“He will have to learn to know that all men are not true…but teach him also that for every villain, scoundrel, there is a hero. Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and be tough with tough people…” -See Letter from Abraham Lincoln to his Son’s Teacher.
He was the first African to graduate from Newark with a PhD, specialising in Electrical Engineering. Rejecting mouth-spicing offers from giant American power companies, Ugobueze Oni Edozein flew into Lagos to the welcoming embrace of the Asiodus, few weeks after the civil war.
Super Perm Secretary to the victorious Gowon cabinet, Chief Philip Asiodu recalled that “my family welcomed him to our home and he was comfortable enough… it was routine to hire him as he was most qualified to join the Federal Civil Service.”
As a young engineer with the Federal Ministry of Works, he was transferred to University of Nigeria, where he rolled up him sleeves and, as the Chief Engineer, restored and with his team reconstructed that Eastern Timbuktu from the ruins of war to the pristine academic sophistication UNN was, before the shootout.
From UNN, he climbed fast under the Ministry of Works and was the first Nigerian engineer to be promoted Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing. From that top position, he rained succor and special care not only for the downtrodden but also for the Federal Government projects. It was during his time that the Federal Government accepted to build the Shiroro Dam in Niger State. Ugobueze as early as the mid ’70s foresaw the power crisis and, leading others who returned from overseas, decided to improve on Nigeria’s power needs. What he championed in Niger State by the building of the Shiroro Dam, he extended to Shagamu with the establishment of the step-up facility that he advised the Federal Military Government to build. The Shagamu community noted his extraordinary influence and gratefully presented Ugobueze with the revered title Osimayeigun of Shagamu
From Shagamu, the Ugobueze largesse starting coming home. First for the Deltans, he stood his ground when one Engr. Okebiuron was denied his deserved promotion as a Chief Engineer at the Works Ministry. A peaceful man, Ugobueze would go “bollygajah” when he was fighting a right cause. When the Urhobo engineer got his promotion with Ugobueze behind him, Okebiuron was so happy that he openly introduced him as his father and mentor to his guests at his father’s funeral.
Then when it is time for the western Igbo to leave Benin, it was Ugobueze, his late sister, beautiful Col. Anne Modebe, and a special team headed by Chief Sunny Okogwu that delivered. Anioma was not created and when the Anioma lobby decided with the Itsekiris on Abraka as the capital, and the Urhobos rejected Abraka, Ugobueze and the Anioma lobby responded. Asaba the first capital of Nigeria became the Capital. Ugobueze personally paid the first month’s rent for the Delta police officers posted to the headquarters. He was the one who recommended to the Military Government to arm the Nigeria Civil Defense Corps and the first defense corps and the police posted to Delta received the keys to their first operational vehicles from the silent philanthropist. As a top bureaucrat, he searched for talents, extraordinarily gifted engineers, conceived and pioneered the Nigeria Society of Engineers. He was the life patron of the group in Delta.
For Asaba, he was not like her many educated and well-placed permanent secretaries and directors. Ugobueze was like his father, the late Okafor Edozein, Ajie of Asaba. As the general manager, Nigeria Coal Corporation, Enugu, his father brought Asaba, Ibusa, Ogwashi, and Ika to work at the mines in Enugu. Eugene Oba became the Mayor of the Coal City. Adimkpaya was a business guru and my father became the Chief Accountant, Ministry of Health, under Minister Nwodo. Ugobueze gave Asaba youths NNPC jobs, civil service jobs, foreign service openings, and gave out contracts and supply jobs. He donated endlessly to humanity and Rotarians, the Boy Scouts; churches fed and clothed the poor by his stripes. At his life climax, he was astounded and betrayed by the same people he lived for and tried to provide for. For all his contributions to the world, to Nigeria and to his people, Ugobueze asked for one thing in return: The Asagba of Asaba.
His agony till death as not that he did not get from his own the only critical aspiration, quest of his life. What finally killed him was the village subterfuge, the betrayal of his trusted friends and relations. If they would kill his ambition, why did they lead him on? And, most touching, why all the defamation, lies before the hanging of the dog? The peoples’ betrayal almost brought down the entire Ajie Okafor Edozein sterling heritage. It was like the Nzedinonor vs Okonjo royal succession battles in Ogwashi-Ukwu or the Obi Enwezor vs Obi Onyejekwe in Onitsha.
As we say goodbye to this remarkable society builder and engineer, fulfilled citizen of the world. I am happy he extended the olive branch to the last Titan, HRM Prof. Chike Edozein, before he gave up the ghost.
Indeed it would be instructive for the children to learn from the posted Letter of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Leroy Edozein, Annette, Nnamdi, Charles, Gilbert, Victor, Chike and Hon. Ella, please, spare us further dramas. In the name Ugobueze, come together. We the students of this unheralded icon wish Ugobueze a befitting funeral, if only to compensate for all our unkindness and ingratitude when he was with us. Someone tell me whether it is a curse to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth.
Ugobueze ko me sia!