My Dad Once Flogged Me Till I Fainted

THISDAY - - PLUS - What in­deli­ble dis­ci­plinary ac­tion did your dad take out on you that you will

Look­ing very smart in his made - in - Aba at­tire, he beamed with smiles and off hand­edly re­sponded to ques­tions with the smooth­ness of an aca­demic, though with hu­mil­ity that ra­di­ated from in­side of him. The Gover­nor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ik­peazu, shares the story of his life with Charles Ajunwa and Ahame­fula Ogbu, re­call­ing his grow­ing up, how his par­ents im­bibed in him the virtues of in­tegrity, hon­esty and hard work, among oth­ers

What kind of up­bring­ing did you have?

If I in­tro­duce my par­ents to you, you won’t know, my fa­ther was a pri­mary school teacher and my mother was a nurse and they had only three chil­dren. I hap­pened to be the very first; so for them, they were con­cerned about an up­right per­son, a trust­wor­thy son, some­body that his friends can rely on and some­body the pub­lic can trust, some­body who should have the dis­ci­pline of char­ac­ter and some­body who should not be an abra­sive per­son, ca­pa­ble of re­lat­ing with peo­ple in such a way that you add value and bless­ing. Then, also some­body who is ca­pa­ble of liv­ing a life of sac­ri­fice, liv­ing for oth­ers much more than just be­ing self-cen­tred. Most im­por­tantly, a lover of God and a strong be­liever in the fact that God is the au­thor and fin­isher of our faith.

My mother for ex­am­ple, all along worked for mis­sion hospi­tals even when she had the op­por­tu­nity and chance in the reg­u­lar gov­ern­ment hospi­tals that would have earned her pen­sions af­ter re­tire­ment. Dur­ing the civil war, she chose to work with Bi­afran soldiers. Af­ter the war, she also went to work for Chris­tian hospi­tals where she rose to be­come the ma­tron of the hos­pi­tal and was man­ag­ing the un­der-five clin­ics. All her life, she chose to work for peo­ple; that gives you the typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of the fam­ily I come from. So I think these are the val­ues my par­ents im­bibed in us and they have con­tin­ued to lead me as very im­por­tant sign­posts along the way.

Grow­ing up, who ex­erted the most im­pact on you among your par­ents and what were those?

If you had asked me this ques­tion as a teenager, I would have said my mother but as I be­gan to grow into adult­hood, I started to ap­pre­ci­ate my fa­ther the more. Un­for­tu­nately, he died at 62, so recognition, ap­pre­ci­a­tion and in­flu­ence over me be­came much more, far more pro­found as the days go by and his lessons in life are time­less; stand­ing for those things which are right, help­ing me to take de­ci­sions on time; I don’t have problems choos­ing be­tween what is right and wrong, I don’t have any prob­lem de­cid­ing what is right and then teach­ing me not to be in­flu­enced by my friends and teach­ing me to be a leader in the pack in terms of char­ac­ter, mak­ing sure there was no iota of pride in me, telling me that I am to lead through ser­vice and should be able to make my mark. As a teacher, my fa­ther would in­sist that you must ex­cel be­cause if you go to some­one else class and he is the head­mas­ter, how come you would not be among the first three or first as the case may be. But my Mum taught me the virtue of pa­tience and lis­ten­ing in­tently be­fore you speak. At times, I do not know whether it is a virtue or qual­ity, at times I stand ab­sorb­ing ev­ery­thing ev­ery­body will say and just walk away and then I re­call once in school, it was a Chem­istry class and I had a friend of mine who thought he was the best and leader of the pack in Or­ganic Chem­istry.

So, course as­sess­ments were con­ducted and scripts dis­trib­uted; we use to have three course as­sess­ments and each used to have 10 per cent be­fore the exam, I had nine and a half and the guy had nine and he was buy­ing coke for ev­ery­body. I just kept quiet while he was busy cel­e­brat­ing as if he was lead­ing the class as at that time. I learnt from my Mum that you can still be ahead and level-headed. I thank God that she was alive when I be­came Gover­nor and she called me by the side and said that she was not happy or ex­cited that I was gover­nor that she was ex­cited that I was go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence and that if I knew that I wasn’t go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence that it was go­ing to take away the shine off what­ever I called an ac­com­plish­ment, that she was only ex­cited be­cause she knew I was go­ing to make an im­pact. Those were some of the words she spoke the few times I had time with her be­fore she departed that has reg­is­tered in my mind; that she wasn’t ex­cited be­cause I was gover­nor but be­cause she knew that her son was go­ing to make an im­pact. These are things I can’t for­get.

