From Okey Sampson, Umuahia
Igbere, a town in Bende Local Government Area in Abia State, like many villages and towns in the South East, comes alive every Christmas and New Year. Indigenes of this community usually go home during the Yuletide for festivities, ranging from admission of new age grade, to traditional retirement of the elderly from community service to cutural display. It is always a time to remember.
This year is not different. Igbere is already preparing to host its sons and daughters this Christmas. The hitherto sleeping town is beginning to burble, almost three weeks to Christmas. Residents are visibly in high spirits.
Interestingly, apart from the usually programmes that make Christmas in Igbere exciting, something else is coming up in the community this month. On December 27, Igbere will be a convergence point for the creme de la creme in the society, from acroos the country. That day, the 10th memorial anniversary of Chief Johnson Nsiegbe Uzor Onyike, the father of former governor of Abia State and incumbent Senate Chief Whip, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, will be held.
At present, the man’s name is on the lips of many residents. They tell good stories about him, with little or no prodding. They believe the town is eternally indebted to him for giving them a son like Senator Kalu who transformed Igbere and placed it on neon light for all to see.
“Some of us who were born when Igbere was not reckoned with have a good reason to thank him for giving us a son who love his people and showed it by changing the community and made all of us proud. He is still doing that till tomorrow,“ a man who identified himself as Chief John Okoro said.
In every nook and cranny, there are bold indications that the community is warming up for the event. The air is charged. Even petty traders told the reporter that they are assembly goods they will sell to an expected mammoth crowd on that day.
Those who knew Uzor-Onyike from birth do not mince word about his uniqueness and sterling qualities. Chief Eke Job of Amankalu Igbere who said he was close to Pa Uzor-Onyike when he was alive, told Daily Sun that the late father of the Senate Chief Whip, hailed from Umuisi, Igbere and was born in the early ’30s.
Chief Job narrated: “He was very humble. He was equally peace loving and friendly with all while growing up at Igbere before he left for Aba where he began his business and lived till he died 10 years ago. He never quarreled with anybody. He was a good man.”
That was not all from Chief Job about Uzor-Onyike. He added: “If I tell you the man was humble, it was to a fault. He was always playing with kids to the admiration of all. He did not bear grudges and was close to the people. He never allowed anybody to be cheated in the village and he was a philanthropist; always giving things to widows and the down trodden in Igbere.”
Another Igbere native, Eme Egwu, said the upcoming event is already putting the community in blissful mood. “We are not mourning the man. We are celebrating him. He died not young and he lived a good life. Igbere people are waiting for the day so that we can show the family our love,” he said.
Egwu said in world where money and power influence some men negatively, this was not the case with Uzor-Onyike. According to him, the character of late Chief Uzor-Onyike could not be swayed with such earthly things. He said Kalu’s father lived a life of simplicity, humility and honesty even when his son was governor of Abia state and another son, a member of the House of Representatives.
“He was humility personified. Onyike-Uzor’s middle name could contextually be referred to as “Mr. Humility,” he said. `
In Bende council culture in the past, marriages in most cases are consummated from the first day the girl child was born, through the dropping of a coin into a carved calabash containing water. The man putting the coin would announce publicly that his son would marry the girl when he grew up and with this; the girl is preserved for the boy for marriage.
Explaining how Onyike-Uzor met his wife, Eunice, Egwu said: “When little Eunice was born, her grandfather performed the traditional rites and announced that his grandson was going to marry her when she grew up. At the appropriate time, Uzor-Onyike and Eunice, in obedience to the wishes of their parents, got married in the late ‘50s. They first settled on Tenant Road in Aba, Abia State before the couple moved to another area of the city where they later gave birth to their children, including Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu”.
The search for those who could give unbiased and vivid account of the life and times of late Pa Uzor-Onyike extended to the commercial city of Aba where he spent his adult life. When the writer met Egu Agu who said he knew him very well, he described the man as a shrewd businessman who began lowly in the business world as a hanger seller before he started dealing in textile materials.
Hear Agu: “The late Chief Uzor-Onyike was a shrewd businessman in Aba who initially was dealing on cloth hangers at the Ahia Ohuru (New Market) before he changed business to that of textile materials.”
All those who spoke about late Chief Uzor-Onyike may have said different things about him, one thing they said in unison was his humility laced with a strong and admirable character. He never walked the curved path while alive, according to them.
Mrs. Ola Agwu, a former neighbour of Uzor-Onyike in Aba told a story of how, when Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu made his first millions in Maidugiri as a contractor and sent some money to his father. She said the money was much that every other man could have jumped and danced at the offer, but that Uzor-Onyike initially rejected the money, but only accepted it after ascertaining that it made a legitimate income of his son.
Some people could be humble only to be changed by wealth. This is not for the man many agreed was never moved by the things of the world. Although fortunes in unique way smiled on Uzor-Onyike at a point in his life, as his son became the governor of Abia state, he never allowed that to have any negative hold on him .
According to Gab Ukoha, “Chief Uzor-Onyike maintained a simple life all through. Even when his son was governor, he seldom visited the Government House. The man moved about on his cherished White-Horse Bicycle,” exhibiting little or no fancy for cars not to talk of the flashy ones.
Ukoha said it was when late Pa Uzor-Onyike did his traditional Igbotonma (retirement) ceremony, that he was ‘forced’ to accept a Peugeot 505 saloon car given to him by Kalu. “Even at that, he was hardly found inside the car, but preferred to ride on his white-horse bicycle,” he said.
A lot more testimonies about the man’s inimitable lifestyle will be shared as the Senate Chief Whip and other members of the Kalu family remember his exit 10 years ago, on December 27, 2020.