By NBF News
Listen to article

Monday, October 04, 2010
By Uche Ezechukwu
Monday, October 11, 2010
Last Tuesday, I was opportune to have bumped into what was a very intimate family affair. I walked into the 'celebration' of the 57th birthday celebration of my friend and former defence minister, Thomas Ikeokwuadim Aguiyi-Ironsi at his Abuja residence. It was a very touching sight. His mother, the wife of Nigeria's first military head of state, was holding court and was still very graceful, articulate and imposing with her gentle but commanding presence. Her children, son, daughters and some grand children were there. The love and affection that radiated and pervaded all over the place was palpable and for once, underplayed the sad and dark situation of Abia State, from which Lady Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi had journeyed to Abuja only a day earlier.

For me, the most striking thing about the occasion was its simplicity, yet the weighty significance of the character of both the celebrant and the serenity of the environment were evident. Many other people with fewer credentials than the former Defence Minister, who had also served his nation in so many other capacities, would have used such occasion, coming at the heels of the Independence celebrations, to blow their trumpet, especially at this politically charged era. But not Tom, who as the first defence minister of Igbo stock claimed instead, that he amply appreciated that there was hardly any justification for any Igbo to be celebrating loudly at this point in time when his land is beset by evils of multifarious dimensions.

For him, 'what is there to celebrate when my immediate constituency Abia has been taken over by the devil of kidnapping and other violent crimes?' Even as he cringed at how lowly our society had degenerated with the recent kidnap of children, he felt even more bothered with the thought that urban terrorism was also coming onto the national landscape. He could visualize the dimension of the horrors that could be in the offing if the present dire condition of Pakistan where he served as a diplomat between 1998 and 2000, is anything to go by. For him, therefore, marking his birthday in soberness, so close to the Independence Day, was in solidarity and a form of silent prayer for the nation and its several victims of diverse conflicts.

The middle name of Ambassador Aguiyi-Ironsi which translates as, 'I don't have energy for trouble', hardly paints the picture of the deep commitment of this six-feet-three huge man to the problems of the equally huge country in which it has pleased the Almighty God to put him. I have known and interacted with this towering diplomat since 1997 and had been drawn to him by his unequalled patriotism and deep passion for Nigeria's well-being which, he said, had become undiminished even by the raw deal and low recognition which his father has received from the country whose first military chief he was. To him, the present and future are more important and that is why his efforts and vision for a better country have been unparalleled. It was that character, coupled with the care and generosity for the not-well-endowed which have become the second nature of this 'gentle giant' that have endeared him to me ever since.

While I lack the space to write the patriotic life story of Tom Aguiyi-Ironsi, suffice it to say that his fame, which his self-effacing personality has largely obscured at home, has been amply acknowledged beyond our shores. I was an eye-witness to the tumultuous events in Togo before and during the elections in 2005 when the late Eyadema's son, Faure was making the electoral bid to succeed his father. As a correspondent, I saw firsthand, the danger to which foreigners were exposed from the violent crises that attended that period. With borders closed and foreigners, especially the 600, 000 Nigerians trapped in the melee, the then Nigerian ambassador, Tom Aguiyi-Ironsi, stoutly rose to the occasion, like a rugby player that he was during his high school and university days, both on the side of the safety of Nigerian citizens and the restoration of stability in the former French colony.

In recognition of his performance during that extremely delicate period, he was awarded national honours by the Togolese government, an honour that Nigeria is yet to award to him or his father. Remarkably, it had taken only the Sani Abacha government to accord any recognition to the amiable wife of the slain head of state.

Most other Nigerians with the pedigree, exposure, educational quality and propensities of the ambassador who had served in seven countries in varied capacities before becoming a minister of state and later full minister of defence, would have been throwing their weights all over the place. But that is not the stuff of which this Masters Degree holder in Political Science is made off. Even though he looks reticent, he is nevertheless not aloof nor removed from the political realities on the ground. Rather than that, he passionately committed to their solution, but as a wise man whose wisdom has been honed by events and experiences in varied strategic positions, he had always waited for the right opportunities to intervene.

He, has, therefore, often been forced, once in a while, to intervene at times he sees as appropriate. Like a consummate diplomat and an extremely refined man, Tom seems to opt more for silent advice when he sees things going wrong, both in his state and in the country as a whole. When things started to degenerate irredeemably in the governance fortunes of Abia state, the former minister was compelled to put out a satirical newspaper publication as: 'A Letter to My Son', who had recently died in an auto accident abroad, outlining the harrowing conditions of life in Abia State. Instead of taking a cue to check the situation that was headed downhill, the hawks at Umuahia Government House, embarked on the most idiotic antics of all time, pouring invectives on the deceased young man who had fallen at his prime, in a faraway land. Such is the depravity of the Abia state of affairs.

Evidently, such pre-historic power politics which has largely created the harrowing situation in Abia State are definitely enough to dampen and discourage every well intentioned and civilized mind, especially as the state has been taken over by a horde of political fortune hunters who have seized the political space and have continued to strut the land with their ineffectiveness, while locking out people of ideas and purpose, capable of raising the state from the mud. But Toms and his ilk cannot continue to evade the responsibility of rescuing Abia State both from violent and political criminals who are currently holding the people hostage.

There is no doubt that, as Tom recently reasoned to me, there is a lot of sense in refusing to jump into any elective positions in 2011, due to the obvious logistical reasons, it would be indefensible if he does not become enthroned in positions from where he would get his world of experience to bear on the improvement of the fortunes of the people and their environment in Abia State. In other words, Aguiyi-Ironsi must find or create a space for himself from where he can work with other people of vision and courage, in and beyond the state, to create a respectable lebensraum for his people, who I am sure look up to him.

On last June 12, I defied kidnappers to attend the traditional marriage of my friend, Hon. Eziuche Ubani. Later that evening, I visited the country home of the Aguiyi-Ironsis at Umuahia, where like last Tuesday; I also stumbled into some young people who had come to consult with the former minister on diverse issues of development. It was obvious that they trusted and were looking up to him for a direction in the things that are dear to their lives and future. He, therefore, cannot afford to let them down.

Again, during that visit, Tom took me to the graveside of his late son, where we offered prayers for the youth of Abia State and Nigeria. Nobody lights a candle and hides it away under a bushel; Tom, by his attainments and natural personal traits clearly qualifies as this incandescent candle that must be made to show light in the pitch darkness that Abia State has been turned into.

To Ambassador Chief Thomas Ikeokwuadim Aguiyi-Ironsi, on whom the people have reposed a lot of trust, as to have conferred four traditional titles on him, it is time to see himself as a light at the middle of the tunnel. It must be time now for him to step forward and rescue his people. And as Aristotle said, 'the price that good men pay for not being in politics is to be governed by people of lesser pedigree'.

As the South Africans say, 'it is time'!