Poet UZOR MAXIM UZOATU is remembering MC extraordinary John Chukwu (JC), the pioneer comedian and Lagos after-hours entrepeneur.
People have completely forgotten that before the coming of the riches of Ali Baba and Okey Bakassi and their vast array of young arrivistes of modern comedy in Nigeria, there was one pioneer of the art who bore the name John Chukwu.
John Chukwu or John God or JayCee or John Tsuku, or whatever came to Lagos with no kobo in his pocket – just like me. However, it took no time at all for all of Lagos to take notice that John Chukwu was a one-man riot squad who shared the JC initials with legends such as Julius Caesar, Jimmy Carter, and even Jesus Christ!
JayCee was a man of many parts. He acted on television and radio, and in films such as Ola Balogun’s Amadi and Jab Adu’s Bisi, Daughter of the River. He was at one time the publisher, reporter, advert manager, cartoonist, circulation manager, owner etc. of the newspaper called Mailbag.
Because he combined so many duties all by himself, after fighting with the vendors in Oshodi, he would be late to meet with the vendors in the Lawanson area who would eventually run away with his money!
One thing however stood him out. As an original master of stand-up comedy, John Chukwu was nonpareil. There was this night my friends and I took some classy ladies to a John Chukwu show. After John Chukwu had thrilled all of us with his jokes, the ladies refused to follow us home. The ladies said they were all marching to John Chukwu’s hotel to listen to his jokes until the break of dawn.
We had no other option than to follow the ladies to keep company with John Chukwu and his jokes until morning broke!
JayCee, as he was popularly known in Lagos social circles, was born in 1947 as John Uzodinma Chukwu-Ochie.
His parents, Emmanuel and Catherine Chukwu-Ochie, were both from Ezichukwu Quarters in Maku, Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State.
John’s father, Emmanuel was a staff of federal forestry Department serving at Ubiaja in Edo State where John, the eldest of many children, was born in 1947.
Some of John’s siblings were also talented artists. For instance, his immediate younger brother, Victor Chukwu, was a noted musician and band owner. The legendary Oliver de Coqe was a guitarist in Victor’s band, the Black Irokos International Band (originally known as the Anambra International Band).
John Chukwu enrolled into the famous St. Theresa’s Secondary School Nsukka before the war.
He had a flair for languages and was a powerful orator. It was to make his name easier to pronounce that he decided to cut off “Ochie” ftom it. He was also upset that people pronounced Ochoe as if it means “old” instead of the question “he’s crowned?”
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In the Frightening Humility of a Mentor, Poet UZOR MAXIM UZOATU paid tribute to an icon of philanthropy, Abdulazeez Chivuzo Ude, when he turned 80 in 2020.
Always understated in his undertakings, preferring to operate from the background, it always needs painstaking inquiry to learn that he’s the brain and the war chest behind many ventures that do not bear his name in any way.
Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
It was impossible believing what my eyes were seeing. I did a double take because it’s not every day one sees a great masquerade walking alone, without attendants or courtiers or whatever. The scene manifesting before my very eyes in the open courtyard at Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos during the Lagos Book & Art Festival (LABAF) was too surreal to be grasped immediately.
I waited for moments on end until a measure of certitude crept into my consciousness. Then I made my move. It was Alhaji Abdulazeez Ude walking away all by himself after having just gone to see the art exhibition entitled “And The Centre Refuses To Hold” curated by Krydz Ikwuemesi that paid homage to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart at 60. Before I could even say a word, Alhaji Ude beamed with a beatific smile and asked for my phone number. I called out the number and he duly stored it. Much later, when I had all but forgotten everything about the encounter with the great man, I brought out my phone and saw I missed call. I called the number. It was Alhaji Abdulazeez Ude at the other end. A quintessential icon of culture, Alhaji Ude is the most personable man of means known to me.
He was the financier of a newspaper, Financial Post , I once worked for. Alhaji Ude paid the bills but the publisher of the title was the maverick “Motor-Park Economist” Ashikiwe Adione-Egom. How can one ever forget the lofty end-of-year parties Alhaji Ude used to host for the staff in his Mekuwen home, off Queens Drive, Ikoyi. I once told him he was making me live above my means as a poor poet, and he jovially directed me to the publisher Ashikiwe so that I would ask him to increase my salary! When one took ill with ordinary malaria, there was the benefit of comprehensive medical care in his wife’s hospital. It was indeed a family of remarkable camaraderie.
