When a boy meets his idol in real life
By: Chibuike Anyoha, MD
Professor Austin Okwu arranged the meeting in 2005 in Maryland. He invited me and some members of Igbozue, a social-cultural organization of the Igbos in the State of Connecticut.
Before the meeting, I thought about how I could take advantage of the event. How should I act? What questions should I ask? Do I hug him or tell him how much I idolize him? Or, instead, should I ask him about the civil war?
But maybe I should look him in the eye and ask why he thought the Biafra war was necessary. Or maybe why he thought the human and economic losses the Igbos suffered were worth the lessons learned from the war. Did he have any clue that I was one meal away from dying of starvation as a child during the war? What would he say if I asked him about Yakubu Gowon (Nigeria Military leader), his nemesis? I wanted to press him hard enough without provoking his temper, which people say intensifies when he becomes annoyed.
On the day of the meeting, we arrived at an apartment building complex shared by people from all walks of life. And in typical American fashion, they probably did not know or care about the history behind the man living next door to them.
Climbing a few steps, we arrived at Ojukwu's apartment and waited inside the living room. The room, modest like the apartment complex, had a wooden center table and three sofas, if I remember correctly. A low-hanging chandelier illuminated a dining table next to a window.
Minutes later, a side door opened, and Ojukwu came out from behind it to greet us. We stood up, shook his hand, and sat down when he signaled to do so. A few days before the trip, I made him a red cap with his name written in white (shown in the picture). I presented him with the hat, and he was delighted to receive it, which thrilled me.
During the meeting, I could tell that Ojukwu understood our image of him. He must have been very conscious of that image, and I felt he tried to sustain our love for him. He spoke impeccably, crisply, and with a twang of a British accent, just as he did during his military and public life.
Fifteen years have passed since that meeting. Unfortunately, I do not remember what we discussed. Only the word sycophancy stuck in my head. Maybe because he used it several times, or perhaps just the inflection with which he said the word made me remember it. Even the context in which he used the word has evaporated from my brain. He might have said that the world is full of sycophants who would do or say anything to get what they want.
One could say that Ojukwu was the opposite of a sycophant. He neither backs down nor bows to others. On the contrary, confidence exuded from his sparkling eyes to his bearded cheeks.
We talked and listened to him intently, only interrupted once when his wife, Bianca, briefly came out to offer us garden eggs that she set on the center of the wooden table. As the discussion continued, my admiration for him as a child competed with my analysis of him as an adult. Part of me did not want to see anything that would shake my childhood affection for him.
Now that I think about the meeting, I wonder if I missed a lifetime opportunity to ask him burning questions. Or maybe I did the right thing by paying the price people pay when they meet their idols.
Here is another link to my childhood memoir about the Nigeria-Biafra civil War
You can also check out my latest book on empathy
Page Updated Last on: Jan 31, 2022