Okey Sampson, Aba
A popular belief of the Igbo, Omenma n’nma yi ala, omenjo n’njo yi ala, translates to whatever one does while on planet earth, whether good or bad, will be with him till eternity. The Bible also crowned it all by saying that it is only our good works that we will be remembered for after leaving this world. Those wise words appeared to have been lucidly encrypted Dr. Dick Waobianyi Emuchay of blessed memory in mind.
Dr. Emuchay, for those who do not know hailed from Azumini in Ukwa East Local Government of Abia State but was born in Abak in present day Akwa Ibom State on August 5, 1919. He attended Government College, Umuahia from 1931 to 1934 and later went to England for his university education from where he graduated in 1949.
After graduation, Dr. Emuchay had a stint as a general medical practitioner in Lancashire, England in 1949 and became house surgeon in 1950 before the hunger for home held him hostage. Upon his return to Nigeria, he worked in many government hospitals until 1961 when the seed for the Biafra mission story germinated with the establishment of the Cottage Hospital, Azumini.
According to one of Dr. Emuchay’s sons, Ambassador Okey Emuchay, Nigeria’s former Counsellor General to South Africa, his father was working in one of the government hospitals when in the ‘50s, the defunct Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly enacted a law that would give any medical practitioner who would establish hospital in rural areas grant of 14, 000 Pounds. He instantly applied and was the first person to receive the grant; the second was Samuel Imoke, father of a former Governor of Cross River state, Dr. Liyel Imoke: “With that grant and the little money he saved, papa established the 120-bed cottage hospital thereby accomplishing his dream of building a hospital in the rural area”.
The foundation stone of the dream cottage hospital was laid in 1958, and three years later, it was completed and commissioned by the Minister of Health of Eastern region, Chief E.P. Okoya. Then, Dr. Emuchay relocated to his village with his entire family where he remained to oversee the medical needs of the rural populace and never left Azumini until the civil war forced them out.
When the Nigerian civil war broke out in 1967, Dr. Emuchay was appointed Administrator for Aba Province. By 1970 when the war ended, he returned to Azumini and found the hospital’s structures still standing. With the influx of returnee Biafran children from Gabon and Sierra Leone, the heroic Emuchay made available his hospital for their rehabilitation. This singular humanitarian gesture attracted both international and local accolades for the philanthropist. The International Red Cross literally relocated to the hospital to help meet the needs of the returnee Biafran children.
Within a space of months, the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon visited the hospital in 1970 to be precise and after seeing things for himself, he saluted the courage, the large heart and humanitarian gesture of Dr. Emuchay.
His son said that the Government of Dr. Ukpabi Asika, in1972, appointed his father the first Chairman of East Central State Public Service Commission, Enugu, from 1972 to1976 when Imo was carved out. On returning to Imo State, Dr. Emuchay continued in that position till 1982. The Government of Dr. Sam Mbakwe appointed him the first Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council, the old Imo State University, now Abia State University, Uturu from 1982 to 1985.
The humanitarian would have clocked 100 on Monday, August 5, 2019, if he were alive to this day. To celebrate the posthumous centenary anniversary of this icon, the family members recently, organised an event titled, “Azumini sector: A minute for the poor”, in reference to his philosophy of living for the poor. A thanksgiving service was held at St. Thomas Anglican Church, Azumini, a church built in 1912 and where Dr. Emuchay wedded his heartthrob in 1956.
At the service, Venerable Davis Ogbonnaya described Dr. Emuchay as a man who left shoes too big to be stepped in. The clergyman was happy that since his exit, the wife and children have tried to keep the light on and urged all to emulate Emuchay’s large heart as to keep his legacies alive.
Speaker after speaker poured encomiums on him. From senate minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, who was chairman of the event, to former Senate President, Adolph Wabara to Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside and Bishop of Ukwa Diocese, Rt. Rev Samuel Eze, all spoke glowingly about what Dr. Emuchay stood for in life-living for the poor.