Two Nigerians of Igbo extraction recently pulled off spectacular world-class feats that exemplify possibilities in an environment that rewards hard work and merit.
In July, Leeds Trinity University in the United Kingdom appointed Professor Charles Egbu Vice Chancellor to take over from Professor Margaret House on November 1.
Egbu has been everything in British university circles in the past 25 years after he obtained a first class degree in quantity survey from Leeds Metropolitan University and a doctorate in construction project management from the University of Salford.
He was Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of East London and Dean of the School of Built Environment and Architecture at London South Bank University.
He was previously at the University of Salford, Glasgow Caledonian University and University College London.
He was director, trustee and chairman of the professional standards and knowledge committee of the Association for Project Management.
In May 2017, Egbu was admitted to the Worshipful Company of Constructors and earned the Freedom of the City of London. He is the immediate past president of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and was a governor and member of the London Design and Engineering UTC.
By his new appointment at Leeds Trinity University, he is the first Nigerian and Black African to become VC of a ranked UK university.
A man of excellence, Egbu has written 12 books and contributed to more than 350 publications in various international journals.
Jamie Hanley, Chair Designate of the Board of Governors at Leeds Trinity University, said: “Professor Egbu brings with him a wealth of experience and extensive knowledge of the higher education sector.
“His energy and vision stood out throughout a very competitive recruitment process …”
And there is Kelechi Madu, 46, who made political history in Alberta, Canada in 2019.
At the time, self-acclaimed Nigerian political maharishis were calling his kinsmen back home politically naïve – and the political fortunes of Ndigbo were, expectedly, floundering in the cesspit of Nigerian politics and its asinine leadership recruitment process.
But Madu was making waves in faraway Canada, rekindling the belief that where merit is the yardstick for success, Ndigbo will hold their own, retaining positions of strength in challenging situations.
On April 30, 2019, Madu took oath of office as Minister of Municipal Affairs of the Province of Alberta, Canada with the third largest portfolio of over $3.7 billion.
But that was only half of the story then.
On May 21, he also took another oath of office as a lawmaker, elected same year to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta representing Edmonton South-West.
Madu’s achievements in Canada are so remarkable because not only was he born and raised here in Nigeria, he also had his tertiary education at the University of Lagos where he read law and was later called to the bar.
When he migrated to Canada in 2005 with his wife, Emem, he was already 31 years.
But in 14 years, he became the toast of Canada’s sophisticated political class, a feat he couldn’t have dreamt of, not to talk of achieving, outside his home state of Imo if he had stayed back in Nigeria to pursue his political career.
Even in Imo, it would have been a tall order not being a money bag and not having the capacity for violence.
A lone United Conservative Party (UCP) lawmaker in Edmonton, where UCP remains an opposition column, Madu won in one of the closest races garnering 7,742 votes to beat John Archer of the New Democrat Party (NDP) who polled 6,974 votes and Mo Elsalhy of the AP with 2,111 votes.
When he won the UCP nomination in December 2018 defeating fellow party members Sohail Quadri and Kevin Greco, party leader, Jason Kenney, now Alberta Premier, said: “He is a member of the Igbo Cultural Association of Edmonton and supports his community league activities and his church.
“Kaycee’s legal expertise and his unique understanding of the challenges faced by newcomers to Canada make him a valuable member of the United Conservative team as we work to present Albertans with a common-sense alternative to the NDP.”
His being Igbo and identifying with his people is not a liability for him in Canada. In Nigeria, you are expected to denounce your “Igboness” to be accepted as a good Nigerian.
The values that matter in the leadership recruitment process in Canada are character, hard work and excellence. These are the qualities that earn someone an invitation to the leadership table.
Madu has them, and today he is the toast of the global political community.
In Nigeria, a Kaycee Madu from a very humble background – family of 11 children, illiterate parents, a 90-year-old father who was a petty trader and farmer – without sacks of money and zero appetite for thuggery would never have been invited to that table.
It is instructive that while Madu with neither a political godfather nor a deep pocket, was making these giant political strides in his adopted country in 2019, his kith and kin in Nigeria were being visited with violence in parts of the country for daring to vote for candidates of their choice in a general election.
For daring to exercise their franchise according to the dictates of their conscience, they were branded illegal immigrants and unconscionable land grabbers in Yoruba land by people like Femi Kusa, a veteran journalist, who should have known better.
But Canada is not Nigeria. There is no envy, no jealousy. Public office is a call to service. It is a sacrifice.
Societies that want to make progress go for the best, which explains why a year after, Madu was appointed Minister of Justice and Solicitor General for the Government of Alberta and Provincial Secretary and Keeper of the Great Seal of the Province of Alberta – another new high – he became the first African Minister of Justice in a Canadian government.
On his twitter page, he promised to ensure that everyone in Alberta has access to equal justice.
“Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.
“I look forward to working on many critical democratic reforms, including recall legislation and important citizenship initiative referendums, and taking the lead role on the implementation of our government’s fight for a fair deal within confederation,” he said.
That is the essence of governance.
President Muhammadu Buhari described Madu’s appointment as “historic,” and a proof that Nigerians are go-getters, who will always “distinguish themselves in different walks of life.”
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said Madu’s feat is proof that “Nigerians are indeed global players with unlimited capacity to impact our world positively.”
While these tributes are deserved, the truth remains that it would have been impossible for Egbu, an Igbo from Abatete, Idemili LGA of Anambra State, to be appointed Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos in today’s Nigeria, no matter how brilliant he is.
Even if Madu, an Igbo from Umuokirika, Ahiazu-Mbaise LGA, Imo State, was born and raised in Lagos, he would still have been declared a persona-non-grata for daring to contest election in the state where he was born.
Societies desirous of making progress in the 21st century use the ennobling qualities of character, integrity, competency and sundry skill-sets as yardsticks for leadership recruitment.
In Nigeria, we deploy debilitating primordial ethno-religious sentiments in making the decision. And yet, we wonder why the country continues to plumb the depths of mediocrity, abject poverty, squalor and misery.
Indeed, there was a country, as the late literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, would say.