Long before egalitarianism became a preoccupation of social science researchers in the effort to enhance the efficiency and competitiveness of organisations, governments and societies, Arthur Nwankwo, chairman of Fourth Dimension Publishers in Enugu, had been acknowledged for his devotion to delayering, the process of drastically reducing hierarchies in workplaces and elsewhere. Though a professed socialist for decades, like many writers, activists and intellectuals in the developing world up to the late 1980s, Arthur’s lifestyle was not influenced by the thoughts of Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels and other exponents of scientific socialism. He was just himself. Arthur was a man against the status quo, including class distinction.
Practically any person, regardless of his or her background or creed or gender or ethnicity, could enter his house at any time, eat, have a drink, sleep, fiercely argue with him, etc. He could give plenty of money to the person to hire a cab home or even pay for a year’s rent for the person. The person could well be someone he had never met or someone who accompanied another to Arthur’s house in Enugu which was just a Mecca. If the person was intellectually inclined or articulate, Arthur was most likely to court his friendship most aggressively. He paid homage to intellectuality all his life, to paraphrase Pius Okigbo, Africa’s most decorated economist. No wonder, Fourth Dimension published some 1,500 titles, most of international standard.
I can’t remember now how Arthur and I met the first time in 1986, but what is certain is that we struck up a lifelong friendship spontaneously. He was impressed by the fact that I am a bibliophile and by my interest in a wide range of subjects as well as by my social network and dancing skills. He continually supplied new books he published which I reviewed for different newspapers and magazines in Nigeria and abroad. I also did other promotional work for his organisation. In no time, Arthur became the most important source of income for me for about two years.
In a society known for what Geert Hofstede, the preeminent Dutch social psychologist, famously calls high power index based on differences in wealth, age, power, authority or position, Arthur remarkably related to me and such friends as Okey Ndibe and Nnamdi Obasi, among numerous journalists, as his equal. We met distinguished Nigerians as Ike Nwachukwu, Arthur Nzeribe, Ebitu Ukiwe, Ebenezer Babatope and Ahmed Joda through Arthur. Because of the tremendous respect he displayed towards us, these eminent Nigerians related to us with great respect.
Arthur recognised the full humanity of his personal staff in a most touching manner. He encouraged his cook named Ignatius to run for a legislative seat in the Second Republic and provided him with expensive vehicles and chauffeurs, to say nothing about a lot of money.
One of his domestic workers named Okafor was once caught in Benue State where he had taken Arthur’s Peugeot 505 to sell illegally. For months he was not seen in Arthur’s residence. Then one night Arthur saw him in his house and asked Okafor where he had been while the latter was attending to guests. The steward was too timid to utter a word. Arthur looked at him closely and asked innocently, “Are you the one who took the Peugeot?” The young man couldn’t look up but managed to answer in the affirmative.
Arthur now said: “Since you have taken Peugeot to sell, you will soon take a limousine to sell. True or false?” Okafor stated in a low voice that he wouldn’t. Arthur responded, “Fine. It is not good to steal. By the way, when did you return to the house? Who reabsorbed you?” Okafor answered he had worked for more than one month and that he was reengaged by Ignatius, the cook. Arthur replied, “This is fine. I hope you have received your salary and other benefits? I hope you are feeding very well and enjoying yourself generally?”
When Okafor left the large living room, Arthur turned to guests like Stanley Macebuh who were stunned at the ease with which he handled the matter of his domestic aide who stole his beautiful car to sell but was caught in a neighbouring state and said: “I don’t think the elites in Nigeria are fair to the less privileged. People like Okafor need better pay and vastly improved conditions of service. They need the good things of life as we do. After all, they are human beings like us. I don’t want a revolution to start in this country because none of the rich will be spared if it takes place”. All of us became tongue-tied.
Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, serial author, activist, publisher and businessman, was probably not going to church every day and night, but he was someone imbued with Christian values. He stood out for his commitment to the dignity of the human person, which caused him to treat everyone, regardless of the status, race and confession, with great respect. He saw Christ in every human. May God receive his noble soul in heaven.
•Adinuba is Anambra State Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment