DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM: The Humble Beginning (PT 5)

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In the quest to understand oneself, there’s a profound wisdom in seeing through the lens of others. Through this journey, I’ve discovered that viewing one through the eyes of another can often illuminate unseen facets of one’s being.

Over the past few weeks, this publication has served as a conduit for such introspective journeys. Each article has offered a degree of fulfilment as I’ve sailed my narrative through the reflections of others.

In today’s article, we continue this exploration as my cousin, Onuorah Aligbe, graciously shares his insights into my journey. Building upon his previous contributions in this column, he offers a fresh perspective and insights.

Never one to blow his trumpet, Uncle Newton could not resist doing so once. He insisted on it. For his spectacular odysseys and his commitment to a green environment, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and University of Benin, Benin-City, in 2005 and 2007 awarded him degrees of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa respectively. From then on, he asked us to drop the Chief in his name and call him ‘doctor’. He was equally recognized for his contributions to the building industry with the investiture of a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Builders, FNIOB. But please do not call him Builder Newton. It must be Dr. Jibunoh. You see, my uncle loves to read, and he loves to write. He has written about 5 books, and hundreds of articles and speeches. He is an avid learner. He never had the chance to be an academician, because being the only surviving child, he had to come back home after his college studies in the UK to fend for himself.

Even as he immersed himself in his construction industry, he managed to find time to teach soil mechanics at the University of Lagos, and much later logistics at the War College in Lagos now in Abuja. Aside from his other love for art collection and preservation, he turned his love for education into a scholarship benefactor for many indigent students all over Nigeria. Devoid of any fanfare, with or without solicitation, he offered scholarships at University levels to scores of deserving students who otherwise would have been unable to proceed in their educational pursuits. Both able-bodied and physically challenged students benefitted from his scholarships. Many times, he would meet the recipients for the first time during their office visits to collect their funds. His secretaries were the ones keeping the records and administering the process. Of course, he began his charities from his home. And to this day he continues to provide help wherever it is needed.

Uncle Newton is a firm believer in social justice. His childhood and background demanded nothing less and he was thus prepared to lift people that are marginalized and if necessary join in the fight. Though he was a young man in the fifties and sixties, he keenly followed the Pan-African and nationalist struggles of the 20th Century. The young Nigerian nation was an attraction, and he desperately wanted to be part of those involved in building a strong nation. He is a detribalized

Nigerian, making friends and building homes wherever he went. Additionally, events outside Nigeria were of great interests to him. He followed the ANC’s struggles to end Apartheid in South Africa. When Mandela was released, and during his presidency, Dr. Jibunoh was part of many delegations from Nigeria that visited South Africa to investigate possible ways to assist the “young government”. Then, he met Mandela formally for the first time. Earlier in the sixties, he had seen Mandela in court at his trial. So, that meeting with a freed Mandela was a triumphant attendance of some sorts to the reception of a lost messiah. Over the years, Dr. Jibunoh struck up a friendship with the Mandela family. It therefore was no surprise that when the Mandela family decided to honour their icon at 95, they chose Dr.  Jibunoh to do so in Nigeria with the Garden of 95 trees at the Nelson Mandela Park in Asaba.

Steeped in tradition, Uncle Newton nowadays spends a lot of his time in his home town. He is the fourth in line in the leadership cadre of his clan. So, his thoughts and inputs are given lots of attention in matters of governance. He has invested heavily in the lives of his brethren and kins. On many occasions he has sent in Medical Outreach Dispensation to serve in the community at no costs to all those seeking medical interventions. Way back in 1985, he commissioned a water project for the people. For over 5 years his generator supplied power to the General Hospital in the town, until the state government lived up to their responsibilities. Uncle made it a point of duty to send monthly financial allowances to those older than him, the Diokpas of the various clans in the community. He would also send in doctors to offer primary care and treatments for illnesses when necessary at no costs to the people. He continues to work hard to extend the same quality of life he enjoys to all those around him.

Currently, his biggest challenge in his quiet retirement at 86 is to rid his community of land speculators. Ignorant and ill meaning young men have constituted themselves into land grabbing cartels, selling off ancestral lands that are held in trust for the future generation. He is quietly educating the people against such practices but with limited success. Not surprisingly, he is undeterred, believing in his resolve to place people on the right paths. He firmly believes that the road to greatness for anyone lies in the path of goodness.

I can write a whole book on who my uncle is. But not now. I could also have simply said that my uncle is the kindest, detribalized Nigerian with the resolve to do the right thing by everyone, and a selfless environmentalist who has been warning us of the inherent dangers of desertification to our existence that is among us today. I could have just said that my uncle is one of the best field engineers I have known and a great manager of people and resources. All that is true but without the contexts, such statements would give the appearance of hollow praise singing. I hope you find the few contexts I have given here worth your time in understanding who Dr. Newton Chukwukadibia Jibunoh is.

(Onuorah Aligbe writes from Atlanta Georgia and can be reached via

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