Good night, Onowu Igririgiogu: You came and conquered your world

By Sunny Igboanugo on 17/11/2016

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Onowu Igirigiogu

People like him come once in a while. They are rare in given human cycles. A special gift from God to a given community, society, nation or people. They come in different modes and for different purposes.

Muhammed Ali, orator, philosopher and mythical sportsman, who transformed boxing into an art with sizzles and dazzles. Michael Jackson, singer, dancer, showbiz impresario, who stunned the world with superlative and picturesque performances. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, journalist, orator and quintessential politician, who bestrode the landscape of Nigeria, Africa and the world like a colossus.

Add, Chief Alexander Ezekafor Orajeaka, Okaa Obulu Uzor, Onowu 1 of Ogboji. That is the world in which he belongs. A world of rare creations and exceptional personages – legends, who dominate their environments in life, and at death, etch their names boldly across the pages of history.

He may not have lived in the circle of klieg lights or big stages. But within his nondescript milieu, he still exposed the same unique and even exponential traits that separate his types in such a telling manner as if others were lesser mortals.

For instance, where would a little boy from an unsung village somewhere in a bush setting, without education, pick the skill to make clothes, suits for white men? Yet, that was part of the edifying story of this late sage. So skilled was he at his tailoring shop in Jos that he was sought after from far and wide by both local and foreign customers. He not only made such unique suits, he modelled them as well. Take a look at the accompanying picture. Such skill! Such a model!

Indeed, but for the civil war which forced him to flee his base, his world class creations, would have hung and decorated local, national and international shelves long before the Versaces, Christian Diors, Guccis and the likes would have found space in the business.

Of course, because of his exalted position in the city of Jos, one of the major flashpoints of the pre-war events, he became a gold fish without a hiding place – one of the first to be sought by the rampaging mobs, who inflicted one of the highest genocidal carnages in human history that is today known as pogrom. For before then, he had become a prominent leader in the youth wing of the Zikist Movement, an arm of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), a status instant success and wealth bestowed on him.

Needless to say, that he lost everything, including his thriving business, and only had his skin and those of his immediate family to return home to and to thank God for, as evidence of the collateral damages and tolls most wars are wont to inflict on the brightest in the society.

It was not his own loss only. Before this time, he had shown immeasurable philantropic spirit, bringing many people to join him into his business and spreading others to engage in other trades of thier choosing. 

Perhaps, God was preparing him for a different role. For he soon became a bastion of support, providing succour and good counsel to both indigenes and refugees in the war-ravaged community, one of the few that remained intact throughout the 30-month duration of the onslaught.

From then on, he settled down and for more than five decades, devoted his knowledge, skill, resources and entire life to serving the community, offering all he had in terms of leadership to all and sundry, both big and small, poor and rich.

Such were his wealth of experience and zeal, which he put at the disposal of the community that the first monarch the community produced after so many decades of lull, impelled by the mandate by then Anambra State Government that each community must have a traditional ruler, Igwe Noel Mbachu, needed not look too far to appointing him the Onowu, on his installation in 1975.

Again, such were his qualities that even after the death of the first monarch, his successor, Igwe Sylvester Emechebe, Oranyeleze 1 of Ogboji, also did not waste time in re-appointing him to the same position, without a scintilla of opposition from any quarters.

One of the major expressions of his leadership qualities in practical terms, was the transformation of Afor Ogboji from an evening to morning market. Before then, because of the rural nature of the community, the people were virtually at the mercy of traders from surrounding communities. Because most of the items brought to the market were perishables from their farms, they were usually forced to sell them at giveaway prices to the Shylock-style traders, who would skilfully wait till the wee hours of the evening to haggle and would at the slightest prompting, threaten not to buy, leaving the locals with little choice.

Even on occasions when the same perishables were taken to the markets of the surrounding towns and villages, the Ogboji traders usually faced the same problem, as the same traders, with display of local market intelligence, would readily scoff at the quality of the items and end up buying them at very cheap prices.

What to do? The late Onowu and the late Igwe Mbachu got thinking and eventually came up with the solution. Afor, would henceforth become a morning market. But because the people were and still are agrarian in nature, mostly depending on their farms, there was initial resistance. But whatever misgivings, soon gave way when the benefits became quite apparent. Today, the same traders now line up and scramble for the same items they hitherto scoffed at because the villagers not only have a window to navigate, but the most needed choice.

