What became another public interest story emanated from the household of a former governor of the old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo recently. The respected frontline politician had arranged for the burial of his late son, Ifeanyi, who died of cancer related ailment in his hometown in Enugu State, but to his surprise, the body of the late medical doctor was withheld by his siblings, who probably had a axe to grind with their father over, where Ifeanyi would be buried.
The elderly politician opened up on the matter, which went viral last week, where he made it clear that the whole burial arrangement was scuttled by his now estranged children and siblings of the late Ifeanyi and their mother, who he divorced in 1978 before he became a governor.
Chief Nwobodo did not hold back words about the unfortunate incident, which he described as an abomination, in this interview he granted our publisher, Mr. Dayo Asaju in his country home in Enugu State.
Sir, can you tell us what happened exactly?
At my age now, I think I should be going for peace, getting people to talk about peace and all that and not to get involved in a problem like this. Ifeanyi was my first son and he was sick and unknown to us – unknown to myself and my wife – the family hid him…I don’t know whether you have gotten this brochure (the burial programme), because it also talks about what happened. So, when we heard he was sick, we were very worried and we made sure that he was taken to hospital; my wife actually championed it because she’s very intuitive and I give it to her. She said look, your first son is sick and we don’t know about it. So, those who made us see Ifeanyi were just about two people; who saw him and he was really down! He was down, always crying, he was gaunt, tired and then, to be precise, Chijioke Okibe saw him and said look, ‘Ifeanyi, have you informed your dad?’ He said ‘no.’ He said ‘why?’ He said that his dad was very fond of upbraiding him, cautioning him and so on. So, he said ‘and then so what?’ So, he said ‘if I leave here now, I’m going straight to tell your dad.’ So, he called me after he left Ifeanyi, he called me in Lagos and flew straight to Lagos. From the airport, he came to my place and said, ‘Sir, your son is dying’. I said ‘who,’ he said ‘Ifeanyi is dying.’ So, I said ‘what happened?’ He told me the story. Now, there are a few things that one doesn’t want to talk about, but I think it’s become necessary for you to hear some of the background. My wife (Pat) then called Ifeanyi and asked him to come to Lagos, Ifeanyi said he want to go home; that they’ve arranged to go to India. So, she now said ‘who arranged your Indian trip? Who arranged for you to go to India?’ He said ‘some of his friends.’ And then we asked – ‘where are the friends?’ So, how much have they contributed? He said they made pledges, how much pledges? N7million.
And none of them had paid. And then we said so you are expecting that these friends will take you to India for treatment? We said you better come immediately to Abuja. It’s in this programme (burial brochure). And then he came…He said it was difficult to get American Visa. But because of my position and my wife’s pedigree with the American Embassy, we got him visa in 5 days! Instead of the normal 3 months. And he couldn’t believe it because we came into the embassy, Tuesday, they asked him to come and pick his visa on Thursday, two days after. He came; we arranged for him, he travelled to Houston visa Amsterdam. He has a very wonderful in-law – Oluchukwu Onuegbo, a decent young man. He was very anxious also to help. So, we asked him to fly him from…because he’s in Saudi Arabia; fly in from Saudi Arabia to Amsterdam, pick Ifeanyi and take him straight to Houston because he was very sick. And we made calls to the doctor there. The doctor told us that ‘this is a very bad case; it’s a bad case, this is a very bad case.’ Then I told him; ‘please, do what you can.’ So, we took him to the hospital, Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston, and Ifeanyi said that when they met in Amsterdam…The ticket with which he travelled was bought by my wife. She paid for it – N1.8 million, first class, because she felt that as a sick person, if he travelled by economy, he might be squashed and that it would not be good for his health. So, she did that and then he travelled. The young man waited for him at Amsterdam…He said himself that God was with him because as they entered the hospital, he fainted. Because America is a fantastic place, they used oxygen on him, did everything on him and revived him. He said he woke up and he called me, ‘Daddy, I didn’t know that we don’t have hospitals in Nigeria.’ He said where he was staying, the kind of gadgets alone on his bed are unbelievable…Now, my wife usually can be very inquisitive. So, she started saying that well, okay…But she went to search Google for the best cancer hospital in the world and she googled and found that the best cancer hospital in the world is MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston Texas. MD Anderson! If you talk about cancer anywhere in the world, the first place they mention is MD Anderson. So, we now begged this hospital, ‘please allow us to transfer this Ifeanyi to that place.’ They refused. We begged, we begged.
