Dr John Abhuere
Chief (Dr) Pius Muoghalu KSJ, MON, Ikenga Umuoji, former Director NYSC, Chairman Harmonia Hotel etc is a December child. As we know December is a special month in the life of Christians. It is the month we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ-the only begotten son of God and review and plan for a new year. This is a unique blessing in itself because it means that the chief was born well in the right season and was destined for greatness.’By their fruits ye shall know them’ says the Lord.
It is needless to say that the birth of young Obi 75 years ago was a source of heightened joy, renewed determination and an elixir of sort to the Muoghalu family of Umuoji, Anambra sate.As they say in Esan land, you can predict a bright day from the mood of the morning. So far Chief Muoghalu has not disappointed expectation. He has proved a huge success in both the public service where he retired as Director and business world where he owns and runs chains of successful enterprises. He comes across as one with the Midas touch.
It is thus pleasing, appropriate and quite reassuring that his beautiful children have decided to make this year’s December -the month of his birth extra- special for their golden dear daddy- a man many other people have readily and gladly adopted as a father for his kind – hearted- ness, love and accommodation that extends far beyond the bounds of tribe and religion.
This is not surprising for the Chief apart from being a successful public servant and business man is also a good family man- a dear father and husband , a caring uncle, and pan Nigerian of the highest esteem with a transparent fair sense of justice for all comers including the youths especially the corps members who served under him in his days at the NYSC.
So on 27th December 2015 friends and associates will join his children and family members at the ‘Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic church Umuoji to mark the 75th Birthday and celebrate the well fulfilled life of a highly precocious child who steadily grew to be an icon in his chosen areas of human endeavor.
As part of the celebration, it is my pleasure to write this piece as a tribute to the leadership and managerial qualities of a great mentor and a patriot extra- ordinary who gave his all to the service of fatherland especially for the development and empowerment of the Nigerian youth. It is an unsolicited personal account in an appreciation of the leadership and patriotic qualities of a man fate brought to play a significant part in my life.
I have known Chief Pius Obi Muoghalu for over thirty years and I can reveal that he is a workaholic, a devoted trainer, a dedicated mentor, an able leader of men, effective manger of resources with sharp eyes for details, uncommon and unwavering patriot, enthusiastic community builder per excellence and generous donor to humanitarian cause.
At 75, the chief still works and nurses sweet dreams for a better country. I love and respect him especially for his philosophy of fair- play, tolerance and respect for others. He has the gift of a rare understanding of the human nature and the Midas touch that makes success of almost everything he has laid his hand on.
By dint of hard work and far-sighted vision, the Chief has grown to be a national treasure. He has been head of Administration NYSC , State Director, NYSC Enugu, Lagos etc, Director finance and later Community Development Services, etc. It is needless to say that he did well on each position and won high commendation from the authority. Upon retirement he went into hospitality business with remarkable success till date. He has been honored at home and abroad for hardworking and relentless contributions to the advancement of humanity.
But it is his positive impact on the youth of Nigeria and his clear understanding of the role of the NYSC official in nation building that is of greater interest to me. This is what brought us together . I was still a youth- a corps member when I first met the Chief. He left me with the impression of a man of high integrity and nationalistic credentials with an uncommon tolerance for others outside his linguistic zone. He believes the NYSC official should be as detribalized as possible with fair play for all irrespective of tribe or religion. He should be tolerant and accommodating of all youths no matter where from.
He strongly believes in the unity of Nigeria and shows warm and genuine love and respect for ‘strangers as basis of promoting harmony and trust in the country. According to him, when you treat a ‘stranger’ well, he would go away with good impression of you and project your family and community in good light for long. The reverse is the case when he is ill- treated.
So in NYSC meetings, you would often hear him preaching love, understanding and tolerance usually by paraphrasing Lord Jesus injunction : Love thy neighbor including the stranger as your-self and there will peace,harmony and trust in the world -Nigeria would be a better place. The youth would thus feel safe, trusting, and committed to national unity and development. I have found such philosophy to be apt for positive youth development and citizenry empowerment for nation building.
Perhaps the Chief has such tolerant and cosmopolitan disposition because of his early exposure to other cultures -for instance he studied Economics at Nigerian’s premier University- the University of Ibadan and worked many years in Lagos and other parts of the country. Or because he was raised in an era imbued with the belief and values captured in the now discarded National anthem that ‘though tribes and tongues may differ,in brother hood we stand’ What ever is the reason ,Chief Pius O Muoghalu ,MON, comes across as a worthy role model in nationalism, patriotism, love and tolerance. He is an exemplar of the true modern Nigerian of our dream.
