ELDER STATESMAN, Dr. Matthew Tawo Mbu, CFR, is dead. He died, yesterday, in a London hospital at the age of 82. The family in a statement announcing the death of the erstwhile minister, diplomat and businessman, said: “It is with the deepest regret, but also with total submission to God’s will, that the family of Ambassador (Dr.) M. T. Mbu regret to announce the passing of their patriarch in London at the age of 82.”
Tributes yesterday flowed from the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr. Emeka Wogu, among others.
In his tribute Ndoma-Egba said: “His was a remarkable life of service achievement and fulfillment. He exerted himself to the limits of his endowments in the many opportunities for service that he had. A legend, he is a page in the history of Nigeria. A glorious era has ended.
Dr. Matthew Mbu...self made man
“It was a privilege to have represented this great man as his Senator and to have enjoyed his blessing and support. He has earned eternal rest.’’
Wogu, the incumbent minister of Labour and Productivity said: “It is shocking, and a bad news. He was minister of Labour before Chief Anthony Enahoro. His contributions remain indelible in the annals of Nigeria’s industrial relations. From records he would pass as one of the best Ministers of Labour.”
Speaking to Vanguard on phone his first son, Dr. James Mbu, said his father for some months had been battling with back stroke and died at the ripe age of 82.
He said the family would meet in the next three days to deliberate on the arrangement for his funeral.
Commenting on the death of the nationalist, a former member of the Cross River State House of Assembly from Boki Local Government Area of the state, the home place of the late sage, Mr. Mark Obi described late Mbu as his uncle and mentor.
Obi, who spoke with Vanguard in a pained tone, said: “He is my uncle. I cannot bring myself together to accept the reality. I am confused, I am devastated. This is the man that brought me up and sent me to school. He is my father, my role model. I don’t think that there is anything we will do to get a replacement.
“He was a gentleman par excellence, a great man who lived by example, a very organised and humane person. His entire mind was with his people. I lived with him and learnt a lot from him.”
A lecturer with the University of Calabar, Dr. Maurice Bisong, described the late Mbu as a self-made man who was not born into affluence but was able to work hard to reach the position he found himself.
Dr. Bisong said the late patriot went through thick and thin to get to the peak of his life and asked the young generation to emulate the worthy life Mbu lived.
M. T. Mbu: A remarkable life
AMbassador Matthew Taiwo Mbu, who died yesterday, set exceptional records in an eventful political career interlaced between pre-independent Nigeria and the tottering steps of the new nation.
His phenomenal achievements of many firsts in Nigeria’s political history, including the record of being the youngest ever minister in a federal cabinet were to him a matter of destiny.
“I think that was destiny. When I was appointed the Minister of Labour, I was so young that Pa Imodu, the then Nigerian Labour leader, refused to have a handshake with me, saying ‘this boy is too young to be a minister’,” Dr. Mbu told Vanguard in an interview in 2009.
Until his death in London, United Kingdom, yesterday, many of his records were yet unequalled. Some of his historical landmarks indeed may never be matched.
Mbu, who was appointed the Minister of Labour and Productivity at the age of 23 in 1953, was also the first ever Nigerian Ambassador to the Court of St. James as foreign diplomats to the United Kingdom are called. He was the first ever Nigerian chief representative to the United States of America (1959); the first ever Chief Representative to the United Nations (1959).
Shortly before independence in 1960, Mbu returned home and became the first ever First Minister of Defence (Navy).
Born in 1929 in Okondi, near Ogoja in Cross River State, the young Matthew had his aspiration towards the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Mbu, who was unwavering in his commitment to the Roman Catholic Church throughout his life, was only persuaded from the priesthood by the strong persuasion of his parents who desired him to read law. He was to achieve that goal during his ambassadorial posting to the United Kingdom.
It was an irony that Mbu, who had a record of the youngest Minister of the federal cabinet, became among the oldest in the country to have obtained a doctorate degree having obtained a Ph.D degree in International Studies in 2001 at the age of 72.
The young Mbu had made some successes in business following which he embarked on a political career that took him to the House of Representatives on the platform of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon, NCNC. It was as a member of the House that he was appointed as Minister of Labour in 1953, acting Minister of Transport 1954, acting Minister of Commerce and Industry 1954 and acting Minister of Works 1955.
Mbu was in the House of Representatives between 1960 and 1966 and served as Chairman, Eastern Nigeria Public Service Commission in 1967. Ahead of the Second Republic, Mbu won election into the Constituent Assembly and as full politicking commenced, he identified with the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP. He, however, switched party to the ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN, sometime in 1981.
Mbu returned to public life in the nineties when he served as Foreign Affairs Minister during the Ernest Shonekan regime and subsequently as Nigeria ambassador to Germany.
As he switched from public service, Mbu emerged as one of the leaders of the South-South being a leader of the South South People Assembly, SSPA.