Meritocracy: Elevation of Azubuike Onyeabo Ihejirika To Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff
There comes a time in the annals of a nation when an act perks your antenna. You tune in and wonder if it portends a turning of the tide for the better. To witness meritocracy at work in Nigeria is one such act and it needs to be commended.
The now not so recent elevation to the post of Chief of Army Staff of Onyeabo Azubuike Ihejirika is a case in point. There may be others, but this is meritocracy at its best. Nigeria scored big and scored a brilliant man! I ought to know. Ihejirika was a classmate back in high school at Williams Memorial, Afugiri Umuahia. I was counted among the brilliant ones at school but Iherjirika was a cut above. He was not just brilliant but possessed a preternatural and effortless intelligence: a beginning and an end in numbers, in-between, inspired artistic and scientific versatility. Facility and preoccupation with numbers and reasoning came early.
At school, with uninhibited candor, fierce curiosity, and a touch of malicious glee, Ihejirika tore veil that shrouded all subjects from physics to additional mathematics to history. Even at that tender age, it was not with rude iconoclasm, but rather with a surgeon's detachment and a scholar's precision that he cut through difficult problems. I recall him being a philosophical mathematician at home in Planck's Quantum Mechanics as he is in Kant's philosophy who claimed an unlimited right to think, criticize, discuss, and suggest.
Ihejirika was a reappraising historian, opposed to the quick acceptance and glib affirmation of routine thinking. He always investigated empirical knowledge and explored the implication that lie in and beyond established fact. He has that kind of profundity at that early age. He was a man capable of breaking down complex problems into elementary components that left you awed and comprehending. Simply put: genius was at home in Ihejirika.
We parted ways in 1975 after sitting for our London GCE. Our set was the last batch to take that examination in 1975. I left for the United States and Ihejirika rather than attend one of the three universities that offered him admission opted to attend the Nigerian Defence Academy after posting the best result nation-wide in the entrance examination to the Nigerian Defence Academy. With a Grade 1 (Distinction) from WAEC and as in seven or nine papers (I can't quite remember) in GCE. Nigeria is better for his decision.
Ihejirika could have excelled anywhere. He chose to serve Nigeria. After I completed my doctorate exams in the 1980's, I met Ihejirika again during a visit to Nigeria. At his invitation, I accompanied him to a cocktail party at Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt. I realized then as Henry Bergson once said, that “the past of every individual is dominating part of his present, never absent from his sub consciousness and it is this stream of memories that feeds the continuous flow of intuitions”.
The past really in its entirety is prolonged into the present and abides there actual and acting. We were young men then in our late 20's and Onyeabo was now a soldier. I observed that when conversing, he was not full of gestures and force as young men would like to be, nor loose himself in his subject. Rather I found a singularly quite expression of those eyes to which I have always objected. An indrawn, dim look, but which at the same time makes you feel he is at the moment taking deepest note of what is before him. It is a strange, lazy glance, but with power in it, quite unique.
It does not seem to penetrate through you, but to take you into its self. A disclosure is probably in order here. This might read like a panegyric. It is! Believe me it is well deserved. I have not seen Ihejirika in twenty something odd years and probably will not see him in the foreseeable future but I do asseverate that Nigeria is blessed to have him as a son as the Chief of Army Staff. The people need to know this: We got it right this time! This is a man of compound wit and ferocity, slowly accumulating life clauses and quickly stabbing thoughts. He never had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility.
Congratulations , Azubuike Onyeabo Onyejirika!
This article was written by Chima Iheke Agu, Ph.D