By Henry Chigozie Duru
Journalism for me is a passion and calling. Way back during my secondary school days, I had detected this calling as I felt this ever present urge to write something about something including a report of any happening. it was therefore no coincidence that one year after I completed my NYSC programme, I found myself working in the mainstream of the Nigerian press as a journalist.
I recall my great excitement those early days at being read from day to day by uncountable numbers of people, most of whom I didn’t know and will never know till the end of time. However, more exciting for me was the knowledge that my profession gives me the rare privilege of meeting and interacting with calibre of persons that I could have otherwise not been able to meet. I was just appreciating for the first time the extent of my privilege as a reporter with a national daily newspaper. So, I wasted no time to explore my new space.
There are several memorable episodes, but suffice it to mention that within the first one year of my coming on board, I was able to interview a number of big personalities. The list included Lai Mohammed (the then ACN national spokesperson), Senator Ndi Obi, Prof. Joe Irukwu, SAN, Prof. Itse Sagay,.SAN, Festus Keyamo, Amb Ralph Uwechue and several others. The interview meeting with late Chief Gani Fawehimni, SAN, remains memorable. My news editor had graciously taken me along to Ikeja to interview the fiery lawyer so that, in his words, “you can gain experience on how to handle difficult interview situations.” He added, “interviewing someone like Gani can be challenging.” The entertainment beat was not left out; my early interviewees included Nollywood director Teco.Benson and then Peter & Paul of the PSquare fame and Jude their elder brother, all same day and on same occasion – the celebration of the twin brothers’ birthday at their Omole Phase II resident, Ikeja.
Nonetheless, depaite the social profile of the above named personalities, there were persons I was very eager to meet and interview, not necessarily for their social profile but for a different reason. I had admired them from a distance and needed to come closer and interact with them. These persons are precisely the reason.I have written this piece. Follow me patiently.
I first knew of Joe Igbokwe when in 1997 I read his book _Igbos 25 Years After Biafra_ where he depicted what he saw as the unjust treatment of Ndigbo in Nigeria since after the war. I recall that it was in the 1995 book that I saw for the first the time the full text of Ojukwu’s speech declaring the state of Biafra on May 30 1967. I quickly photocopied those pages for keeps. Igbokwe, in the book, passionately presented the case of Ndigbo whom he felt were suffering marginalisation from a nation motivated by jealousy, hate, and vindictiveness. It was a classic work in Igbo advocacy. Later in 2002 I read his second book _Heroes of Democracy,_ a fine tribute to all who directly or indirectly contributed to the advancement of the famous June 12 cause. Igbokwe’s writing skill is top-notch, and I must confess, he was among the few that inspired me as I evolved my writing identity. He was a regular writer in the press, a regular voice on radio and a regular face on TV where he engaged national issues quite intelligently. Reading and listening to him was a delight for me. I loved his versatility, depth and courage.
I will never forget his analysis on TV in 2003 in support of Peter Obi’s attempt to recover his election victory following the rigged Anambra poll as well as his earlier case for Uwazuruike and MASSOB in 2000.
My desire to meet Igbokwe in person materialised on a certain Thursday in September 2008. I met him at his office at Ogba, Ikeja, where he sat as the MD of the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA). He welcomed me warmly and we settled for the interview immediately. I questioned him on a wide range of issues ranging from his role as the Lagos spokesperson of the ACN to the running battle between his party and PDP in the Southwest. We also interacted on wider national issues such as restructuring and electoral reforms.
The more interesting aspect of the encounter, however, was our informal conversations after the interview. He told me, “This is the agency I head. Asiwaju put me here and Fashola came and retained me.” After answering a call in which he told the caller about some insiders who worked against “oga” (Tinubu) in the election that produced his successor Fashola, he said to me, “Henry I have seen politics here,” his voice wearing some visible keenness. “”I have understood how terribly treacherous the terrain of politics is. Some of our people believed that Koro (Musiliu Obanikoro of PDP) would win the governorship and so they secretly worked for him while pretending that they were loyal. When we were at Asiwaju’s house celebrating Fashola’s victory, I saw some of them. I said to Asiwaju, ‘some persons who are celebrating with you here worked against you.’ He simply replied to me, ‘Joe never worry I know politics more than you do.”
