By T. A. Orji, Vanguard Newspapers
ON Thursday July 2, 2009, a mammoth crowd of sympathisers and mourners gathered at the Enugu State Government House South East of Nigeria, to pay their last respects to the sage, Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh, during his funeral.
The presence of prominent Nigerians who took turns to pay tribute to the late Onoh bore eloquent testimony that while alive, his clout transcended even beyond imaginable frontiers.
In posit of fact the speakers were in agreement that Aninefungwu Okaa Omee as he was also known represented different personalities to different people. Therefore, each speaker described the Onoh that he knew, of course, based on close interactions at different times and space.
His first son Mr Gabriel Onoh while giving a vote of thanks pointedly remarked that his father was mercurial. In other words, he was endowed with mood swing.
However, the important message of his character is that he was a humanist personified. If you ever had a close encounter with Onoh whom I would be elated to describe as an Oracle of politics of our generation, he would have left you with unending refreshing memories when reflecting on him now, even as he joined his ancestors. With a deep feeling of nostalgia, I will state here my own interesting experiences.
There were two striking instances of my close interactions with the Oracle. The first was as an Administrative Secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC); I was on transfer in Enugu in 1999.
And during the general election in that year, the old political rivalry between Onoh and Dr Jim Nwobodo( two political gladiators in Enugu), was not only rekindled but was also fierce.
On learning that I am an indigene of Umuahia, Onoh visited my office. The reason as I understood later was, the wife of his opponent, that is Nwobodo’s wife is an Umuahian as myself.
So , he thought I would be compromised, but in the course of our discussion he found out that I am a decent Nigerian, and his confidence in the election processes increased instantly; he thanked me and left my office.
The second was when I was elected as Executive Governor of Abia State in 2007. He came to my office (here in Umuahia), congratulated me and said to me : Be courageous and champion the cause of Ndi-Igbo.
From these two remarkable meetings it was not difficult for me to arrive at the conclusion that he was a patriotic Nigerian, fearless and straightforward .
A belief, which I am pushing to those who didn’t have an opportunity of meeting him, one on one.
To him, anybody found to be connected with ensuring that Ndi Igbo do not lose their position as a major ethnic group in Nigeria, deserved to be supported.
His desire was for Ndi-Igbo to take political leadership position in Nigeria as other major ethnic groups have been doing. It is in view of this that he became a fearless and forceful campaigner of restoration of Igbo dignity.
And he was the engine room of the struggle for greater recognition for the Igbo man(and woman) any where he lives in Nigeria. Therefore, against this backdrop, Oracle was quick to take a swipe at anybody or groups who worked against the Igbo man getting his fair share in the Nigeria entity.
Because to him, this is a major struggle and he became a one man formidable force to deal with it as he deployed personal resources, time and intellectual works to confront even institutions that are anti-Igbo progress.
He was also known as an uncompromising politician who stood firm on any course he believed in and followed it to its logical conclusion no matter who was involved. A vivid example is the annulment of the June12, 1993 presidential election.
Onoh was consistent in his call for its revalidation. While alive Okaa Omee was an icon that could not be ignored and in death I have no doubts that he would be a greater icon. To his Wawa people, Onoh was an irredentist bent on putting the community on the nation’s map.
He did not hide the fact that was his root; he lived all his political life in Ngwo, his rural home town, in Enugu state. He lived among his people, lived for them and fought for them.
Although he was born into opulence, he lived a simple life such that the ordinary man had access to him. He inherited wealth from his father, but he was humble and driven by a genuine compassion that he affected people of diverse backgrounds positively with his wealth.
Many people would remember him as a kind and unique landlord. He was peculiarly cerebral; notwithstanding this, he had a curious mind wanting to learn more about everything even at old age.
He loved and enjoyed quality life, but that didn’t distance him from the less-privileged, as he mixed up well with the highly and lowly placed in the society. And he brought his experiences to bear on his perception of human beings, politics and leadership.
In the same token, his experience became useful when he had to lobby for creation of additional states for the South East. With his indefatigable zeal along with other Igbo patriots the South East zone now has five states. He was a man of faith in himself and his course, ever determined to push beyond the barriers to attain his goals.
Not many knew that Onoh was a contemporary of Pa Anthony Enahoro. But it is true that both men were the vocal voices in the Federal House of Representatives in 1958. He was the unmistakable charismatic politician others were queuing to drink from his fountain of wisdom.
He was a lawyer of note who yearned for justice and equality, but many know him as a politician. Oracle, in your grave as you were interred six feet into the womb of mother earth, I know that you will sustain the struggles for all that you fought and stood for such as equal rights, justice, fair play and socio economic and political non marginalisation.
I can assure you that on behalf of your esteemed admirers and associates, we will continue the struggles from where you stopped until the battle is won. Indeed, Nigeria and the Igbo nation have lost one of the highly rated statesmen and nationalists through your demise.
However, we take solace in the enduring legacies and works you left behind, which is why I posit we should not mourn your death, but rather celebrate you. And a good way of doing this is to ensure that the light which you lit does not dim.
Chief Orji is the Governor of Abia State.