It was one death that sucked the juice of life out of me. Chief Joseph Ekemezie Ifedobi, famously known as “Okosisi Akpo” and “Ijikara”, should not have belonged in the same life with death. His endearing ebullience and very pleasant boisterousness gave so much meaning to the lives around him. Devastation came with the news that the amiable great man had passed away on August 20, 2019. Born on October 1, 1944, he died at 76 which ought to be an achievement in dire Nigeria.
Ifedobi was buried in the compound of his modest one-storey country home at Uhuala village in Akpo town, Aguata LGA, Anambra State on Friday, October 18. I was a silent observer to the obsequies, not wanting to share my grief with the dignitaries and the throng of masses milling around.
Ifedobi packed many lifetimes into his sojourn on God’s earth. He had to fend for himself from early in life, working as a truck-pusher, waste-disposer and bus conductor. He in time gravitated to the management of musicians, notably the great philosophical minstrel Celestine Ukwu. He only had the benefit of formal primary school education, but he had an undying love for knowledge such that he remarkably passed his school certificate exams by studying under the security light at Onitsha post office!
It is indeed a wonder that a man with the lowly grooming in formal education turned out to become a walking human encyclopedia. I used to say to boon companions that one did not need Google once one was in the company of Chief Joe Ifedobi whom I referred to as “a strategic source.”
He could recall in great detail even events that happened when he was an infant. He was an authority on Nigerian history and politics such that he had top political associates from the East, West, South and North of the country as friends and associates.
Before the war, he lived up north and became quite fluent in Hausa. He built up a trade in transportation and moved to Ibadan in the tough days of the Western regional crisis where he knew titans such as Chief Remi Fani-Kayode and Lamidi Adedibu up close.
The Biafra war perforce led him back to his eastern homeland, but immediately after the war he ventured northwards to Potiskum as arguably the first Igbo man to live in the North, post-Biafra. A multi-talented survivor, he became a repair technician of a casino firm owned by Britons. When the casino business was banned by the Nigerian government in 1977 he turned his immense skills into the importation trade.
His home in Surulere, Lagos was home for all. Anybody who needed accommodation was offered one free-of-charge. He fed so many and paid the fees of all the needy ones.
He bought and read every newspaper and journal available and knew all journalists by reputation. He could always refer to articles I had written but had forgotten. He would forever cite my breaking the news of Nigeria’s controversial entry into the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1986, and saluted my courage for daring all dangers to do the magazine cover story of the exit of his good friend Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe as the second-in-command to General Ibrahim Babangida.
Ifedobi’s selflessness knew no bounds as he followed the charge of Chief Arthur Mbanefo (Odu III of Onitsha) to address all the 177 Anambra State town unions in Lagos to forge a bond of unity. I served with Ifedobi alongside Prof Laz Ekwueme, before he became Igwe of Oko, in a landmark fund-raising ceremony for the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, at the National Theatre, Iganmu in which the desert conqueror Chief Newton Jibunoh of Costain West Africa served as the chief launcher.
There was a day I told him Chief Ifedobi I had arranged to interview the then Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju of Anambra State through the Chief Press Secretary, Oddy Chukwube, who was a bosom friend of mine. Chief Ifedobi simply picked up his phone and called Governor Mbadinuju thusly: “Odera, be prepared, I am sending over my man Uzor Maxim to talk with you.” That’s the man called “Ijikara” for you!
He would take me to a home-like restaurant in the Ikate area of Surulere, Lagos, just behind Kilo Hotel and insist we eat out of the same plate, especially the head and legs of chicken which habitués had labeled “particulars” but which he called “gegejis”!
A devout Catholic, he got married to his beloved Roseline in 1971, and the marriage was blessed with six children, save one who predeceased him. His first son, Ikenna, a petroleum expert in the United States, always sent articles to me to be published in Nigerian newspapers. A lion never begets a lamb!
A part of me is gone with Chief Joe Ifedobi, “Okosisi Akpo”, “Ijikara”, the human encyclopedia who could rival Google for instant recall of minutiae of facts and figures, a mighty man who called me on phone every early morning, every day to review my columns when I was writing a daily column for a newspaper.