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LEADERSHIP: Tribute to a freedom warrior, late rear-Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu


We had just arrived from Anambra state to Aba in 1976, and in 1977/78, Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu was made the Military Governor of the newly created Imo state. His snow-white Military spur both on TV and the newspapers was childhood fascination for me.

And my headmaster, Mr Nwagboso, was happy to announce that ‘His excellency, Godwin Kanu’ shall be visiting our school in the month of May 1978.

Why my school from the lot? My school, Umuagbai primary was a shanty. My home to school was eyesore, creepy path riddled with potholes and puddled water. And I had announced gleefully to my family of the would-be momentous visit. But a pang of disturbing uncertainty gnawed at my dream of seeing the man I had always watched on television. Could he choose to come to a school that looked like this, ‘a bush school’, I thought.

But my heart keeps a spotless image of that possibility.

My father had always bought Cortina-batá shoes for school and my dress was properly ironed for the ‘august visitor’. Days passed, weeks passed, and months, as we kept practising the greeting: ‘Good morning His excellency’, a short class parade supervised by the headmaster every morning.

Hope thinned, until it fizzled, …but that was the generosity of my childhood dreams to have lived with an affectionate hope, that someday, somehow, I could welcome and shake hands with the governor of my state when he visits my school. He never did!

Good or bad, that name, Ndubuisi Kanu, sustained a magical ring in my innocent memories.

But the governor many years after would leap out of my childhood imaginations and the battled optimism of my headmaster, to find expressions in the harsh landscape of Nigeria’ political soil, no longer in his white military dress I admired, but now a social warrior in dirty, bloodied rags.

He more than made up for not coming to my school of less than 200 pupils, to have offered the best of his life to the Millions of teeming masses in an oppressive nation, in fervent, often ghastly rendering of selfless service.
A champion for justice! A freedom warrior! He would not cling to the handsome perks of his office but chose to lay down whatever were his privileges to fight for those trampled down by the terror of injustice.

Godwin Kanu was a chieftain of NADECO, alongside Wole Soyinka, Anthony Enahoro, they faced the monster of our time, Abacha…and other tyrants of the land.

To have been willing to fight on the Biafran side despite the intimidating horror of possible federal military persecutions speaks of his power of self-conviction, noble choice of self-sacrifice over self-gratifications. His entire value charter was humanity.

As governor of both Lagos and Imo state, his leadership craft was one built on justice and welfare for the common man.

So rare to find that some humans who have choices to make between living in opulence and service to mankind, would choose the hard, often unrewarded path to place their fellow humans above the banal quest of the self.

If after 43 years, an obscure child in a little corner could recall this much of one man in a nation of easy heroes, then he has put all of us as a nation in his debt.

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