THIRTEEN years ago, Amedu contributed a chapter to a book of tributes on me, when I turned 50. He recalled that we first met in April 1973 in Ugbokolo, when both of us came for interview for admission to Mount Saint Michael Secondary School, Aliade.
Our second meeting was inside a bus from Otukpo heading to Aliade in September 1973 when, as successful students in the earlier interview, we went to resume as first year students in Aliade. He also recounted that fate again threw us into the same class – IB when upon reaching the school, we were registered into the two available classes A and B.
Writing this difficult eulogy in April 2023 – 50 years after our eventful first encounter as thirteen-year-olds, it is with the benefit of hindsight as if it was preordained that our lives will crisscross each other and become lifelong friends and associates.
From our first year through our final year, though he was among the youngest in the class and in our set, it was clear to all of us that he was one of the most focused and studious students among us. It was therefore not surprising that he was among the star students that made division one in our West African School Certificate Exams at the end of June 1978. Some of us believed that he was disappointed with himself that he didn’t make distinction in the WAEC examination.
However, five years later, he made sure no one was going to deny him the exhibition of his God-given intellect. At the Institute of Administration in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, our Alex came out with First Class Honours’ degree in Business Administration upon graduation in June 1983. He got automatic teaching appointment immediately after National Youth Service in the faculty on the basis of his outstanding academic achievement.
After some five or so years of teaching in ABU and getting a Masters’ degree, Alexander opted to move his carrier to the private sector. He took up appointment as a stockbroker with Caribbean Finance Ltd in Lagos. He later moved to NAL Merchant Bank. His path and that of Dr. Shamsudeen crossed while working at NAL Merchant Bank. In 1999, while Dr. Shamsudeen was moving to Abuja to take up the position as Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), he convinced Alexander to follow him to the CBN, where he was appointed Assistant Director.
We will come back to the CBN in a moment, but I will presently turn back to his coming to work in Lagos. In Amedu’s piece on my turning 50, which I made reference to at the beginning, he stated that he came to live with me in our Isolo flat that I was sharing with two of my colleagues. For the five or so months he stayed with us, Alexander had this to say:
“In John’s place at Isolo Lagos were other vibrant Labour officers who were sharing the three-bedroom apartment together. These people included Comrade Emma Ezeazu; Chris Uyot, Chom Bagu and the late Chima Ubani and some others that I cannot recollect their names now. I learnt first-hand the way and manner labour issues were being articulated by these young brains. It was always one prolonged debate on national issues after the other.
“Of course, coming from the private sector saw me on the other side of the argument. The debates were robust, devoid of any personal animosity. I am saying this because, despite the fact that I was “squatting” with John, my liberty to express myself the way I wanted was not curtailed. In some debates, I would argue vehemently against the position being canvassed by these labour officers and John, in his usual cool manner, would speak to me in Idoma language to cool down. These debates mostly on Friday and Saturday nights usually went far into the early hours of the morning, but we enjoyed them.”
Back to the CBN; moving to work there entailed relocating from the hustle that was Lagos life to more humane and serene work environment that Abuja provided. The NLC headquarters, around this time when I was appointed General Secretary, also moved from Yaba-Lagos to the Central Business District almost overlooking, the imposing CBN building in the same location in Abuja.
Amedu loved his work in the CBN and when Dr. Shamsudeen left to become Minister of National Planning, he resisted the temptation to follow him. During Prof. Charles Soludo’s governorship of the CBN, when promotions were by competitive written interviews, and when they happened as and when due, if you proved worthy, this era was perhaps Amedu’s best period in the Bank. He got promoted to Deputy Director and had important responsibilities in the Bank. When the baton of leadership changed hands and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi became governor of CBN, a number of things also changed. The reign of meritocracy gave way to other criteria and considerations. This was an unhappy period for Amedu and even after Lamido was removed by the Jonathan government, he held him responsible for disrupting the way things were done in the “good old days” of the bank.
Amedu was deeply unhappy that people who were subordinates were made directors over more competent hands. He couldn’t understand why some of them stagnated in their position for upwards of ten years or more. To calm him down, I used to remind him that he didn’t have to prove himself to anyone having made first class over three decades ago (now four decades), when you had to earn it. And not making the directorate grade on retirement isn’t a big deal if one looked at the other favours God, in His infinite mercies, granted us in our lives.
Amedu’s father, Chief Amedu Agbara, was one of the longest-serving district heads in idomaland. Amedu followed his father’s footstep as a Prince of Owukpa and contributed his quota to the development of Owukpa land. As a development finance technocrat, he knew more than many that putting the hotel he built in Owukpa in an urban setting like Otukpo, Makurdi or even Abuja would earn him more turnover in patronage and profits. However, the desire to provide such an infrastructure for his community overrode consideration for profit.
Alexander loved our common heritage of coming from one of the most renowned Catholic secondary schools in the entire Middle Belt. Our Mount Saint Michael, Aliade, which turned 70 years last February was established in February 1953 to produce manpower and human resources for the colonial government and to train young Nigerians for the task and responsibilities of independence. At the level of Idoma land, most of the emerging elites in all the 22 districts either went through MSM Aliade or had their bid to enter the school frustrated because of limited space and the competition to gain entrance.
The school, in its 70 years, had produced Emeritus John Cardinal Oniayekan, many bishops, produced a former Chief Justice of Nigeria in Justice Katsina Alu, ministers, senators and national party chairmen like Chief Audu Ogbeh, amongst other prominent public figures.
Amedu, in his life time, was in the forefront of keeping the flag of Mount Saint Michael’s flying. His high standard in requesting accountability by people given public trust sometimes make him to be at odds with some in the leadership of our alma mater. He was however very active in the affairs of the 1973-78 set, where he led the Abuja branch of the inner Heroes for many years. He ensured we provided for our set members in need and either in good times like marriages or bad times like death of a member or his close relations, we will always be there to share in the joy and sorrows. Alexander played his part as one of our mates that the Almighty made successful amongst us.
Our friend was also a happy family man. As the son of a district head, he came from a large clan of the Amedu Agbara children. This placed responsibility of catering for not just his immediate family and siblings, but ensuring that his half brothers and sisters’ children also come under his wing.
Father to six children himself, he ensured that they all had the best education they could have as our own experiences showed that the only way we could advance and have upward social mobility from our rural backwaters was through Western education. Alexander achieved what we all as fathers strove to achieve when his first child, Oyanu gave him a grandchild, whom he again named Oyanu after his mother, the late Mrs Elizabeth Oyanu Agbara.
Amedu left behind a lovely nuclear family of Mrs Ann Ahmedu, herself a banker; the other children, apart from Oyanu, are Agaba, Uji-Ona, Atama, Abah and the baby of the family Ene. You, the children, represent the greatest legacy that your beloved father has bequeathed to us.
Oyi, as you begin your journey home to meet your ancestors and your creator, go in peace, you have genuinely played your part.
Comrade John E. Odah, former General Secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress and currently, Executive Secretary of the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA). The late Mr Amedu was buried this weekend in his hometown, Owukpa, Ogbadibo LGA of Benue State.