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Reminiscences with Dr Dozie Onyeanusi Ikedife

In the Second Republic (1979-1983), Dr Dozie Onyeanusi Ikedife was a presidential liaison officer in charge of eastern states. He also served as commissioner for…

In the Second Republic (1979-1983), Dr Dozie Onyeanusi Ikedife was a presidential liaison officer in charge of eastern states. He also served as commissioner for economic development, East Central State in 1975 before he was appointed commissioner for finance and economic development in Anambra State in 1976. Among other numerous positions, he was a  reader in Obstetrics-gynecology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University College of Health Sciences and an examiner in the same discipline at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In 1970, he founded the Dr Dozie Ikedife Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State, where he still practices his profession, even at 86. In this interview at his office in Nnewi, he spoke about the medical profession, politics of the Second Republic, especially conflicts with the then Governor Jim Nwobodo of Anambra State, among other things.

 

You served as a presidential liaison officer in charge of eastern states during the President Shehu Shagari administration. What was your experience?

The job was good, but I was working in an area where a non-National Party of Nigeria (NPN) governor was. It, therefore, threw up conflicts between the then governor and the Federal Government. 

Governor Jim Nwobodo was always clashing with the Federal Government. For example, when the Federal Government wanted to construct a road in the area, Nwobodo insisted that he would do it. There was an attempt by the Federal Government to take over the polytechnic in Oko, but he kicked against it, and so on. He was a little bit childish. When the federal local housing programme came on, he went and showed the Federal Ministry of Housing areas far away from human residence. Those buildings have all collapsed because they were not used at all. If the governor had done the right thing, they would have added housing opportunities to our people.

But I enjoyed the position. I knew what was considered the boundary and I did not cross it. That was what gave me the leverage and strengthened my backbone in fighting and representing the president in the old Anambra State.

I remember one occasion when the president was coming to Anambra State and we were all waiting at the airport to receive him. When he alighted from the aircraft, I allowed the governor to go and receive him first. When he came down to greet people who were in line, Jim Nwobodo’s thugs literally pulled me away. And of course, I wasn’t to fight. When the pressmen asked me about the incident, I said it was unfortunate.

Each time Governor Nwobodo came to see President Shagari, he would see me chatting with him in a very friendly and familiar way, and he would be surprised. I would explain to him that as the president’s representative I would be the last to see him in the night and the first to see him in the morning. There were no two ways about it.

There were a lot of episodes that took place, which amused me. Some of them pleased me while some got me thinking more deeply. I will say that I proved myself very well in office because I didn’t have any plan to undo anybody. My philosophy was: No malice towards anybody and no extra-ambition. There was no desire to line my pocket or boost my ego, or do anything out of the ordinary run of duty. I enjoyed myself after sometime because my colleague in Imo State, Chief Collins Obi, was having a serious problem with Governor Sam Mbakwe. We swapped places, and that gave me a stint in Imo State.

When it was getting near to the election time, I went back to Enugu, the capital of old Anambra State, and Collins went to                  fight for an election as governor in Imo State. He narrowly lost the election due to some tactical errors. I was the coordinator of the presidential campaign in both Imo and Anambra states. So I enjoyed myself and made people. 

I don’t know the type of politicians we have these days, at that time some of them were quite noble-minded, well motivated, patriotic, determined and helped to get things done. Now, it appears we have a new breed of politicians. Before they agree to pass the budget you have to ‘talk to them properly.’ Before they pass any presidential bill or act you have to ‘see them properly.’

As a presidential liaison officer, how did you impact on the lives of the people you represented?

It is difficult for me to say it myself, but I think I impacted positively. With federal might there were a few things I could do to help people. For example, at that time, rice was scarce but it was imported and distributed. Contracts were being given here and there. Import licence was on. There were federal low cost housing scheme and employment. A few things were going on. And people were using my office as a stepping stone or staging house. 

