By Ademola Adegbamigbe
Approaching the Enugu home of Professor Humphrey Nwosu, former czar of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), who presided over the 12 June 1993 election that was annulled by the military president, Ibrahim Babaginda, one could not but be curious. It was the same anticipation exhibited by many young men when Nelson Mandela, the immediate past South African leader, was about to be released from the apartheid jail after 27 years. How would Mandela look? What a lot of young Africans were used to were photographs of the anti-apartheid fighter, with chubby cheeks, parted hair, infectious smile and the occasional cigarette dangling between his lips. It was a sharp contrast to the man who walked out of prison with a halo of grey.
Nwosu was, unlike Mandela, not in the slammer, but he kept himself out of public glare and rarely granted media interviews or delivered public speeches for years after the election he presided over was cancelled. How would the professor of political science look? Had he grown fatter or older? Had he jettisoned his penchant for theatrics, a usual feature on television where, as NEC Boss, he trenchantly explained his commission’s policies?
Mr Kunle Ajibade, Executive Editor, leader of our interview team had, a day earlier, booked an appointment with Nwosu and we were naturally excited at the opportunity to speak with the former NEC boss. As the the group alighted from their vehicle, a gardener materialized between the building’s black gate that was crying for a fresh coat of paint. That gate actually shielded the neatness, fine architecture and horticulture of Nwosu’s compound. Outside, a palm tree swayed over a row of flowers, a portion of carpet grass, a bough of an orange tree that rests from inside the fence and a metal plate warning intruders: “Danger! Wires Electrified.” The American barbed wires in their big spirals rested on the perimeter wall seemingly harmless but dangerous.
The gardener collected Ajibade’s complimentary card and disappeared inside. About three minutes later, the gate eased open and the man ushered in the team. The guests walked past a small roundabout where the roots of a mango tree had cracked the asphalted forecourt. In the distance is another palm tree, swaying over the sea of grass, an almost stunted orange tree and creepers. To the left is a bungalow with a surfeit of burnt brick decoration and an extended garage where a flat boot Mercedes car was parked. In the front of this small house, the first structure on the big compound built by Nwosu, there is a row of what looks like a car park with locked red metal doors. To the right is the big house where Nwosu holds court; a combination of four burnt brick-decorated structures, the chief of which is a semi circular architectural piece, with a red conical roof, facing the main (compound) road.
We were soon ushered into a large living room with three sets of sitting areas. The first was a set of grey settees-four single and one triple. On the low brown centre table was a pink synthetic flower and miniature porcelain images of angels, and the Virgin Mary. On the wall was an oil-on canvass portrait of a boy carrying a kid on his back. The second sitting arena was elevated and decorated with imported deep grey rococo furniture over which was a giant chandelier. A standing fan, a black television set, busts of historical figures and another wooden carving of a man whose hands are behind his back, complement this part of the big hall.
Then a “cot-cot” sound approached from the staircase. A man dressed in green guinea brocade and a black Mahatma Gandhi cap walked past the dining area where a set of six rococo chairs was arranged beside a long table. “Who is Kunle Ajibade?” the man asked as he pumped the hands of his guests. With his average height, stature, deep accent and broad smile that could light up a dark tunnel, Professor Nwosu has not changed much over the years. “I attribute my youthfulness to the fact that I have a happy marriage, “Nwosu later told the journalists. He led his guest to the third sitting area, about three steps below the first, second and the dinning, separated with black metal works. It was here that Nwosu fielded questions on his tenure as NEC chairman and the elections he presided over, which culminated in the presidential one which was annulled by IBB.
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