Ode To Mr Integrity, Tony Iwobi

IwobiWhen I finally summoned the courage after about a week of Tony’s passing to inform a few mutual ex-UNIJOS friends of his demise, the reaction were similar — all-round-shock, disbelief and dismay. For Audu Inalegwu, speaker of the University of Jos Student Union parliament in 1980/81 session, it was; “Oh No! Mr. Integrity has gone?”  For Justice Simon Aboki of the Nasarawa State High Court, who was a member of the UNIJOS athletic contingent to the West Africa University games in Yamasokoro, Ivory Coast in 1981, “it can’t be true that our Tony is no more!”

Tony was already in the Economics Department of UNIJOS by the time I was admitted in 1979. By my second year, I was elected into the Students Union Parliament, while Tony was elected as Director of Sports in the Student Union Executive Council during the 1980/81 session.  The Executive Council leadership, in the course of their tenure, ran into troubled waters with the university’s authorities. As a result of this, the entire executive was probed towards the tail end of their tenure. All but Tony were asked to refund various amounts to the coffers of the Students Union by the probe panel. This was the origin of the appellation of “Mr. Integrity” after Tony Iwobi’s name by his contemporaries at UNIJOS. My colleague in the 1981/82 Students Union Executive Council, Mr. Seun Salako, recalled this vividly at a memorial meeting we had in Abuja recently after Tony’s demise.

Tony was very passionate about everything that had to do with our alma mater. Despite all the later day problems of our university system, our Tony contributed generously to any cause as long as it was about the wellbeing of UNIJOS. In this respect, Tony kept ties with ex-UNIJOS graduates everywhere in the country whether they were of his generation in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, or of a much younger generation to him. He was happier when he heard of an ex-Josite excelling in his or her chosen profession.

Tony’s loyalty and fidelity to friendship was extra-ordinary. It amazed me to no end that as Tony’s friend, each time you met with him, he asked after the welfare of each and every member of the family by name.

Tony graduated in 1982 and went on after exiting from the civil service at the Federal Department of Forestry, where he had worked before coming to UNIJOS to establish a carrier in Banking; he created a reputation as a go-getter and star in the banking sector.

I graduated from Unijos a year after Tony. After national service, I returned to my department in UNIJOS to do a post-graduate degree, and then joined the service of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at the beginning of 1987. Tony followed my progress in the Labour Movement very keenly. When he came to settle in Abuja at the end of his banking carrier to nurture his own business, we were regularly in touch discussing current national affairs and sharing our fears and frustrations with the way the Nigerian governing elite were mismanaging the affairs of the country. My family knew Tony to be among my trusted friends outside the Labour Movement, and his generosity towards the family was sometimes beyond belief.

When some trade union colleagues chose in 2010 to mark my golden anniversary (50th birthday), Tony was the only non-trade union member on the organising committee. He brought his acumen for organising and his sense of detail and decency into the arrangement and ensured that we had a first class and memorable event.

Tony was a friend who would be there for you, would go the extra mile, even at the expense of his own comfort to please friends. During the latter part of his battle with cancer, because he wouldn’t want to hurt people he sat through even while in pains, for many hours receiving visitors. When this was raised as been counterproductive to his recovery process, he said he did not want to be disrespectful to those who took the trouble to come and see him. When our mutual friend, Comrade Peters Adeyemi, returned to the NLC leadership as Deputy President at the end of the February/March 2015 conference of the NLC, Tony insisted that there must be a reception for him. It took the combined effort of both of us to dissuade him from going ahead with the plan given his health situation.

Tony had many sides to his personality. As a community and cultural person, he was a rallying point in Onitsha community development activities in Lagos, Abuja and in Onitsha itself. He regularly mobilised to participate in the annual colourful Ofala Festival in Onitsha. This perhaps explains why he was at home with both the average person on the street and with royalty. In the course of his illness, on one of my visits to his Apo residence in Abuja, I was told I just missed the visit of his Royal Highness, Obi of Onitsha, who came to see how he was doing.

Losing Tony on January 7, 2016 is doubly hard for me because within a space of six months, I had lost two great friends of Onitsha extraction to the cold hands of death. In August 2015, Emma Nnamdi Ezeazu, former President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) (1986-1988), and my Best-man when I wedded in 1995, died. Going to bury 52-year old Ezeazu in the presence of his aged mother was an unforgettable experience. And now this!

Throughout the battle to overcome his illness, his wife, Ozo, was a constant pillar of support. Tony would talk passionately about her loving care and constantly expressed how proud he was of her. A woman of deep religious conviction, she was not only a caregiver to her beloved husband; she was also a constant prayer warrior by his side. Under Ozo’s guidance, Tony became a better Christian and better prepared for the homeward journey for his rendezvous with the Lord.

Tony, you had a good sojourn in this world! You touched many lives in very positive ways, and you played your part well and will forever be remembered for your noble deeds!

Go well; your children – Afamefuna, Onyekachukwu, Nwamalubia and Ifechukwulugeme – whom you groomed in your righteous ways, will carry on from where you stopped. They will look after Ozoena and represent you well as far as Ma Ekwutosi is concerned.

Good night my Friend!
Odah is the Executive Secretary of the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA).



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