His office on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi always teemed with all kinds of people asking for assistance as per business failure, paying school fees, helping accommodation and paying rents. He was a rendering father figure in overdrive. I used to wonder how he coped with all the demands put on is calm visage.
His funds were always available for intellectual concerns. He was the financial chest behind the classy Chic Magazine published by Eddie Iroh out of London, England. He was a director of Newswatch magazine and many other publications besides.
Frightening humility of a mentor, Abdulazeez Ude
Born September 30, 1940, Abdulazeez Ude is a distinguished alumnus of the esteemed College of Immaculate Conception (CIC), Enugu.A man of impeccable bonafides, he was educated at Oxford in England and Columbia in the United States. He was a top editor with the renowned American book publishing company Doubleday, publishers of Anchor Books. He rubbed shoulders with Toni Morrison as book editor before she branched out to write novels such as Song of Solomon, Beloved etc and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Abdulazeez Ude founded Nok Publishers in the United States and Nigeria, undertaking to see radical books from Africa and the Global South in print. The West and the Rest of Us by Chinweizu is a landmark title. Married with children, Abdulazeez Ude enjoys tennis, meditation, reading and walking.
His support for popular culture is remarkable, and the celebrated highlife musician Oliver de Coque waxed lyrical in song in praise of the many achievements of Abdulazeez Ude, translated from Igbo thusly: “When the big masquerade appears in the square, the non-initiates run away” as the praise-singer lauds the radiance of the king. Alhaji Abdulazeez Chivuzo Ude is a mighty masquerade.”
As the brain behind companies like Tanhigh Holdings Ltd, Tanhigh Finance Ltd, 150 Estates Nigeria Ltd, Trans-Sahel Airlines Ltd etc, Alhaji Ude led from the frontline.
He played a founding role in the African Business Roundtable and the African Development Bank. Always understated in his undertakings, preferring to operate from the background, it always needs painstaking inquiry to learn that he’s the brain and the war chest behind many ventures that do not bear his name in any way. His association with excellence is nonpareil.
As I took leave of him at Freedom Park, Lagos, on that sedate evening, I could not but marvel at the frightening humility of Alhaji Abdulazeez Chivuzo Ude
Poet UZOR MAXIM UZOATU frowns at efforts to look down on the concept of first in class in education and future Anambra leadership.
Unhappy is the country whose leader is not properly educated.
Going to school is a matter of urgent national importance unless Nigerians want to submit to the thesis of Boko Haram that “Western education is unwanted.”
The abuse of distinction in Nigeria cannot grant us a cherished place in the sun of human development.
Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Incidentally, coming first in class is a special icing on the cake of going to school. A country like Nigeria, needful of the enthronement of values, should embrace the celebration of genius and excellence instead of the lionising of dropouts and nonentities.
The author of The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe, once lamented that Nigeria does not field its first eleven in leadership matters. Little wonder the country hardly ever wins when good governance is the matter at stake all over the world.
First in class and the Singapore miracle
The celebration of genius was done in Singapore, and it worked wonders, as eloquently evinced in the book, From Third World to First – The Singapore Story: 1965-2000, written by the first leader of the country Lee Kuan Yew, a 1949 First Class graduate of Cambridge University, England. Lee Kuan Yew left the legacy such that the third Prime Minister of the country, Lee Hsieng Loong, who was sworn in on August 12, 2004 happens to be a 1974 First Class graduate of the selfsame Cambridge!
The Singapore government that Lee Hsieng Loong headed had a First Class cabinet as follows: George Yeo – Minister of Foreign Affairs (Cambridge Double First Class in 1976); Lim Hng Kiang – Minister of Trade and Industry (Cambridge First Class with Distinction in 1976); Teo Chee Hean – Minister of Defence (University of Manchester First Class).
Need I go on?
There is hardly any wonder why Singapore is a model for all other countries in dire need of progress on all the cardinal points of the globe. The Singaporean government richly deserves its motto: “Integrity, Service, Excellence.”
