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Reminiscing on Death–The Okwadike Factor

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There is no gainsaying it. The death of a loved one is a difficult challenge. Truth is that we cannot take the pains totally away, no matter how we grieve in the short term. Yet we must show solidarity, for death is the lot of all of us, for as the Igbo say, ”when we bury one we are also burying ourselves. The Holy book puts it this way: We must not grieve like those without hope.

Some five years ago, I celebrated the 80th birthday of His Excellency Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife along with other distinguished Nigerians. I gave a speech, which I have already upgraded to a chapter in a forthcoming book, titled Aka Ekpuchi Onwa—with a sobriquet. You cannot hide a silver fish.

As you are no doubt aware “Life of great men all remind us /we can make our own lives sublime/ And departing leaves behind us/Foot prints on the sands of time.” That’s according to the American poet, Henry Wardsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). That poem is a metaphor of life’s possibilities.

Okwadike Chukwuemeka P. Ezeifedikwa (the wealthy king)–that’s the full name– left glowing footprints and inspirations worthy of emulation and worthy of celebration. His was a life of aspiration and inspiration writ large.

Okwadike-the trumpet of heroes, Anu kporo nku na eju onu

Agbawo Dike izu Agba ya ugboro abuo
Anu an-a gba egbe, ya na-ata ahihia
Oje mba enwe Iro
Ono na-Mba aza oku.
Garkuwan Fika

Akintolugboye of Egbaland.
Your friends and well -wishers Greet you.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) gave us one of the best known statements in the world, as relevant today as it was in the 16th century when the greatest writer in the English language intoned as follows in Twelfth Night:

”Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them Some achieve greatness” .This is but one of the fifty quotes on life from this immortal writer and incomparable artist. He had other words on marble about life, like this one by King Macbeth:

”Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

When on Friday, the 15th of December 2023, Rob Ezeife, Okwadike’s immediate younger brother , announced in a Press Release on behalf of the Ezeife dynasty ‘ the promotion to glory of our most distinguished son, Okwadike, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a former Federal Permanent Secretary, the first Executive Governor of Anambra State, a former Political Adviser to the President Political Adviser and former Presidential Aspirant..” the full weight of the seeming absurdity of life set up an emotional swirl in my mind. I had tried to speak with him on the preceding Wednesday but the wife who received the phone call had assured me that they would be back from the hospital on Friday or Saturday. They did come back but without the family head.

Marcus Aurelius, a former Roman Emperor (AD 121-AD 180) had philosophised that “the very act of dying is one of the acts of life”. ”The Methodist prelate ,had told me when I was about to bury my mother in 2015:”Remember that others have lost and buried their mothers too”. It was not a consolation. But it was the truth.

However, viewed, the living will never willingly welcome death, no matter how it comes, and this despite our rationalizations and or Christian principles. Consolation, rationalization are the way out of what cannot be remedied. And part of our prayer is that God, who made living and dying a permanent resource, should teach us how to accept what we cannot change.

Why Okwadike matters.

Okwadike is a mindset, a philosophy arising from a view of life and how to respond to dysfunctional situations. He saw a window of opportunity where naysayers and pessimists saw obstacles. Early in life he dreamt dreams and saw visions. Wrote his biographer, Claver Obi: “From the very beginning of his educational career, Chukwuemeka was destined to wrestle with many conflicts”. P. 21). Am sure you are aware of the odds that prevented him from going through the formal processes of acquiring secondary school education and the attendant Cambridge School certificate at his time.

He read for their equivalents –the General Certificates of Education, ordinary and advanced levels at home—which enabled him to proceed to the University at Ibadan to pursue a degree course. From there he moved on and ended with a PhD at one of the foremost universities in the world-The Harvard University ,in Cambridge Massachusetts. By doing this he gave essence to living. That’s why I described him as a symbol of both aspiration and inspiration/ He achieved greatness not by ascription but by the dint of hard work. In other words, Chukwuemeka Ezeife did not have greatness thrust upon him, nor did he have it by inheritance. Many who have achieved such a glowing status through other means have not always managed them well. Our man of the moment was an excellent manager of men and materials and an exemplar and a poster boy of industry and success. Wrote ,Peter Claver Obi:

“Great men and minds are not born, they are self-made. Like his contemporaries and colleagues who had at one time or another, proved to be as sought after, as criticized, as hated, as loved, as condemned, as praised as well as enigmatic, Dr Eeife himself is self made”.