So, they said the only condition; you must have a Nigerian doctor that will help you navigate the intricacies of getting into hospitals. You must have that if you don’t have that you will be in trouble. So, this Nigerian doctor, one of them we know. But when I got there, I found out another one. There are two of them; Oguejiofor and Ibezim. They told us that they didn’t know that the case was as bad as that. So, we now begged and they said that ‘if you want to transfer, you will pay a deposit of $250,000.’ I told him we didn’t have this kind of money, $250,000! Where are we going to get this kind of money? We will do our best, but…They said okay, deposit something, at least to show good faith. So, we deposited $45,000. This is irrespective of the fare of the hotel accommodation, that of the place of treatment and so on and so forth. And then we went there…But before then, let me just tell you what I find incredible – when Chijioke went to see the wife, he was furious; he was very, very furious. The wife said how can you go and talk and discuss my husband’s health with his dad? And this is a small girl from a small village here! The boy said ‘you must be crazy; this is his dad.’ He said ‘you are his wife, but that is his source because if Ifeanyi dies you can remarry, but the man will not get his son back.’ Which is the fact – I can’t get him back. But that woman can remarry if she wants to remarry. So, they quarreled and eventually Ifeanyi got into the MD Anderson hospital after about 3-4 weeks, then we flew into…I was in the just concluded National Conference, I broke off from that National Conference and never got back there until they finished. I went with my wife and we were there in Texas, Houston, we sat by him, talked to him and you could see somebody feeling oh, I didn’t know what I was missing and I keep remembering this and I keep telling people that – to show you how a dad can be to his son, he called me daddy. One night he said ‘daddy, please tell me, do you think I will survive this cancer?’ I said ‘you will, but you must pray and be resolute that you will.’ And then the first treatment, after the first one month, they told us that the cancer had gone to another stage. There are four stages of cancer – stage 1, stage 2, stage 2 ½, stage 3, stage 3 ½ and stage 4. When it gets to stage 4, it is bad! And Ifeanyi’s cancer was at stage 4. And they call it that the cancer has metastasized and anybody who knows about cancer knows that when they say that about cancer, it means that it’s a bad case. So, as God would have it, they told us that Ifeanyi has 25 percent chance of recovery. 25 percent! But after 2 weeks, because he must go for biopsy; biopsy is something that must be done to ascertain the degree of cancer and the treatment. After his biopsy, they came and told us that before, they thought he had 25 percent, but now he had 75% chance of recovery. And he was praying, everybody was praying. They had the chaplain in the hospital, who will come and pray for him every day and they gave us example of those who had been pronounced dead and they made it. They gave us the example of a man, a person who came in there and they told him that he had only 3 weeks chance of recovery and that he would die only after 3 weeks. Today, he’s still alive after 13 years. So, we told Ifeanyi such stories that made him, built him up and then he came back. Again, his coming back, the doctor advised against his coming back. This same wife and their relations said that he must come back in September and against doctor’s advice, he left. The ticket we bought him was first class ticket by Lufthansa; no, by KLM. They abandoned it and bought him Delta Airline ticket. The Delta Airline ticket took him from Houston to this place in about 12 hours. He was quashed up in the plane. He got there; the young man that went to pick him at the airport, got here, when he was coming, he was on a wheel. But as soon as he saw me he stood up. Now, this is how he came here. He came back here, we had a thanksgiving service…There, he said he now knows those who really love him and those who don’t love him. So, that’s what happened. So, I started looking for an oncologist. An oncologist is somebody who handles cancer patients, an oncologist is an expert in cancer…We had this oncologist, and I asked for the best oncologist in Enugu State. I was told that the best is one Umezuoke or somebody. He’s a consultant. The first time he said he was very busy. I kept pleading with him that he should please help me. Unfortunately, and that’s why I don’t want to make further statement, I don’t want to accuse the doctor of anything, unfortunately, the day he went to see the doctor, they gave him two injections, one on the left, one on the right; 30 minutes after the injection, he became unconscious, and from there, he died. So, for me, it’s painful because here is somebody who was sick and we had actually got him well, and for him to die this way, it was very unfortunate. Now, Ifeanyi’s death, I wanted to get it out, I wanted to do it fast and forget about it. This place where I’m living, it’s my place. I bought it with my money as a young man. I bought it; I gave part of it to my brother. If you come out of this place, the next is my brother’s, my senior brother. I gave it to him, he didn’t pay for it, I paid for it. I also tried to acquire some lands on the other side (adjacent to his home). The difference is that there is a tarred road between this place and that place. It’s the same compound. So, I felt that what I could do for him is to get him a place where he will be buried, but with a house (voice rising). I contacted a very fast builder; I will want…Emeka, you will take them there, after this interview, to go and see. This house was built in 3 weeks. 