BY ONYEKACHI ONU
I cannot claim to know Senator Ike Ekweremadu for ages, but I certainly have a glimpse of his personality. I knew little about him before 2017, except that he was one of the three senators representing my state, Enugu, at the national assembly. In Nigeria, the distance between our leaders and us is far apart. So, I hardly knew much about the senator representing my senatorial district (Enugu east) at the time, lest picking interest in those representing other zones. But encountering Ekweremadu changed my perception of some of our leaders.
As the son of a poor widow, I strived with my mother (now late) to see the four walls of a university. She was determined to sacrifice all she had to see her son through the university to fulfil one of the promises she made to her late husband. I was a student at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) and we all know how expensive (to the poor) state universities can be in Nigeria. But together, we were able to push it from 100 level to 400 level. But it was at this point that we reached our elastic limit. Yet I had one more year to complete my B.Eng. in Metallurgical and Material Engineering.
Luckily, after lectures one very good day, a student brought an advertisement for scholarship/bursary offers by the senator representing his district. The senator happened to be Ekweremadu. I received the news with mixed feelings and just skipped clicking the action button. But in the evening of that same day, a friend visited me at the hostel and still brought up the previous discussion. He knew the difficulties I had always faced paying my fees.
I was reluctant about it all basically because I felt it was one of those political gimmicks. But my friend encouraged me, assuring me that it was an annual programme that students in Enugu west senatorial zone and two other local governments had been enjoying for as long as he could remember. He explained that the annual scholarship and bursary programme had been expanded to accommodate the whole state. The qualifications were indigence and proof of academic excellence. I later applied and underwent the interview. To the glory of God, I was one of the beneficiaries of the Ikeoha Foundation Bursary Award 2016/2017. Mom shed tears of joy, relieved because it actually came at the point I was just about dropping out of school. It was a miracle, more so since I was not even from Ekweremadu’s senatorial zone.
On the day of the presentation of the scholarship and bursary awards, there were many beneficiaries, including persons with disabilities, while a good number of the beneficiaries of the Ikeoha Adult Literacy Programme graduated, having bagged their first school leaving certificate.
To motivate us, Ekweremadu reminded us that education was an equaliser. Drawing from Nelson Mandela, he said it was through education that the child of farmworkers could become the president of a great nation. I saw a man so passionate about lifting others and seeing them manifest their best.
Personally, I am of the school of thought that human capital development is one of the greatest empowerments you can give to anyone in life. Seeing such qualities emanating from him changed my perception of some of our leaders. To think that I was just one of the over 4,000 that have benefitted from the bursary awards, not even among the over 100 indigent students that have benefitted from full scholarships or among the thousands that have benefitted from the Ikeoha Medical Mission, etc., always makes me imagine how profoundly he has quietly touched many lives.
Ironically, today, the same Ekweremadu is on the cross with his own daughter fighting for dear life. I am not yet a father, but I know an average African would prefer to be buried by his or her children and not the other way round. So, the fate that has befallen Ekweremadu and the wife in trying to help a daughter survive breaks the heart. But such is life.
Although a clearer picture of Ekweremadu’s present predicament is beginning to emerge and has substantially changed the public perception and the narrative, so much has indeed been written and said, as an angry nation poured their justified indignations towards a successively failed political class on Ekweremadu, who they see as a symbol of that class. Ironically, many of those venting their anger have never been to Ekweremadu’s constituency to see how much he has tried to transform it, even as a lawmaker. Although I am from the east zone, it took his intervention to wipe away age-long hardships caused by unmotorable roads in my part of Nkanu east.
Those who want us to believe that the Ekweremadus couldn’t have been caught in the present predicament if he had built modern hospitals in his constituency forget that it is not the duty of a lawmaker to build hospitals. They can only propose bills to that effect. But how many bills for the establishment of all manner of health facilities passed by the national assembly as frequently reported by the media have been assented to or implemented by successive presidents? How well are the budgets passed by lawmakers for existing hospitals funded or implemented by the executive arm? We cannot afford not to blame the political class, but each piece of it should be placed at the appropriate doorstep.
Besides, after all is said and done, as Christ queried the Pharisees, who tried to indict him for healing a man on a Sabbath: “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”
Meanwhile, John 9: 1-34 also records how the Pharisees wanted a man born blind, but healed by Christ on a Sabbath, to declare that Christ was not of God. The man replied to them, saying, “Whether He is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Dear Senator Ekweremadu, while you and your wife have your days in court and while everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, I can unequivocally state that you are kind-hearted, a philanthropist, protector of the downtrodden, lover of education, a selfless personality, and a loving father. Sir, I am a beneficiary of your valuable impact. And just as you advised us back then, I have carried on in the same spirit to the few I presently pay their school fees.
Ikeoha, whatever life brings your way – good or bad – just remember that you once saved a drowning young man you never knew and he is forever grateful and will always paint your true picture to the world. Like the squirrel, you have buried many nuts and have since forgotten, but these nuts have given birth to many palm trees today and our hearts and prayers are with you and your family in these trying times. May the compassion you have shown to others locate you.
Onu writes from Abuja