By Oliaku Eneh
Considering the nature of true greatness in men; Henry Eyring said that “The people who can catch hold of men’s minds and feelings and inspire them to do things bigger than themselves; are the people who are remembered in history…”
Igwe Dr. Callistus Chukwuemeka Obi Njeze (Odalije), the Ujaligwa II of Umuavulu Abor in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State, belonged to that class of people.
A one-time rector of the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, Njeze had blazed the trail in many areas of life. He was born to Njeze Iheanaeboagu Echewe and Oriboshiafor Nnamani Eziobodo in the maternity hospital owned by the Catholic Church in Eke, Udi LGA in Enugu State on January 28, 1943.
Between 1947 and 1950, he attended what could be described as a kindergarten set up by Catholic priests then at Orie Abor; at the instance of his most senior brother. In 1951, he commenced primary education in St Peter’s Primary School at Enu Abor. He completed primary school in 1960 at 17, then sat and passed entrance examinations. He attended Holy Ghost College Owerri and it was at this time that he got shoes for the first time (slippers and a white canvas).
At the college, his classmates called him Calico Sagacity because of his considerable intellectual capacity and wits. After seven years in Holy Ghost College Owerri, he earned Ordinary and Advanced Levels certificates. He became a teacher at Christ High School Abor and was waiting to travel abroad for further studies when the civil war broke out in 1967. In fact, if the war had started a month later, he would already have been in California USA studying Chemical Engineering. Njeze was enrolled in the School of Infantry (Colliery Ngwo) the same year, where he underwent the necessary military training. He rose quickly through the ranks to become Captain C. C. Njeze, Commanding Officer 70B Battalion and 64th Brigade Strike Force battalion of the Biafran Army. One of his remarkable battles was successfully reclaiming the Uturu airstrip in Isuikwuato.
Curiously, the war played some role in the profession he eventually embraced. As they camped in the deserted homes of people who had fled for safety, he started reading books he found in those homes just to keep his mind active through self-education and for the first time he read books on Economics, Architecture, Surveying and this aroused his interest in other subjects other than the core sciences. It opened up the opportunity for him to consider other career pathways other than physical sciences having developed interest in Environmental Sciences.
After an entrance examination, he was admitted to study Estate Management as his first degree course in the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus in 1970. In 1974, he was the Best Graduating student in both his department and faculty with second class upper division and he won prizes for these. He was 31 years old then, so, on account of age, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was waived for him. And because of his academic excellence, the UNN made him a junior fellow in the Department of Estate Management. This was the entry level of lectureship in the University and it came with the offer of a scholarship to University of Cambridge, United Kingdom for Ph.D.
He utilised the scholarship and did his Ph.D in Land Economics in the University of Cambridge (Wolfson College) UK from 1975 to 1978. So, he became the first African and of course, the first Nigerian to be awarded a Ph.D in Estate Management. He also became the first graduate of University of Nigeria Nsukka to bag Ph.D from the University of Cambridge England.
He came back to Nigeria thereafter and continued his employment as a full-fledged lecturer 2 in University of Nigeria Enugu Campus. He spent two years there and when his scholarship bond to the University ended, he sought greener pastures in Northern Nigeria.
Meanwhile, in 1972, he had met a beautiful young lady Roseline Akueyinwa Elobuike in Enugu and on July 5, 1975, just before he travelled abroad, he got married to her in court and they wedded on July 12, 1975 at Holy Ghost Cathedral Enugu. Their marriage of over 45 years was blessed with four children.
His switch to the Federal Polytechnic Bauchi as a principal lecturer in the Department of Estate Management in 1980 was the start of a very successful academic career there. He combined it with a thriving private practice as the principal partner in Njeze and Partners (Estate Surveyors and Valuers). He had up to 12 academic publications to his name and was also a fellow of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV). He is renowned for his charity, selfless generosity and uncommon benevolence. He sponsored many members of his extended family through the University so that everyone would have equal opportunity for success. As vice-rector of The Federal Polytechnic Bauchi from 1987-1989, it was not surprising when on October 25, 1991, he was appointed Rector, Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) Enugu by Colonel Herbert Obi Eze, the pioneer Military Administrator of Enugu State.
This was barely two months after the creation of the State. So, Njeze made history again, as the first rector of IMT under Enugu State Government. Expectedly, he utilised the wonderful opportunity and replicated what he did for his family in the wider Abor, Ojebe-Ogene, Udi and Enugu State in general. Indigenes of the state as a whole knew that a man who loved his people was on seat in IMT. He was able to relate with the rich and the poor alike. His tenure became a golden era for the institution. He added so much value to not just the academic standards at IMT; but improved the public appeal and image of the institution.
On account of the sheer number of Abor indigenes he had employed in IMT, the then traditional ruler, Igwe L.U. Ukwu, in 1995 conferred on him the traditional title of Odalije I of Abor. Odalije means “The distributor of good”. This would end up being his most popular title and name. He bowed out as rector on October 25, 1999 after two successful tenures spanning eight years. Having officially retired from public service, he took up contract lecturing positions in Enugu State University of Science and Technology and University of Nigeria Enugu Campus, just to keep himself busy. He had received numerous awards of excellence throughout his years of active public service. He was member, Education and Manpower sub-committee of Enugu State Vision 2010, member, Dialogue and Theological Commission of the Enugu Catholic Diocese, patron, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Enugu State Council and also received special award of merit by Society for the Promotion of Igbo Language and Culture (SPILC), among others.
He ventured into politics and contested for the senatorial seat of Enugu West in 2003, but was not successful. In 2011, he was unanimously elected and issued certificate of recognition as the Igwe of Umuavulu Abor. His coronation took place on December 26, 2012 while he staged his first Ofala festival as Igwe on December 26, 2015.
Just like the Biafran soldier he was, he had faced the challenge of a failing health head on and with uncommon courage from 2017 until his last breath on January 27, 2021 at 78.
•Dr. Eneh, a medical doctor based in Ireland is Igwe Njeze’s daughter.