By Olubunmi Olowu-Adekoya
On Wednesday, August 7, 2019, I took time off to continue my research on a publication that I was working on for my former office, the Lagos State Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget, where I served as the Director, Public Affairs. The publication, a ‘Collection of Budget Speeches in Lagos State (1968-2019)’, was a milestone in the State.
In the course of the project, it was discovered that the speech read by the first governor of the State, Mobolaji Johnson (1975/1976) was missing and so was that of Commodore Ndubuisi Kanu (1978).
Having gotten the phone numbers of the two former governors, I was caught between either calling or sending them a text message. After much contemplation, I made up my mind to put a call through, first to Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu. I called the late Admiral’s number twice, but it rang severally without a response.
However, a few minutes after, I received a message which simply said: ‘Text’. I responded immediately by introducing myself and what my mission was and how I will be grateful if I could have the opportunity to have an audience with him over the assignment. To be honest, after sending the message, I was not really expecting a response. Not because I thought the man won’t be civil enough to offer one, but because, having worked with the government for 35 years, I understand how tight the daily schedule of such personalities could be.
To my surprise, however, he called me back that night with another number which I didn’t recognize, not even with Truecaller. Fortunately, I picked the call.
Then came his voice: ‘Hello, this is Ndubuisi Kanu, is this….’
Wow! I was blown away. I was filled with both excitement and anxiety. Excitement because I was delighted that such a busy personality could still find time to call me back. Anxiety because I was not sure what his response to my request was going to be.
It took my husband’s body language and funny gestures to finally spur me on, while I received the call. We had a lengthy discussion and he invited me over to his place the following day. He not only gave me his address, he also gave a careful description of how to get there. Just like that? I could not believe my luck.
I went to see him the following day as agreed. When I got to his place, I expected his security details to put me through the usual rigorous checks associated with such high profile persons, but that never happened. I was simply told to go inside that my host had already seen me. His home was very welcoming. It has such an imposing ambiance.
At the end of our meeting, after going through the voluminous draft copy that I took with me, he showed a lot of interest and convincingly told me that he, indeed, made a budget speech for that year (1978), but he was not sure if he had any copy. He was surprised that it was not documented or archived and he promised to get back to me, saying that he needed to go through his records and make some calls.
I thanked him very much for inviting me and offering his assistance. How kind and thoughtful of him. It was awesome, the meeting, the reception, his receptiveness and words of encouragement. It is Matshona Dhliwayo that said “Humility makes one teachable; gentleness makes one peaceable”.
Oh! He was such a gentleman to the core, very humble. However, have you ever had such a feeling that when something goes too perfectly well and unexpected you have to thread carefully. I had that kind of predisposition, I felt some bugs moving in my stomach after I left his place. It was too good to be true.
After a while, I got a break when searches in Libraries in London changed the scenario. In spite of the fact that the searches came back classified as missing for the two speeches, there were Newspaper publications that showed that the speeches for the two Administrators were actually aired. Full of excitement and armed with the scanned copies of the reported stories in the Nigerian Daily Times Newspaper of the respective years, I prompted him with a message about the findings and sought to know how far with his search.
To my surprise again he responded thus:
“Hello Madam, Greetings and a Good Day, albeit now tending Nightfall. I’ve been pretty busy on this and that, hence couldn’t revert earlier. Whenever your programme permits, do give a tinkle, and I’ll confirm your coming over to give me the available papers. In the meantime, I’m still going through some archival records; dust and all, long long time!!! Let’s see how it goes. God bless”.
After this meeting and discussion, the rest was history. He was there with me every step of the way, called from time to time to find out about the progress made and how everything was coming up. Sincerely, I was really impressed and encouraged. Since he was also not able to produce his own original copy, we ended up using the Newspaper photocopy, with a promise to keep on searching for inclusion in subsequent publications.
When the publication was concluded and published, he along with other past Governors or their families were presented with their personal copies. He was pleased with the final outcome and I couldn’t have been happier. We kept in touch even after. I remembered when I told him about my retirement from service, he chided me and said I was looking too young to retire and we both laughed about it, but nonetheless, he still counseled me on life after retirement.
Another time I called to find out how he was coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, advising him to avoid social/official functions as well as foreign travels. He assured me that he was being extremely careful and wanted me to be also.
Perhaps, one thing I admired most and probably will never forget about him was his simplicity. He lived a life devoid of all the paraphernalia of office as a former two time Military Administrator of Lagos and Imo States. He made himself available and accessible to me. He was a good listener, very soft spoken, always cheerful and funny. He was always willing to talk. So, before calling to ask about his well-being, I had to ensure that I have sufficient credit on my phone because when he starts you can’t stop him!
He had his views and opinions about the future of our dear nation, but that has now died with him. “O Death, where is thy sting? I hope he was able to document some of his lofty ideas because to me he has gone too soon.
We have lost a God fearing, humble and pragmatic leader. He was a patriot and democrat who fought for the enthronement of democracy in our country.
He shall be sorely missed. Adieu, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu! Continue to rest in the bosom of your creator.
-Olowu-Adekoya, a retired, public servant, wrote in from Lekki, Lagos.