First in Class and Leadership Question in Anambra
Our penchant to abuse distinction
Nigeria can definitely do much better than the current rage of making role models out of characters whom no one can attest to their past, shadowy figures who have no visible means of livelihood. A man with a leading degree ought to be a role model for any self-respecting country because the exploits in school ought to stand one in good stead toward conquering the many challenges of life.
The abuse of distinction in Nigeria cannot grant us a cherished place in the sun of human development. The mind is the vital source to stick to in the march of civilization, and not the promotion and celebration of cows. The setting-up of the then University College, Ibadan by colonialist Britain was aimed at sourcing the minds of pre-independent Nigeria.
Nigeria can indeed strike back at the centre through the knowledge gained from the university system. University-educated Nigerian poets, playwrights and novelists have already smashed the global canon, and it is incumbent on the government to uplift the geniuses of intellection in our midst to run the government and thus rule the world.
Nigeria must celebrate her own genius. The geniuses ought to be the icons Nigeria should promote; not the raucous society types and barons so long on cash but quite short as per knowledge and application.
The university idea represents the best of the best, where all makes of students gather: from bush schools to the most elitist secondary schools. For one to come first in the class should not be an exercise in futility through the country’s embrace of wrong values as entrenched in the promotion of such distractions as zoning, federal character, catchment area, geographical spread, land mass and whatever.
First in class and Leadership in Anambra
This leads to the absurd situation where, for example, a student from Anambra State needs to score 139 marks and more to get admitted into the so-called Unity Schools while a student from Yobe State can be admitted after scoring only two (2) marks! Crucially, Anambra State is on the drive for a November 6 governorship election in which educational competence is on the front-burner.
The governorship candidate of the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) party, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo is a 1984 First Class graduate of Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He held forth as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) from May 29, 2004 to May 29, 2009 and undertook the banking consolidation exercise in which the then 83-odd banks in the country were asked to shore up their capital base to N25 billion in 18 months.
At the end of the exercise, the number of banks in Nigeria was reduced to 25, and the banking consolidation initiative has been credited with helping the Nigerian banking industry to survive the adverse effects of the global economic meltdown.
Now there is the contention that Anambra State is too sophisticated for characters with dubious school certificates to govern! The Soludo matter has raised much dust amongst the certificate-less other contenders such that one of them has vowed that he would make the Nigerian power-that-be to eventually get the Supreme Court to appoint him Anambra State governor as was done in Imo State!
The gubernatorial wannabe who could only speak in Igbo said: “First Class gbakwaa oku!”
Poet and literary critic, Uzor Maximum Uzoatu, looks back at the golden years of Coal City’s brand marker, Enugu Rangers International FC, the indomitable lions of Nigerian soccer.
When the Nigeria-Biafra war ended in January 1970, there was gloom in Igboland. Even as the then Head of State General Yakubu Gowon made the famous announcement of “No Victor, No Vanquished”, the vanquished ones knew themselves as they sauntered back into Nigeria, hungry and broken, after the end of the Biafra struggle.
The legendary football administrator, Jerry Enyeazu, strongly felt that football could lift the spirit. He was ably backed by BSC Nzenwa, and the club named Enugu Rangers was birthed on January 29, 1970.
The rest, as they say, is history – but let’s just do a brief recap here.
The eminent Nigerian football administrators of that time, notably the iconic Oyo Orok Oyo, at the end of the war stressed that a team from the erstwhile rebel section must be involved for a true national champion to emerge. The Nigerian Army football team, Lagos Garrison, was the reigning kings that had to be matched up with the team from the East. In the pulsating match the boys from the East defeated the Nigerian Army team 2-1, a clear case of the vanquished turning the table on the victors.
The Rangers team truly lived up to the club’s motto: “From Difficulties To The Heights.”
A key player from the Nigerian Army team, Paul “Wonder Boy” Hamilton, recalled that Olusegun Obasanjo was so enraged when he saw the army team in the office of the team coordinator George Innih that he nearly had them flogged for “losing to those hungry boys”. The eastern boys may have been hungry but they were quite determined such that one of their star forward, Dominic Nwobodo, who had his head broken and bloodied, completed the match with a completely bandaged head that earned him the nickname “Alhaji”.
It was from the ruins of the war that Enugu Rangers was formed in 1970. The team represented Nigeria in the 1971 African Cup of Champion Clubs, reaching the quarter-finals, only to lose to ASEC Mimosas of Cote d’Ivoire.
