By James Eze
This is a book of legacies, timed to coincide with the tenth year anniversary of the death of Chief Chike Okagbue (Ezennia). It is a special tribute collection condensed from the reflections of people most affected by Ezennia’s phenomenal life. It seeks to uncover, from family members, associates and eyewitnesses; the forces that propelled Chike Okagbue to his outstanding achievements in business, politics and service to humanity.
It is a great story told with disarming simplicity and a rare ability to cherry pick the essentials. Like most publications that fall under the coffee table category, the aim is to inform and entertain in as few words as possible. Here, there is no luxury of the long, windy narrative, of the endless digressions that too often test the patience of the hasty reader. Here too, the author turns the craft of word economy into a new art, chiselling out spare lines that carry enough meat to fulfil the twin missions of education and entertainment with each devastating stroke.
But who is the author and why should we read him? Well, this book is from the desk of James Atah, editor of the African History Makers Series. Atah comes almost fully made in the business, having produced important biographical works on the Chief TOS Benson, Amb. Mathew Mbu and Chief Chidi Anyaegbu of Chisco Group. He has also been head of the Tri-Atlantic Books biographical team that churned out historical books on African legends like the Great Zik of Africa, Aminu Kano, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Asagyefo Kwame Nkrumah and other. Atah has a reputation for taking on giants and humanizing them with a stroke of genius.
So, as leads us to Chike Okagbue in Root of the Matter, we are offered fulsome glimpses of an ordinary life led in extraordinary ways. Like a show-reel, each fragment offers us a view into the rich tapestry of Okagbue’s everyday life; each scene throbs with memories that resonate through the ages. We are forcibly drawn into the narrative as we respond to every twitch of his nerves as he is drawn into the swirl of the daily experience of life among his people. The circumstances of his birth and the challenges of growing up in the countryside, isolated from the amenities that made for elevated living even in the colonial 30s are painted with shimmering clarity. With each stroke of his pen, the writer offers us a fresh pair of eyes to visualize Ezennia’s colossal life from the simplified prism of everyday living. Nothing is dramatized to comical proportion; nothing too, is lost to chance or lack attention. In a seemingly uncanny way, the author adroitly ensures that every line adds to the spell-binding narrative.
And this peculiar attention to creating believability is the strength of the book. The humble beginnings of the subject and the frightening circumstances that almost eclipsed his childhood and early education are presented with telling poignancy. The loss of one’s parents and the ease with which it could cut short a dream and the obligations of the traditional society in raising a child; are all brought back with tingling nostalgia.
It must be said though, that there is something inspiring in the author’s masterful presentation of a series of interlocking events and actions in a gripping flow that mirrors aspects of the personal experience of the reader; giving us enough nudge to identify ourselves in the social milieu in which the subject led out his extraordinary life.
The import of a work of this kind for many readers around the world nailed to inertia by overwhelming odds and the fear of constant failure is that it can still be done; that it is possible to rise above the jagged edges of grinding poverty and build a multibillion Naira enterprise. And this is no tall tale!
The loads of anecdotes, parables, illustrations and real life experiences recounted in this slim volume will surely leave the reader thankful for a surfeit of truly entertaining and motivational material.
The most interesting thing about Root of the Matter is that there is something for every reader to take away; a fruitful search in a large forest, teeming with brilliant ideas, imageries and symbolisms. Root of Matter is something to look forward to!
Book Review By James Eze