THOUGH THE CIVIL WAR DISTORTED OUR LIVES, IT DIDN'T CHANGE MY STYLE - Paul Ukpabio's Blog

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Sunday, 19 May 2019

THOUGH THE CIVIL WAR DISTORTED OUR LIVES, IT DIDN'T CHANGE MY STYLE

- ANTHONY RAYMOND NJOKU (Son of First Republic Minister)


Their's was a fab life growing up in Nigeria in the early days of Nigeria's independence. Ikoyi where his family lived was strictly reserved for the colonial masters and quite a few like the Njoku's who were privileged to have the head of their nuclear family at the helms of polical affairs in the country. 
But things changed after the civil war and in this interview with Paul Ukpabio, Businessman/Property Developer, Anthony Njoku who is also the son of First Republic Minister of Transport, Raymond Amanze Njoku re-visits the changing lifestyle of that period.

What can you say about your early years?
I was born in England in 1955, I came back as a baby. I attended Corona School but when my father noticed that I was lagging in my religious studies, I was transferred to St Mary’s school on Broad Street, Lagos. I grew up in Ikoyi. I am the son of Raymond Njoku who was a Minister in the first republic. He served in the cabinet from 1958 to 1966 when the crisis began.
NJOKU WITH WIFE OLAKUBI AND SONS, TONY JR (LEFT) AND RAYMOND (RIGHT) 
 By the time the civil war started, two of my siblings were already studying abroad. While we that were in Nigeria at the time, left Lagos for the east. I lost a few years of education during that period. I came back to Lagos in the 70s to resume my education at St Gregory’s College and subsequently I went to the American University in Washington DC where I studied political Sciences and Public Administration.
Who influenced you most between your mom and dad?
My father loomed large in my life but a mother is very important and influential. Raymond had a big influence in my life not just that he got me a successful career, but also as a father, as a role model and as a man of principle. And even till today, most major decisions in my life are guided by the fact that I always consider what Raymond would have done in any circumstances that I am. That sort of guides my morals. So I would say that he has had the most influence in my life.
I notice that you call him Raymond. Is it because of your early English background?
Yes. But I suppose that is rather unusual, but normally we referred to him as Sir! That is when we spoke directly to him. But in his absence, he was always called by his first name.
Most people just know him as a politician, outside that, what can you say about him?
He had a very interesting career. At a young age of 17, he was a school teacher.and sooner a headmaster in a small primary school in Ahiara, Mbaise. He subsequently moved on to teach in a few other communities before leaving to the United Kingdom to study Law at Kings College in England. His contemporaries in that particular college were Late Justice Elias and Godfree Amachree, they were close and whenever they met, they used to like letting us to know that though they had Kings College degrees, they had Cambridge education. What they meant by that was that during the world war 11, the college was moved to Cambridge where they actually got their education.
There’s this issue that your dad moved the motion calling for independence of the country, what do you have to say about that?
Yes, the issue came up some time ago, when some people were trying to situate what actually happened at that time. My attitude towards that is the whole campaign started with Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe and the other grand old men of our independence struggle. My father participated well in that struggle. He was in the government as well. But at the final point where a resolution was actually proposed in parliament, the motion was raised by Sir Tafawa Balewa and my father seconded it. That is historical, there’s no changing that history though some people have mentioned the great Enahoro, but it could have been the brain child of Enahoro and that of all the people who participated in moving towards that particular goal. And at the time the goal was scored, the two people that were involved were Sir Tafawa Balewa and Raymond Njoku, that is a historical fact. 
What was life like for you in Lagos, those early years with a top politician as father?
The truth is that I look back at my childhood with lots of nostalgia; it was full of lots of adventure, lot of excitement, lots of enjoyment. I had doting parents, I had eight siblings, lost a few, we grew up in a strict catholic upbringing, he actually got the highest knighthood from the Pope in 1962. At that time, he was already the head of the Catholic Laity until his death in 1977.
Late Raymond Njoku
How was Lagos then?

