OUR MAN, JIM AT 70
The first and only executive governor of the old Anambra State that comprised the present day Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu States turned 70 last week and deserving tributes have been flowing in as they are wont to. It is incumbent on some of us who have recognized why Jim Nwobodo must remain an unforgettable icon who is deserving of great honours for the several milestone contributions he has made as well as for the rich legacies he has left both to his immediate environment as well as to the larger Nigerian society, to pay him tribute.
While the Jim Nwobodo name might not have sprung into the sphere of most other Nigerians outside Igboland when he became the stylish and colourful governor of Anambra State in 1979, he had already planted his name firmly in the psyche of every Igbo man, woman and child, nine years earlier when he became the chairman of the Rangers International Football Club. To many people, Rangers might sound as a name of a mere football club; however, to the former Biafrans who went through the harrows of three-year civil war in which they lost everything they had owned in life, Rangers International was a symbol of the indomitable and the 'never-say-die' spirit of the Biafran.
When the civil war ended in 1970, the formation of the club became the harnessing of the last bout of energy and spirit of the Igbo youth, who still felt that he was not defeated at the battlefronts out of the greater zeal, higher creativity or physical superiority of his counterparts on the federal side. Rather, he had felt that he had been short-changed and humbled by hunger, made possible through the advice of the late Obafemi Awolowo, the Yoruba icon and revered sage, who had reputedly led the 33-year old and inexperienced Yakubu Gowon to embark on the total land, sea and air blockade of the Biafran enclave which was consequently compelled to capitulate under the impact of one the greatest deprivations any people had been forced to endure in human history.
So, when the Rangers International was formed after the war, it became for the ex-Biafrans, the continuation of the war by other means, even if most of the team-mates did not at the onset have the luxury of such fundamentals as playing boots. But then, they had found no difference between the battles they had prosecuted for 30 months, almost with bare hands against the federal military juggernaut. It might not also have occurred to many Nigerians that 'Rangers' was also the name of the guerrilla outfit that was formed around the youth who were most not mature enough to carry guns in battle to infiltrate and fight without conventional arms against the enemies who were in occupation of 'the land of the rising sun'.
Incidentally too, the Rangers International Football Club was formed by the two founders of the Biafran Rangers - Majors Nwadiegwu and Enyeazu. The early belligerent and near-violent approach of the Rangers towards the IICC club of Ibadan and Stationery Stores of Lagos was another way of letting off venom on their Yoruba compatriots, whose leader most ex-Biafrans, up till today, still hold responsible as the author of their historical misfortunes. It was the Rangers experiment that was to be copied some years later by Mrs. Winnie Mandela and some ANC chieftains in the formation of the Mandela Football Club that was formed in Soweto to keep the spirit of the resistance alive, while her husband remained in prison.
The long and short of this Rangers story is that it was one ordinary young man, who had made some money through hard work that haid laid out his resources, time, energy, as well as his acclaimed business and organizational acumen for the sustenance of the Rangers success story. This rare contribution to an economically battered and spirit-drooping people by Jim Nwobodo made him easily the most beloved Igbo person at the time. His popularity equated with that of Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who had prosecuted the shooting war, but was then exiled in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast. Because he was the 'general' that was funding and leading the war from the football fields, Nwobodo became an unforgettable icon and the new leader of the indomitable spirit of the Igbo person. (Do not also forget that his club was also referred to as the 'Indomitable Rangers').
As the chairman of the Rangers, Jim Nwobodo, for first decade after the civil war, was easily the most popular Igbo person alive (in Nigeria), as that title belonged to Ojukwu who was in exile. It was even more so as the post-war administrator of the East Central State, Ukpabi Asika was scorned and not taken 'as one of us', because he had been a part of the federal side during the war against his own people. Jim's consistency in the service of his people made him the indisputable choice for the gubernatorial position of the old Anambra State, from which Imo State had been carved out, at the onset of the Second Republic in 1979, under the umbrella of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), led by the Great Zik of Africa.
The resounding reward of the people with the governorship for 'Jim!!!', turned out to be an invitation to greater challenges for a people who were in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the country. Incidentally, the Second Republic government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari which even though it governed from a different political party as that which ran the two Igbo states, did a lot to really re-integrate Ndigbo into the mainstream of Nigerian politics, a refreshing departure from the vindictiveness of the Obasanjo's administration which Shagari had succeeded. Dr. Alex Ekwueme had been appointed the vice president in respect of the age-long political alliance between the northern and eastern political mainstreams. Ironically, it was this large-heartedness of the victors in the civil war through their reconciliatory gestures to Ndigbo, marked by such milestones as the pardon of Ojukwu and his recall from exile that Igbo hawks in the ruling NPN failed to avail our people of.
Rather than attract the proverbial federal presence, they made massive efforts at frustrating Jim Nwobodo's sterling administration and efforts in the state, with the hope of gaining a comeuppance against him. That they were able to succeed only marginally through a classic rig-out of Jim from power in 1983 makes a great point for Jim. That in spite of the massive groundswell of the fanatical support available to him, Jim still refused to mobilize the people to show NPN pepper, tells a major story about the type of godly and man of honour that Jim Nwobodo has remained in his political quests down the line.
Yet, in spite of the fact that the Ekwuemes, Ojukwus and Okadigbos of Anambra State negatively deployed all manners of 'federal might' against Jim Nwobodo, he was still able to leave unforgettable legacies to which no other administrator who had presided at the Enugu Government House - military or civilian - had been able to add anything tangible, until the present tenure of Sullivan Chime. No wonder that Jim Nwobodo has also remained a great icon and model to Chime who must be harbouring the legitimate aspirations of bettering.
The second part of this tribute will x-ray some significant and landmark legacies of the man who wears the pursuit of excellence in everything he sets out to do, like a tight robe. The record of those legacies by me is almost compulsory because it was in his foresight that Jim had set up the Nigerian Satellite newspaper group in Enugu and it was there that most of us who hold our own today in journalism cut our milk teeth in the industry. Jim had set up the newspaper in his belief that the East has the best of everything in abundance and so, one does not need to travel to Lagos to get good newspapers.
I believe that when my comrades at the Satellite like Okey Ndibe, Cdon Adinuba, Sam Nkire, Obinwa Nnaji, Victor Danquah Oye and many many more, would have added their bits, the outcome would quality as a rich and fitting tribute to Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo. (It is only a great pity that our colleague, Chike Akabogu, who departed 16 years ago, is not also around to pen his mature contribution).