The pioneer Rangers team of 1970 was made up of Cyril Okosieme in goal, Ernest Ufele and Johnny “Wheeler” Nwosu as full backs, Peter Okeke as defensive midfielder, the skipper Godwin Achebe as central defender with Luke “Jazz Bukana” Okpala as his partner, while the forwards were Mathias Obianika, Kenneh Abana, Dominic Nwobodo, Chukwuma Igweonwu and Shedrack Ajaero.
There was a woman who was stronger than men backing the team in the shape and size of Mrs. Julie Alale, the inimitable “Madam Rangers” whose husband had been executed during the Biafra War.
The Rangers team got to the final of the 1971 National Challenge Cup but lost to WNDC (IICC, 3SC) of Ibadan, with WNDC’s goalie Adisa Amusa saving the penalty of Skipper Achebe.
A major addition to the Rangers team thereafter was the goalkeeper Emmanuel Okala who took over from Cyril Okosieme.
In the spirit of rising from the ruins of the war, the schoolboys of East Central State won the 1971 Manuwa/Adebajo Academicals Cup, and star players from the team such as Godwin Ogbueze, Dominic Ezeani, Kenneth Ilodigwe and Christian Chukwu were immediately drafted into the Rangers team.
Crack centre-half, Dominic Ezeani, who had displaced Skipper Achebe in the gold-winning national team, the Green Eagles, at the 1973 All-Africa Games staged in Lagos equally took over from the legendary Achebe as captain of Rangers and henceforth led the team to winning the double, that is, the League and Challenge Cup, in 1974. The 1974 Challenge Cup final was between Rangers and Mighty Jets of Jos, a team from Head of State Yakubu Gowon’s Plateau State. Aloysius Atuegbu who was playing for Mighty Jets told me that Gowon came to his home and promised to buy him a Volkswagen Beetle car if he could help beat Rangers.
Aloy played like a possessed man. Rangers Skipper Ezeani advised Aloy that he would get injured if he continued playing like mad. In Aloy’s next move, Rangers hard defender Harrison Mecha gave him a wicked tackle such that Aloy was stretchered out for good. Rangers beat Mighty Jets 2-0 and lifted the coveted trophy. No Volkswagen for Aloy!
Rangers won the coveted Challenge Cup three years on the trot, beating Shooting Stars of Ibadan 1-0 in 1975, and Alyufsalam Rocks of Ilorin 2-0 in 1976, a team remarkably made up of ten Ghanaian players and only one Nigerian! Due to fixtures pile-up Rangers had to forego defending the cup in 1977.
Playing too many matches caught up with Rangers in 1978 when after playing tough matches against Canon Sportif of Cameroun in the African Champion Clubs Cup and replaying the Challenge Cup semi-final with Raccah Rovers of Kano, the team eventually succumbed 3-0 to Bendel Insurance of Benin in the final.
Rangers had played some truly memorable matches. One was when the team lost 1-3 to Mehalla of Egypt in the semi-finals of the 1975 Champions Cup only to trounce the Egyptians 3-0 in the return leg played in Enugu. This was after one of the players, US-import Kenneth Ilodigwe, had been sent off by the referee. The match was aptly described as “Mehalla saw wahala in Enugu!” Rangers lost the 1975 African Champions Cup final in Lagos to Hafia FC of Guinea after having waited in vain in Enugu for the match to be played there, only to be ferried to Lagos at the 11th hour. In the match, Rangers’ main thrust of attack, Nwabueze Nwankwo’s long-throws were continuously disallowed by the referee. Rangers lost 3-1 on aggregate.
Rangers won the African Cup-Winners Cup in 1977, beating Canon of Cameroun 5-2 on aggregate, and ending up as the only African team to win a competition without losing a match! The semi-final matches of the competition against the Nigerian reigning champions, IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, nearly caused a tribal war. The first leg was played in Lagos but the second leg had to be re-scheduled for Kaduna where Rangers won through a heart-stopping penalty shootout.
Rangers International of Enugu made the Igbo people to regain their pride of place after the debacle of Biafra. Rangers had no time for fancy, adopting a businesslike approach to winning all matches. Not for them the fanciful midfield play. As their players would readily tell anyone: “There are no goal-posts in the midfield!”
