Awka town loses a natal intellectual and controversial septuagenarian considered patriotic by those who favored his politics and opportunistic by those who disapproved of him.
By Chudi Okoye with Stella Nzekwe
He was steeped in the esoterica of Awka politics and society. At his brightest, he was considered the authoritative intellectual providing a priori justification for the presumptions of, and the choices made by, his factional cohort in Awka domestic politics. He wrote a master’s degree dissertation and also a doctoral thesis on the heady subject of consociationalism (the idea of equitable power sharing among the constituent units of a democratic society), arguing that this was essential to promote political stability in a pluralistic society.
He had argued this point in his 1980 PhD thesis at Tulane University, USA, focusing on Nigeria as a case study (his thesis was titled: Consociationalism as an Approach to Political Integration: The Case of the Federal Republic of Nigeria); but there is little doubt that he held a similar view with regard to his home town Awka, which would later become the capital of Anambra State, Nigeria. Despite the emergence of monarchy as a latter-day formation atop the hierarchy of Awka political institutions, he believed in the democratic essence of Awka polity and thought that power must be shared among the governing institutions of the town. His voice was sometimes lost in the mêlée of Awka politics, and his ideals were probably contaminated by the sordid struggle for ascendancy among Awka political elites. But he died fighting for those very ideals.
Dr. Aneze Chinwuba (Ọzọ Ọkpala, a.k.a. Mgbọlọgwu Awka), a towering political figure in Awka, died on June 23, 2020 in his hometown, after a brief illness and treatment at the Odumegwu Ojukwu Teaching Hospital (formerly Amaku General Hospital), Awka.
He had been active to the very end. He was visible during the recently concluded Egwu Imoka festival, the flagship cultural event in Awka, as he had been in previous years’ editions of the event. He had participated robustly in the roiling debate as to whether the event should hold this year in the era of Covid-19, insisting on the sanctity of the Awka hallowday and the need for it to proceed – with all due precautions for coronavirus containment maintained.
Dr. Aneze Chinwuba was actively engaged in the affairs of Awka Historical Society, a nascent foundation set up to promote the documentation of Awka history. He was equally engaged with Awka Times Magazine; as a source he was especially receptive of our reporters’ many calls. He was in constant contact, by telephone and WhatsApp, with our publisher, with whom he shared an unspoken but scholarly experience as political scientist. Despite the token of academic comradeship and the basic similarity of intellectual outlook, there was an occasional tension between the partisan intellectual and the independent-minded magazine publisher, perhaps inevitably so. But Dr. Chinwuba was always congenial even in testy disputations, pressing his points in his dignified drawl, with a canny combination of ponderousness and playfulness.
He was a bundle of knowledge, and would often trail off on a long historical excursion during interviews, making him at once a delightful tutor but also a profoundly undisciplined interview subject.
Academic and Other Career
Dr. Aneze Chinwuba’s instinct to explore and to explain was not surprising for an academic. He had attended Government Secondary School Owerri, the current Imo State capital. After the Nigerian Civil War which broke out around his freshman age, he proceeded to the United States of America for further studies. In 1975, he obtained a BA (hons.) in International Relations at Knox College, a liberal arts academy in Galesburg, Illinois, USA. He later enrolled to study Political Science and International Politics at Tulane University where he would obtain his master’s and doctoral degrees.
After his return to Nigeria he took up teaching appointments, at various times, at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and at the Anambra State University of Technology (ASUTECH), established in 1980 (the same year of his doctoral graduation) with campuses in Abakiliki, Enugu, Awka and Nnewi. It is said that Dr. Chinwuba had helped to lobby for the creation of Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK) in 1991, following the split of the old Anambra State into Anambra and Enugu States. UNIZIK was created as an amalgam of the Awka and Nnewi campuses of ASUTECH, and was later in 1992 taken over by the Nigerian government as a federal university. The university now flourishes on four campuses; it is a major employer at its various locations; and Dr. Chinwuba is said to have helped several Awka indigenes gain employment and admission into the university.
He was at various times chairman, the Presidential Visitation Panel to the University of Ibadan. He was also, on secondment from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a Visiting Professor and Director/Coordinator of the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida School of International Studies, University of Liberia, Monrovia (where, as he once informed Awka Times, he had taught the late Liberian dictator, Samuel Kanyon Doe).