Joe Igbokwe had a lot to tell me about the June 12 pro-democracy struggles and the heroic role of the Nigerian press. He singled out the likes of Nosa Igiebor and George Mba, both of TELL magazine, for special praises. The former had to escape to the UK after being detained by the DSS while the latter was jailed for life by Abacha in the 1995 phantom coup episode. He brought out a copy of his _Heroes of Democracy_ from a shelf standing to his right; “I detailed all those here… While I was scanning photos I used in the book people who saw me couldn’t believe all these took place in Nigeria – the killings, the tortures and abuses.” Putting back the book, he continued, “But I won’t give you a copy because this is the only copy remaining.” Rather he handed me a copy of another book, “2007: The IBB option”, which he co-authored with former student leader and activist, Peter Claver Opara, wherein they opposed the rumoured ambition of General Ibrahim Babangida to succeed Obasanjo as the President. I thanked him, but within me I preferred he gave me _Heroes of Democracy_ being that my much treasured copy had been borrowed and never returned by someone whose face I couldn’t and have never recalled till today. I left soon after and got to my office around 5pm and quickly made a transcript of the interview and forwarded for publication.
My last interaction with Joe was in July 2012 when I interviewed him for a news feature I was doing on 45 years since the start of the Nigerian civil war on July 6 1967. I simply sought his opinion on the journey so far for the country since that war ended as well as had him relive his experiences as a little boy in Nnewi during that 30 months carnage. He told me how they were being given lessons at home as the war had interrupted schooling and how they usually ran into bush whenever there was an air raid; those frenzied moments that he found both anxious and enjoyable – poor kid.
In all, my first encounter with Joe was a fulfilling one. It quenched a long-standing thirst to meet a man whose writings and commentaries had influenced my literary and intellectual evolution as well as helped strengthen my resolve to have a journalism and writing career. Seeing him in his office that fateful Thursday occupying a government position and wearing a partisan identity as the spokesperson of a political party acclaimed as having an ethnic bias, I imagined that he must have become a new person; that all those progressive, radical and intellectually stimulating (written and spoken) commentaries he gave on public issues in the 1990s and early 2000s would no more be seen, at least for the time being. Does this justify the assertion by famous Hungarian sociologist, Prof. Karl Mannheim, that intellectuals should not go into partisan politics as it tends to lure them into abandoning logic and reason in favour of sophistry and bias?
Opuruiche Douglas Anele, now a professor of Philosophy of Science at University of Lagos, has been a very controversial figure, especially among those who know his views about religion and many cultural issues. He is an atheist and has consistently and emphatically expressed his view on the non-existence of God, any god, or indeed any non-physical entity or force. I first got to know about him through his weekly column in _Vanguard_ newspaper called “Perspectives on Sunday” which I read every week during my undergraduate years and beyond. I loved the column due to the man’s elegant writing skills and erudition. He commented on issues ranging from religion and culture to politics and economics (the column is still there today). He was my every-Sunday delight.
I have always admired Anele’s versatility, how he discused issues with great insights. No doubt he is a wide reader whose knowledge compass has thus become so wide. The Imo state-born polymath was an inspiration to me.
My meeting with Anele finally happened on a particular Friday in the last quarter of 2008 after a series of cancelled appointments due to unforeseen intervening events, sometimes from my side and sometimes from his. On the second floor of the gigantic UNILAG faculty of arts building, I located without difficulty the office of Anele. On his door was an usually large nameplate with his name “”Opuruiche Douglas Anele” boldly inscribed in a way that I found almost funny.
Now sitting face-to-face with the scholar, we got into business after a short exchange of pleasantries. I took him up on national issues and then on his well known philosophical views. On religion, Anele submitted, “The idea of God is the greatest fiction ever invented by human mind. It has no basis on any positive evidence… Africa is where it is today partly because of religion which is breeding complacency and superstition as against scientific culture that guarantees progress and problem solving in real time.”
At some point, Anele made reference to a book “The God Delusion” authored by legendary British evolutionary biologist Richard Hawkins in 2006. (That instantly caught my interest making me to start searching for the book from that day. I could not see a hardcopy version while the online version was not available for free download. Luckily, after 10 years  a friend who was a PhD scholar at Jomo Kenyetta University Kenya purchased an online copy at my request and sent to me. I have since read the over 300 pages book and intend to do a philosophical critique on it soon. The atheist scientist wrote with an impressive intellectual elegance, though I did not find his argument convincing enough to unsettle my philosophical persuasion on the existence of a supreme being that animates all things and directs the course of time).