There have been conquests and defeats over the years, but the Rangers spirit of “Never Say Die” remains undaunted. The Team went into a trophy drought from 1982 only to bounce back to win the Nigerian Premier League in 2016.
Enugu Rangers international FC holds the remarkable record of being the only Nigerian football club never to have been relegated.
Chimamanda Adichie’s novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, wins the Silver Jubilee Anniversary Best Novel of Orange Prize. UZOR MAXIM UZOATU waxes lyrical on the win – and the winner.
Let’s start from the end: I have died.
Yes, this daughter of Professor James Adichie has killed me. Call it a beautiful death and I will wake up from the cemetery and take a good beer! And whilst I’m sipping my after-death beer, I can recall that nobody, not even the inimitable Pa James, named her Chimamanda.
She invented the name all by herself, and the name has taken wing: flying from Abba to Zanzibar, via America past Russia, beyond Antarctica and Greenland, to down under Australia by way of New Zealand, and up the winds of Milliken Hill above Mount Everest.
Before I run short of verbs, adverbs and proverbs, let me depose here that Chimamanda towers beyond towers as a daughter of the universe and the doyenne of world literature.
Her name is magic.
There is this friend of mine whose wife had gone into menopause about a decade or so ago, but my man is disturbing the old lady, insisting that they should “try again” in the bid to beget a female child that they would name Chimamanda, and thus wise conquer the world!
If you think I invented the story, let me confess here that I am not like Chimamanda nwa James who invents stories.
I have just heard with my kepu-kepu ears that one of the stories invented by Chimamanda called Half of a Yellow Sun has been voted the best book to have won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in its 25-year history.
A question has just popped up inside my medulla oblongata: How old is this Chimammanda that she can be declared the winner of winners in a prize that has lasted all of 25 years? Since I am worse than useless in arithmetic, I will not do the needed addition and subtraction in order not to disgrace my old self.
It just suffices to learn that Chimamanda, who won the Orange Prize in 2007, was chosen in a public vote from a list of all 25 past winners that included such distinguished writers as Zadie Smith, the late Andrea Levy, Lionel Shriver, Rose Tremain and Maggie O’Farrell.
For you to understand my wonderment at the achievement, you need to know that one of the British novelists beaten by Chimamanda for the award, Rose Tremain, had published a novel, Sadler’s Birthday, in 1976 before nwa James was born in 1977!
Let’s drink a toast to the one-off award as Chimamanda received a silver edition of the prize’s annual statuette known as the Bessie. It is little wonder then that James the Father calls her daughter “Omeifeukwu”, which translates to, “Doer of great things.”
The global voice of this day and age, Chimamanda bestrides literature and politics, whence her command the other time that Hillary Rodham Clinton must not put her role as “wife” over all her intimidating achievements. Of course Mrs. Clinton promptly readjusted her Twitter handle in obedience to Chimamanda nwa James! This way, Chimamanda is the real “she who must be obeyed”, not H. Rider Haggard’s malevolent invention!
It’s worth remembering that when Chimamanda burst out of the starting block with her first novel Purple Hibiscus in 2003, not a few cynics cited the cliché “flash in the pan”. Then her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun in 2006 shook up the earth especially as the venerable Chinua Achebe put forward this immortal endorsement: “She is fearless, or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made.”
The Washington Post Book World dubbed Chimamanda as “the 21st century daughter of that other great Igbo novelist, Chinua Achebe.” Now when the daughter of the genius statistician James Adichie goes double as the daughter of the genius novelist Chinua Achebe, what you see is what you get, as we do say in the hood.
Winning of esteemed literary prizes has become second nature for Chimamanda whose third novel Americanah, released in 2013, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in the United States.
A pillar of committed womanhood, she courageously echoes the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai: “The higher you go, the fewer women there are.” Chimamanda nwa James takes no prisoners thusly: “The truth is that I have not kept my name because I am successful. Had I not had the good fortune to be published and widely read, I would still have kept my name. I have kept my name because it is my name. I have kept my name because I like my name.”
As I am looking for the right words to end this piece, what strikes me is this quote from Half of a Yellow Sun: “The World Was Silent When We Died.” As per Chimamanda nwa James, there is no end, for as Ralph Ellison penned in Invisible Man, “The end was in the beginning and lies far ahead.”