It needs be stressed that in a country still seriously weighed down by primordial values of ethnicity and religion , the Muoghalu way of inclusiveness and tolerance is a rarity among the elites. To many it is even strange. While it is the right way to go today for national unity and progress in a multi- cultural setting such as Nigeria, it has not been surprising to hear some people wondering whether Chief Muoghalu is truly an Ibo man or not. It is a pleasant and healthy wonder. However for the avoidance of doubt he is of course one -a true Nigerian of Ibo origin- but one with large heart for all compatriots and fertile imagination for doing good things in the interest of the country and humanity.
His warm disposition is worthy of emulation. His life has been a shinning example of the fact that it is not the accident of the place of birth of man that is important but the quality and relevance of his ideas, deeds, contributions, intellect , vision and actions and the extent of happiness which his ideas and actions generate for majority people of a society.One can be an Ibo, Yoruba ,Hausa, Edo, Ijaw etc and yet be good, caring and patriotic citizen of Nigeria. As already hinted ChiefPius Muoghalu is a patriot of the highest order and thus good role model for all those interested in making Nigeria a better country.
I had heard so much about the Chief before fate brought us to meet officially. That was in the mid 1980s when he was head of Administration NYSC and I was acting Principal Inspector, Yola Adamawa state. Though the meeting was initially unpleasant, yet it is relevant here to dwell on it as defining moment in our warm relationship till date as well as the awareness it created on the raison d’être of the NYSC organization among staff. I did not set out to meet the chief but a superior officer: the hand of fate was at work.
It seems like yesterday but I still remember those dark and gloomy days of the NYSC when her image was severely dented and its abiding philosophy of national unity almost lost. I had just returned from the UK where I had done plenty of Development studies and was eager to experiment some ideas and correct obvious lapse in my little way following the idea of M Ghandi that societal development should start at the individual or family level. My posting to Yola as second in command was an opportunity to prove a point that Nigeria can be united and developed like other countries.
I have always believed that Nigeria belongs to all and the task is to make the youth believe and feel the same way in order to be able to make the desired sacrifice and selfless contribution to nation building. I joined the NYSC with the ideological conviction that it was a positive tool for nation- building. But not long I began to see some discouraging signs in form of some anti- nation activities by some of our elites.
When we were recruited in 1978 we were taught by the Director NYSC Col Solomon Omojokun to do nationalism and preach love and unity in all circumstances but what what was taking place in the scheme in the mid 1980s was the opposite- a serious deviation from standard practice or ideal. Part of the reason was the recruitment of some people on tribal basis at the time to the management of the scheme many of whom were not schooled in the philosophy and values of the scheme and were not prepared to settle to learn at the time. I was faced with serious value- crisis made so by some anti nation activities of some of our senior officials.
NYSC was for national unity and development but within the scheme were some people making hate preaching and deriding some groups based on tribe, religion and obvious distrust and disregard for a section of the country. It was both unhealthy and dangerous to the spirit of the scheme and positive development of the youth.I forgot that I was no longer in Britain where I was an active member of the student wing of the Labour Party and where one could contribute to reforms through writing.
I decided to intervene by doing what I called occasional writing, some of which according to rumors made some people upstairs uncomfortable. A query and a 72 page response with three loaded files of evidence of some wrong doing made me to be in stormy weather in Yola. For me the query, judgement, decisions and punishment were wrong, unfair and unmerited. I complained but none in management or authority was listening. I was aggrieved over what seemed to me a miscarriage of justice. I vowed to fight the injustice to the best of my ability.
This was the background to my visit to NYSC DHQ in order to have audience with the Director, Administration & Finance.With a letter of resignation in my hand and a writing job in the wing, I was prepared for all sorts of vituperation. But it was not to be. The superior officer I planned a show -down for would not even attend to me but instead referred me to a lower Officer- the CAO personnel. All rehearsal for the planned rough encounter was thus put on hold.
It was a highly disappointed and very angry man that met the CAO- then Mr P .O Muoghalu .But on the corridor a course mate and friend of mine- Yoruba man had spoken highly of Chief Muoghalu’s sense of fair – play and Justice. He was correct .I do not know whether he knew my deadly state of mind but he handled my case with skills, maturity, sagacity and the relative ease of a seasoned and well practiced administrator.