The position of a presidential liaison officer was as big as you made it. We were alternative governors. In states where the NPN did not have governors, we were shadow governors, and in states where they had governors, liaison officers were still there because we were in every state. 

Did the presence of presidential liaison officers make governors jittery in any way?

Yes. Of course they felt very uncomfortable with us. They felt that we were challenging them. For instance, commissioners of police were directly under our control more than the governors. The governors couldn’t give them instructions. The governors could appeal to them and talk to them, but I could instruct them. We could instruct the governors, particularly in states that were not under the control of the NPN. That was the difference. So the governors felt jealous and opposed the idea of having presidential liaison officers in states. They opposed it to the last, but of course, minority will have their say, but majority will have their way. 

What do you consider the greatest achievements you made at that time?

I won’t be able to single out one. You see, I was coordinating, visiting and directing all the federal establishments in the entire states. Those were not small assignments. I had a limited budget, so I wasn’t able to give brown envelopes to anybody. But I was able to distribute some patronages – import licences, rice allocations etc. Customs, Immigrations, federal ministries and agencies saw my office as a rallying point. It was a big rallying point because I answered to the distress calls of all of them, to the best of my ability. I enjoyed the position; the only thing was that sometime people expected too much from me. And I wasn’t able to give too much if it entailed dipping my hand into my pockets. There was a limit to what I could do. Apart from that, I made my office very accessible; the door of my office was never shut. I had no secrets whatsoever while in office. If I had some secrets it must be outside the office. 

Were there challenges?

Of course, there were challenges. One of the challenges was that the state government was not friendly. They saw me as an impostor and intruder; like a sore thumb that could be lanced and removed. 

I was the secretary of the body of presidential liaison officers while our chairman was Sarkin Kudu, the first son of Sultan of Sokoto. He later became the Sultan of Sokoto . So, you can imagine that we were in a very advantageous position. We didn’t need to book appointments to see the president. We saw him any time we wanted because the chairman of the liaison officers was the son of the Sultan of Sokoto and the president was from Sokoto. He couldn’t imagine the son of the Sultan of Sokoto waiting to see him and he would say no. It never happened, and we didn’t abuse that privilege either. Any time our delegation was to go and see the president, even if it was for only one hour, I was one of them because I was the secretary.

Did you learn any lesson while in that office?  

I learnt a lot of lessons. I dealt with people who carried placards against me, saying that I won’t ‘chop and won’t let them chop.’ They conspired against me. 

When a consignment of rice was coming to the East, instead of offloading them in Lagos and transporting them by land to the eastern region, they decided to do transshipment to Port Harcourt. And rumour went out that the rice had been sent and I sold it. They reported me to the then Vice President Alex Ekwueme. 

We had a meeting in Lagos with him. At the end of the meeting, the chairman of the party and the secretary said we should wait. I waited. They reported to the vice president that the rice meant for Anambra and Imo states had been sent and I sold it. When they finished, I said that I wanted to reply, but Ekwueme said no. That afternoon he contacted Umaru Dikko and asked about the rice for Imo, Anambra and Cross River states? Dikko told him that he was making arrangement to ship them in a week’s time but he hadn’t secured the ship; the rice had not been put on board, therefore it could not have been delivered. He said that presidential liaison officers could not have received it to sell.

Did Ekwueme know it was a false allegation?

Yes, he knew it was a total fabrication. And he burst that balloon, to the shame of some people who said they knew I had sold the rice. 

Do you still relate with Alhaji Shehu Shagari?

Yes and no. He is very elderly now. I went to see him some years back. He remembers me very well because I was probably the only person who took a cigarette from his mouth and extinguished the fire, saying he had smoked too much. He said, “Doctor, if you extinguish the fire and destroy this stick, there are many cigarettes in the market.’’ I said, “Well, you win.’’ Shagari is a very nice person. His character is very special. However, there were occasions we had what you would consider hot exchanges with him. That was when some ministers were misbehaving. We suggested that he should caution them and even sack one to show an example so that people would know that he wasn’t part of their excesses. 