Other developmental projects like tarring of the first major road into the town, development of the rice projects, building of schools, policies and programmes leading to its general wellbeing and development, no doubt, bore the imprimaturs of the late Onowu in them.

That was why, for days, starting from November 4, 2016, the community was virtually on a lockdown, as an appreciative people, joined by friends and well-wishers thronged in from every direction and woke up its sleepy ambience in wild celebration of the iconic sage.   

Just as the late Onowu like the proverbial elephant being described by blind men, was a man of different parts to diverse and divergent people, the celebration was no less tailored along the same line.

Old acquaintances, including those he mentored, brought up and trained, his colleagues in politics, in-laws from the husbands and wives of his children, who came from far and wide, enthusiastic folks within and far, joined the people of the community, to form a kaleidoscope of colours and concepts.

The pump and ceremonies associated with such high-personalities co-joined with the tributes, which were showered like would a fountain, from the long list of mourners.  

Onowu Igririgiogu

Anambra State Government represented by Dr. Nkem Okeke, wrote: “As we all know, for us to live with God our creator, we must all pass through the gateway, which is death, hence, we must take solace in the words of the scripture that life is changed and never ended.”

Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, whose coming was preceded by his wife, Margaret, wrote: “The loss of a loved one is always a painful experience for the bereaved. He was a great father to his family, an inspiring and compassionate community leader. As the Onowu 1 of Ogboji, he contributed a lot to the progress of the town and the promotion of the culture of the people. As we mourn his demise, we are comforted that he lived a purposeful life and left the legacy of honour and integrity, which he imbibed in his children.”

Former Governor and Senator representing the community, Andy Uba, wrote: “There is no doubt that your father lived a true and exemplary life and will be greatly missed by many more, whose lives he positively impacted on, while on earth. However, we take solace in the belief that he is resting in the bosom of his creator and master.”

Senator Joy Emodi: “The remarkable life lived by this great man in the service of God and humanity in general is worthy of emulation. Having lived to a ripe old age and raising outstanding children, there is no doubt that he left his footprints on the sands of time and passed into eternity, a fulfilled man.”     

With daughter, Edith Nwokedi

Senator Uche Ekwunife: “The death of your father is not only a great loss to you and the entire family, but also to all who knew and related with him in different manners. Onowu was a great man with a distinct quality. He was a distinguished leader and devout Christian. His humane character shall ever be missed by those who came across him during his sojourn on earth. I urge you and your entire family to emulate the good legacies he left behind.”

Dr. Joe Akabuike, Commissioner for Health, Anambra State: “Death is an inevitable end of man, a call that all human beings shall one day in one way or another answer, just like Chief Alexander Ezekafor Orajaka (Onowu 1 of Ogboji) has just done. As we mourn his departure in total submission to the will of God, we call on the entire family and other well-wishers to take solace in the glorious Christian hope of life eternal with God after this transient world.”

Wilson Mbachu, scion of the late Igwe Mbachu, wrote on behalf of the family: “As human, we are bound to be sorrowful at the death of dear ones, but always relieved on the realisation that the will of God is supreme at all times. As we are saddled with the pains of his loss and are forced to brood over the transience of human life, let us take solace that he lived worthily and contributed immensely to community development and marvellously in discharge of his duty as Onu-Owu of Ogboji.”


Onowu and first wife, Sybil


The community wrote through the current monarch, Igwe Festus Iyioku: “You touched the lives of hundreds in many positive ways. It will never be forgotten. You were a hardworking person and the numerous virtues you had, you also passed to your children. We all know that you are peacefully resting in the bosom of our saviour, Jesus Christ, whom you served with all your life and resources. Death ends a life on earth, but it does not end a relationship.”

Vox populi, vox Dei, the Romans wrote on their walls in ancient times, meaning, the voice of the people is the voice of God. That of course must serve as a consolation for the community in mourning and celebration at the exit of the Onowu, the man, who served them well.

What is more, the seed of his political sagacity and classic leadership qualities has already germinated and is blossoming in Edith Nwokedi, nee Orajeaka, one of the veritable voices in the politics of Anambra State today and to a large extent, the entire nation, apart from other children who have equally made it in other fields.

What more could a man ask from his God? How else could God reward one who had served him well as a devout Christian? With 101 years on earth, making him the oldest in the entire community, with children doing their own things in their individual fields and an appreciative community left behind, what else remains than a blissful eternity in the bosom of his creator?

Good night. Sleep well. Onowu, Igirigiogu.     




Posted on November, 17 2016

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