Sonny Iwedike Odogwu: A ‘son’ remembers
KEN UGBECHIE …GONGBEAT column
As you read this, the burial rites of one of Africa’s most outstanding sons have gathered momentum, starting from Lagos to hit its terminus in Asaba, Delta State. It is a whole week of celebratory buntings to mark the life and times of Chief Sonny Iwedike Odogwu (Ide Ahaba, March 20, 1927 – November 5, 2018). Only a few men have engaged the minds and memories of several generations of Nigerians like him. Odogwu was a myth. A patriarch, patriot and pacesetter. He had been many things, done many things; crossed many seas, conquered many heights. A real colossus, a mogul, a magnate and a man of impeccable polish, genteel and a gentleman.
He was unabashedly Victorian. He loved the Queen’s English. He spoke good, clean English with nuanced British vogue. He was the quintessential outlier, became a millionaire in his twenties and had his wedding at the Vatican, a mark of his strong Catholic belief and exposure to genuine wealth at early age.
Growing up, Odogwu was the name that engaged our formative minds in our secondary school days in Delta State. St. Anthony’s College, Ubulu-Uku, a centre for academic and sporting excellence in those days had some fecund minds as students. They were ambitious. They dreamt of conquering the world, of innovating the future. Some openly professed their aversion to scholarship preferring to do big business just to be as rich as Sonny Odogwu. His name was synonymous with wealth, affluence and influence. He was therefore a role model to men and women of many generations.
Providence is the master of the unknown; the substance that fills the void. Between doting on and reverencing Odogwu’s name as a young college lad in the hugely forested landscape of my alma mater in the late 70’s, little did I know that the same iconic businessman would some day share dinner table with me. I first met Ide Ahaba in his spacious office at Obalende area of Lagos in the weeks leading up to the commencement of publication of The Post Express newspaper, an ambitious newspaper project he birthed in the Apapa area of Lagos. That was in 1996. Prior to the meeting, I had been recruited from Daily Times as the Acting Science and Technology Editor of the new baby. At the Daily Times, fresh from National Youth Service, I had pioneered the Information Communication Technology page (IT & Telecom Times), the first of such pullout in the over 70-year history of Daily Times. That was in the early 90’s when desktop computer was a spectacle, an exotic machine held in animated awe.
I was hired by one of the most seminal writers out of Africa, Dr. Chidi Amuta, who merely invited me to The Post Express office on Warehouse Road, Apapa and told me, “I want you here”. Apparently sensing my fear of uncertainty having to quit my job at Daily Times to be a part of a new adventure, he quickly defrosted the pall of indecision that had suddenly draped my face with “If I could leave Daily Times myself for this place, you know it’s serious business”. And that was it. I believed him. That was how a new chapter in my young journalism life opened. I was later elevated to Group News Editor; Sunday Editor (briefly) and later Editor of The Post Express, a phenomenal rise, all within a decade of my graduation from the University of Lagos.
This rapid movement up the ladder also brought me closer to Ide Ahaba. He made occasional visits to the office. He was full of zeal and passion. And he scored many firsts with The Post Express. The first Nigerian newspaper to experiment with simultaneous printing, the first to own a website (postexpresswired.com) and the first to partner with The New York Times in both business and content sharing.
I recall several moments he would saunter into the newsroom, both hands clasped at the back, head slightly bent downwards as he waltzed through the newsroom with that vintage elaborate smile all across his shinny handsome face. He was not just a handsome man, he was roundly knowledgeable. He would ask a few questions with his sharp eyes probing the respondent and depending on the answer he gets, he soon trips into deep laughter. And as Editor, our paths crossed frequently. Our meetings and communications intensified. On several occasions he had phoned to ask why a particular story was not on the front page, why a picture was given less prominence than the others. His questions were poignant and exigent and they underscored the mind of a man who wanted the best for his country. And once you offer an intelligent answer he accepts it and you could hear at the other end of the phone “fantastic”, “wonderful”, “That’s why you are the editor”. Ide probed to know and he knew so much.
He would be remembered for his peerless entrepreneurship, philanthropy, values of hard work, fairness, equity and justice. He was highly detribalized building bridges of friendship across the nation. Ide Ahaba (Pillar/Strength of Asaba) lived beyond Asaba. He lives in the hearts of all Nigerians because he was a friend of all, irrespective of tribe or religion.
His business interests in insurance, hospitality, publishing, real estate, automobile and manufacturing meant he was a real creator of jobs and wealth. A man of immense humility, Ide was a true family man from a family that has a pact with longevity. His father Robert Dyson Odogwu died at the ripe age of 104 years.
All through his life, Chief Odogwu played in the private sector but he was never shy of rebuking tyranny, ineptitude and gross incompetence among public office actors. A true statesman and senior citizen, he did not allow opulence and comfort to blind him to the pains of the masses. He fought on the side of the people, the very poor. He was a giver, a promoter of noble causes. He believed in the Anioma nation. Perhaps, I conjecture that one of his regrets was the non-creation of Anioma state in his time. It was a cause he believed in and did everything within his power to ensure the creation of a state he once told me would be the knowledge basket of the nation.
I will miss this man who until his demise still called me “My Boy”. Ide was a good man who lived a good life, loved the good things of life and enjoyed the boundless grace of God, bequeathing to humanity eight children and 20 grandchildren. We sure will miss the charm and charisma of a man who loved to stay clean and was easily attracted to clean and intelligent people. Adieu to my publisher, a man who did not mind my low estate but was too willing to share great memorable moments with me.
Culled from Sunday Sun