Vin And I

This is a personal tribute to my departed cousin and friend, HRM Eze Professor Chukwuemeka Vincent Ike, OFR, NNOM, Ugwu Aro, Eze Ikelionwu 11, who departed this earth on 9th January, 2020, and was laid to rest on 11th April, 2020.

I have always known him as Vin and first met him in December, 1956, when I came home on holidays to Ndikelionwu on completion of my Secondary Form 111 in St Paul’s Secondary School, Zaria. The tall, slim, man was busy organising the Ndikelionwu Students Association. I joined the Association and when I went back to Zaria Laud Okoli kept me informed of the Association’s activities including planning to build a tennis court.

By December, 1959, when I came home again after completing Secondary School Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, a relative of my mother from the Ikelionwu family, was still busy on the Association. I was astonished, thinking, how can he, not just a graduate but a man holding on to a prestige job of an Assistant Registrar in his alma mater, the famous University of Ibadan, be messing around with juniors? That showed how much in awe I was of anybody who was already a University graduate. He led us on a visit to Umuochu, one of our villages miles away from the centre and then a picnic to Odo river. This was, on the face of it, not much of a river. You would see a large expanse of shiny sand as far as the eyes could see and a small stream in the middle but each rainy season it caused a lot of damage further along, flooding farms and changing course at will. Under Chukwuemeka Ike’s leadership we even held a dance to which dignitaries were invited in December 1961 at the Mbonu Memorial Hall (Ogbiti). As I was going back to the North I was very happy when he gave me his address and encouraged me to write to him.

I got back to the North and lived in Kaduna with Mr Okeke-Ifi from Ndiowu in the Railway quarters and later with another cousin, Andrew Ike, a transporter. I wrote to Vin. I was pleasantly surprised when he replied asking what my plans were now that I had completed Secondary School. My simple answer was that I was looking for a job. When my school certificate results came out and I had done very well he wrote congratulating me. He said he would be most unhappy for me to end up as a third class clerk. For me all I wanted was to find a job and wrote many applications. The cream job then for people like me was to be a newscaster for the Broadcasting Corporation. He wrote again this time forwarding the application forms for admission into the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Enugu. He advised me to apply to study Estate Management or Accountancy but emphasised Estate Management. Even though I did not know what the course was all about I applied and got an admission. He undertook to pay one third of my fees if I could get other people to pay the balance.

My two years ordeal in the Nigerian College/University of Nigeria is chronicled in two earlier posts Flash Back – Fools Rush In and Flash Back – London, Here I Come. Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike fulfilled his promise until I got an Eastern Nigeria Government scholarship.

During the nine years I stayed in London and, later, Tanzania contact with Vin was minimal and the fault was entirely mine. When I came back I joined Knight Frank & Rutley (Nigeria), now simply Knight Frank. He was then the Registrar of the West African Examinations Council. In the mid 1970s I got interested in Ndikelionwu Town Union affairs and very soon the Age Grade system was introduced and in 1980 I was elected the chairman of Oganiru Age Grade and my position brought in the intelligentsia who were previously lukewarm towards the Age Grade. Members were those born between 1930 and 1939. Chukwuemeka Ike, born in 1931 and at that time a Professor in the University of Jos and living in Bauchi, was a member.

Not long after I became the chairman I sold the Age Grade the idea of building a Secondary School for the town. Yes, everybody was excited but the catch was the herculean task of finding the money. We organised a launching and I, based in Lagos, was able to attract meaningful donations. Other members chipped in what they had in addition to the minimal levy each had to pay. Soon we had enough that emboldened us to look for the land. Our then Traditional Ruler, Reverend Wilfred Mbonu, gave us some land and a prominent family in Umudim Village contributed the rest. Gilbert Mbonu arranged the land survey. But we needed approval from the East Central State Government for the school. So we sent our member, Christopher Kanu, to Bauchi to our most prominent member, Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, to use his influence to get approval from the Government. He did and we began the construction of the first classroom block of our Community Secondary School in 1981.

