By Ben Benson-Okoli
THE tiny voice that reverberates from the faraway Awa has been gagged; the man who made the new Anambra project look so simple is no more; the media backbone of His Excellency and the man who gave Soludo Solution a greater impetus has been silenced; the great artist and master of words has been quietened; the great salesman has been removed from the marketplace.
Writing about Joe in the past tense will seem the most difficult task for me. My wife was packing her bags for the airport, on a trip Joe knew about when the news broke. We immediately went into confusion as to whether to unpack or proceed with the trip as planned. We chose the latter, reluctantly though. . The brother of mine who broke the sad news gave me hope when he asked that I re-confirm from home, that he too doubted the news.
I quickly rejected the news and convinced myself that it was impossible for Joe to abandon the huge dream and the massive project he helped to nurse. Moments later, the confirmations came. “Joe is no more”, Enyioha lamented. Meanwhile, it was barely 48 hours that I arrived from Nigeria, where i had gone to see him. With Joe’s death, something has died inside me.
Besides the strong biological ties that connects me to Awa, where I understand that my (nwadiana) status permitted me the privileges of committing petty crimes with no consequences attached to them, our both parents brought us into a relationship that went beyond blood. Josiah was my elder brother. He would often explain to me the past that I did not know.
Aside from these ties and linkages, we have spent the last two years in an extremely close relationship, from appointing me the Head, Soludo Promoters Forum (SPF), Southern Africa, to tutoring me on the challenges that confront the state and the Soludo Solution to them. Through Joe, you could easily read the lips of Prof. And most of the works i did in the new Anambra project was under his instructions and supervisions.
Joe was a fine writer in the mould of the Ray Ekpus and Dele Giwas and I have often teased him of how he could have easily won a Pulitzer award, if it were to be available in the land. When I started reading him about two years ago or so, I was only following this fine writer from Awa, whose vision for a new Anambra tallied with mine. I didn’t know it was him that I was reading then, because some of us who knew him to his roots, knew him as Josiah Ani or Joe Ani, for short.
Joe’s humility is legendary. He would speak of the challenges of his growing up with simplicity, composure and bluntness that is rare to find. When I followed the rest of us in addressing him by his title, Onwa, his reaction was swift, “Benji, so you have joined them?” and he did so stylishly, reminding me of a similar encounter he had with Prof, when he joined others in addressing him as His Excellency.
Even with his high ranking portfolios, Joe would settle for a much lesser honour and preferred to write from Awa, the town he wanted to be the source from where light would shine on them; a dream that has been brutally murdered.
In another instance where his humility came to the fore was when her Excellency, Mrs Ifeoma Ekwueme hosted us to victory dinner at her residence and it was Joe’s time to introduce me. “Her Excellency, I know you do not know this part of my life, but I have to tell you that”, he started.
He ended up telling her the story of the challenges and the poverty of his growing up, our linkages and how it was sheer hardwork and perseverance that changed the trajectory of his life and brought him this far. He narrated it in a way that I am unable to reproduce here. He would take the back seat at every function and would often sneak out, to avoid the publicity that would usually follow the man at the helm of a major campaign. Such humility!.
His use of elements of satire can easily extinguish any dull moment and replace it with excitements. He once told me of how him and his partner made penetrations into Central Bank and how Prof chided them and queried as to whether they were not dropping his name.
And the defence his partner or so gave was, “Prof if we do not, is it my late father, who does not even have a name that we will resurrect and use his name?” This richness extended to even proverbs and idioms.
Joe was scholarly. Even as a marketing communications guru, he didn’t see himself as possessing all that is required to deliver on his new assignment as the MD/CEO Anambra State Signage and Advertising Agency.
He is such a good quality that he could put bad goods in the marketplace, put a name on them and have them sell like hot bean balls, yet he wanted inputs from me on his new job. For according to him, “there is always something more to add”.
A great story teller, he was. He uses it so effectively. When litigations were flying in left, right and center, even the very frivolous ones, he used the story of a popular wrestler from Awa to give his view on that. He would tell me of the wrestler, Gbuokaiyi, whose back had never touched the ground and whose popularity went beyond borders of Orumba; and how his recklessness cost him his belt to an unknown quantity from a neighbouring town, Okpeze. .
He used the story to remind me of why every opposition to the Soludo Solution must be approached with full might. He also mesmerised me with the story of how the choice of the house he built in the village was influenced. “It was a bungalow that I earlier planned but when my mother heard of it, she pleaded with me to build an uno enu for her and that when she is gone, that I am free to demolish and do my bungalow”.
I had returned to my base in South Africa last December, after joining the ground forces in the massive victory at the polls and the lavish celebrations that took our team to Awka, Umunze and Oko. When I returned for this Easter, we met at the Govt House, talked, went out for what later became a farewell lunch and ended in his hotel room. He insisted that I should sleep over because he feared it was late and I could run into the bad boys.
This was a man who still carries the Soludo Solutions signature in his whatsapp and other profiles even to his last breath. What an eloquent testimony! Joe nwannem, my elder sister is broken, Pat too. She remembers the heart to heart talk you shared.
Onwa, you were so passionate about a new Anambra, a livable and prosperous homeland and yearned to see it happen. You envisioned a green revolution, especially from our axis, and saw your new portfolio as a great resource center for the state. I have no doubt that a memorial will be created for your name and for the sacrifices you made to see the dawn of a new era. Goodnight my brother. It won’t be easy for me.
Benson-Okoli is the Head, SPF, Southern Africa.