For many years, he had hosted Christmas carol services at his Ikoyi, Lagos residence at least, a week preceding Christmas. It was an annual ritual with attendance drawn from far and wide – the high, the mighty and the lowly placed. Over the years, it had assumed a life of its own as everybody looked forward to the yearly event.
Preparations were in top gear for this year’s event. My brother and friend of many years, Brigadier-General Felix Ayodele Muhammed (retd.), had been made the coordinator of this year’s event. He had had several meetings with those who will actively participate in the service – band leaders, choirs, religious groups, army chaplains and others. Last Friday, Muhammed, whom his boss of many years, the late General Andrew Owoye Azazi, prefers to call ‘Felix’, had intimated the general that he was coming over the following day, Saturday, December 15, to give him an update of the preparations so far. Azazi did not oppose this. Rather, he simply told Felix to meet with Alero, his wife of many years and finalise issues as he was billed to dash down to Bayelsa, his home state, to attend a function.
Last Saturday afternoon, Felix made it to the residence of his former boss. He drove into the compound oblivious of the fact that something was amiss. As he entered the sitting room, hoping to meet Mrs. Azazi, an eerie silence descended on the whole environment. It was an unusual situation, but all the same, he sat down on one of the chairs waiting for the ‘madam of the house’ to surface from any part of the one-storey apartment. Just then, he started hearing some shrill cries upstairs. It was then it dawned on him that something had, indeed, gone wrong.
By the time Felix was face to face with Azazi’s wife, the story became clearer. “Oga is dead!” Felix was transfixed and dazed. He inquired to know what had happened and how it happened. “It was a helicopter crash at Okoloba community in Tombia, Bayelsa State. Oga was returning from the community where he had attended the burial ceremony of Pa Tamunoobebara Douglas, father of Oronto Douglas, Special Adviser to the President on Research and Documentation”.
From then on, wailings and grief took over as family members, friends and associates trooped in one after the other. Although no details of the crash emerged until later that evening, those who had contacts in Bayelsa, Rivers and in the military were able to extract some information about the crash.
Throughout his eventful career – within and outside the military – Azazi had proved to be a patriot, an officer and gentleman whose watchword was discipline in all his deeds
‘Felix’ or General Muhammed, a chartered accountant, was the accounts officer to the late Azazi when Azazi was General Officer Commanding, GOC, 1 Battalion of the Army, with headquarters in Kaduna. Since then, both of them had struck a rapport that had endured till date. Besides, Alero, Azazi’s wife is also a chartered accountant.
I had attended last year’s Christmas Carol in Azazi’s house in the company of General Muhammed and his wife. That evening, Azazi read the first reading out of about nine readings lined up for the day. His wife and some of his children who were present read some while other family members and close friends also took their turns. It was a night of great revelry, sobriety and thanksgiving for God’s abundant blessings during the year.
Many known faces turned up for that event. They include Colonel Edore Obi (retd.), one-time military administrator of Bayelsa State; Donald Duke, former governor of Rivers State; business mogul Wale Babalakin; Timi Alaibe, former managing director of Niger Delta Development Commission and later Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs. In attendance also were top military chiefs, both serving and retired.
It was there I came across Rear Admiral Arogundade (retd), the naval officer whose aides reportedly brutalised a lady in Lagos after a minor traffic incident. I took time to ask him some questions on the incident. He did not appear like the ‘monster’ which was painted of him by the media at that time. He lives almost next door to the Azazis and I have met him several times after that encounter both in Lagos and Abuja.
I first met late General Azazi in early 2005 at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Conference Centre in Abuja. It was at the launch of Iniquity in Nigerian Politics, a book authored by my brother and bosom friend, Professor Steve Azaiki. The launch had attracted heavyweights across the country and the diplomatic community. That was one book launch in which several senators were merely confined to the lobby as all the seats inside the conference hall had been taken over by dignitaries. It was like a carnival and I am yet to witness any other book launch of equal attendance of who’s who in Nigeria ever since.
At the end of the book launch, Azazi, who was in full military uniform, had moved to the podium for a photo session with Azaiki. It was there that Azaiki introduced me to him. Azazi, who was then a brigadier-general, was at that time the boss of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI. Shortly after, he was appointed GOC, 1 Mechanised Division of the Army in Kaduna. He was later made Chief of Army Staff before he was promoted Chief of Defence Staff. Although he was subsequently retired from service, but by that time, his image had loomed large all over the place.
In the last few years, Azazi had given out some of his daughters, if not all, in marriage in very colourful ceremonies. I attended the one in late 2006 at the Church of Assumption, Falomo, Lagos. I was at the ceremony in the convoy of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was then the governor of Bayelsa State. At that time, he had just been picked as running mate to the late Umaru Yar’Adua, who had also earlier been chosen as the standard-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2007 presidential election.
It was at that wedding reception that the idea of putting together a national political platform for Jonathan was conceived by me, Azaiki and Chief Ephraim Faloughi, the chairman of Sovereign Trust Insurance Company. The following day, we came up with Yar’Adua/Jonathan Committee of Friends and held the inaugural meeting at the residence of Chief Ebitimi Banigo in Victoria Island. Others in attendance at that meeting were Ben Bruce, chairman, Silverbird Group; Chief Lawson Omokhodion, former MD of All States Trust Bank and later Liberty Bank who is now into oil business, and a few others. It was the committee that first rallied support for Jonathan all over the country.
Generally, in Azazi’s death, Jonathan has lost one of his pillars of support. In and out as National Security Adviser to the President, Azazi had always provided support for the President on security matters. Throughout his eventful career – within and outside the military – Azazi had proved to be a patriot, an officer and gentleman whose watchword was discipline in all his deeds. All the same, he was not without some human errors. One of them was that as NSA, he was too visible everywhere when he was expected to operate more incognito.
Now, he is gone and gone forever. His funeral might as well replace this year’s Christmas Carol service, which would have been held today, Wednesday, December 19, 2012. However, it is not how far or how long one lives. It is actually how well. Adieu Andrew Owoye Azazi. May your soul rest in peace! May the souls of all others who also died in the ill-fated flight rest in perfect peace! May their families be consoled by the fact that death, is an inevitable end of all human beings! Amen! We all have our entrances and exits at different times and places!