My father, Josiah Udeaham Ohiaeri, known to all by his famous exclamation, Nwa Ohiaeri, was born in January 1919 and lived for a century before his peaceful demise in his sleep at 4pm on January 2, 2019. His was a life of permanent adventure and challenges brought about by a challenged early life in a rustic setting and the liberating feelings of education, travel and interaction with diverse cultures.
From the rustic village of Umudurunna, Abba, he was able to escape into the world of education and adventure, via the Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Onitsha, a premier educational institution in colonial Eastern Nigeria. While at DMGS, he was recruited as an auxiliary police officer towards the later stages of the Second World War. Decommissioned just prior to getting a Grade 1 School Certificate in 1942, he immediately embarked on what would be a lifelong adventure of interregional travel and a permanent fixation with understanding the multicultural society that was colonial Nigeria.
From Moore Plantation in Ibadan, western Nigeria, he traversed the vast agricultural territories of Northern Nigeria as researcher in agriculture for the colonial government at the Nigerian Institute of Science and Technology, the precursor to the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. The thirst for knowledge and adventure saw him accept the opportunity of higher education in the United Kingdom, at the Essex Institute of Technology, Chelmsford, Essex, where he bagged a diploma in Agricultural Engineering in 1966, just as the descent to infamy in Nigeria commenced.
Coming back to the embattled Eastern Nigeria, he applied his knowledge of agriculture to the survival of his people, as agricultural fortunes, more than even the military, sustained the people in that tragic period of 1966 to 1970. At the end of that infamous period of excruciating hunger and banality of human evil, he again set to work to help alleviate the sufferings of the people in Eastern Nigeria and even the rather unfriendly North of Nigeria. He spent all his useful life in the service of the development of food production techniques that ensured that the hunger that he saw in 1966 to 1970 was erased from the memory of succeeding generations.
As a father, Nwa Ohiaeri was a doting parent to all his four children: Ngozi, Iheanyi, Olunwa and Chioma, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren as well as all the vast Ohiaeri brood, where he was known by the youngest generation, as Papa Ajasco, for his funny stories. He had lost his first wife, Flora, in October 1955 and was again visited by tragedy when he lost his second wife, Mabel, in April 2006. He bore his losses with great courage and equanimity, buoyed by the fact that the products of the two marriages made him happy to be alive.
He was the great curator of the history of the Ohiaeri family, keeping impeccable records, while combining his physical record-keeping with the attributes of an African griot, the great repositories of the history and culture of the people, who, unfortunately, because of an absence of written history, have been lost in the decline of history in modern African life. Thankfully, my father kept both written and storytelling records of the past of not only the Ohiaeri family but also the history of his town Abba and Eastern, Western and Northern Nigeria, where he spent an adventurous life. I am very grateful to have acquired some of these historical skills, even if I was inclined to a purely technical education and career. It was my father that taught me about the importance of home, roots and family, as explicitly stated in his many poems, one of which is reproduced below:
‘’What a friend I have in mother/Who did long suffer for me/I will never never forget/Mother whatever may be/Whether she is young or too old/Whether living or whether dead,
Mother is my great inspirer/Mother, you are dear to me!’’
– My Mother, Mokwa, 1961
As we commit his body to Mother Earth on Friday, March 29, 2019, we cannot but be very grateful to both God and man for the opportunity to live with and imbibe the great attributes of our patriarch, Josiah Udeaham Ohiaeri (Nwa Ohiaeri). May his soul rest in perfect peace in the bosom of the Lord.
– Dr. Iheanyi Nwa Ohiaeri (Nnaa), March 21, 2019..