Were you a vil­lage or city boy grow­ing up?

I grew up in the vil­lage. I am es­sen­tially a ru­ral per­son, I can crop cas­sava from stem till har­vest. Each time in the farm, they will give me a por­tion as equal to what they will give my younger sis­ter and other women so I farm it; I am es­sen­tially a ru­ral per­son but the most im­por­tant thing is that I later learnt when I was a univer­sity lec­turer that what I en­joyed most was to men­tor peo­ple. In fact, it is part of what drives me as a per­son and that is why I have it as a qual­ity not to tell a lie to peo­ple but most im­por­tantly, to those that are younger than me be­cause they look for­ward to me and when they look into my eyes and I say this is yam, please let it be yam. God gave me the grace to say sorry to any­body, it doesn’t mat­ter your age in any re­la­tion­ship I have with you. If my driver catches me on any wrong side of fact, I will say sorry, if my house help does the same thing, I will say sorry; noth­ing will make me go away with­out do­ing that. The first rea­son is that I strongly be­lieve that ev­ery hu­man be­ing is a spirit and that the power be­yond that

I Was in My Sec­ond Year in Univer­sity When I Pro­posed to My Wife, 10 Years Af­ter, I Ful­filled the Prom­ise

spirit is be­yond the cir­cum­stance where that cir­cum­stance has placed that per­son, it can change to­mor­row, any­body can go down.

Af­ter all, it is God that el­e­vates peo­ple and God puts peo­ple down and no­body has God’s power, so when­ever I do some­thing wrong I will say sorry and I will do it from my heart; I don’t have any airs around me and if you want to men­tor peo­ple, you must be will­ing to give ser­vice, you must lead, if you can’t hold the hands of those you are lead­ing, then you can’t do so­cial mo­bil­i­sa­tion that is re­quired and that is the rea­son why we have huge gaps in lead­er­ship all across our coun­try and in Africa. African lead­ers don’t spend time do­ing so­cial mo­bil­i­sa­tion.

You grew up in the vil­lage, where did you ac­quire sophistication and sim­plic­ity?

I think go­ing to school should give ev­ery­one one ad­van­tage, it is to ed­u­cate your mind, it is not to come with a pa­per, it is to ed­u­cate your mind for you to de­velop ca­pac­ity to do in­depth anal­y­sis quickly and re­spond ad­e­quately but if your anal­y­sis is wrong, then you can’t get your op­tions right. I dare say I went to school thor­oughly in Nige­ria. I went through the rigours of a first de­gree, did a Masters by the­sis and course work, did a PhD again by the­sis and course work, so we were one of the few peo­ple in Cal­abar in those days that did 600 level cour­ses. Ac­tu­ally, I was qual­i­fied for dou­ble masters but I de­cided to ig­nore the other one. All these put me through very se­ri­ous mind train­ing and it makes me suf­fi­ciently dy­namic, gives me an air of con­fi­dence that is within me. More of­ten than not, peo­ple tend to un­der­rate me.

Were you a stub­born or com­pli­ant child?

I wasn’t a very com­pli­ant child be­cause my area is Bio­chem­istry so I was very cu­ri­ous as a per­son. I could get a lizard and dis­sect it even from my fourth birth­day and I can get so busy do­ing it that I won’t want any­body to dis­tract me. My fa­ther was a per­fec­tion­ist, so I wasn’t a de­viant but I wasn’t a very reg­u­lar docile child. My fa­ther was a per­fec­tion­ist who in­sists you draw a straight line with­out ruler and I will ar­gue that daddy why af­ter they have dis­cov­ered ruler you are still mak­ing me draw a line with­out ruler but I have since dis­cov­ered that whether in an in­ter­view or you want to drop a writ­ten note, you find your­self draw­ing a line with­out ruler. My fa­ther would say you must do home­work be­fore you play soc­cer but when I look at the home work and I know I have a good grip of it, I can de­cide to go and play soc­cer first and of course in re­turn you will re­ceive se­ri­ous can­ning. With my fa­ther, if you com­mit an of­fence three times a day, he will cane you three times. I am sure wher­ever he is, if you ask him about me, he would be proud that his style turned me out the way I am.

not for­get in a hurry?