I equally took up Anele on his view on sexual morality which I knew long ago by reading one of his articles. “When it comes to sexual morality,” said he, “the key issue for me is consent. Here one also considers the age of the sex partner because it will constitute abuse when a minor is involved. That said, sexual intercourse between two consenting adults should ordinarily not be considered immoral. Sexual urge is a function of human biology, which you also find in other animals. It is on the same ontological level with other physiological cravings like hunger for food, thirst for water, need for sleep and so on, even though consequences of gratifying or failing to gratify each of them may differ. For sex, there will also be other cultural and social implications apart from the biological and emotional aspects. However, I must add that love should come first before sex. The two persons ought to first love themselves while sex then becomes the icing on the cake. Hence sex should not be weaponised for aggression as happens with rape and blackmail or instrumentalised for extraneous gratifications such as seen when people have sex for money or for any other gain not related to the natural role of sex.”
After the interview, I had some inforrmal conversation with Anele. I told him of some of his articles I read and my views on them. I recall telling him about his 2-part piece “Quest for Historical Jesus” the first part of which was published on the Christmas Day of 2004 and which I remember reading on a commercial bus heading from Oyingbo to Apapa on that sunny afternoon. (In later years I discovered that he had lifted that title from the cover of Albert Schweitzer’s 1906 seminal work).
Anele spoke of the burden of holding sincerely to one’s view in a conservative society like Nigeria. He lamented that even in a place like university which should be an arena for free thinking and interplay of diverse ideas, one is still victimised because one does not hold a popular view. I agree with him on that count.
I must confess that my encounter with Anele intrigued me somewhat. I met a warm, jovial and outstandingly friendly personality with good humour. This completely negated the cold seriousness, solemnity and sometimes melancholy that characterised the tone of his essays. Not helping matters was the portrait photograph he used in his newspaper column with his face unsmiling and no-nonsense-like. I was not entirely surprised by the likeable personality of Anaele. A UNILAG 200 level philosophy undergraduate had two years earlier told me he was her (or their) favourite lecturer due to his knowledge, lively teaching style, and friendly disposition. Years later, a UNILAG lecturer that came to UNIZIK to supervise JUPEB exams told me when I asked him whether he knew him, “Oh who in UNILAG does not know Anele? He is a good and jovial man, also very knowledgeable). At about the same time, a fresh University of Ibadan graduate who came to UNIZIK to study law also told me how they loved Anaele as their lecturer when he came to University of Ibadan for sabbatical. They missed him when he departed after one year. The same testimony of a lovable personality came from a current colleague of mine who had his master’s degree in mass communication at UNILAG and happened to be close to Anele. However, a lot of persons who only knew him through his writings say he’s demonic. Maybe I need to learn a new art of identifying a demonic person when I see one!
It was almost 3pm when I left Anele to rush back to my office via Oshodi. It was Friday and it was already the peak hours when news poured in in large numbers from all parts of Nigeria. We ought to have commenced the marathon of editing and selection for publication, a tedious prrocess that ran into late night when the newspaper would finally go to bed. My colleagues in the newsroom of _Saturday Champion_ would soon be ringing my phone line to find out what was keeping me away.
Rev. Fr. Raymond Chukwunyelugwu Arazu, C.S.Sp., PhD, needed no introduction for many within the Southeast Nigeria. His had been a household name for decades. I first knew about Arazu as a primary schoolboy from a man who spoke about him glowingly in a tale laced with fantastic myths, such as that the cleric’s long beards were touching his belly.
To me, Arazu was an enigma. He was a teacher par excellence, a motivator, a social crusader, and an impressive scholar. I have read all his eight books including his best seller and my favourite, _Man Know Thyself_ (Enugu, Snaap Press, 2003), and the one I adjudge the richest in scholarship; a penetrating exegesis on the theological concepts of “sin” and “salvation” in the Jewish religion – _Covenant Broken: Sin in Salvation History_ (Enugu, LIZ Press, 1994). I have also read many of his media and academic articles. He wrote with encyclopaedic elegance as his narrative often navigated through diverse fields – philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, mathematics, physics, geography and mysticism among others – he was a polymath, a man you would think knew everything there to be known. Arazu spoke and wrote academic essays in several languages including French, Latin, Italian, and German – he was a polygot.