3 weeks! And suddenly, of course, when somebody dies, you start getting so many pieces of advice and so on. But I’m the father and it’s unusual for a father to bury his son and I didn’t want that and I told him clearly: ‘Ifeanyi, I don’t want to bury you; I would like you to bury me’. I told him that a number of times. So, he died. Em…we didn’t expect he would die so soon because we were already planning for him to go back to Houston Texas and we had two doctors waiting for him. In fact, before he came back, the doctor that told me that his case was very bad said to me ‘I’ve never seen anything as miraculous as this.’ This man had all his organs cancerous. After the treatment, all of them had disappeared. All of them! So, he came back here, he said his main problem was pain on the leg. Pain on the leg, pain on the leg! And that was why I was making contacts with the doctors. So, from the day he died, I started planning for his burial. And because of politics, I felt that the best thing was to get him buried before the primaries that started on the 6th of December. He was supposed to be buried on the 5th and then primaries will hold on the 6th, 7th, 8th. There will be appeals between today and Monday and on the 11th, they will have our convention and we go to presidential debate. So, this is what happened. Now, Uso is the last of the lot. Chukwudi is the second to Ifeanyi, followed by the girl; the girl is Ifeoma and then Uso is the last. Chukwudi and Uso came to see me here. I want you to listen very carefully – Chukwudi and Uso came to see me here and I told them that their brother’s burial was on the 5th and that they should come back the next day, which was Saturday, for us to abhor the chances of changes. As I am talking to you (on Tuesday, December 9) today, I have neither seen Chukwudi nor Uso. The sister, who is based in the United States of America, came back, called me that she was coming back; she came back.
As I’m talking to you, I have not seen her. So, you start wondering what kind of children are these because if these were good children, they should be talking to me on a day-to-day basis about the burial? I set up the committee of the burial and they kept working and they knew all the arrangement that was being made. So, I didn’t see them. So, the next thing I heard was that we should have the programme…The programme involved service of songs on a Tuesday; then…But what I’m saying is that there are two lands we have – we have our ancestral home, about 30 minutes away from here, after the river; Uwogo, which is our ancestral home. This is where everybody born from our family has a place. But this place is my place – Jim Nwobodo’s place and I can only give it to whoever I want. Nobody can take it. It’s my own affair. And I didn’t know that there was any protest o! I didn’t know. If I had known; I would have discussed it with them. I didn’t know there was any protest. Because of the protest which I didn’t know about, we were all ready for the burial on Saturday and I invited my friends. I invited my friends; all my friends. Zik’s wife was here, Alex Ekwueme was here, Chris Ngige Chris, a lot of people including the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. Everybody was here. So, when I came in here, we expected to start service at about 11 and by 2 we would finish. By 11, I started asking about the corpse. I was told that the corpse was at the Eastern Medical Centre and I sent somebody there. So, I called Odengene, I said; ‘bia (come), you are in charge of the corpse, what happened?’ He said that the undertakers were expected to come with it. The undertakers did not come, he didn’t see the undertakers. So, that’s what happened. Having said it, this is the first time in my life that a set of children will seize the corpse of their elder brother. It is an abomination, it is an abomination of intolerable dimension, it is terrible! Not only is it an abomination, it is so stupid. It doesn’t show that the people who did it are intelligent and they don’t really love their brother, because the best thing you can do is to ensure that your brother gets a decent burial. You can come with your complaints, but not to hold on to the corpse. So, after that day, as far as I am concerned, I’ve completed the burial of Ifeanyi. Complete! I will never be involved in it again. Never! I’ve completed it. At a point in time, the church got involved; the bishops got involved and when the bishop called me, I said ‘my lord bishop, the Bible says, and this is the Bible I know I read, it says; it’s a commandment – honour your father and mother so that your days will be long.’ It is the only commandment with a promise. In the Bible, it is the only commandment with a promise – honour your father and your mother so that your days will be long. They’ve not done that and because I’m very angry I don’t want to curse them. If I curse them, it will materialize. I don’t want to curse them; But this is unbelievable, Ifeanyi, I don’t know, where the body is. It also depicts the character of both their mother and the children. And the other point that really cracked my brain is the press saying two wives! I have only one wife! This is my wife (points to Pat); I’m married to her. Look at us here (points to another photo of them). I have only one wife. Why do they keep talking about two wives? I divorced this woman (Mukosolu) before I became a governor and I have the papers of divorce (brandishes it). And I will give to you – you can take it and make copies. I divorced her thoroughly! So, please don’t refer to me as having two wives. It annoys me, I have a decent wife, I have just one wife and I hope that you will take note of that. I have just one wife. Please, refer to me as having just one wife. After the divorce, my lawyer wrote her. The letter is here – asking her to desist from answering my name because it creates a very wrong impression. So, please save me the embarrassment of saying matrimonial trouble. It angers me. I