Ezinifite in Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State will play host to prominent Nigerians from all walks of life, 11 years after the demise of king of highlife music in Nigeria, Chief (Dr) Oliver De Coque, who was from the same community and because of the personage of Onyekwelu. They will come to pay last respect to the Ezini of Ezinifite, Sir John Asombanya Onyekwelu. He passed on at the age of 76 years.
The Ezini was born on June 24, 1943, to the family of Eze Onyekwelu (Azuamaonyeananyaranwu) and Madam Marinda Mmogo Onyekwelu of Umeabata royal dynasty, Umuogo Awor-Ezimuzor village, Ezinifite, as the first child. His home training aptly prepared him for the challenges of life. Elders who came across him never forgot his outstanding qualities of humility, hard work, cleanliness, cheerfulness and obedience, which marked him out as a gifted child.
As a young child, Ezini was a strong character and very intelligent. He was able to combine petty trading with his education to assist his parents. His son, Chief Ugochukwu Onyekwelu, Ebubedike of Ezinifite, spoke with Daily Sun: “The early death of his father, endeared daddy to his mother who in appreciation of his love, dedication and entrepreneurial skills co-opted him into her business. That was how daddy’s academic pursuit was temporarily cut short for business.
“But he made sure that what he failed to acquire in terms of education early in life his children never lacked, no wonder then all of us his eight off springs are not just educated but all accomplished individuals in our respective professions.”
With the onset of the Nigeria Civil War (1967 – 1970), young John like every other youth then selflessly enrolled into the Biafran Army to defend his people. Despite sustaining several injuries, he stood his ground, and bravely fought on the Biafran side till the end of the war in January 1970:
“Daddy worked hard enough to win the accolades of the large hearted that celebrated his accomplishments with glee and earned him the sobriquet Ojielo (one with wisdom), a name he became identified within his early days in business, but he was humble enough to know that the glory belongs to God. This conviction and disposition dotted the path of my father as he relocated to Enugu in search of greener pastures after being empowered by his mother.
“His business flourished that he incorporated his immediate younger brother, Sir Sabastine Onyekwelu also of the blessed memory after a period of apprenticeship and started J. S Onyekwelu and Brothers, known for steel merchandise. ANECON Nig Ltd was later incorporated.
“His sincerity in dealing with business associates which runs in the family following the footsteps of his late mother attracted tremendous goodwill, respect and confidence of trading partners from Hong Kong, Ukraine, Singapore, Belgium to mention a few countries he sojourned to place his business at the frontline position. As a reward for his rare business sense and acumen, he became major marketer and supplier of iron steel/plates in the country.
“Daddy was not only a dependable father, he was an adorable husband and pillar of support. He was what a good father should be, a caring father, loving husband, counsellor, guardian and role model.”
Life as Christian
Although Sir Onyekwelu was born into a family that practiced traditional religion, the parents were among the early admirers of Christianity in Ezinifite, Ebubedike said: “My father was a baptised Catholic, received the Holy Communion and Confirmation as a Catholic. He hardly missed morning and Sunday Masses. His rosary was always with him and he remained with Christ till his last day, receiving ‘Extreme Unction Sacrament’ on the day of his demise.”
Ezini contributed immensely to the development of the church in Enugu, Onitsha, Nnewi, Amichi, Osumenyi Deanery, St. Peter’s Parish, Awkunanaw Enugu, St. Michael’s Parish, Ezinifite and Our Lady Gate of Heaven Parish, Awor-Ezimuzor Ezinifite.
He was knighted in 1989 in the Order of Knight of St. John International (KSJI) where he rose to the rank of District Commander and later Noble for his selfless service to humanity. He was past chairman, St. Peter’s parish Council, Awkunanaw, Enugu; President CMO St. Peter’s Parish; Patron, Altar Boys Association; Patron, St. Raphael’s Choir, Benefactor, Purgatorial Society and Recipient, Enugu Catholic Arch Diocese Ideal Couple Award winner, 2013 among others.
