Death As a Celebration

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Ezenwa
Ezenwa

Austin Anakwue Okaka Ezenwa, Igwe of Abagana, bows out after 85 years of a fulfilled life

By Olu Ojewale  |

IT WAS a grand occasion as family members, friends, traditional chiefs and people from all walks of life gathered in Abagana, Anambra State, to celebrate the life and times of Austin Anakwue Okaka Ezenwa, its traditional ruler, recently. Ezenwa, 85, died on November 13, last year, 14 days before his 86th year on earth. He had also been the Igwe for 19 years.

Ezenwa would be missed, especially by his nine children and a foster child. He would also be missed by the government of Anambra State, where he had served as deputy governor of Anambra State, by federal government where he had been a minister of state in the first republic as well as by his former students who are now in prominent positions across the country.

Born on November 27, 1926, Ezenwa was educated at Christ the King School, Aba, Abia State, from where he went to the famous Christ the King College, C.K.C., Onitsha for his secondary education. Having passed in flying colours, he was admitted to Crawford Institute, Cork, Ireland, for his advanced level, where he offered Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. He later enrolled at the National University of Ireland, where he earned a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Chemistry and Physics, in 1954. He followed it up with a post graduate course in education at the Southampton University, England.

Lying in state at Govt. House, Awka
Igwe Ezenwa, lying in state at Govt. House, Awka

At the National University, Ireland, Ezenwa was a keen sportsman and held the university’s record in the 100 metres race and long jump. He was also elected president of the African Undergraduate Association in 1953. On his return to Nigeria in 1956, Ezenwa was employed as a senior science master at the St. Patrick’s College, Asaba, Delta State. Prominent among his students there were John Odigie Oyegun, former governor of Edo State, and a retired federal permanent secretary, and Sony Okogwu, a prominent business man based in Kaduna State, among others.

Ezenwa got married to Dorothy Chinwendu Nkemeh of Abor village, Umuoji, Idemili North Local Government Area, his childhood sweetheart in December 1957. Fondly called Omekadia, she too was a renowned educationist, having been headmistress in about eight schools.

While still teaching at the school, Ezenwa took time off in 1964, to successfully run for a seat at the federal parliament. It was from there that he was picked as federal minister of state for Trade, by Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the then Prime Minister. He subsequently took the oath of the office before the then President Nnamdi Azikiwe. As a minister of state, he served under the legendary K. O. Mbadiwe, who was the substantive minister.

Following the 1966 crisis, he humbly returned to classroom as a teacher at St. Gregory’s college, Obalende, Lagos. As the crisis escalated, he relocated to the East with his young family. He later joined the Biafran army and rose to the rank of a major before the end of the war in 1970. Immediately after the war in 1970, he joined the defunct East Central State Teaching Service Commission and was posted to New Bethel College, Onitsha, as its principal. He also served as principal of many other schools.

(L-R), Emeka Nwankwu, Oseloka Obaze, commissioner for public utilities, SSG Anambra State and Osita Szenwa
(L-R), Emeka Nwankwu, Oseloka Obaze, commissioner for public utilities, SSG Anambra State and Osita Szenwa

Some of his students at those schools included Valerian Okeke, Catholic archbishop of Onitsha; Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State; Senator Chris Ngige, former governor of Anambra State; Justice Peter Umeadi, chief judge, Anambra State; Oseloka Obaze, secretary to the Anambra State Government; Chidi Ezeoke, head of service, Anambra State; Joe Martins Uzodike, commissioner for information, Emeka Ilouno, Igwe of Ifitedunu; Igwe Emma Nnabuife of Isseke; Charly Boy Oputa, former president of PMAN, and Major General Emeka Onwuamaegbu, Commandant of the Defence Academy, Kaduna, among others.

In 1978, when the foundation of the second republic was being laid, he was nominated into the Constituent Assembly by the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, to represent the interest of teachers all over the federation. Following the commencement of partisan political activities, he was picked as the gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples’ Redemption Party, PRP, and ran albeit unsuccessfully for the Anambra governorship position, in 1979.

He was later elected deputy governor with Christian Onoh as governor of the old Anambra State, which is today made up of Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu states, in 1983.  When the military struck and dismantled the democratic institution on December 31, 1983, Ezenwa retired to Abagana, his home town, where he immersed himself in the development of his community. Before that time, he had shown interest in the tradition and culture of his people. Thus, he was initiated into the prestigious Nze na Ozo society, with the title Agbalanze Abagana in 1958. So, when Igwe Angus Obike Ilonze, Igwe Abagana died in 1989, Ezenwa was unanimously elected and crowned the traditional ruler of Abagana in1993.

Lying in state at the Anambra State House of Assembly
Lying in state at the Anambra State House of Assembly
Peter Obi, Governor, Anambra State and wife at the burial Mass
Peter Obi, Governor, Anambra State and wife at the burial Mass
(L-R) Osita Ezenwa, Adaobi Okafor, daughter of the deceased, and Emeka Sibeudu, deputy governor, Anambra State at the vigil Mass
(L-R) Osita Ezenwa, Adaobi Okafor, daughter of the deceased, and Emeka Sibeudu, deputy governor, Anambra State at the vigil Mass
(L-R) Margaret Peter Obi, Emeka Sibeudu, Deputy Governor, Anambra and the chief Judge of Anambra State, Justice Peter Umeadi
(L-R) Margaret Peter Obi, Emeka Sibeudu, Deputy Governor, Anambra and the chief Judge of Anambra State, Justice Peter Umeadi
Top officials of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), receiving his remains at Teachers House, Awka
Top officials of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), receiving his remains at Teachers House, Awka
Some of the children of the deceased, Igwe Austin Ezenwa
Some of the children of the deceased

— Jun. 3, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

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