That was catalyzed by Dr Nwodo who had used his brilliance and disarming oratory to sway the electorates. But in subsequent republics the final return to democracy in 1999, Dr Joe Nwodo had retired to his first love, law.
His health could not support his versatility as he remained in the background until March 10, 2021 when he joined his ancestors. This denied the young ones, the Internet age generation the opportunity of knowing him.

Below is therefore the profile of the political iroko of the Third Republic:

Dr Joseph Nnabuchi Nwodo was born in Nsukka in former Anambra State of Nigeria on 19 January 1944. Joe as he is fondly called was born into the prominent political family of Chief Dr Igwe & Mrs J U Nwodo, a former Minister of Works Eastern Nigeria, 1957—1958 and Minister of Commerce and Industry, 1959—1961. He was the first male child and the second born of the family, filled with several prominent and accomplished personalities, including Politicians, Medical doctors, Lawyers, etc.

From 1955 to 1957, Dr Nwodo attended St Joseph’s School Nsukka, St Patrick’s School Iva Valley, Enugu and St Patrick’s School Ogbete Enugu, Eastern Nigeria for his primary education. From 1958 to 1963, Dr Nwodo attended College of the Immaculate Conception (CIC) Enugu for his secondary education and completed his O-Levels with flying colours in November 1963.

Dr Nwodo travelled to the UK when only 19 years old in September 1963 for his tertiary education. He completed his A levels in Economics, History and British Constitution in a record 3 months at Woodnewton Tutorial Establishment, Hanwell Castle Banbury Oxfordshire in 1963.

He enjoyed reading mainly legal and political books. Mr Browne, his principal at Oxford commented, ‘ Nwodo is a very hardworking and diligent student…He is genuinely interested in world problems, both political and legal….He is also a prefect and he can be always relied on to treat people wise and firmly”. At Oxfordshire, Dr Nwodo held several positions of responsibility
• After completing his A-Levels, Dr Nwodo moved to London and began a Bachelor of Law degree at the London School of Economics in September 1964. His father had wanted him to study medicine but he wanted to build on his innate literary prowess and went on to study law.Dr Nwodo studied at the London School of Economics until 1974, completing a Bachelor of Law degree (in 1967), a Master of Law degree (in 1968) and a PhD (in 1974).

In addition to his studies, Dr Nwodo also worked in various jobs in London, including for the BBC, for a tax office in South East London and also as a teacher at the South East London Technical College. In 1974, Dr Nwodo returned to Nigeria where he remained living until recently.

Dr Nwodo met his dashing bride and they got married, and are blessed with 6 children and 4 grandchildren. His children, famously referred to as the first class squad of 6 as they all graduated with First Hlass Honours degrees in their various disciplines are:

  1. Mrs. Nkiruka Genevieve Wakeley-Jones: a Lawyer and a Management consultant, 2. Mr. Chukwuemeka Agunechibe Nwodo: a Software Engineer and Banker,
  2. Mr. Joseph Nnabuchi Nwodo (jnr) a Lawyer at Dr.J.N Nwodo & Co. Chambers
  3. Mrs. Chinenye Nwodo Zakariyau, a Lawyer
  4. Miss. Obiageli Lorraine Nwodo, a Chartered Accountant (Fellow), MBA 6. Dr (Miss.) Odinaka Nwodo, a Surgeon. He is also survived by four (4) Grandchildren, Master Daniel Chinemeze Iwu, Miss. Amelia Ope Zakariyu, Miss Jayden Zakariyu and Miss Adaeze Nwodo. On return to Nigeria, Dr Nwodo established his own legal practice where he specialized in commercial law. He was the legal adviser to several formidable German companies, including FICHTEL AND SACHS AG- a leading manufacturer of motor vehicle clutches and transmission systems in Germany, and WAYSS and FREYTAG AG (sister company to Julius Berger AG).
    He was also legal adviser to Machinery and Plant Limited. MAN AG was a formidable German mechanical engineering group and conglomerate that specialized in the distribution of mechanical utilities in Nigeria. Through this retainership, he had at last penetrated into the industrial heartland of Germany, as several other German companies engaged his services.
    Perhaps his most challenging legal brief ever executed by Dr. Nwodo was his appointment as legal adviser to a German-Austrian consortium of seventeen (17) Companies that built the Aladja Steel plant. The project was to use the most modern technology known as the middrex system to produce the steel. It was at that time the most integrated steel plant in Sub-Saharan Africa and was built at a total cost of 1.8 billion USD. For the consortium, he secured the exemption from registering a new company or companies under the Companies and Allied Matters Act. He applied and obtained expatriate quotas (i.e. work permits) to enable employees of the consortium to execute the project.
    Dr. Nwodo will later on become a member of the Board of Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company (WRPC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
    During his time at WRPC, he facilitated the development of several laws guiding the Petroleum industry, and contributed towards resolution of several complex legal disputes.
    Up until his point of death, Dr. Nwodo, popularly called Ochendo ‘umu-ogbenyi’ (the protector of the poor), was intent on developing a robust agricultural programme. His legacy is summarized by his ability to create lasting memories across any social circle/demography, simply because of his love for people, particularly the poor. Man of Peace!

*Ike, a Journalist, wrote in from Abuja.

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