It was love at first sight when we met through his younger sister, Peace and for seven years until his untimely death on Saturday, November 29, 2014 Michael Anyiam-Osigwe became to me a friend, brother, confidant, intellectual soul mate and the giant who offered his shoulder for me to stand on.
My relationship with Michael started, I will say, first from curiosity because I was very curious to know him and the mysticism around the very illustrious Anyiam-Osigwe family. I spent few weeks asking him questions and attempting a serious deconstruction of his person and his family. My question ranged from why his six other brothers including him always wear white dress. I asked him about the secret cult his family belongs to, the meaning and symbolism of his family crest and many other questions which he answered without guile.
What got me curious initially was seeing well framed pictures of world leaders- serving Presidents, former Presidents, former Prime Ministers and statesmen adorning the walls of the family sitting room and the realization that the world leaders had been guests at the private residence of the family here in Lagos set off my first question to Michael, ‘’How come nobody knows you and your family if you have this level of global network of global leaders?’’, I asked. He smiled and said, ‘’I know what you mean by saying nobody knows us. I will just say our friends in Nigeria know us and our capacity but I guess what you mean is being in the news and rolling with high society people. We don’t do that. We are very private family. We don’t go out seeking media attention and publicity. I will say it is Peace, my sister through her AMAA that brought us out in a way to the media.’’
From curiosity I graduated to recognition. I recognized the immense example of the Anyiam-Osigwes with Michael as the arrowhead in brotherliness, unity, group mind, friendship, family values, and the focus on the societal regeneration through the work of the Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation.
Michael, despite his personal and family material wellbeing gave himself to so much introspection and intellection. What confounded me most about him was the ease with which he could switch personality and roles while dealing with different class of people. With royalty Michael would be regal. With Presidents he would be sartorial. With business associates he would be mercurial and with ordinary and everyday people he would be Spartan.
He introduced me to the philosophical writings and teachings of his father, the concept of the holistic approach to human existence and development and the role of man as a manifestation of Divine Intelligence. For Michael the higher purpose of man while on his/her earthly sojourn is to make the world a better place whereas a pervert and morally corrupt man cannot fulfill that role as agent of God whom his father in his writings also described as the Divine Intelligence.
While on earthly plane he executed his brief with clinical precision and manifested his Divine Intelligence with his work as the Coordinator General of the Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation and other affiliate organisations such as the Shimon Peres Centre, Tel Aviv, African Institute for Leadership, Research and Development, South Africa, University of Ibadan, Nigeria Philosophical Association and other organizations around the world. With his work at the Osigwe Foundation, general disposition to life and respect for people our relationship moved to that of unalloyed admiration for each other.
Michael advanced the cause of development, socio-economic re-engineering of the society, leadership and the need to recreate a new leadership template and set recruitment criteria for choosing leaders in Africa and Nigeria in particular. For him, political leaders in Africa must be able to harness the human and available material resources such that the people can have life and live it more abundantly. He cultivated leaders across Africa and became personal and trusted friend of many Presidents in Africa and across the world who always tap him for advice and his opinion on regional, global and country specific issues.
Sometimes in August last year, South African President Jacob Zuma who he had very personal and strong relationship with him invited him to Pretoria to join a special focus group discussion of about 10 people at his official residence to discuss the trajectory of the Africa continent in the next 10 years. The group discussed the Africa renaissance and identified Nigeria, Angola, Egypt, Algeria, South Africa and Ethiopia, the six largest economies in size and population as the enablers of the rising Africa. The focus group identified Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria as three important members of the Africa sextets that have serious security and political stability problems.
The issues of Boko Haram, ethnic and religious fault lines were clearly highlighted as a major drawback for Nigeria. How this will negatively impact on West Africa regional stability and the general socio-economic outlook of the continent should it spin out of control and Nigeria becomes an unstable country provided a very grim picture to the focus group. The group and President Zuma asked Michael, “Who are the people thinking for Nigeria and the ones advising your President? Nigeria is too important to Africa as a continental leader and you people must deal with these problems.’’
The focus group meeting ended and President Zuma handed Michael an assignment to do. “Go and assemble a group of untainted leaders of your country from the civil society across ethnic, religious, social and economic circles that can provide a counterweight to deal with the problems. They must also be people your President and other leaders will respect. They must be people who will say the truth and stand by it without being compromised by any other consideration,” Zuma charged according to Michael.
Immediately he got back to Lagos Michael called me to see him and he briefed me with the outcome and resolutions. He asked me to prepare for him a Concept Note on how we should go about convening the group, who should drive it, scope of work, duration, selection criteria for participants, budget etc. We zeroed in on Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari to be the convener drawing from his experiences in such role as top United Nations diplomat and also being a huge influencer within the power circle in Nigeria. I prepared the Concept Note and he reviewed it. He sent to Professor Gambari for his own review and input.
The process to activate the plan was going on and that unfortunate Saturday, November 29, 2014 put paid to everything and Michael was violently murdered by a deranged armed robbery gang close to Benin on his way to Nkwerre, his home-town in Imo State. I still can’t reconcile till date why Michael chose to travel by road that day even with his armed Mobile Police escorts. To think he was going to attend a funeral of his relation with his 3 other brothers and their wives still makes it so painful for me. I have asked since why did he even need to attend the funeral. Why didn’t he fly? These will remain questions that can’t be answered.
I didn’t know he would travel that day. He had called me two days earlier that we should meet at his GRA Ikeja family house, apparently to discuss further our proposed eminent persons’ summit on Boko Haram. I got to his house around 5pm to be told that he has travelled. I put a call through to his phone and no answer. I called repeatedly and no response. While I was calling he had been shot dead.
For me the last one year without Michael has left a void for me that has not been filled. For his family, wife, children, siblings, friends and his aged mother I know it has been a struggle to cope without him.
The government and people of Malawi will forever miss his service to the country. He was instrumental to the emergence of Dr. Joyce Banda as the President of Malawi following the death of her predecessor, President Bingu wa Mutharika and the attendant constitutional crisis when the ruling elites then wanted to prevent Banda as the Vice President to become the President. Banda reached out to Michael for help and he deployed his global networks to help the then Vice President Banda gain the rein of power. He worked with her to also stabilize the economy of Malawi when the country ran out of cash to pay for fuel and other essential services. I once followed Michael to meet President Banda at the State House in Lilongwe, Malawi. He facilitated trade and investments into Malawi and President Banda appointed him as the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Malawi to Nigeria and West Africa.
When President Banda lost her bid to retain power in 2014 April Presidential election in Malawi to the opposition and she left office her successor, President Peter Mutharika despite the fact that he knew Michael was a personal friend and loyalist of former President Banda and having seen the impact and contribution of Michael to Malawi urged him to continue his role as the Ambassador of Malawi.
As Family, friends and associates will gather to remember Michael on the anniversary of his transition to higher plane on Sunday, November 29 his enduring legacy for me will be his humility, industry and abiding grace to do good to all manners of people that came his way.
Uncle Michael, your untimely death still hurts.