From the entrance to his office, through the staircase to the main offices, there is no air of chivalry, no mark of ostentation. He is loudly ordinary, with no swanky mien. All around him is a bewitching air of simplicity and humility. But, High Chief Tony Ururuka, the Aba-based surveyor and estate valuer, is indisputably a silver-spoon-born and could have carried himself in the manner of royalty and pomp. After all, he is the son of a former minister of yore, bred in the atmosphere of power and aristocracy. “No, papa did not train us like that. Papa was a disciplinarian and made us to understand we needed to achieve success by ourselves,” he quipped and swung his neck in disapproval.
Tony speaks deliberately but in measured words. He cannot pass as a man with the gift of the gab. He can hardly hold an audience spell-bound with a moving oratory. His gift, and this is stating the obvious, is on the drawing board, in maintaining precision and accuracy. But, last week, when he spoke about his legendary father, for whom Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State built a statute, his voice came alive in a flowing narrative that captured exact reminiscences of a father that was larger than life. It was a nostalgic moment as he recalled his childhood and a bit of his teenage years with Papa.
“I was less than 15 when Papa died. He was a big name and he left for us a big shoe that we are struggling to wear,” he said and stamped his feet on the floor to create emphasis. “Papa was such a disciplinarian and a Christian to the core. He never went to clubs or bars. His spare time was spent in the church.”
“How do you feel about the statute the governor built in honour of your father?” my question seemed to have rattled him. He paused for a while as if he was trying to remember a forgotten idea: “Governor Ikpeazu resurrected our father on the day he commissioned the statute. He did not only immortalize him, he brought him back to life.”
If High Chief Tony Ururuka could suddenly jump into a frenzy of fluency, it was for his elder sister, Hon. Justice Stellamaris Chinedum Onyensoh, nee Ururuka, judge of Abia State Customary Court of Appeal, a moment of theatrical oratory and performance. She told her father’s story with passion and drama. “What was your father’s favourite music?” I threw a question to her.
“He loved old church hymns and listened to a lot of old classical music,” she retorted, and sprang up from her seat to demonstrate how her father used to dance Waltz and Quick Steps, with his wife. She held her two hands up, as if she was holding someone, and moved one step, then a second step, another step and then turned round and round. “It was the music and dance steps of the elite of the time,” she said and collapsed back in her seat, her face glowing in the light makeup that reflected with the laughter on her face.
“We know so much about your father’s political exploits in the Old Eastern Region, but who was he in the house, as a father and a husband?” my question came again. It was a question she was waiting for. She went down memory lane and began to roll: “He liked Ugazi soup a lot. That was his favorite soup and he ate it with pounded yam mixed with small eba. He also liked porridge yam. He was a very good dancer. He danced Waltz and Quick Steps with my mother. He played lawn tennis for exercise and did early morning walks around the vicinity of the GRA, Independent Layout, Enugu. We lived at No. 22, Abakalika Road, when he was Minister for Commerce and Industry. Papa was a light sleeper and he never joked with his seister. He loved his children so much but not to the point of spoiling us. He never went to ask for any favour on behalf of his children. He believed that we must work out our success.”
The Ururukas were nine siblings but only three are alive today – Tony, Stellamaris and Chief (Mrs.) Theresa Okonkwo, nee Ururuka, former Super Principal of Schools in the old Imo State. “My elder sister, Theresa, and Papa were very close and inseparable. There was nothing my father did without telling my elder sister. She was the apple of his eyes. Papa travelled a lot to the many regions and provinces and anytime he was back, we would be struggling to serve him. He was a very religious man and a Knight of St. Mulumba. He would always go for morning mass with my mother and, in the midnight, after the family evening prayers, he would still wake up and step into the parlour and pray with his rosary,” declared Stellamaris.
Chief Paul Omerenyia Ururuka, from Umunkpeyi Nvosi, Isiala Ngwa South, is a renowned name in the Old Eastern Region, a name that is associated with the infrastructural revolution of the era. For the people of Ngwa extraction, the name is synonymous with the First Republic pipe-borne water and the Ururuka Road. An outstanding politician of the First Republic, Chief Ururuka was at various times Minister of Commerce and Industry, Minister of Transport and Minister of Works in the Old Eastern Region. He is by right the most famous politician of the Ukwa Ngwa extraction before Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.
Recently, the governor immortalised the late statesman by building a statute after him at the exit point of the road he built in the 1960s. The gesture elicited widespread applause and commendation.
“We will forever be grateful to the governor for immortalizing our father, for others had come before him that didn’t remember the legacies of our father. By that statute, the governor stamped the road as Ururuka Road. He has immortalized his name across generations. Governor Ikpeazu brought our father back to life,” declared Justice Stellamaris Onyensoh.
Chief Paul Ururuka’s moderate four-room bungalow built in 1957 is an antique. Justice Stellamaris says the house speaks of her father’s humility and his values. She disclosed that the then Premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. M.I. Okpara, never allowed his cabinet members to buy property while in service in the GRA area of Independence Layout, Enugu. Okpara encouraged his team to be selfless. “Even though my father’s best friend, Mouka, was the Minister of Lands, my father never acquired property in the GRA. You could acquire property anywhere but not in the GRA. That was the instruction of the time and only one minister flouted that instruction,” she disclosed.
Chief Ururuka lived only for 60 years. His political career ended with the civil war. He died in 1970, immediately after the war. The statue, therefore, is a memorial of a legendary statesman, a statute of honour and history. It captures an important interjection in the anthropological journey of the Ngwa man, serving as flashback to a glorious time and epoch lost in the labyrinth of strange political complexities. It is a monument of inspiration, both of cultural and political reawakening.
Governor Ikpeazu, by the statute, gives an epic narration of the odyssey of a people. He resurrected history for posterity and resurrected a man.
•Adindu is director-general, Abia State Orientation Agency