don’t have any matrimonial problem. I’m not married to two wives; I’m married to one wife. The church will not marry me if I didn’t divorce. No church will do that. So, I don’t have any problem with any woman. And one of the reasons of the divorce was that the children through her cannot be said to have my flesh and blood. Let me stop there. And I believe you know what I mean. If you have a son who has your flesh, who has your blood, there are certain things he must not do. So, and I still say, these children cannot be my children because they don’t have my flesh and blood. My children who are my flesh and blood love me so much. They call me, they lavish love on me. My daughter is unbelievably loving. That’s what the joy is all about. So, it’s only when a child is not yours that he can seize a dead body. There’s no other reason. So, I just want to say that please refer to me as a man with one wife. I have said so – and that your children that are your flesh and bloods have certain things they will never, never do. And if a child who claims that I am his father can… what do you call it? Is it stealing? They told the Bishops that they are prepared that since I don’t want him buried here (refers to his home), that he can be buried in the church. The bishop said okay, fine. The bishop asked me, since you built that church; that church, I built it and it was opened by the Bishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1982-Runcey. He opened it when I was the Governor. He said ‘okay, since you don’t want him buried here, do we bury him over there?’ I said ‘alright.’ They left .The bishops agreed, they were happy. They went back to get ready for the service – till today, they’ve not been seen. This is terrible. So, I just say this to the daughter, Ifeoma; I told Ifeoma – I got Ifeoma married to Oluchukwu. Today, they are divorced. They are no longer living together. So, I told her like mother, like daughter. When Ifeanyi was sick in hospital, in Houston, Ifeoma quarreled with her husband. I was there and my wife; without recourse to me, she called the police to come and remove the husband. Remove the husband! Police! Police came and the young man called me, ‘daddy, police have come to remove me o! Look at this your daughter;’ I said this is not my daughter, and that if she’s my daughter, she can’t remove you.’ I called the police, I said ‘please, please police, this is my son-in-law, don’t touch him.’ They said okay, since you have said that, they will do something. But that he would not sleep there that night. So, I asked the boy, please come and sleep in my hotel. That’s where he slept. Listen, it’s a terrible thing…I have kept this to myself because I’ve reached a stage in Nigeria where I should not be discussing something like this. I have passed that stage. Quite frankly, it is something I don’t want to discuss. But that shows you the problem I have been facing with these children. They went to the best schools; I employed the former comptroller of prisons, James Nwachukwu, a very good man to look after them. He told me he has never seen children like these. If they say a word, I will tell the world what they have done; people will spit at them when they see them. So, I just want to plead with you – do me the favour, call me, refer to me as Jim Nwobodo with one wife. Not two wives. And refer to me also as saying the truth of the matter and cling with what is moral…
You have told us your own story, but what does the custom and tradition of Amechi people say about this?
It depends on the man. This land and the other one across; it’s the same land. There’s no difference. There’s no difference. If I move over to that place, it becomes where I live, the same land, right? And I did it because I have a wife living with me here; I cannot bring him here with his wife. In any case, I cannot even see his dead body. It’s a terrible feeling. So, the problem will be how can I wake up in the morning and see the grave of my son? I don’t like it. So, I built that place, so that when they come, the wife and the children will see. ‘This is my daddy’s grave.’ I built a 3-bedroom, en-suite. You will see it. In 3 weeks! So, if I did all that, I thought I should… they should be happy that I did.
Earlier, you said you were done with the burial, that you will not re-visit it. But there were pleas to you by the bishops and other politicians, including Ekweremadu that day…
I agreed, I agreed, when they told me I agreed and waited. We were waiting for the body. I want you to take note of that. I agreed that day, I waited, the bishops went to dress up for the service. We didn’t see them. Till today, we’ve not seen them.
So, the new date of 16th December, will you participate?
God forbid! God forbid! Who fixed the 16th?
We heard it’s the new date?
Maybe Uso and others?
Okay, if you are a father and you put a date for the burial of your son on the 5th and some riffraffs, some scallywags, tramps, some dirty people – because these boys are thieves; I mean what I’m saying – choose a new date, will you go? Nobody will do that.
What is the position of the elders?
The ancestral home or where the father decides, where the father decides. And there had been occasions where a father had asked that the son that died in his presence be taken away to the bush to be buried because as a rule in our place, a child should not die before the father. So, this is the position. Or you take the person to the ancestral home. And in fact, one of the oldest persons in our place told me okay, can we take him to the ancestral home? I said why not? If you can take him to the ancestral home, it’s okay by me. That’s it. And please also just note something – how can these boys fix 16th without telling their dad? Is it not another abomination? It’s an abomination. Chukwu Ekweneihe Ojo (May the Lord forbid evil).
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