Igwe Alexander Ezeoba Nwokedi will be fondly remembered by many of us as a man who made his mark in every endeavour he was involved in – and these ventures cut across various walks of life, especially in journalism, public affairs, sports, the board room and as the leader of his people of Achalla Community in Anambra State.
His death on Monday 11th May 2020 brought to an end 84 years of stellar performances in the fields he delved into while on earth and where he achieved many ‘firsts’.
He disclosed in an interview a few years ago how in the 50s, late Rev. Fr. Denis Slattery convinced him while he was a student at St. Gregory’s College. Lagos to start writing for the Catholic Herald. In his own words during that interview: “What inspired me in my early life as a journalist was the early discovery of me by those who hunted for it. A Father Slattery would beg me to write reports for him to be used in Catholic Herald. I was then the Editor-in-Chief of what we called ‘Gregorian Standard’ where we wrote approved compositions and people picked it up to read.”
That same young man, later to become Ogbuefi and then Igwe Nwokedi, became the all-round communications specialist, from being a reporter for the Daily Times in 1955, Assistant Publicity Officer, Eastern Nigerian Information Service in 1957, Chief Sub-Editor, Nigeria Outlook in 1958 and in 1960, became Senior Reporter with Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Nigeria). In 1974, he was appointed the first Public Relations Manager of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN, which later became NEPA.
In 1976, he was appointed Chief Press Secretary to General Olusegun Obasanjo, then Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, a position he kept when he was also made the first Chief Press Secretary to Alhaji Shehu Shagari when Shagari became President in 1979. He was thus Chief Press Secretary to two Heads of State.
After his stint at the State House in 1980, Alex Nwokefi was appointed Public Relations Manager of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, from where he retired as General Manager after more than 10 years of service.
Professionally, he was Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Lagos from 1958 to 1966 and later served as Secretary-General, NUJ (National) from 1976 to 1977, before he was appointed Chief Press Secretary to General Obasanjo.
In the Public Relations field, he was, along with the likes of Samuel Epelle, L. Scott-Emuakpor, Bob Ogbuagu and Steve Rhodes, one of the founding fathers and Secretary-General of the Public Relations Association of Nigeria, PRAN, that metamorphosed into the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, of which he was a Fellow.
Popular among the Lagos and Media circles as Ogbuefi Alex Nwokedi, he was crowned as the Igwe of Achalla in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State on Saturday 20th April, 1996 and became His Majesty, Igwe Alex Ezeoba Nwokedi V, Uthoko of Achalla.
A recipient of the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Nigeria, OON and former Chairman, Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers Anambra State as well as Chairman of the Nine Eastern Nigerian Traditional Rulers Council, he was a director of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and the Anambra Broadcasting Service. He also served the nation as Chairman of the Nigerian Cricket Association, Vice-Chairman, Nigeria Anti-Apartheid Committee, Chairman, Anambra State Vision 2010 Committee and Chairman Anambra State Stadium Corporation, among others.
I first encountered the great man in 1979 when as airport correspondent for Radio Nigeria based at Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja in Lagos, our group would be the last group Igwe, then known as Ogbuefi, and the Head of State would meet and speak with before they jet out to any destination and we would also be the last team they would meet to speak with when they returned. He and I had a special relationship, with him having also worked as a reporter for Radio Nigeria earlier in his life. He had a good rapport with everyone and his brand of public relations was with the personal touch, as he would not mind turning up at the residence of any journalist who was celebrating or mourning. Even though he was Press Secretary to the Head of State, he did not mind delivering press releases to editors at home or the newsroom himself.
I recall an occurrence in 1979 when he appeared at the airport and told all of us journalists to get in the plane to go cover the mediation talks which the then Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, Brigadier-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was going to take charge of, at the Bagauda Lake Hotel in Kano between the Chadian factional warriors, Goukouni Weddeyi and Hissene Habre. It was to be a quick trip to and from Kano same day, or so we thought, but we ended staying in Kano for almost a week because the two Chadian sides refused to settle their differences. All we had were the shirts on our backs but Igwe ensured no one suffered too much stress. He was like a father to all. That Chadian war was to last for many more years!
When the military handed over to the civilians in Nigeria in October 1979 and Igwe continued as Chief Press Secretary, this time to President Shagari, he practically ‘dragged’ most of all Airport Correspondents to State House, Ribadu Road, this time as State House Correspondents, to cover the new government. Even when he later relocated to NNPC as Head of Public Affairs, many of us always had one excuse or the other to cover the energy beat to ensure he also succeeded in his new task.
When I joined United Bank for Africa in 1995, who else did I meet there but Igwe on the Board. Not only that, he was Chairman of the Board Committee on Government and Public Affairs and I was the Secretary by virtue of my position and Head of Corporate Affairs. This committee would later become UBA Foundation and Igwe had to deal with many contentious issues which come with the turf. We had a good time together, planning how to ensure good image and stability in those days of bank take-overs and government threats of intervention. Many of our interactions would be in his residence but when he comes to the bank, he comes straight to my office for us to rub minds and for him to meet with the staff who all loved his approach and friendly disposition. Other directors would usually call for you to meet up on the executive floor or the board room, but that was not Igwe’s style. He was a man of the people. As director, Igwe insisted he wanted the bank to hold its Annual General Meeting one of those years, close to his domain and that was how we had the AGM in Nike Lake Hotel and he hosted the bank and other guests in his palace in Achalla. It was a memorable event.
The last time I met Igwe Alex Ezeoba Nwokedi was in 2005 at the Ss Philip & James Catholic Church, Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos. I had gone for midday Mass in the church which was just two houses away from the UBA branch I was running then, and there he was, sitting in the pew with no cap or crown on his head. I knew Igwe was a humble man, having known him since 1979; but a traditional ruler who removes his head gear in church in Nigeria? It was strange because almost all the traditional rulers we see in church keep their head covered, against what Christians usually insist on for men. My curiosity had gotten the better of me once when I had to ask a priest why these men do not remove their crowns or caps in respect to God in church and believe me, the priest could not convince me why the traditional rulers are not asked to remove their head covering in church. But here was an Igwe, a first class traditional ruler who would also later become the Chairman of Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, respecting his maker and refusing to equate himself with Him.
That encounter showed me a different side of Igwe Alex Nwokedi, even though I already knew him in various spheres of human endeavour. He and I towed the same career path – from journalism to public relations and into banking and we related in these areas of endeavour.
He will be buried on Friday 27th November 2020 after a funeral Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Achalla. He was a detribalized Nigerian who was at home anywhere but was mostly a ‘Lagos Boy’, having schooled and practiced Journalism and Public Relations in the then Nigerian capital and married his Lagos heartthrob, Chief Mrs. Kofo Nwokedi who was also at a time Chairman of Nigerian Weightlifting Federation. He had no choice but to speak Yoruba fluently.
I still remember one of the discussions we had when he became Igwe. He sat me down and explained that he was not the one who should have been selected as Igwe but his two elder brothers, Justice Nowkedi and Willie Nwokedi, declined so he had no alternative but to pick up the mantle. Mischievously, I asked him what he was going to do since, from rumours, an Igwe was expected to marry a virgin to ascend the throne and with his Catholicism and his tough Lagos-born wife, Nigerian Weightlifting Federation President Chief (Mrs.) Kofo Nwokedi. He looked at me with his piercing eyes and also mischievous grin and said all those rumours and traditions were from those days.
Rest in peace, Igwe Alexander Ezeoba Nwokedi, OON, FNIPR.
Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.