I read Joe Igbokwe’s Lagos story with mixed feelings.For starters, I know Engr. Joe Igbokwe personally and I must say that he is a man I respect a lot.
For the seven years I spent in Lagos, I attended the same church with Igbokwe – St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church Aguda Surulere, one of the most powerful Anglican churches in Lagos and indeed Nigeria, both in terms of the quality of membership and evangelical depth. A full-time Igbo church in Lagos, St. Barth’s is in a class of its own with one of the most fiery and charismatic Pastors, The Venerable Ben Iheanyichukwu Nwanekwu.
Born, bred and “buttered” in Lagos, Ven Nwanekwu speaks and writes Yoruba more than Yorubas. He once served as Chaplain to the former Primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, Joseph Abiodun Adetiloye. He is a comprehensive “Lagos boy”. He had his nursery, primary and secondary education in Lagos. Went to Ife for his first degree and Ibadan for his Masters. He was ordained a Priest of the Anglican Church in Lagos and has served in Lagos for close to 30 years as a Priest. He is both an interesting and intriguing personality.
However, despite his strong Yoruba connection, Nwanekwu remains unrepentantly Igbo and he relishes his Igboness.
He doesn’t waste time to tell you he is from Umuhu, Atta in Ikeduru LGA of Imo State. Beyond his evangelical activities, where he is a giant, he flaunts his Igbo origin with pride and relish. He tells stories of the Igbo with swag and smile.
In our church, we have a special collection dedicated to the support of churches in Igboland and we do it, at least once every month. On the direction of Nwanekwu, the church embarks on frequent evangelical missions to villages and communities across Igboland through the very powerful Deliverance and Healing Ministry of the church.
At every opportunity, Nwanekwu will remind us that we are Igbos and we must take steps to assist in the development of our land. He constantly berates those Igbos who build mansions in Lagos but have no home in their villages. He advises that we build in Lagos and build bigger ones at home. He encourages us to travel home for the Christmas. He tells Igbo businessmen in our church to establish branches of their businesses back home.
At St. Barth’s, administrative work ends by the week of December. We do a Travellers Crusade where special prayers are said for those travelling home for the Christmas. While the church remains open for services, serious work ends to allow members and workers of the church go home for the Christmas.
He has introduced something new- St Barth’s Eastern Retreat where members gather at home during the Christmas. Anambra hosted the first one two years ago, Imo hosted last year. I hope Abia will be next.
Nwanekwu will never ever compromise his Igbo origin, even at the risk of episcopal elevation. Joe Igbokwe came to Lagos after his secondary school. Ben Nwanekwu was born in Lagos and has lived there all his life. How come Igbokwe loves Lagos this much?
Nwanekwu loves Lagos a lot. He is proud to be a Lagos boy but he loves Igboland more. He cannot preach any sermon without a mention of Igboland and what happens there, both politically, economically and otherwise.
When former Governor Fashola “deported” some Igbos a few years ago and dumped them at the Onitsha Head bridge, Nwanekwu was abroad then.
When he returned, I heard the most controversial and most daring sermon ever preached by any church leader in my life. Nwanekwu took on Fashola frontally, took him to the cleaners and openly called on Fashola to resign his office as Governor. I was amazed at his audacity.
This is where I have issues with my brother Joe Igbokwe. I have never heard him speak about the development of Igboland. He hardly talks about it. For him, its always about comparing between Igbos and Yorubas, of course with a clear bias for the Yorubas.
I agree with Igbokwe that Lagos is a great place, a land of opportunities. I lived there for seven years and saw first hand, the might of Lagos. But at no point did I allow what I saw in Lagos to make me forget home.
Joe Igbokwe hardly speaks about the political developments in his Anambra State. It’s intriguing. It’s always Lagos and Lagos alone. This is very unfortunate indeed. He shows no interest in the impending elections in Anambra. I have never heard Joe Igbokwe call on big Igbo businessmen in Lagos to go and set up a branch at home. It’s strange, to say the least.
While I don’t totally buy Nnamdi Kanu’s message and his initial description of Igbokwe as a slave, Igbokwe’s narrative amplified Kanu’s position, even if an executive slave. I expected Igbokwe to tell us how he has used his rich Lagos contacts to make Igboland better but he instead went on and on about his record of slavery, sorry, service in Lagos.
I concede that it is not easy for an Igbo man to serve three consecutive Lagos Governors. I agree that there must be something good in Joe Igbokwe that makes Lagos leaders keep having him around. After all, he is not the only Igbo politician in Lagos. But Igbokwe should remember that until his service in Lagos translates to a development of some sort back home, his story is incomplete.
I recall one day, in the build up to the 2015 elections, the PDP candidate, Jimi Agbaje came to St. Barths. The entire church erupted in applause when he arrived. I wasn’t a supporter of Agbaje. I was for Ambode but I must say the truth, what I saw in my church that day shocked me. Igbos fully supported Jimi Agbaje though I don’t really know why because I never heard him say anything during the campaigns that was to benefit Igbos exclusively.
I saw Igbokwe that day and he cut a pitiable figure. He was practically on his own that day as Agbaje’s presence electrified the church. Even my wife was excited. I later voted for Ambode but the lessons of that day remain with me.
One thing I have learnt so far is that no man will ever be comfortable standing against his own people, even if they are wrong. It’s a lesson I will always remember. Always.
Finally, my brother ,Joe Igbokwe must remember the words of Ven Nwanekwu that OBIARA IJE NWE ULA.