Death is a personal thing. Everybody will die. It may come sooner or later. It may come by disease, by accident, or by old age. But do not remind me that I am old. It is none of your duty or that I will die.

I celebrated death in my book of poetry in 2010 ,titled , DIE OH DEATH, the musings of a Split Conscience And Other Poems. Part of it reads :When I kick The bucket”. A section describes Death as a solo:”: It is a solo/..

The journey to forever land is initiation across the seven seas/Seven deities and seven days/
There is a section on Heavensward: ‘The paradox is that/ to go heavensward/ you must go downward/ He that must go up/ Must first go down.

There is also the Abdication, The Surrender/.Now that the battle is fought and won/ Now that the sword of war is down/Lord of Mercy /Lead like the twinkling star/The wise men of old followed / through the seamless tracks of life/In the thick and thin of battles ahead/Christward we must go/.

Then the 3 epitaphs. The last reads. ”I hope when you pass by my tomb/You will not turn away in fear /Nor cast a scornful look at it/For me the staff of hatred is broken/No malice, no envy can reach me now/Resting in the bosom of my Maker/Heaven’s celestial choir with anthems/Welcome a tested Pilgrim./.
Epitaph 2:”HERE lies a man of his time/He came ,saw and did his best/Blazed a trail for others to follow/Raised the bar to inspire to dare/He was of the purest breed –Rare a few confessed-/A noble man in words and deeds/A heroic and grand benefactor who loved/
This hilly sand and gave his all for it.

Okwadike dreamt of a free Nigeria, a great country that would be the pride of the world, of a Black Pluriverse that will, to use his words, fulfil “its Manifest Destiny” in his generation. It was his sing song, a swan song, a patriotic vision, a credo beyond a transient dream. It never happened. But it can happen if we , his friends, work towards its realization. It reminds me of Olubode George, a former governor ,and the Atona Odua of Yoruba land,who, in his speech in 2012 paid a glowing tribute to the foremost Nigerian leader, the great and charismatic Nnamdi Azikiwe of the blessed memory. His words:

“Finally, our journey is still far. The road to national salvation is still rough and tortuous. But there is redemption at the end of the horizon. But only if we endure. Only if we work hard. Only if we show commitment and absolute faith in ourselves and in our nation. The challenge is now before all of us: we must now choose between the ennobling ideal of painful self sacrifice or the quick and petty shortcut of personal gains. We must choose between the crass love for riches or the more redeeming love for our nation. The choice is ours. We dare not choose wrongly…”

This speech and prayer were rendered some twelve years ago. We are still far from the dream land. God, no doubt, has blessed us. But we need to bless ourselves. That is the ultimate challenge.

Okwadike might not have attained the political height of Nnamdi Azikiwe or of Governor Ibiam. But all were intellectual soul mates. They all died with their goals for a great Nigeria unrealized. We know why: elite squabbles and leadership myopia, among other socio-political dysfunctionalities. Before he passed on Ezeife called for their resolution and even offered himself to be at the fountain head of this ideal.

We can understand why in his book, Remaking Nigeria with Progressivism , republished in 2018, Okwadike, dedicated the book to the “twain of Zik and Ogunsanya and those Nigerians who share their vision of Nigeria as one United World Super Power, under God; and to all persons who loathe to see their neighbours hurt, physically or psychologically.”

OKWADIKE, may your soul continue to rest in Peace and may those you inspired never betray your ideals.

Omenma Prof. IHECHUKWU MADUBUIKE, PhD. OON.

Enyi Abia.

Former Minister of Education, and later Health, Nigeria.

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