“You approved Nnebisi Hall for me to celebrate in Asaba the General Ojukwu Memorial, Col. C.D. Nwawo’s funeral rites, etc. As you ascend the heavens, Emma Okocha is going to join others to give Ide Ahaba the greatest funeral the like nobody has ever seen or known on the Niger.’’
-See Vanguardngr.com, Sonny Odogwu, The End of an Era, Jan 12, 2019.
On the 50th anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart, I met him at the symposium commemorating the event at Harvard University.
We met again on a very cold Chinua Achebe Anniversary Lecture in winter, hosted by Brown University in New York. The Eagle on the Iroko was in a wheelchair and I panicked when his son and another managed to forklift the bard on to the stage.
The full house audience was heterogeneous. The Brown faculty, scholars, members of the Congress, United Nations diplomats, and leaders of the African communities and New York’s Fourth Estate of the Realm.
Behind me by the auditorium side door sauntered in the General of the People’s Army. His voice was unmistakable, “Please can someone fetch me a cup of hot tea…” He was shivering and his winter coat was dangling on one side of his body. This time I rushed and beckoned on the poet, Chimalum, to help prevent the Ikemba’s approach to the stage. He was not seeing very well. It was enough discomfiture allowing the Eagle to be literally carried onto the stage like a mouse. To extend the same treatment to the General who may be appearing for the first time since the end of the war, before the New York press and others, would be tantamount to sacrilege!
We were with the Ikemba when, suddenly, there was a stir inside the hall. Prof. Wole Soyinka, on the left of the sitting high podium, had taken over and you could from anywhere see the bristling white hair clearly cupped with some solomonic grey beard. He was striking and his signature majestic brand akara sexy top on black pants arrested the audience and the Nobel laureate did not disappoint when Okey Ndibe handed him the microphone.
At Asaba, on the last day of the Odogwu burial rites, Prof. Soyinka, who had described Sonny Odogwu as an “Icon and my childhood friend,” was escorted to the family home on Kings Street, in full honors by his Pirates confraternity.
In his own contribution, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu extolled the golden legacies of the late Sonny Odogwu, adding that, “I share a lot with my fallen friend. Among our generation, we survived our investments and struggled to plant and build in this very harsh Nigerian business environment. By the special grace of the Lord, we inspired and produced a lot of future captains of industry. Odogwu offered thousands of scholarships to the poor, widows and orphans.” Continuing, Iwuanyanwu, recounted that his friend was at his side when his daughter was married to a Yoruba family. Odogwu’s daughter is married to the Ojoras and the Ahaejiagamba noted that Ide Ahaba was a true Nigerian and he was a publisher who employed workers from every side of the nation. “And after Ide’s death, we shall continue to toe his footsteps and we will in his indelible memory and inspiration continue to support the arts, the writers, and give succor to the down-trodden.’’
Reading from his prepared text, Prof BIC Ijomah, the Agidigbo of Aboh Kingdom and the founder of the South South Peoples Assembly, revealed that “many people do not know that Chief Sonny Odogwu participated in the struggle for Anioma State. I was at the Presidency and collated all the requests from Delta North. The roles played by Chief Sonny Odogwu, Chief Sunny Okogwu, Dr. Orewa, Chief Halim, Senator Nosike Ikpo and a few others will be acknowledged in a forthcoming book.’’
Demas Nwoko, the octogenarian, world-recognized architect and sculptor traced the history and the dream of establishing a Silicon Valley in the Anioma nation: “We planned to pool our individual resources, come home and build the plants. The pioneers include Chief Ozieh of Ogwashi-Ukwu, Asiodu started his Summit Industries in Asaba, Orewa had a biscuit company in Agbor. I set up my tourism and wood industry at Idumuje; that dream came to pass and that produced the Odogwu legend.”
On a sober intimate recourse, Chief John Adimkpaya, the son of another Asaba mogul (Old Money) in broken, emotional, tearful delivery, recounted Odogwu’s kindness to him and his wife “when I informed him of my intention to celebrate our wedding, he took over all the proceedings and sponsored everything. He did for me what he is known to have done for many a couple of my generation, and generations after me.’’
As I say my gratitude to my MC Godfrey Osakwe, my Anioma Royal Theatre, performing the cathartic Dirge of Ide Ahaba … anaa … I thank Barrister Bridget Anyafulu for her diligence and belief. I shall end by publishing Izoma Asiodu’s tribute to the titan, the Last of the Mohicans.
“We mourn today Chief Sunny Odogwu, CFR, a great Nigerian, a hardworking great achiever in his profession and in business, who made his impact beyond Nigeria-in several countries in Africa and Europe and in the United States of America. Chief Sunny Odogwu, CFR, ived a full life.
“Not long after his birth in Calabar, his father, a Customs and Excise officer, was transferred to Lagos, where Chief Sunny Odogwu had his early education and he finished his secondary education at Ilesha Grammar School. He then worked as a trainee airways pilot for one year before resigning to become an insurance inspector and discovering his true vocation.”
(To be continued)