I had heard Arazu speak at public lectures in UNIZIK (it used to be a monthly exercise many years ago when I was an undergraduate). I regularly attended his self-realization lectures at his Centre at Okpuno, Anambra State. I had used his library for reading and research. Under his influence I developed interest in studying Eastern religions and philosophy (he was a lecturer in Comparative Religion for years). It is based on all this that I consider Fr. Arazu a mentor to me. His death on December 26 2021 was thus for me a personal loss. May his soul find peaceful requiem. Amen.
Distance had interfered with my ability to interview Arazu until some time in early 2010 when the opportunity came calling. I had taken advantage of my belated 2009 leave, which I started on February 1 2010, to travel down to the East when a friend called me from Lagos to see if I could do an interview with “an interesting personality”, according to him, for a private magazine he was editing for an organisation. I immediately obliged and the first “interesting personality” to come to my mind was Fr. Arazu. I wanted it myself. I placed a call to him and he gave me appointment for the next Tuesday, forcing me to leave Owerri 24 hours earlier than planned to arrive in Awka on Monday evening.
I arrived at Arazu’s Centre at Okpuno around 10am and he was in his office seeing people. Our eyes met (his office door was open as always) and he signalled me to wait for him. Luckily only a few persons sat outside waiting. Soon, the clergyman was done and we walked to a corner of the compound adjacent to his chapel where we sat for the interview.
I took up my interviewee on issues related to politics, social justice, and others. He spoke in his usual flat tone, picking his words with a measured, solemn disposition. As usual, I felt I was sitting at the feet of a sage hearing words of wisdom. One distinguishing aspect of Arazu’s personal belief and advocacy was religious tolerance. He told me, “We must learn to understand and tolerate other faiths. God is not a Christian, He is not a Moslem, and neither does He belong to any other religion for that matter. These religions are different paths to God depending on one’s intentions, conviction, and sincerity. When we refuse to tolerate other religions, when we denigrate and even fight the adherents, that is fundamentalism and terrorism. Today we have a lot of Moslem and Christian fundamentalists and terrorists. Saul in the Bible was persecuting Christians before he was converted on the road to Damascus; Saul was a fundamentalist, a terrorist. He couldn’t tolerate other faiths because his religion, Judaism, taught him that only the Jewish religion was divine, that others were gentiles. So he resorted to killing them believing he was doing the right thing in the same way his forefathers destroyed the Amalekites,.the Jebusites, the Cananites and other peoples who professed other faiths; but that is racism and terrorism. Hence God stopped him. This is what we’re seeing today among Christians and Moslems; because we have been made to believe that our religion is the only authentic one before God, we resort to fundamentalism and even terrorism. Those who kill in the name of God are terrorists just like Saul, those who destroy shrines of other faiths are terrorists, those who persecute members of other faiths in any other way are terrorists.”
I asked Arazu how he could convince people that he was right in his thinking. Said he, “‘I don’t have to convince people. I can only educate and each individual will find the truth. The search for truth, the search for light, is an individual endeavour, no one does it for another and no one forces the truth on another. Once you try to force it, then you have become fundamentalist, a terrorist. You have thus departed from the very truth you are trying to propagate. That is what we have been saying.
“But in any case, there are two ways through which one will arrive at the truth that all religions are ultimately one. The first is through education. I mean the kind of education that broadens the mind amd liberates it from all forms of fanaticism. One gets this kind of education, for instance, by reading about other religions, other cultures and other civilisations, by studying history, anthropology, philosophy and so on. The other way is through spiritual growth where one expands his consciousness to become directly and intimately aware of the divine. Everyone professes one religion or the other but this is a path not too many persons pass. It is the path to self-realization, the ultimate self-awareness, the divine awareness. At this level, one experiences God in His transcendence and immanence, he sees God in everything and in every person. This is not an experience one can describe to another, one can only experience it. That is the essence of spirituality. At that point, fanaticism disappears as one understands fully that God cannot be monopolized as the God of any religion or any race as the Jews erroneously did, the same error Christians and Moslems are repeating today.”
Once the interview was concluded, Fr. Arazu rose to depart. There was no time for any informal conversation. He was in a hurry to be on his way to Enugu, a weekly routine wherein he would return to Okpuno on Thursday after public consultations and teaching engagements in the Coal City state.
When I transcribed and mailed the interview to my friend. He called to thank me and excitedly exclaimed “This is explosive.”