Emma Ezeazu: An uncommon Nigerian
THE morning I awoke to the announcement of the passing on of Emma Ezeazu of the Nigerian Civil Society ensemble had me troubled like none other since the devaluation of the modern-day Naira.
Inexplicably, I was torn betwixt a mélange of emotions that served up spells of muckraking, mudslinging, dross griping and name dropping. For the upwards of the hour and half it took to simulate a total recall of my encounters with the deceased, I was at a loss as to what or whom I was gripping about.
I ended up shedding a tear or two which I realised at the very end to be not for the departed but for my country Nigeria. How it wastes its best brains that end up striving for nothing as it were at the end of the day.
How it advertises unattainable potential and does nothing to make it possible.
Our paths – mine and Emma’s – did not cross till we both gained admission into the Nsukka campus of the University of Nigeria (UNN) for first degrees in the early 80s. Though our departments – Religion and History, respectively – often shared electives, we did not get to know ourselves that well till both of us returned for Post Graduate (PG) studies in our departments after the mandatory one-year engagement with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
Back then, we would still often meet on the football pitch of the Akanu Ibiam Stadium where he usually played as goalkeeper on weekend mornings. Being as always an outside-right I would often come face to face with him on days we played on opposing sides. His was just to play the game and leave as quietly as he had come.
Thus, I was not to know Emma’s full names till one morning at the newspaper stands. I was to learn that UNN’s assumption of its tenure at the Presidency of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) that year was filled by a certain PG student named Emma Ezeazu. I promptly pointed out that whosoever named was meddling in undergraduate affairs.
Only to be reminded that he was that guy with whom I had just chatted. Talk about surprises. I would never have aligned his like to activism – let alone student unionism for that matter.
Though I harboured such predilections myself, I was far too nihilistic to bow to the malady of organised fallacies like I saw it then. Student unionism in Nsukka then only left sour tastes of provincialism and cultism in palates like mine. Up until the emergence of the Olu Oguibes and late Chima Ubanis into the fray in the late 80s, entire student union elections had been decided by sections taking a candidate to town and local government meetings prior to the election.
It was Emma who changed this perception in me following another incident in a higher place. As PG students, we had applied for employment as classroom teachers at the old Anambra State School System with our first degrees. The appointed day for the interview saw me, Emma, Innocent Njoku – an undergraduate classmate of mine from Imo State – and about seven other applicants called in to face the interview panel in tandem. We had hardly all assumed the seats arrayed for us opposite the panel when the head of the team directed his first question at Innocent thus: “Why did you not apply in your State of Origin?”
The bespectacled baldhead asked the question from his pointblank range without as much as a bat of eyelids. So much was the impact on all of us that even the addressed was yet to come to terms with the question when Emma came to his rescue. With gusto that matched the questioner’s atavism, he had replied to the effect that as a Nigerian, Innocent had the right to apply for a job anywhere in the country.
I must admit that though I took it for granted that he could not have been from anywhere else but our state as the question was not directed at him, I never bothered to find out his hometown. I was only to ascertain this following the announcement of his death.
That he was from Onitsha – my town of abode – opened up yet another trajectory in the crisscross our life pattern had drawn.
In 2010, following an access of work put in by me in the Onitsha South LGA wing of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) committee for the re-election of Gov Peter Obi, I was urged to run in the party primaries for the Onitsha North and South Federal House of Representatives. It actually came to a point when all those who castigated us while we laboured all rushed into APGA as “they had nobody to run for them.”
On behalf of these steadfast members who never crossed carpets in search of party tickets I accepted the challenge and gave it my best shot only to be reminded by party chieftains that I had better return to my place of origin if I wanted anybody to represent.
To the end, I have never been furnished the result of the election announced in the party office at my absence by hand, post, word of mouth or electronically. Yet as a grouping within the state or the nation, we yearn for equity daily as if it had two meanings. That is just by the way.
Suffice it to note how it gladdened my heart when in 2014, I heard – first through the grapevine and then on the pages of the papers – that Emma himself had decided to play a more direct part in the reshaping of our dear country by joining the All Progressives Congress (APC).
It was vintage Emmanuel, I toasted because he opted to run in the party primaries to select who would represent her in the contest for the candidate to fill the Abuja Federal House of Representatives seat. He did not have to come back to his hometown. He was to breakdown in the process ending up contesting from his hospital bed. Poor him, he lost with just 14 votes. What a lesson for his brothers.
Where I come from, it is often said that ekwe the talking Igbo wooden gong only calls out a man’s name twice – when he is alive and when he is dead. I could never have written this without Emma’s demise.
But far from rousing him back to life, my intention is just that I be counted in the number that testified to his uncommon patriotism while he walked this plane.
From his days as the Secretary of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), General Secretary Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE) up to his spell as board member Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) amidst many others, he never left anyone in doubt as to the fact that he never bestrode the threshold when it came to making Nigeria live up to its name.
• Uzoatu, a writer and critic, is the convener of Agenda 38, a Religion Rights Initiative.