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Prof Fabian Osuji at 80: Celebrating a man of excellence, By Isaac N. Obasi

Prof Fabian Osuji

Although Prof. Fabian N. C. Osuji (former Minister of Education under the Obasanjo Administration) was born on 20th January 1942 and turned 80 years in January 2022, the activities marking his 80th birthday anniversary were held on Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022. The activities started with a 10am thanksgiving mass at the Holy Cross Catholic Church, Gwarimpa, Abuja, and later climaxed with a celebration tagged “A Legacy of Excellence” at The Statement Hotel, Abuja. 

It was an unforgettable day that this man of excellence or distinction (whichever you choose) was celebrated by members of his beloved family, relations, in-laws, friends, admirers, well-wishers, and former professional colleagues across the length and breadth of this country. A major part of the celebration was the presentation of his biography titled: Fabian Osuji: Teacher, Scholar, Gentleman. The book was written by Dr. Ezechi Onyerionwu (one of Nigeria’s leading intellectual biographers), reviewed by Prof. Val. Ekechukwu of the University of the Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and published by the University Press Plc, Ibadan. Aside from Prof. Osuji’s biographer, Dr. Onyerionwu had worked on a cream of other distinguished Nigerians such as Prof. Wole Soyinka, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi (former Federal Permanent Secretary), Prof. Akachi Adimorah-Ezeigbo, Odein Ajumogobia (former Minister of Foreign Affairs) among host of others. What follows now is a presentation of the striking things associated with the event.

An event some people thought might not be well attended given the main celebration of the special day (Easter Sunday) turned out to be a crowd pulling event of who is who in Prof. & Dr. (Mrs.) Osuji’s social circle. The occasion was chaired by Prof.Osuji’s long-time bosom friend, Prof. A. B. C. Nwosu (former Minister of Health), who was in his usual best in directing the event. 

In a brief brochure produced for the event, Prof. Osuji’s beloved wife Dr. Philomena C. Osuji, and five children: Mrs. Gozie Osuagwu (CPA), Obi Osuji (MD), Mrs. Chinwe Esimai (Esq.), Mr. Okey Osuji (MBA) and Mr. K. C. Osuji (Esq., MBA), joyously stated that they ‘couldn’t be more proud, grateful, and honored to be part’ of his “contributions to history”. And then they wholeheartedly stated that they are celebrating Prof. Osuji’s legacy of excellence as: (a) a husband, father, and grandfather, (b) a true man of God who led his household to God and instilled in then a deep love of God, (c) a son, brother, relative, and friend, (d) a pioneer, (e) a public servant and statesman, (f) a student, professor and educator, (g) a visionary leader and consummate professional, (h) a witty and exquisite, world-class orator, and lastly (g) as a man of great courage, resilience, and fortitude. 

For those who know Prof. Osuji very well, they would always vouch that all these were not bogus claims as they reflect facts about this octogenarian’s life they had interacted with in the past. In fact, volumes could be written in any aspect of these identified areas of his life where he has actually left an indelible footprints on the sands of time.        

Again, the brief brochure contained some remarkable tributes and congratulatory messages of which three would be mentioned here. These are those of Ambassador Ignatius C. Olisemeka (former Minister of Foreign Affairs & Prof. Osuji’s in-law), Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (Prof. Osuji’s former fellow Commissioner in Imo State 1994-1996), and Chief Paul N. Ibeku mni, (a later year bosom friend in Abuja). 

For Ambassador Olisemeka, “the Osujis are a prodigiously gifted and talented family…Most of their children graduated from some of the best known universities in the United States. Yet, in spite of the height they have all risen in their various careers, they remain simple, humble, unassuming and adorable…Of Prof. Fabian Osuji himself…he is a man of great simplicity. He combines the sophisticated touch of a cultivated refined man with deeply rooted traditional values. He is at home with many cultures. It is just a pleasure listening to him arguing and defending his opinion and point of view on a vast array of issues calmly without rancour. Underpinning all these is his adherence to core moral values which, regrettably, are now fast declining and vanishing in our rapidly changing world.”

There is an instructive moral lesson in Ambassador Olisemeka’s observation that the younger generations need to take home for guidance. For an in-law to pass such a high commendation on Prof. Osuji’s children, speaks volumes. For example, he must have observed the presence of good home training and the concomitant benefits of the training for him to make such a commendation publicly. His observation coincides with one of the legacies of excellence Prof. Osuji’s family openly celebrated as mentioned earlier. For me, the younger generations are hereby challenged to reflect on this perfect correlation. 

In his own congratulatory message which has a nostalgic tone, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu testified that Prof. Osuji “rendered inspirational and quality services to the people and Government of Imo State” when both of them served in the State Executive Council. He further said that his impression of Prof. Osuji “then and thereafter is that of a man endowed with dazzling and splendid qualities garnished with brilliance, urbanity, respectability, uncommon humanity, and confidence without a trace of arrogance.”

Continuing, Dr. Uzoukwu said that at all times Prof. Osuji radiates charm and dignity, and is gregarious, open-minded, and articulate. Lastly, he concluded that Prof. Osuji (unlike most Nigerians who occupied high public offices), was not dehumanised by his exalted positions as a public officer. Again for me, these are rare qualities that need to be emulated by the younger generation. 

For Chief Paul N. Ibeku, Prof. Osuji is a man who is without equivocation “frank, courageous, honest, humble, and reliable. He doesn’t discriminate on any ground whatsoever, he shows respect to all.” According to him, he knew Prof. Osuji for less than two decades that is after he had become a professor, a deputy vice-chancellor, a pro-chancellor of a top Nigerian university and a Minister of Education. These feats he achieved at a young age.”

The presentation of Prof. Osuji’s biography (a 370-page book excluding preliminary pages) was successfully carried out at the event. The book’s lasting value is more than a biography for both the old and younger generations. Anyone who picks a copy of this well-written and well-produced book will definitely benefit from its encyclopedic value that straddles all aspects of his eventful life. The power of its easy-flowing and captivating story in the educational, social, political and other experiences of his life, makes the book a compelling reading.  

As a member of the younger generation to his, this writer remained one of those who admired Prof. Osuji from a distance for his brilliance and uncommon courage in his life undertakings. Although I had written a couple of opinion articles about him while he was serving as the honourable minister of education (part of which were discovered and cited in the biography), we never had any striking relationship even though we all come from Nguru town in Aboh Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State. Coincidentally, even though he was my hall warden in Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall at the University of Ibadan (1979-1981), it was simply a meeting of an academic giant with many ‘undergraduate ants’ around him. It was impossible for him to have actually known many of us closely. 

Again, when he was the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), I was an academic staff of that great university – another case of an academic giant meeting many ‘academic ants.’ Incidentally, when I moved over to Abuja, I came to know this lively senior gentleman closely because of residential proximity between us. It was, however, my inaugural lecture in 2019 at the University of Abuja which made that possible. I delivered an invitation from the university to him and he graciously attended. Ever since then, I have found in him a true reflection of what the trio of Ambassador Ignatius Olisemeka, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu and Chief Paul Ibeku testified about him above. On this note, I join many of Prof. Osuji’s well-wishers to say hearty congratulations.      

 •Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. He served as columnist in the Daily Trust, Abuja, (2003-2006, & Daily Champion, Lagos, 2005-2008, Email: [email protected]      

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