By PRINCE EMEKA OBASI
As a truly born-again Christian now, I often wonder what I would have done 24 years ago, if I were my friend, Pastor Ugochukwu Unachukwu, when I asked him the most foolish question in recorded history.
“SA,” Special Assistant, his official designation as the chief of staff to the Military Administrator of Imo State, Late Col. Tanko Zubairu, “Is this God thing really true?”
He stared at me with pathetic warmth before his face broke into laughter.
“Hmm… What do you really want me to prove to you? If you want me to point at this wall now and set it ablaze, I will do so.”
Even as he spoke, his voice was full of warmth and devoid of threats.
The Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). But the Yoruba, according to Oba Otudeko, do not have in their lexicon a word worse than foolishness. So, according to him, what the Yoruba say about the matter is, “Only a mad man questions the existence of God.”
Obviously, of course, I was truly mad in those days, which is why, when the Almighty God arrested me this time, I fell head over heels in love with Him.
Pastor Unachukwu is a very rare individual. I first came in contact with him in the course of my work in the 90’s. We had sent a proposal to his principal, Col. Tanko Zubairu. He replied on behalf of the governor and invited us to Owerri for a formal meeting.
When I went to Owerri as the representative, he welcomed me very warmly. After I had settled down, he looked at me and began:
“I’m sure you think it’s because it was your chairman, Gen. Domkat Bali who signed this letter, we invited you. No, it’s because of you. I have been following you for years and I admire your enterprise, intelligence and creativity.” I was pleasantly surprised.
Afterwards, he excused himself and went into the governor’s office. The conclusion was that we were eventually awarded the contract.
That marked the beginning of our friendship. I found in him a character that is almost unbelievable. He is very principled; a man whose love and dedication to God is something out of the ordinary. He is a pastor, and had been so long before I met him.
In those days, he relied on me quite a bit to do some researches and writings for the state government. On one occasion, I had flown into Owerri and all over the city, people were complaining about SA. By then, our relationship had broken the walls of official secrecy and surged into the public arena. It had become well-known among the in-crowd in Owerri. So, a lot of people came to me with hyperbolic stories about how my friend had taken over the government and put himself in charge of everything.
I was worried. When we met in his office, which was located strategically beside the governor’s office, I said to him, “SA, everybody is complaining that you are dominating everywhere.”
Typical of him, he laughed and said, “Emeka, it is true o! They are not lying, I’m dominating everywhere.”
I glared at him in mocked incredulity. “How can you be dominating everywhere?”
“Ah, did you forget who I am? I am a pastor. Do you know what it means to be a pastor of Jesus Christ? You must dominate everywhere. Look at who I am serving, Jesus Christ.”
I just kept starring at him and suddenly burst into fitful laughter. He started laughing as well. The two of us cut a silly comic ensemble.
He had been appointed Special Assistant by Governor Zubairu on high recommendation, and he turned out to be, without exaggeration, the most powerful Special Assistant in the history of Nigeria. At the time, he was in his mid-twenties.
It bears restating that Unachukwu is a very unusual fellow – too intelligent, too wise and too much assured of his place.
I wrote speeches for the governor. I still remember one memorable speech I wrote. He had flown me into Owerri and locked me up in a room. As I said earlier, the government of Zubairu was very unpopular, and he didn’t understand the reason because they meant well. There was so much tension in Owerri at the time. When I finished and the governor read the speech that night, it was magical. The town became calm and the tension ebbed. It was a very powerful speech, one of the best I’ve ever written.
Later that day, the late Mrs. Eudora Iwuanyanwu, wife of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, who had listened to the speech, was so impressed that she invited me home for dinner at the palatial Iwuanyanwu mansion. Chief Iwuanyanwu was abroad, but she phoned and told him about the speech. The whole Owerri buzzed.
Pastor Unachukwu ran the government house with so much wisdom. It was later that I realized why their government was so unpopular. He lived within the government house and never went out to mix with the city’s social elites. He never went out to eat Ugba or Nkwobi or hangout with the boys. He only went out on evangelical missions, community deliverances, crusades, etc. Of course, he did not womanise. He had married his heartthrob, a beautiful woman who we call Lolo, and they could spend the whole day looking into each other’s eyes.
More importantly, he didn’t award contracts to the “boys” or their political godfathers. He did everything strictly on merit. The banks offered them mouthwatering credit facilities but they didn’t bite. They didn’t borrow a dime throughout the time they were in government.
He would disclose to me later that he had letters of Certificate of Occupancy piled up in his drawer, but neither him nor Col. Zubairu got one plot of land in Owerri throughout their tenure. He didn’t give to me either, and I believe that God saved me from asking, because he would have humiliated me by refusing.
He was loyal to Col. Zubairu to the last drop of his blood, and Col. Zubairu returned the favour. They caused confusion all over the country. At a special armed forces ruling council meeting, the then head of state, General Sani Abacha, asked Col. Zubairu to relieve him, that he was getting too many complaints. Col. Zubairu explained his relationship with his SA. Then said to Abacha, “Sir, if you insist, then I will advise you to return me to the barracks. I will not relieve him.”
Abacha was taken aback. He told Zubairu that for him to maintain such a position vehemently, there must be something about this person. “Go ahead,” he told him. So, they were protected. Insurance covered them!
At the home front, however, people fought him viciously. They said he was manipulating the governor. Some even accused him of using black magic. However, he and his boss knew better. They refused to play ball.
His loyalty to Zubairu lasted until the end of that government and continues.
Recently, Col. Zubairu passed away. Long before his passing, he had fallen into challenging times, since he didn’t loot as governor. He had no money and unknown to many, Unachukwu was helping him out. The challenges were such that he lived in a rented property at the time of his death. It was Unachukwu who mobilized the Imo State government to extend to him his formal courtesies as a former governor. Then he travelled to Kaduna to take charge of the burial. In other words, he remained loyal to his master until “death do them part.” And he is still committed to the Zubairu family.
There are few people like Unachukwu in the body of Christ and in the society at large. When democracy was restored, a lot of people had urged him to run for governor. He was amused.
“How can you use the office of pastor to campaign for office of governor?” he often wondered.
He runs a very thriving ministry in Port Harcourt, Recovery House, and he is a very active church leader.
When he left government and focused on the ministry, we gradually lost contact. In fact, we didn’t see for over a decade. But when he heard about my challenges, he came with his wife to visit me here in Lagos. It was as if time had stood still. We have a deep intellectual connection.
In the course of our conversation, he said to me that my love for Christ had always been visible and that he was convinced even then that one day I would answer the call. According to him, he never doubted.
Today, I bless the name of Jesus Christ for His Grace to admit me into his kingdom.
Indeed, there is so much I could say about Rev Unachukwu, and frankly a lot needs to be said. In an age of dysfunction and disillusionment, it is always soul stirring to see a few good men. That such a man is a vessel of honour in the body of Christ is even more heartwarming. Now let us raise hands to our Lord Jesus Christ for his mercies to a very great man; a pride to the body of Christ. A man who found Christ in his youth and has stuck to him. Thank you, the King of kings.