Dr. Aneze Chinwuba also took up other distinguished roles. He was at one point chairman of the now defunct Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL). He served two consequential governors of Anambra State – as a Special Adviser (Political) to Chief Jim Nwobodo and also as a Special Adviser (Political and General Duties) to Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife. He had a foray himself as a governorship aspirant, emerging as the first runner-up in the 1999 gubernatorial primaries of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. (Recalling the event 21 years later, barely a month before he died, Dr. Chinwuba ruefully told our publisher in a WhatsApp chat that “they gave it [the nomination] to Dr. C. C. Mbadinuju” who served as Anambra State governor between 1999 and 2003).
Whilst soaring to heights in academics and state politics, it was perhaps in matters pertaining to local Awka politics that Dr. Aneze Chinwuba had his most consequential impact. Awka town has labored for long under the weight of its schizophrenic political arrangements. A rustic democracy of the Athenian hue with a gerontocratic decision making structure, ancient Awka had a hierarchy of governance institutions at the top of which were perched the powerful Ọzọ Awka society and the oldest man in the town, the Otochal Awka. In contemporary Nigeria, the traditional governance institutions of Awka have appeared obsolescent, imbued with no statutory roles of any consequence but retaining great cultural salience. In contradistinction to the ancient governance institutions of Awka, two other institutions became prominent in the postcolonial era, namely the traditional ruler (first named Ichie of Awka and later Eze Uzu) and the president-general of Awka Development Union Nigeria (ADUN). Much of the dynamics of contemporary Awka politics centers on the struggle for relevance between the ancient governance institutions, particularly Ọzọ Awka society, and the emergent governance entities.
Dr. Aneze Chinwuba straddled both worlds with aplomb, unique as a cultivated academic steeped in tradition. He once served as secretary of Ọzọ Awka society, having taken the highest traditional title in Awka land. At one point he wrote a book (Ọzọ Awka in History, FutureTech Publishers, 2014; 356 pages) which sought to document the origin of the institution and quite consciously to assert its continuing relevance in contemporary Awka political affairs. Perhaps as part of his fierce advocacy for the relevance of Ọzọ Awka society, he became a committed protagonist in an insurgent claim against the government-recognized traditional ruler of Awka, an incumbent who had unending run-ins with Ọzọ Awka, owing in part to divergent views on the proper role of the society in modern Awka polity. Chinwuba would emerge as the ‘traditional prime minister’ of the insurgent faction.
He was unquestionably a central figure of the kingship rivalry in Awka, possibly propelled by personal ambition as his critics alleged but probably also driven by ideological conviction, by the consociational notion of elite power sharing in a pluralistic society which he had begun to explore more than forty years earlier in his graduate work at Tulane.
Aneze Chinwuba was saddled with a huge responsibility as the intellectual, institutional and even inter-generational guarantor of the monarchic insurgency in Awka. He seemed sometimes addled by the impossible role, and oftentimes raddled by the inflexibilities of the power struggle, but he was never rattled: through it all he maintained a calm equanimity and a friendly disposition that probably belied his deep convictions about the need for elite power sharing in Awka pluralistic society.
Those who came close found him emotionally supple, easily sharing his joys and enthusiasms but also quick to disparage what he considered nettlesome or inappropriate. For a man at the fulcrum of Awka political controversies, he seemed at times almost unflustered, joyous and rebellious at the same time, seeking yet seemingly contented. He once told Awka Times that the life he was living was the result of “good planning, patience and contentment.” He was hospitable to all unthreatening callers, insisting in his chats with Awka Times that any Awka person was welcome any day to his home to engage any topic of discussion they fancied.
Dr. Aneze Felix Chinwuba was born nearly 76 years ago to the Okpala Chinwuba family in Umubele, in the Agulu quarter of Ezinato section, Awka town. He married Mrs. Chinenye Chinwuba (Ugodie), and they were blessed with four children: Adannia, Junior, Onyebuchi and Chibuzo. He was said to be a striver who loved his family, and a reportedly conscientious father and grandfather right to the end.
Awka Times was told that his beloved ones had gathered around on June 22nd anticipating his recovery from the brief illness, reportedly singing and dancing after he had eaten a fine meal prepared by his daughter, Onyebuchi, all receiving paternal blessings from him with assurances that things would turn out fine.
The day after the joyous family gathering, however, Dr. Aneze Chinwuba’s condition deteriorated and, amid intensive care, he gave up the ghost, reportedly smiling before his light finally dimmed.♦