You also served as commissioner for Economic Development, and later, Finance and Economic Development. 

When Imo and Anambra were separated I became commissioner for finance and economic development. I didn’t want to deal with medical problems.

But that’s your field of specialisation, why did you run away from it?

I am a specialist in gynecology. I am the longest practising gynecologist in Nigeria today. 

Wouldn’t it have been better for a professional like you to be in the Ministry of Health?

There were medical people around. And we had a commissioner for health who was a medical person. I didn’t want to grapple with medical problems with colleagues; I just did not want it. And the governor granted me that request. Incidentally, when we were appointed, I didn’t know the military governor and he didn’t know me.

Who was the military governor?

Anthony Aboki Ochefu. Later on, they retired him and Atom Kpera came on board and we continued. Mr. Moses Udebuwa was the Secretary to the State Government.

As commissioner for economic development, what were you doing?

It was a very powerful ministry. You see, for any country to develop and move forward, you need to have plans. When you don’t even have a strong ministry for planning, you can’t go far. You need to have facts and figures That is the live-wire of any government. And of course, when it merges with finance you can begin to understand the importance of that ministry more properly. This is because anything that would be done must be approved by the Ministry of Economic Development and Finance.

Did your father or mother encourage you to read Medicine?

Neither of them did. When I was leaving secondary school, I considered going into the religious ministry or medicine because both entail social work and humanitarian service. My classmate and roommate eventually studied religion and became an ordained minister of religion. He rose to be an archbishop before he retired and died. My mind never left the two. Unfortunately, the way the church services are conducted and run today leaves a little bit of unpleasant taste in my mouth. My enthusiasm about them has waned a little. But I still support the churches in the best way I can. I was brought up an Anglican but I now support churches across board, including traditional religion. The ones I don’t support so much are the Pentecostals. I don’t like their style of shouting and asking people to sow seeds, and things like that. There’s a little bit of commercialisation rather than spreading the good news about salvation and Christ. Maybe my perception is wrong, but that is what I feel they are doing.

But the old generation churches are trying to copy some of these things you call the excesses of the Pentecostals.

They are looking for membership. Younger people see religion as something that should make them happy. But for people of my age, going to church is a very serious and solemn affair. It is not meant to show off new cloths or cars. No, that’s not for people in my age. 

How would you compare medical practice in those days to what is going on today?

The human body and illnesses haven’t changed. There are new ones, but the old ones are still there. That is both in study and practice. New discoveries have been made and new gadgets created to help probe the human body, such as the ultra-sound, the CT scan, the MRI and other sophisticated machines for biochemical tests. And tedious laboratory tests have been simplified. 

When I qualified in my first or second job as a doctor, estimation of blood sugar in a patient would be an almost a two-hour exercise, but now, it is half a second or minute. And that applies to so many tests. Pregnancy tests used to entail feeding some props with urine from a pregnant woman, letting it grow and then laying eggs and all that. It sometimes took about a week before you got the result. You would put a stick in to read your answer. So a lot has changed. There’s advancement. You can probe the human body more thoroughly now. These are changes, and if you are keeping abreast, you cannot be left behind.

We now have artificial insemination, IVF, invitro fertilization. Reproduction is now from sperm and egg banks. That’s where we are now. Reproduction has become a revolution. And the way we are going, human beings may stop reproducing in the normal way. With sperm and egg banks you can get a sample of your sperm and egg and mix it in a Petridis. When the zygote is being formed you transfer it into the abdomen of a man and the womb of a woman. Men can now have children; these are advancements. It is unimaginable. 

You can keep somebody alive on a life-supporting machine even though the person, in all practical purposes, is dead. He will use the respiratory system to pump oxygen and circulate blood. Medicine has advanced a lot.