Lagos wasn’t this big, we were living on Queens Drive where we grew up, as children, we used to have adventures coming over to Victoria Island on boats, or rather canoes of those days (laughs). And we used to do that on our own, just being adventurous. It wasn’t something recommended by our parents, boys were just being boys. We did explore the city, we had our bicycles which we used to ride around. It was a more civilized town, more safer time than now.
When you were growing up, was Ikoyi Club altready there?
Oh yes, of course we were members. There were other adult clubs too like the Island club. We also had adventures at the Polo club which was already a well-established club. What was different in those those was that there was a race course. People seem to forget that aspect of Lagos. It was the race course that people used to go for recreation and other fun activities from time to time especially on Sundays. That was where the races actually took place. The horses were used for races. The Polo Club was specially for Polo that is the game of polo itself. In old Lagos, there used to be competitive horse racing that took place regularly and it was usually fun for many people then. We also had a horse which we used for racing. It was called ‘White Ribbon.’ It participated once in a while in the very competitive races. We came back to Lagos after the war to see that things had started changing. The field at race course used to be very green and people just loved to laze and relax in that environment.
What did the civil war mean to you?
I’m an adult now, but to my mind a lot did transpire within that period and quite a lot has been written about the war. From my perspective as a child at the time, there was a violent overthrow of government or an attempt at that and from there things snowballed into outright violence and then chaos. Many factors contributed to the unfortunate episode that took place in our history.
At the early stages of the conflict, were there fears in your mind that there was going to be a war?
Not really most people who were brought up in a cosmopolitan setting had convivial ties with all ethnic groups. I went to school with Mutari Balewa, he used to sit next to me, Fani Kayode and others were friends, so from a child’s point of view, it was very strange and unfortunate for people to pursue political power at the expense of lives of fellow citizens. It was a very unfortunate time of our history.
Father and son
So your family moved to the east. How was life in the east?
It was a difficult time. For me, I was moved into another situation. We moved to Port Harcourt and I continued my school at Santa Maria which was just as good as any other top schools then. I continued school in the early stages of the war, but as the violent conflict kept coming closer, we kept moving and moving and we were getting deeper and deeper into the interior. It was a tough time. I must say that there was camaraderie among the people who felt threatened on both sides, which meant that everybody looked out for each other. It was a very stressful time for my father particularly, he was always away. As a an upper echelon member of the Catholic Church, he participated tremendously as the Catholic church provided a lot of relief food to the hunger and those that were suffering from starvation. We participated in the humanitarian effort of keeping people alive. That much I was aware of. I was about 9 years old. We tried to do what we could to alleviate the suffering of the people.
Were you afraid that you would die during the war?
Of course, the threat was everywhere. There was no hiding place, air raids, the war front moving closer and closer to wherever we were. It was a perilous time.
Immediately after the war, what prompted your parents to return to Lagos?
No, my father never moved back to Lagos officially. What happened was that, he built a school in my home town in the 60s. It was called Sebastian Academy. I did a stint at the school. But I became restless and I came back to Lagos to St Gregory. That was because my immediate senior brothers, Charles and Patrick were all Gregorians who left good records in the school in academics and sports. Dr Charles Njoku was a star athlete who held the high jump record for Nigeria and was only broken in the early 70s. He wasn’t around during the war, he had already gone to Harvard. My second brother was restless as well and unfortunately or fortunately, he joined the Biafran Navy during the war and served. I wasn’t old enough to join.
After the war, what did he do?
He became a diplomat, went into journalism as well and was writing quite a lot. He is presently in Owerri.
So your Dad did not return to Lagos officially again but how about politics?
No, he didn’t return to politics too though he was consulting for other people. He didn’t want to go back to competitive politics. He had made up his mind that he wasn’t going to go into elective office. He started a few businesses, employed people. He was into transportation and trading.

Late Raymond Njoku with Late Nnamdi Azikiwe
Was it because of the political experience that led to the war that made your father to say he was done with elective office?
Not exactly so, but he was more interested in grooming others. He had experienced a sterling career fortunately scandal free, so he was encouraging people like Chief Sam Mbakwe, Chief Enwerem and the other younger men then, who sought out his counsel.
And your mom?
She was a housewife. She used to be a nurse in her younger days, she also had her farm but she has passed away now. She like him did not return to Lagos officially though they visited Lagos from time to time, they lived in Owerri.
What did your dad do differently that kept his name loud in the political scene even when he didn’t return to contest for political office?
I wouldn’t know but what I know is that most people that had encountered him one on one shared with me that he was a goal oriented gentleman and hardworking. He was also good looking. He was larger than life and if you met him, he would have definitely made an impression on you. He was well respected among his colleagues and the general public.
When did he pass on?
That was 1977 at the age of 62. He wasn’t that old when he passed away meanwhile a lot of his contemporaries’ continued with life.
How long were you in America?
I was there for about 6 years?
And you didn’t marry a white lady or any other lady in America?
(Laughs) No I didn’t!


RAYMOND WITH PRIME MINISTER OF SINGAPORE

LEE KUAN YEW
Why?
I don’t know, it just didn’t come up. The question of the heart is not what one questions. Your marriage is your own and getting external influences would be a mistake. I think I didn’t have any influence in that direction. As a matter of fact, I am married to a Yoruba lady.
Where did you meet?
We met here in Lagos. I had returned to Nigeria and we met at a social gathering. She is a wonderful lady, a lawyer, she worked for quite a few years with First Bank, she’s presently abroad with my two sons. She’s the daughter of the Late Ambassador John Omolodun a well-respected diplomat. And we have been together for about 30 years now.  
What business are you into now?
I have always worked within the family business structure. We have a trading outfit, property Development Company and others.
How about the school in the east?
The government intervened in the educational system, it is even now that we are trying to get it back you know the government it seems could not handle it the way the entrepreneurs that set it up would handle it.
What are your values?
Integrity is everything. Integrity is the key to everything. But integrity is expensive because sometimes it is inexpedient. People do things just to get away with it. But if you are consistent, people come around to your thinking if they know you are not a fair weather friend or somebody that is flippant. So to me, integrity is important to those that you are committed to: And fairness to all. Those are the things that guide my conduct and interactions with people. I tend to gravitate towards people that I am committed to.  
What does success mean to you?
It means contentment. I revel in the success of my friends but I am always contented with what I have and in my achievements. Success to me is the understanding of the accolades of everybody around but also my self-contentment. It is something that I imbibed from my father. For instance while my father’s career was stellar, he wasn’t loud about it. He just allowed it to speak for itself. That is the way I tailor my life. I allow my life to speak for itself not self-promotion.
How about sports?
I was a prodigy that was before the war because my brothers introduced me to sports early, football particularly, but to tell you the truth having gone through the civil war, there was a certain dis regard of all these other things. We were very matured by the time we came back, I had lost a couple of years and my contemporaries had moved a couple of years ahead of me, I wasn’t motivated that much because I had seen blood, I had seen death, I had seen starvation, we just kept moving ahead.
But the war did not distort your fashion sense?
(Laughs) No, it didn’t! It’s essential that I turn out properly. It shows self-respect too. I understand people who have disdain for fashion but I would say that basic hygiene, basic cleanliness is important and looking good is a good thing. It is also about trying to keep fit. If you are not trim, clothes won’t look fitting on you. I wear both traditional and English clothes.

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