I started reading novels when I was in Primary Standard Six when I saw a classmate, Emmanuel Spencer, reading an American magazine of short detective stories by Erle Stanley Gardner. When I read it I was so enthralled that I began reading any novel I could find from libraries and from friends. But they had to be thrillers and suspense stories like those by Edgar Wallace, H. Rider Haggard, Seamark and so on. By the time I left Secondary School I had decided that I must be a novelist of suspense stories.

It was not until 1983 when I was holidaying in London that I went into Foyles Bookshop and saw a book, Teach Yourself To Write. I bought it. After reading it I began writing as best as I could. I must have written up to three hundred pages over the next three years. I gave the manuscript to an academic close to me to review. After two months the manuscript came back to me without a comment. I only assumed that it was a load of rubbish to him. Then I went to the University of Lagos and gave it to Professor E. J. Vincent. He kept it for a month and when I went to him all he said was that it was a good attempt. Then I gave it to Professor Chukwuemeka Ike. When I got it back he had written seven pages of criticism! He had actually read it. I was so happy. I followed his criticism, rewrote the book and sent it to Longman Nigeria. They reviewed and accepted it and the book, Devils Playground, was published by them in 1989. If Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike had not taken the trouble to read my manuscript I would have been so frustrated that I may have given up the idea of being a novelist.

In 1992 Professor Chukwuemeka Ike and his wife, Bimpe, decided to go and live in Ndikelionwu, a brave thing to do at that time. That same year I launched my second novel, Dance Of The Vultures, at the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Victoria Island. Professor Chukwuemeka Ike and his wife, Bimpe, drove all the way to Lagos to be at the event. He brought along Ezenwa Ohaeto to review the book. That same December I threw a welcome home party for him and his wife in my compound in Ndikelionwu. The town’s dignitaries attended and so did some prominent members of Orumba Forum, a Club of which I was a member.

Because of my closeness to him he was interested in the well being of my family and did his best to mediate when there were problems. Furthermore we were usually on the same page in the politics of our town. He had formed The Group, a think tank of about a dozen like minded and enlightened citizens who gathered once in a while to discuss matters to improve the town. When the police came to my house one Easter in the late eighties to arrest me on the instructions of our then Traditional Ruler, successor to Reverend Canon Wilfred Mbonu, who had written to them that I was the leader of a gang of fraudsters following my activities organising a launching for the Lagos Branch of our Town Union to build another classroom block for our Community Secondary School which had now been running for years. I sent a message to Chukwuemeka Ike and he followed me to Ajalli Police station and bailed me! That spurious case came to nothing.

When our Traditional Ruler passed on in 2005 there was the need to install another one. According to our tradition the Ezeship resides in the Ikelionwu family. Even though Professor Chukwuemeka Ike was head and shoulders above every other possible candidate he did not seem interested. I had to join in appealing to him. In the end he accepted and was crowned Eze Ikelionwu 11 on 18th October, 2008, and I was proud to be the chairman of the committee that organised his coronation. Later he saw fit to make me a member of his Cabinet despite the fact that I live in Lagos and could not attend meetings often. In 2016 I was one of the nine citizens on whom he conferred the title, Ugwu Ndikelionwu, meaning, the pride of Ndikelionwu, the highest title one could be conferred with in the town. This was to recognise those who had done much for the town in the past. In 2018 I was also the chairman of the committee that organised his 10th Anniversary celebration.

