There is always the temptation to wax emotional and hyperbolic when doing a tribute on a benefactor. But how does one comment on Dee Bob (Chief Bob Beremako Ogbuagu) without waxing emotional? Not to do so will amount to a disservice to the energy, zest and passion he throws into friendship, something many of us cannot attain, even if we were to live up to 90 years. But here is a unique specimen of God’s work, a rare human being whose personality defies age, gender, race, personal belief and status.
Thirty-one years since my first meeting with Dee Bob, I find it instructive, even intriguing, that nothing has changed in my impression of him as a charming, unassuming personage, a noble spirit who epitomizes love in its pristine expression and content. Perhaps that explains the difficulty of matching him as a role model. Mr. Mike Gandonu, then principal of the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre, in Lamingo, Jos, Plateau State of Nigeria, had written a letter, aptly tagged a ‘testimonial’, introducing me to Chief Ogbuagu. That was way back in 1984, three years after I completed the mandatory national youth service and was job-hunting. Instantly, Dee Bob adopted me as one of his ‘sons’.
As the years roll by, I can attest that he has never for once retreated from loyal commitment to friendship, benign mentoring and uncompromising affinity with the truth, as the fundamental and irreducible principles of living. For a man who rose from humble beginnings to the zenith of government service, professional career and social acclaim, his ascetic life, continuous labour, hard work, compassion and total submission to the will of God will stoutly challenge contemporary preoccupation with vanity and elite malfeasance, ignoble values that have blighted the fortunes of a rather endowed country.
From his days at the Nigerian geological service which afforded him the opportunity to traverse the length and breadth of the former northern region of Nigeria, to his services in the government of the defunct eastern region of Nigeria, Dee Bob stood out as a model of excellence and hard work, always defiantly rebuffing the attractions of nepotism, graft and debauchery.
It did not come as a surprise that he was always entrusted with challenging tasks and serious responsibilities. Among the most notable, special mention deserves to be made of his role as executive secretary of the now extinct Eastern Nigeria Development Company (ENDC), under the government of the pace setting Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara as premier of the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria. Putting to practice his legendary organizational skill, broadmindedness and, to quote today’s lingo, ‘zero tolerance for corruption’, from the premier’s office, Dee Bob was able to coordinate the activities of a chain of industrial and agricultural ventures whose sheer magnitude, impact and future earned the eastern region the recognition of the fastest growing economy in the world. That was just before the Nigerian civil war.
In later years, I had the singular privilege of drinking from the fountain of knowledge of this guru in administration. That was in 1995 when, following the appointment of the managing director/editorin- chief of Champion Newspapers, Dr. Ihechukwu Maduike as health minister, publisher Chief Emmanuel Iwauanyanwu drafted Dee Bob was from retirement, at the age of 70, to function in a transitional arrangement pending when a replacement would have been groomed. Ever the loyal friend, Dee Bob accepted, certainly not because he needed the job but to satisfy his loyalty to friendship while utilizing the platform to render selfless service to the society. He threw himself into the job with the zeal of a crusader.
He was not a novice to journalism; he was only returning to the profession that he deployed effectively, as publisher/editor-in-chief of the defunct Northern Advocate Newspaper in Jos, to wage a scathing war against colonial rule under the aegis of the Zikist Movement. It is one of those ironies of history that many a time, that aspect of his illustrious career is often drowned by his rather dizzying successes as Governor of Rotary Club of Nigeria and President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and later, the Federation of African Public Relations Associations, FAPRA.
Building on the precedence set by founding managing director/editor-in-chief Prince Henry Odukomaiya and Dr. Madubuike, and drawing from his wealth of experience as administrator par excellence and public relations expert, Dee Bob ran an administration that gave a new impetus to capacity building, strengthened internal controls and guaranteed steady growth while insulating the company from the fallouts draconian operational environment of the time. But what most workers found completely awesome was his great capacity for work and his energy which made nonsense of his age.
He literally ran up the staircase to his second floor office; most young people were unable to match his pace even when, as always, he showed considerable compassion and understanding. By the time he left in February of the year 2000, after a transitional period of five years, he had left an imprimatur as a trusted father, a compassionate leader, an honest man and above all, a contented personage who regarded service, love of neighbour and fear of God as the only values to live and to die for.
Perhaps that explains the fact that, in Biafra, he was assigned the very sensitive responsibility of heading the directorate of food and relief materials. Not many children of my age in Biafra, I was ten when the war started, probably heard about the directorate or Chief Bob Ogbuagu. But everyone of us felt the agency’s impact and his work through relief materials, notably protein enriched corn based meals and powdered milk, without which, many more kids in the war ravaged enclave would have died of Kwashiokor, no thanks to the food blockade imposed on the people of the beleaguered territory by their ‘brothers’.
For sure, at 90, this patriot has had an impressive run, touching lives. Mine is one of such lives. Beyond the favour of employment, beyond always rising to my defence each time the unfathomable but inevitable corporate intrigues played up, like many others, I will remain grateful for his unbelievable ability to discountenance human frailties, even now! Somehow, he does not have much of a choice. Visit his modestly furnished residence in Owerri, an old fashioned bungalow and you will see, hanging conspicuously on the wall: I STARTED WITH JESUS, I AM STILL IN JESUS, I WILL DIE IN JESUS.
No one can make such a claim and not forgive everybody, including Emma Agu, the greatest culprits of all times. Little wonder that, today, family, friends and associates are celebrating the life of a colossus, whose rather modest physique pales into insignificance compared with the giant strides he has recorded as administrator, journalist, public relations expert, humanist, family man and servant of God.
His dear wife, Cecelia or Cee as he fondly calls her should proudly savour all the trappings of this memorable occasion. A formidable woman, a strict disciplinarian and home builder, over the years, I have watched with great admiration as she absorbed all the pressures, as her rather itinerant husband took unimaginable risks in his career.
To her, to Uche and his siblings and their families, to Justice Ogbuagu (JSC rtd.) and family, to Professor Chibuzo Ogbuagu and family and all the members of the Ogbuagu clan, I congratulate you on this milestone by the patriarch of the family, Dee Bob whose life has been one illuminating illustration of God’s amazing grace.