Social, community life
Ezini was a selfless man, a humble philanthropist who saw everyone as equal like the Ozo title name Okpara Okummadu (Fisher of men) depicts. He rose from the Onowu Chieftaincy title of Ezinifite to the revered Ezini of Ezinifite title. He was secretary of the Peace Talk Committee set up in the 70’s that eventually brought the peace and unity we now enjoy in Ezinifite. Also, he was one of the six men that fought to establish the rotational kingship system that is operated presently in the community. His social life was elaborate, and he belongs to notable professional and socio-cultural associations.
His son: “Ezini Onyekwelu was the first Ezinifite to crown two traditional rulers; The late Igwe Reuben Ananti (Ezeoha 1 of Ezinifite) in December 1998, and Igwe Samuel Obika (Ezeoha II of Ezinifite) in January 2, 2014”
Lady Oge Eziokwu Ezini’s first daughter; comments: “My father never believed in sharp practices, short changing of the people or stocking up embers of hate and disaffection. These to him are pass time of little men who do not believe that we all owe our being to God. He saw truth and condemning evil as a divine obligation that cannot be compromised no matter whose ox is gored.
“My daddy was not given to verities, rather he would always teach us to be respectful, assist people if we can, embrace the path of honour and integrity in our dealings with people and be prepared to defend our actions before God”.
His second daughter, Mrs Nkiru Okeke: “When we were growing up, children from other homes were coming to play with us. Our father made sure every child present enjoyed every minute of their staying with us. He shared the little he had with people around him irrespective of where they come from. Papa was our rallying point.” Daughter, Mrs Ifeyinwa Ojiego: “Papa was one of the proponents of Halliburton’s ideology to wit; ‘To carry care to bed is to sleep with a pack on your back.’ My beloved father would carry your problems at heart like his own until they were solved.”
Mrs Chinwe Efedionye, daughter: “Daddy gave us the greatest gift of life – education. He thought us dignity, integrity, honour and humanity. And he drummed it into our ears always that knowledge without religion is naught. Trust your children daddy; we are still passing on the torch of education and religion.”
Chief Obiora Onyekwelu, second son: “Daddy inculcated in us those rare combinations of attributes of his unassuming personality, hard work, sound moral standards and above all being very close to God Almighty at all times. Whatever, we may have achieved today could not have been the case in the absence of these qualities.”
Chuka Onyekwelu: “Despite our privileged and rich pedigree with all due humility, we were constantly reminded by our father that all human beings are same before the Creator and should never ever see ourselves differently. This guiding principle influenced our lives positively.”
Mrs Ifunanya Ojiego, daddy’s baby: Daddy was too accessible and that endeared him to both his family members and community who run to him for advice whenever they had problems. One can never get fed up with him, he too derived a satisfaction that is indescribable in their companionship.”
Ezini’s daughter-in-law, Odibeze Chiamaka Onyekwelu: “My relationship with my late father-in-law was so deep-rooted that his children jokingly referred to me as ‘Nwa Ezi’ (Ezini’s daughter).”
Ezini’s granddaughter, Miss Nora Eziokwu a student of Igbinedion University, described her maternal grandfather as “a rare gem, a man of noble character whose faith and trust in God could only be compared with those great men and women of old such as Abraham, Job, Ruth and Esther.”
Onanwa Chinelo Onyekwelu another of daughter-in-law: “It is after death that we measure great men. Papa Nnukwu, with your life, you have set a shining example that inspired us all. Your memories will forever endure.”
Burial rites for Ezini commence tomorrow, Thursday, with a vigil Mass at Awor-Ezimuzor village, Ezinifite, at 5:00pm to be followed by wake-keep. On Friday, between 8am and 10am, there will be lying-in-state in his country home. This will be followed immediately by Pontifical Requiem Mass by Most Rev. (Dr) Hillary Odili Okeke, Catholic Bishop of Nnewi Diocese, after which his remains will be laid to rest at his country home. This would be followed by condolence visits.
Saturday June 8, 2019: condolence visits continues.