I re­mem­ber very well when he was head­ing a school in Umuo­gele in Iheoji, Aba South and his friend came to see him and he served him Coke and Fanta; so he sent me to his of­fice, which was op­po­site where we were liv­ing but he for­got to give me the key. So when I got to his of­fice the door was locked and his vis­i­tors were wait­ing and I did a 100-meter dash to fetch the opener. I climbed into the of­fice, I saw the opener on his desk, picked the opener but as I was about to leave, I saw my friend’s ball which he had seized so I brought out the ball also. When I re­turned home and told my fa­ther that I couldn’t find the key but I man­aged to find my way into the of­fice and brought the opener, I gave him the opener and he was very happy of course. Im­me­di­ately I gave him the opener I went out to play the foot­ball with my friend. When the vis­i­tors had gone, he came to the bal­cony and saw us play­ing. He asked me to come back and I did, he asked me where I got the ball from and I told him I saw it in his of­fice. I lost count of the num­ber of lashes he gave me. He flogged me 48 or more. At 48, I lost count, maybe I fainted or some­thing. My grand­mother begged and begged and begged, he wouldn’t let go. She packed her things and left that night. No­body could pacify my fa­ther, I couldn’t pin­point my of­fence, was it that I climbed into his of­fice or was it just the ball I took? Mean­while, I was see­ing my­self as a hero, who had solved a ma­jor prob­lem in the fam­ily. I can never for­get that day.

How did you meet your wife?

It was in my sec­ond year in the univer­sity and it was in a house party. She was in the teacher train­ing col­lege and her best friend at that time was a cousin of mine, so I didn’t know they in­vited her but be­fore that time, our par­ents were very good friends; they were at the Mis­sion­ary hos­pi­tal to­gether, her par­ents were nurses. I think at a point, my mother was liv­ing with her mother at Ife be­cause my mother trained as a nurse at Ife. As a stu­dent nurse, she was liv­ing with them. That day, I saw her at the ball­room party and then as a sec­ond year stu­dent, I told her I wanted to marry her. I don’t know the kind of mar­riage a sec­ond year stu­dent would know at that time but 10 years or so af­ter, I made that prom­ise, I ful­filled it.

You must have been hav­ing your fair deal of ladies be­fore see­ing her, what made you stick to her?

The first thing is that I saw in her some­one who was ca­pa­ble of tol­er­at­ing me be­cause I am some­body that once I ap­ply my mind to an as­sign­ment, I want to be left alone to deal with it. I don’t like dis­trac­tions and I don’t like to be dis­turbed. I am a very pa­tient man but my wife is in­fin­itely pa­tient. Any­body who is more pa­tient than me must be some­thing else. I also saw that she was ca­pa­ble of raising my chil­dren. I could trust her with my chil­dren be­cause I also knew that there would be things that would take me away from the home very of­ten and till now she hasn’t failed or dis­ap­pointed me. Fi­nally, I needed some­one who could do cer­tain things be­cause in our house we talk about ev­ery­thing, my mother shared her view about the kind of wives she would want me and my younger brother to bring to the house. The first was that our fam­ily was a small one, just three peo­ple; we need builders, lovers, peo­ple who will tol­er­ate each other, tol­er­ate me and my sib­lings. You can’t take me and leave my sib­lings.

Then some­body who would ap­pre­ci­ate our par­ents for raising us and most im­por­tantly, some­body who is not com­ing with an air be­cause at that time, both our par­ents be­long to the mid­dle class, but my par­ents in-law were a lit­tle bit stronger be­cause as at that time, if you grad­u­ate with a de­gree, my par­ents in-law will buy a brand new car for their son that grad­u­ated but my par­ents couldn’t have given you the gift of a car or even if they could, I don’t think my fa­ther would sub­scribe to that but de­spite that, my mother in­sisted we must bring some­body who would not bring any­thing to the ta­ble and must abide by hu­mil­ity, in­tegrity and fear of God and my wife had a good mea­sure of all these. So I think even as I speak to­day, she is the most qual­i­fied to be my wife.