Vin remained very supportive of me and was interested in any function or activity that I put my heart to. He attended the palm wine carrying ceremonies in Agukwu-Nri in 2003 for Emeka, my first son, and in 2017 in Adazi for my third son, Ozo. During the last few years of his life Ndikelionwu citizens got the false idea that if anybody wanted anything from our Eze he should go through Peter Nwankwo, me! But they did not realise that our Eze had firm ideas and beliefs and nobody would make him do what he did not want to do. He did not tolerate anything that would soil his name including crooks, rascals, and anybody he thought was a fraudster. He did not accept free money especially the sort politicians dish out to Traditional Rulers. There was a story that when a Traditional Ruler from a neighbouring town brought his share of largesse from a pool of money given to them at a meeting with a politician which he could not attend he told him to take the money back to the person who brought it. He was deeply religious and did everything he could to advance Christian beliefs. It was this devotion to The Almighty that helped him and his wife Ugoeze Bimpe to get through the ordeal and pain of the loss of their only son, Osita, in 2016. Obviously it was a major setback but their complete belief in the will of God saw them through.

Vin remained a workaholic to the end. He hardly had time for himself. He found it necessary to attend all sorts of meetings virtually on a daily basis – Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council of which he was Vice Chairman, Orumba North Traditional Rulers Council, Anambra Elders Council, meetings summoned by the Governor, attending to his pet project in Awka, The Nigerian Book Foundation, performing his duties as our Traditional Ruler to name a few and still making time to shuttle to and from Lagos for medical attention at the Eye Foundation for his eyes problem which troubled him a lot in the last few years of his life. At a stage he could no longer read, a sad thing for a writer.

On the issue of Vin not having any time for himself I had occasions to appeal to Ugoeze Bimpe, his wife, to persuade him to drop some of these meetings or at least to reduce his attendance. Her reply was that if you stop him doing what he liked doing and what he had got used to you might open up some unpleasant circumstances. But I know he regretted not having the time to do some of the things he wanted to do including writing another novel and, in particular, his biography. I advised him that to do those things he must make time by dropping some of the meetings and calls he responded to including doing his work as our Traditional Ruler. He needed more time for himself. Regrettably he kept to his schedule till the end.

I saw him last on 24th December, 2019. Those of us, members of Ugwu Ndikelionwu, had heard that he was indisposed and decided to send representatives to see him. Dr Obinani Okoli and I arrived his house about noon on that fateful day and he was already in the car on his way to the Teaching Hospital. He was barely able to talk to me.

The intention of this write up is to record how Vin influenced my life and not about his achievements which would require a whole book if one were to do him justice. He was simply an achiever. As an administrator he began by being an Administrative Assistant and then Assistant Registrar of Nigeria’s first University, the University of Ibadan. From there he became Deputy Registrar and then Registrar of the University of Nigeria. At the end of the Nigerian Civil War he was appointed Chairman of the Council that resuscitated the University of Nigeria. Thereafter he became the Registrar of the West African Examinations Council. He was Pro Chancellor of the University of Benin and later Pro Chancellor of Anambra State University of Science and technology.

As a teacher he taught at a primary school in Amichi and then at a girls secondary school in Nkwerre. Years later he was a Professor in the University of Jos.

As a novelist his first, Toads For Supper, was published in 1956 and there followed eleven others. He also wrote four non fiction books including How To Become A Published Writer. He won so many accolades including National Honours, Order Of The Federal Republic and Nigerian National Order of Merit. He also won several international awards from Unesco, University of Iowa, Ford Foundation and so many others.

As I said before, to do him justice would take a whole book and what I have written above just touches some of his numerous achievements. Vin has touched so many lives not just where he actually worked but through his writing. His books will endure and continue touching lives. He was simply an influencer, a moulder of character, a motivator. He was a good man, a giant, an iroko and an icon.

To complete this write up without mentioning his wife, Ugoeze Professor Adebimpe Ike would not be right because behind and beside every successful man is a woman. Yes without her encouragement he may not have been able to do many of the things he did. She allowed him to support me at a crucial time in my life. If she had not encouraged him he may not have. So I owe her a debt of gratitude. And so do all those millions who have read his books or whom he has influenced positively one way or the other. A creative man needs peace of mind and she obviously gave him that. She herself is an achiever, a Professor of Library Sciences. May The Almighty give her the fortitude to continue bearing the loss. And may his soul rest in perfect peace.

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