Doesn’t this new aspect of reproduction contradict nature?

Well, we try to control nature in so many ways. Even our village people want to control nature. The man in the village who says he is a rainmaker or rain-disperser is attempting to control nature. Human beings have always been trying to control their environment. We are doing everything to control nature and it is all in line with advancing technology and knowledge.

At your age you still keep abreast of trends in the medical field; what is the secret?

If you don’t read your journals anymore, you may not acquire new skills. You must keep up your information channel and use it frequently. Today, there’s a lot of information floating all over the public media. So it is not a question of reading textbooks; Google can give you the details of any subject you are interested in. We used to consult journals to know what is happening, but you don’t need all the volumes of journals now; sometimes you don’t even have time to read all of them. You just turn through the pages and may be one or two articles would seize your fancy and you read them. That’s the position.

 How did you get into politics?

I didn’t particularly like politics. Even when I was in secondary school I was not a prefect of any type. I lived in a boarding house. However, I played table tennis and other sports. When I entered the university in 1953 there were so many activities of interest. I joined the Students’ Representative Council and the Liberal Party in the United Kingdom. I joined the Magazine Club, writing the university magazine, GUM. I became the secretary for World University Service for five Scottish universities. That was my first incursion into some of these things. But down the line, I had to drop some of these things as much as I could because it was beginning to affect my studies. I was a student of two universities at the same time. I was reading Medicine on a fulltime basis in the University of Glasgow, as well as Anthropology as an external student in the University of Florida. It was during the Biafra-Nigeria war that I came back to settle in the village.

After the war, they were forming what they called community councils, and the representation was through the wards. My ward said I should go and represent them. But I said I won’t go because I was a busy man and shouldn’t be bothered with community council. They said, “Well, if you don’t go, our seat will remain vacant.’’ My elder brother said I had to go and serve our people and I agreed. On getting there, there was an election for chairman. Many of the people said I should be the chairman, but other people said they were interested in the position. So they had to vote. 

The person I was competing with borrowed money from me to entertain the councilors so that they would vote for him. He gave money to some people, cooked for some and slaughtered a goat for them to eat with palm oil and pepper. Well, some of them got the money he gave them and showed me. I told them to take the money and vote for him if they liked, but I was not going to give anybody any kobo, not even a cup of water; after all I was not pushing to go into this thing. At the end of the day, I got about 36 votes and he got 14. We had 50 delegates. His score wasn’t even half of mine, so I became the chairman. 

After the first term, I was returned, virtually unopposed. I was really serving. I was putting in my own money. I provided the shelf and all the papers for secretarial work. I provided accommodation for the clerk of the council who was a civil servant posted to us. Even though we had somebody described as secretary, we had a clerk – a civil servant posted from Imo State. That was between 1971 and 1972. I still keep in touch with him. 

It was while I was the chairman of the Community Council that the military governor, Anthony Ochefu, invited me in 1975. That was how I entered politics. After that, I ran for an election into the Federal House but lost. The contest was between the NPN and the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). The NPP was Zik’s party. That was how I went into politics. After the election, I was appointed a presidential liaison officer. Between 1992 and 1993 I vied for the presidency of this country, the one that MKO Abiola was nearly winning during the Option A4 introduced by Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, the then chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

On which platform did you contest?

I contested on the platform of the National Republican Convention (NCR). Alhaji Bashir Tofa got the party’s ticket and Dr Sylvester Ugo was his running mate. Abiola and Babagana Kingibe were paired for the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

President Muhammadu Buhari honoured Abiola and recognised June 12 as Democracy Day. How would you react to that?

I see it more as a political game than anything else. Many people have been attacking President Buhari, right, left and centre. He has to do something to salvage his image and increase his chances of winning in 2019. If he allows all these attacks and gang-up against him to build up, he is as good as gone. He has to know what to do, even for the South-East, even though by his calculation he may think that without the South-East he would still make it. Maybe he’s right, I don’t know; but every vote counts. He hasn’t treated the Igbo well; but that’s not the issue. 