You al­ways ac­com­plish things you set your mind on, how come you never broke the pa­tience of your wife or you didn’t even try to?

I didn’t try to and I didn’t need to break it but she is ex­tremely pa­tient just that I am a gad­fly. I have my lines and I keep to those lines, so she is in­fin­itely pa­tient.

What would you de­scribe as your low­est point in life, what has given you the big­gest pain?

The loss of my fa­ther which came at a point I was de­fend­ing my PhD the­sis; I thought my fa­ther would have seen the ic­ing on the cake, what he has made of his boy. I thought he would have been around to see some of those things. I have this bur­den of debt that I couldn’t give back. I was only able to buy him af­ter­shave old spice so could that be the only thing any­body can get af­ter spend­ing your time and en­ergy shap­ing and panel-beat­ing one per­son to make him come out good? So I was re­ally touched when the news came that he was gone but I think look­ing back, we are try­ing to live our lives within the guide­line and frames which he had pre­pared be­cause quite cu­ri­ously, at three, he had told me ev­ery­thing, al­most ev­ery­thing. I am not con­fused about any­thing in life to say what would my daddy do or have me do at a point like this. At each point, I know what he would want me do. Then, God blessed me with a mother that lived long enough to see some of the things I would have loved my par­ents to see.

What has given you the big­gest joy, your high­est point in your life?

My doc­tor­ate de­gree in Bio­chem­i­cal Phar­ma­col­ogy. That time, I thought... it took ev­ery­thing and then when I started pub­lish­ing my works. My first pub­lished ar­ti­cle was in In­dian Jour­nal of Med­i­cal Sci­ences in 1985 where I stud­ied gar­lic and its ef­fect on choles­terol and liver lipids and all those kinds of things. When you write a pa­per and the world recog­nises that this thing is good enough to make con­tri­bu­tions to knowl­edge. I have a very strong pas­sion for aca­demics. Of course, some of you know that I still teach but be­yond teach­ing, I lead two re­search groups and I have over 20 pub­lished ar­ti­cles be­tween 2015 and now in Bio­chem­istry. I am still in­volved in re­search.

How do you re­lax?

That has changed over time but my friends, my peo­ple are the things that keep me happy. More of­ten than not, I stay awake till about 4a.m. not be­cause any­body is com­pelling me but with my friends. I have kept tab with all my child­hood friends be­cause they are the peo­ple you go back to and they are the peo­ple who keep around you not be­cause of what you are but be­cause they know you, so at times when I have them around, we talk but I love soc­cer. Up till 2015, I use to play soc­cer ev­ery Sun­day but I have not done that most re­cently.

And your favourite team?

Eny­imba In­ter­na­tional and Man U.

As­sum­ing you were to change any part of you, what would that be?

It is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion be­cause what am I chang­ing into so that I won’t use orig­i­nal and ex­change a fake. I like the or­gan­ism called Okezie Ik­peazu and the way it func­tions.

Any guilty plea­sures in your life?

(Laughs long) I don’t think I have. I had an ac­tive youth life as an African boy who grew up with priv­i­leges as son of a teacher in those days. Priv­i­leges in the sense that I had par­ents that were re­spected and then wher­ever I went around and in­tro­duced my­self as son of so per­son, peo­ple look at me with se­ri­ous­ness, not now that many teach­ers are no longer re­spected that much. Then as an adult, I also had psy­cho­log­i­cally and so­cially bal­anced ado­les­cence and youth life. I tried all kinds of things ev­ery young man would try and thank God that I had the courage to drop those I didn’t need for the rest of my life. Then, life is like a jour­ney of some­body on a pil­grim­age; when you want to plan to cross the desert, if you had two bot­tles of wa­ter, you carry them as you are trekking and you con­sume all the wa­ter in one wa­ter bot­tle, and you had wa­ter only in one, the best thing is to drop the empty wa­ter bot­tle so that you con­serve en­ergy. So what I don’t need, be they habit or any­thing, I drop them go­ing for­ward. I will go back to teach­ing and full time gospel be­cause I like to teach in the church ac­tively al­most ev­ery week­end, two weeks in a year. At times I marvel at that. What is left of me is teach­ing and spend­ing

Gov. Ik­peazu

Ik­peazu fam­ily

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