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Moses Iloh at 80: Unveiling the true Nigerian hero

By Uwem Ankak

Recently, and precisely February 13, 2010, Rev. (Dr) Moses Iloh, an accomplished sportsman and administrator, labour and social activist, servant of God, arts patron, philanthropist, mentor and father of many ‘adopted’ children, turned 80. Spontaneously, individuals, groups, religious bodies and those whose lives have been touched by this extra-ordinary Nigerian, jostled to be part of the organizing committee for the celebration.

Eventually, a committee of 29, headed by Dr. Nike Adeyemi laid out a comprehensive one week programme, which included lecture, book launch, football match, lunch and prayer sessions. To say the least, the celebrations were not only well packaged but deserving. Rev. Iloh’s life, thinking, passion for an equitable, corrupt-free, respected, Nigeria, was well encapsulated in the different segments of that celebration.

The lecture segment which held at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, for instance, was illuminating in both the choice of topic and delivery. Infact, the lecturer, Mr. Chima Ibeneche, the managing director of Nigeria LNG Limited showed the brilliance, candour and courage that are so uncommon with public officers of that class. It was titled; ‘Time to reclaim the Nigerian Commons.’

Mr. Ibeneche took the very captive audience around the different malaise that have afflicted the Nigerian nation and concluded, after citing examples of where people around the world have had to reclaim what rightly belong to them, with the punch line “every Moses needs a Joshua, someone who will take up his life work and complete the many great things he started…we are in the presence of our Moses, a man who has given full measure of his devotion to our nation and our people. A man who has shown us that in the face of evil, the righteous must act, yes fight, to restore good.”

This is the quintessential Rev. Moses Iloh. Like The Man Died, a book Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka captures the essence of courage in the face of persecution, the man will surely die in Rev. Iloh if he should acquiesce in the face of tyranny or fail to confront evil. He inherently hate corruption and corrupt people. It is his belief that the Nigerian state has failed in its responsibility to provide the basics for its citizens.

A few examples would suffice here. Rev. Iloh, it must be remembered, as the man who lowered the British Red Cross flag at Nigeria’s independence parade in 1960. He was later to take the Red Cross to Biafra at the outbreak of hostilities as the head of the Biafran Red Cross Society. His motivation: saving the lives of the millions of mal-nourished children and the aged, who had no input in the war but had to suffer the consequences of its outcome.

Again, as the president of the 40,000-strong African Miners Union, he led the historic strike that nearly marred the visit of Queen of England to Nigeria in 1958, an action that resulted in the tremendous improvement in the conditions of service of the African miners. As president of Cycling Federation of Nigeria, Rev. Iloh would be remembered as the man who took Nigerian Cycling to its present level of appreciation. For years, he bought bicycles, trained coaches and even the administrators of Cycling Federation and was kept at both African and world cycling bodies for years because of invaluable contributions and deep knowledge of the sport.

Dr. Emmanuel Igbinosa of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, who served as the secretary of the Cycling Federation would readily attest to the reverend’s attitude to human capital development as springboard to achieve real development in any society. He is not alone. From actor, Charles Okafor to former Peoples Democratic Party’s PRO, Emmanuel Ibeshi, the story is the same. Rev. Iloh would push you to attain what you think is impossible.

This author is also one of the many children of Rev. Iloh. For over 15 years, this unusual Nigerian has been my mentor, my confidant and a man who would push you to explore grounds you never thought existed. For instance, my foray into sports writers association came about as a casual discussion we had in his church office. It was in the heydays of Abacha’s high handedness and newspapers were being closed down. Our colleagues were roaming without jobs and any means to cater for their families.

“Uwem, can’t you go and contest for the SWAN office so that you can introduce some welfare programmes to help ameliorate the suffering of those boys?,” and before I could contemplate an answer, he added “what does it take to do that?” Within the week, I have had posters printed for me and he personally had to call some of my colleagues to support my ambition. Needless to say that I won as the vice chairman of SWAN, and like our dear Goodluck, I became the chairman by providence. We were able to conduct a very successful welfare appeal fund which helped in small measure in solving the immediate needs of colleagues who were out of work. He donated substantially to the cause and was very proud of it.

The above example is just one of the cases of how far Rev. Iloh can go in solving problems for people. Take a walk to his church office on Borno Way, Ebute Metta, and you would be confronted with a sea of heads waiting to see him to have one problem or the other solved for them. Unlike other church owners, you don’t have to be a member of his church to benefit from his large heartedness!

Essentially, this Moses is driven by the unbridled passion to see a Nigeria that is God-centred, a nation where its vast resources are, as Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel laureate in Economics, would put it, “where the tragedy of the commons applies to real—world resource management.” He would like to have a knowledge imbued country where people asked questions on the actions and inactions of government. He would want to see human beings attain their full potential. This is the essential Rev. Iloh, a man that cannot stand injustice; would speak out against any infringement on the fundamental right of any Nigeria.

But, most important, you would run foul of the reverend if you have no truth in your mouth. Oh, he cherishes people of high integrity, honest, frank and the detribalized people. He speaks the three major languages in Nigeria and looks at your head and heart, rather than where you come from. His Eclectic Movement Nigeria is all about developing and getting God-fearing Nigerians to mount the saddle of power and turn things around for the benefit of the larger populace.

He is so passionate about it that one day I asked him; “Daddy, what is your interest in all these?” His reply was typical of this Moses. “Uwem, I want nothing. All I want is for this great country to be counted among the greatest in the world. We cannot have the harvest of talents in this land and yet it is only fools who run our affairs. I won’t stop until men of goodwill are allowed to run this country. I won’t stop until we learn to do things properly in this country. I will continue to shout and prick the conscience of these people until they understand we need good hospitals and steady power supply. I won’t stop until our teeming youths are employed. I won’t stop until we can freely elect those to rule and manage our resources.”

And that is why when a few like minds decided to float an association for credible elections in Nigeria, comprising of mostly people in the media and other professions, he was unanimously elected as the chairman of the board of trustees. I am the executive director, and very soon, a lot would be heard from that brew.

Now, the question has always been, who is the authentic Nigerian hero who should be bestowed with national honours? Is it the man who was allocated oil blocks and he made so much money and wouldn’t know what to do with it? Or the one that has spent his entire life developing human beings, even those he doesn’t know where they came from? Is it those thieving government officials and brigands whose wealths nobody can explain it source?

These are the posers. Rev. Moses Maduforo Kingsley Iloh, born in Februay 13, 1930 in Ropp, a mining village in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area, near Jos, but hail from Ezinihite Local Government of Imo state, but lived and raised his family in Lagos, has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that he is a man of impeccable character, a man who has little or no regard for stupendous wealth, a man whose lifelong interest has been in the development of human beings, a man of tremendous courage who would look at any in the face and say his mind, is truly man who deserves all the accolades this country can offer.

But, you can only daydream about that in this country. The crooks, maniacs and the schemers are still playing the field. So, like late Chief Gani Faheweimi who valued his Senior Advocate Of the Masses (SAM) than the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), one day, the army of children who Rev. Iloh has ‘sired’ would convey on him a befitting honour than what this ungrateful country can offer. You can be sure that you bred many Joshuas who would take up your life work and complete the many great things you started. Happy Birthday, Daddy. May you continue to enjoy good health and be of immense service to humanity. Amen.

*Mr. Ankak is a Media Consultant, Public Affairs Analyst and executive director, People’s Initiatives For Credible Elections.


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