By AHAM NJOKU
AS the Igbos would say, an Iroko tree has fallen. Benneth Onwudiegwu Offor who was born in 1928 died recently in 2016. In mourning, or better said celebrating the life of a man of 88 years, very few are left who remember him as a child. Nonetheless, about eighty something years ago Hezekiah Nwokoli Offor (Ezeifeneti) and Elizabeth Nwankwo-Offor of Umudalagbaim family in Nkalafia, Irefi, Oraifite lived a simple pristine existence so different from our own. Out of that union came an undoubtedly strong, hardworking, peace loving and determined young man of adventure, path-finding steadiness, industry and faith in the generosity of providence. All the qualities that we saw in Benneth Onwudiegwu Offor, the first son and child of Hezekiah and Elizabeth, were planted over 80 years ago.
Born into a relatively privileged family, Benneth promptly started his formal education at Oraifite Central School and continued his secondary education at Bethel Secondary School Onitsha and Merchant of Light School Oba where he earned his Senior Cambridge Certificate. Understandably, at that time, the norm was for the first son, to very early in life join and assist his parents in raising his siblings. With faith in providence and commitment to family, young Benneth moved on to excel in the school of life – navigating, surviving and excelling through life’s vicissitudes. He perfected an incredible talent in negotiation, interpersonal skills, efficient management of scarce resources, and a keen mind and ability to inspire. He excelled in evidencing a delicate balance between humility and self-confidence. Benneth learned very early in life the value of ambition, perseverance and hard work; and a lot about building an empire by turning challenges into opportunities. He endeavoured to plant these values in his siblings, children and those around him.
These enviable qualities were manifested in Benneth’s life-journey that started with a two-year employment in the construction industry in Cameroon, alongside his cousin Sir Godfrey Egbuniwe Okwuosa. With an ardent desire for employment in the public sector and encouragement from Chief Jona Ibekwe he returned to Nigeria to secure what was then a very prestigious employment with the Public Works Department, the current day Ministry of Works. His comparative intellectual advantage and uncommon dedication to work earned him the notice and interest of his British Foreman who went out of his way to ensure his admission into the Nigerian Police College in Ikeja.
In 1954, upon completion of his training as a police officer and a great promise of a relatively good life, he commenced a journey that culminated in an outstanding career as a police officer. This career started as a Corporal in 1955 and ended, with his retirement, as an Inspector in 1993. As a career police officer, he served in every region of the country including Abeokuta, Lagos, Ikeja, Zaria, Minna, Kafanchan, Kaduna, Aba, Enugu, Abakiliki, Onitsha, Ihiala, Ike-Ekiti, Akure, Ado-Ekiti and Ondo. It is noteworthy that during the visit of Queen Elizabeth for Nigeria’s pre-independence celebration at Enugu in 1960, young Police Officer Benneth was designated the Parade Commander for that ceremony.
As a young Police Officer with an apparent bright future Benneth easily persuaded a young and beautiful Ms. Comfort Omonigho from Uromi, in now Edo State, to join him on a marital journey that lasted his life time. This exciting and highly eventful journey, brought lots of joy, blessings and occasional adversities; survived the threats and challenges of a civil war; and yielded wonderful children and grandchildren.
Along Benneth’s life journey, certain convictions were formed and fixed in this hero. He was an orthodox Christian with unshakeable mindset of gratitude and service to God. His commitment to the Church enabled him to prevail on his son, Sir Emeka Offor (Chairman, Chrome Group) to single handedly build and furnish a state of the art church complex for his community and church in 2008, the All Saints Anglican Church, Irefi. This edifice where his funeral service is to be held was commissioned by the then Primate of the Anglican Communion of Nigeria, Most Reverend P. Akinola. He was also very instrumental and meaningfully involved in the services to humanity of his son (Sir Emeka Offor) under the auspices of the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation. His hobbies undoubtedly were mostly activities that impacted positively on people around him, particularly the less-privileged.
Benneth Onwudiegwu Offor was very passionate about the sanctity of peace within, and unity of, his Umudalagbaim family in particular and the Oraifite community in general. Upon his retirement, although he had the resources and support to live in any city of his choice in Nigeria or abroad, he chose to relocate to his village, Nkalafia, Irefi Oraifite; testimony to his love for his people and community. He devoted his time and family resources to the services and welfare of his people. He remained active and accepted various leadership roles in his community and Church. He served as the Chairman of Nkalafia Community Union for eight years; Chairman of Umudalagbaim Family Meeting for eight years; Member of the Interim Management Committee of the Oraifite Improvement Union in 1997; Patron, Oraifite Improvement Union 2003 to 2010; Member Conflict Resolution Committee of Oraifite Improvement Union; Member Igwe in Council of the Oraifite Ancient Kingdom; and Chairman, District Drug Committee, Ekwusigo Local Government for over 6 years. It is worthy to mention that Benneth’s family resources contributed largely to the construction of the Oraifite Civic Centre Complex.
He believed in being principled, serious-minded, humble and self-confident. These attributes and services and contributions to his community, at large, earned him the conferment of the Justice of Peace (JP) in 2010 by the Chief Justice of Anambra State, Hon. Justice Obidigwe (rtd).
In all, Benneth Onwudiegwu Offor lived a life of achievements and contentment; and took situations and circumstances the way he saw them evolve which at the end earned him a well-deserved long, relatively healthy and happy life. If only Hezekiah and Elizabeth could witness the setting of the sun for their son Benneth Onwudiegwu today, they would, for sure, be proud of all that he did with the life that, through them, God gave him and of the values and virtues they invested in him.
Njoku is a Lagos-based lawyer