Which area in particular would you want him to address in the South-East?

There are so many areas he can address. He has not spoken strongly against the issue of killer-herdsmen. He also has to absolve himself of what General T. Y Danjuma said, otherwise people will point accusing fingers at him. Look at the state of roads in the South-East. Who has he given any good appointment in the South-East? Are all people in the South-East bad? He only gave statutory appointments because the constitution makes it compulsory. That’s not enough. 

Look at the way he is retiring and retaining personnel in the army, the police and all security agencies. Looking at the list of his appointees from the North, his region, it is not good enough for a country like Nigeria.  Many people don’t feel happy. Things are bad. People should be given a sense of belonging; nobody likes to be an outsider. If you want to be an outsider by choice, that’s your choice. 

Have you been able to train younger ones in medicine?

I am a reader in a medical school; that’s an associate professor, but I’m too old to run around doing that. I have been an examiner for both undergraduate and post-graduate medical schools. I have given informal teaching, guidance and tutorials to many students to help them get through their exams.

What is your take on the frequent strikes by health workers in Nigeria?

That’s another area of disappointment. Doctors should never be allowed to go on strike, no matter what happens. And doctors should never have the mindset to go on strike in order to prove their point; it’s not right. But government should not push them to the wall. That’s my position.

Is there any of your children following your footsteps in medicine?

Yes, one of my daughters is a dental surgeon. One of my sons is a medical doctor. I have seven children – five boys and two girls. My other sons: one is an accountant, one is a civil engineer, the other one is a banker. Then one is a risk management personnel while the other one is studying Marketing.

When do you celebrate your birthday?

I do not celebrate my birthday and I will not be celebrated when I die. I don’t want funeral. Once I am dead, put me in the grave and go away. Don’t come on condolence visit. Don’t come for funeral ceremony. I don’t want it; after all, is it any use to me, a dead person?  You are just wasting your time and giving yourself trouble. Even if you invite the whole Nigeria it doesn’t mean anything to me. If you invite 10 people it doesn’t mean anything to me. If you fire 100 gunshots, it means nothing to me. You see, people waste a lot of energy and sometimes money. Sometimes they borrow or sell things to give somebody what they call a befitting burial. So, I don’t need it. For me, a befitting burial is that you are sure I’m dead and you dig six-feet deep, wrap me in a mat, put me in the ground and cover it. 

After that, you may publish in the newspapers that “Dr. Dozie Ikedife has died and has been buried. By his direction and request, no condolence visits; no funeral ceremony.’’ The reason for publishing it is that if you and I had an appointment, you would know that it can no longer hold. If you are owing me, bring the money and pay my family. If I am owing you, come and demand payment from my family. That’s it.

How do you relax? 

I enjoy so many things, including music, reading, philosophical and religious discussions at a higher level; not quoting Job 13:13 or Mathew 16:14 to me, or insisting that we must go to Mass at 6am in the morning. That’s not religion to me. I think that is playing to the gallery. If it pleases you, go, but don’t ask me to come with you.

I enjoy good classical music and jazz. The one I don’t know whether I enjoy as much is the shouting music. These one they talk rather than sing.

Is it rap music? For me, rap is scrap. 

I like discussing and arguing on anything. If I take up one topic now you and I will spend the whole night dealing with a question like: How old are you? If I ask you that question, you may tell me that you are 30 or 35 years but that’s not how old you are. Or you may tell me you were born on this or that day, but I didn’t ask you when were you born? I asked how old you are. It has a deeper meaning than just telling me you were born in 1995, and therefore, you are 26 or 22. That’s not what I mean.

Do you think your children would respect your wish when you are gone?

I hope they do so because I have told them several times, including my wife. If they don’t, well, I have a caveat: there will be consequences.

 

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