He refused to accept my resignation thereby saving my career.And from nowhere he predicted that I would be a director of the scheme adding that the NYSC needed people like me and that my transfer was to protect me from harm,,,, I should mellow my writings and activism if not in the ‘interest of your career but the security of your life and happiness of your family’ It was management and psychology rolled into one at work. I left his office satisfied that there were still some good Nigerians around in the system and thus hope for the NYSC and by implication the nation-state. As he predicted I later became a Director and retired in 2011.
But it was really not about me. It was his nature to be good and fair to all and effective on his job. Chief Muoghalu is an astute administrator who had the welfare of the staff as top priority. He is also a great talent hunter and identifier of good officers as well as an effective manager who pays attention to the minutest details. He often asks about general and specific health condition of his workers and readily shares health information such as encouraging ‘those over forty years to check their prostrate regularly.He delegates effectively and displays an equitable disposition to all members of staff.
I discovered all these when once more fate brought us together in a boss/staff relationship.A posting by NYSC DHQ made him the Chief Inspector of old Anambra state NYSC Secretariat Enugu, where I was then working as a senior Inspector NYSC. As a boss I found him very accommodating and caring with an open mind for inclusiveness and little or no room for tribal bias in judgement. What matters most to him is good performance -the ability to do a good job. He did not only appoint me- a non – Ibo as Camp Director in Awgu camp, also he ensured my nomination to key committees of the scheme.
He is a serious minded but easy going individual. He speaks Yoruba and Ibo fluently and bits of Hausa language. He makes friends easily.In due time I discovered that his friends were from all parts of the country. He appreciates friendship and never tired of hailing them including Dr Joseph Ehimaghe of Day Spring Hotel for the role he played in setting up his hotel- Harmonia.
Chief Muoghalu has an effortless way of breaking ice and building warm lasting relationship. Before he came to Enugu as Chief Inspector, there was uncomfortable gap between Head of Secretariat and other members of staff. I still remember with nostalgia the unannounced strategic visits to officers homes without notice upon his assumption as head of secretariat Anambra State. At the end of the unscheduled tours, he came out with palliative measures to enhance staff comforts at home. Like others I was a beneficiary :I got a settee to my sitting room which he found empty during his surprise visit to me.
Perhaps what I shall never forget about the chief is his knack for details. He does not take chances.For instance during the orientation course he would visit all spots especially the firewood bay and the water tank locations. One day I asked him why all these daily checks sir? ‘Oh it is to avoid crisis’ he replied.’Can you imagine the consequence of failure- say if cooking is delayed for lack of water or fire wood? It is easier and cheaper to prevent a crisis than to manage it’ he explained. He believes in planning and saving for the raining day.
The chief is very good in rewarding hardworking people and assisting those in need and in encouraging staffers to learn to save to own a house. His formula was simple : save to buy a bag of cement per month and mould into blocks in preparation for building a house. He did such tutorials normally toward the end of staff meeting. He once rewarded a staff who turned up to date monthly records to DHQ because according to him the officer’s excellent work portrayed our secretariat in good light before others. His unceasing reminders persuaded many of us to commence building project even if it took many years to complete .
The Chief has a deep sense of history, affinity and fraternity. NYSC is continually and fondly in his mind. Not long ago, I called him only to find out that he was attending the funeral ceremony of a late former colleague . I can hardly recall not seeing him -if invited, at any important event organized by the NYSC including the NYSC Presidents Honours Award since his retirement .For him, the NYSC is our alma- mater and so should be supported by the ex boys.
We can go on and on but it suffices to note that as as ardent builder of men and developer of community, his home town Umuoji honored him with a chieftaincy title of Ikenga Umuoji and the nation recently crowned him with a national honor of MON. He is today a national treasure having distinguished himself as a great performer and outstanding personality- an Iroko tree in his own right .
At 75 we are happy and proud to be associated with him. He has been my mentor, inspirer and supporter, be it in good or bad times-the naming ceremony of child, career advancement, burial of my parents, planning retirement including my NGO- centre for ChildCare and YouthDevelopment or writing and launching of my books.
Mark you I am not from the East of the Niger but Midwest of Nigeria. We are bonded by shared values of love and patriotism, ideology of National unity and development, fair- play and Justice which flowed from him to me on that fateful day of first official meeting.He has been a great blessing to the world and inestimable asset to humanity. Happy birthday sir and many more returns of the day to a great mentor and unwavering patriot – a man with a large heart for all Nigerians.
Abhuere, fnim, Oven of Ebelle, founder/chairman, Centre for
Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja.