Moses Iloh: My Life, My Struggles

Pastor (Dr) Moses Iloh, social critic , a veteran labour leader, ex-Chairman International Cycling Federation and founder, Eclectic Network, a socio-political pressure group clocked 85 years on on 13 February. The General Overseer, Soul Winning Chapel Ebute-Metta, Lagos and National executive member Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN and Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN goes down memory lane and also fields questions on national issues

How was your growing up in Jos?

I was born some 85 years ago by Pa George Iloh and my beloved mother Mrs. Martha Iloh. They were dedicated Christians who gave us the best any parent could give their children. We grew up in Jos in the good old days, when there was no tribalism and everybody lived as one irrespective of tribe or religion.

My father was a highly sophisticated man. ‘You can see through his satorial elegance (he said as he points to his father’s photograph prominently displayed in his office). Can you believe a man having such a high taste, as far back as that point in time? He was a committed Christian who believed in humility and integrity. He had a great passion for the poor and downtrodden, and would usually go an extra mile to bring succour to them. My father taught us to be mindful of the poor and care for them. He joined groups that enhanced the lot of the poor.

For instance, out of his busy schedule, every Saturday, he will find time to go to the market. You know northerners didn’t wear shoes at that time, so, they were always prone to Jiga; an infection that eats up their toes. So, my father will come to the market every Saturday, with a pair of forceps, carbolic and cotton wool, and will bring out their Jiga and clean it, and sterilise their toes. And as for my mother, a midwife nurse; for all the hundreds of children she delivered, she rarely charged a dime. Our parents taught us to be mindful of the poor and take good care of them.

How did you get into Labour unionism and politics?

I worked for the Amalgamated Tin Mines as a statistical officer. Along the line, the company sent me for a special training that qulified me to visit the different mining camps and recommend welfare measures for the labourers. The combination of my background and my official welfare responsibilities attracted me to labour unionism. The Great Zik was my political hero. In those days, he never ceased to captivate us with his intellectual power and erudition, his fiery speeches and oratorial power.

Pa Michael Omnibus Imodu, the labour veteran of blessed memory, was also my hero. He was a great inspiration to me. As a labour leader, his fearlessness inspired me to confront the British dominated Management of the company on issues of injustice against the juniors and also several cases of racial discrimination by the white Europeans against the native blacks, in the Plateau area in those days.

Politically I was an active member of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), led by Mallam Aminu Kano; and later the National council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, led by the Great Zik. I was also a member of the Zikist Movement which included patriotic young radicals like Mokwugo Okoye, Chike Ekuyasi, Osita Agwuna, Tunji Otegbeye, Adewale Fashanu among others. I was a member of the British Red Cross. When it was time for the British to hand over, following independence, I had the singular historical priviledge to lower the British Red Cross flag and hoisted for the Nigerian Red Cross flag the first time, at a parade at the famous Tafawa Balewa Square. For me, it was a historic moment. It was Divine I never expected it.

You were a prolific footballer in those days. How did you get into sports?

Yes. My father was a sports man. We were introduced into sports very early. My dad had a private football team known as Royals; we played in that club. My company, Amalgamated Tin Mining Company had a football club known as Amaltinco Football Club. It was a very good team. We then formed the nucleus of Plateau XI. We were the first soccer players in Nigeria, to play in football boots. We tried to win the Challenge Cup but we could not. Several times we would get to the final, only to lose.

At a stage, we had to reach out to Thunder Balogun. We played together for Plateau XI; unfortuanely, he could not replicate his goal scoring streak to earn us victory; throughout his stay in the Plateau XI. We would get to the final, only to loose. Our battle ground at that time was the King George V Stadium, later Onikan Stadium, now named after Thunder Balogun. It was a great privilege to play on that field in those days.

As a colleague and friend of Thunder Balogun, how would you describe him?

Oh Fantastic footballer. I’m yet to see one as good as him, both on the field and outside the field. He was a complete footballer in and out of the pitch very friendly, jovial and humorous. Yes incredible. Oooh….

You founded the Eclectic Network, what are the objectives and achievements so far?

Yes I founded the Eclectic Network, a soico-political pressure group which was meant to inject sanity and righteousness into politics and nation building. One of my co-founders was Chief Bola Ige of blessed memory. Eclectic Network had made considerable impact on the society. It had contributed in conscientising a host of people especially youths into the arena of socio-political activism. We have trained a lot of youths, who today are playing positive roles in the affairs of the nation; and are models for others to emulate. A lot of them are independent today, with their own NGOs and socio-political pressure groups. I’m always proud of them as my boys whenever I see them, hear of them or read them in the papers.

I was the longest serving Chairman of International Cycling Federation. I took it from the scratch to world class level. I had thought, which is only human; that the Nigerian government will appreciate my efforts, instead, they accused me of speaking to the press. When the International Olympic Committee, through the Nigerian Olympic Committee, showed appreciation for my contribution, at the ceremony, where I received the award, I said I was disppointed and humiliated, because I had felt that my country would be the first to honour me with an award. But on a second thought, one soon realised that you have to steal here in Nigeria in order to be honoured; so I don’t really need the award in the ultimate analysis.

How did you meet your wife?

As a young boy, I was a little bit affluent by the standard of those days. At that time, I had always wished and imagined a pretty tall fair lady, sitting by my side, while driving. This wish got the hearing of my father in heaven!

In what way?

At a point intime, I was transferred from our Jos headquarters, to Lagos, to serve as the Lagos representative of the company. But my zeal for humanitarian service soon drove me to joining the British Red Cross, despite the fact that I was trasnferred on promotion with a higher salary which was double what I was later to earn in the Red Cross – and with no definite prospect for the future. Unknown to me, it was God diercting my steps. This was because, it was in the Red Cross, that I eventually found my precious wife. Tall, fair and extremely beautiful as I had always imagined several years back.

My wife is a physical manifestation of a revelation, and so, what God has put together, no one can put asunder. My wife is a physial manifestation of the scripture that says “he who finds a wife, finds a good thing and obtaineth favour of the Lord”. Since finding her 50 years ago, her presence in my life has earned me overwhelming favour of the Lord. The Bible says we overcome the enemy by the blood of the lamb and the words of his testimony. We got marreid 50 years ago, we got married again 25 years ago; we are going to marry again very soon. We call this the Trinity wedding; to bear testimony to the doing of Jehovah.

When will you describe as your happiest day on earth?

Oh it was obviously the day I got married to my wife.

I learnt she was an ex-beauty queen

Yes, she was a Beauty Queen, and that earned her a long extensive trip to Scandinavian countries and other parts of Europe. One of the worst mistakes one could make is to marry the wrong wife. I don’t even wish it for my enemy.

And your saddest day on the other hand?

Oh! That was when I went to Biafra to help, during the civil war. On this fateful day, we brought out hundreds of children almost dying of kwashiokor. We lined them under a tree, trying to avoid air raid; while we put the Nigeria Air Cross flag across as a protective shield against attack. Suddenly we just saw a Nigerian Air-force plane, the pilot flew down so low. He looked like an Egyptian. Without any sense of pity, he sprayed bullets on those children. The flag lost its value. It was by the grace of God, that we were not consumed.

Just recently, you were honoured with an Award by the Bible Society of Nigeria. How would you describe the Award?

I really give God the glory for it, because what it signifies to me, is that the Bible Society of Nigeria, is urging me to answer the call in the bible, where the Lord said in Isaiah 6, “who shall I send?” The Bible Society award is telling me to answer: “Here I am Lord, send me.” If no one wants to say it, Lord send me, and I will say it.

How would you describe Jonathan’s tenure as President and whom do you see as winning the coming presidential doctor?

Let us look at Nigeria today and judge Jonathan with it. Nigeria has never been as corrupt and undisciplined as we have had in the past four years. I do not think there is any Nigerian who wants a continuation of this era of fraud and corruption.

Buhari comes through as an old time headmaster, who believes in the expression, spare the rod and spoil the child. Nigeria needs this headmaster desperately. I firmly believe that Nigerians know this and will vote overwhelmingly for Buhari and that he will win and there will be no rioting whatsoever. Nigerians will like to celebrate his victory, which will be their own victory.

As a Clergyman, how would you describe the role of the clergy in Nigerian politics?

In one statement, I would say that since Jonathan came into politics, he had quickened the introduction of a very dangerous element into Nigerian politics. That is the infusion of politics into religion. This is a destructive element which shouldn’t have been part of politics in Nigeria.

A combination of lack of self-confidence and ignorance has misled the clergy so badly, that one is worried now, as to the likely difficulty that the Nigerian clergy may not be able to regain its past position of respectability.

The role of the clergy in Nigerian politics is very disappointing. The Nigerian clergy, due to impulsiveness, greed and lack of proper grasp of the intricacies of Nigerian politics, seemed to have plunged headlong into politics ignorantly. No wonder that they go from one error to the other. In summary, their understanding of politics, be it partisan or non-partisan, has been seriously perverted and polluted. And my fear is that consequently, members of the clergy might lose respect because of these failings.

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