UDOJI PREPARED OWN BURIAL PROGRAMME 10 YEARS AGO
Chief Oscar Udoji, first son of late Jerome Udoji has disclosed how the chairman, Civil Service Commission popularly called Udoji Panel that made recommendations later known as the Udoji Award that reviewed the salary of civil servants in 1976 prepared his burial programme ten years ago.
He even highlighted to the minutest detail of sitting arrangement in the burial and listed the names of those who would cook on the day.
The younger Udoji who revealed this to Saturday Sun said his late father was over 100 years old and not 98 years as reported.
Late Udoji did not stop at writing the programme but shocked the people when during a meeting with members of the Knight of St. Mulumba (KSM) a few years ago, he read the programme to them saying, 'I have prepared the programme for my burial.'
Even as the family wants to abide by the burial programme on May 21 what worries them is that some of the caterers mentioned in the list are no longer in business. 'We are following down that sequence. He wrote everything down in the programme, even to the minutest details of who the caterers should be, how people will be seated. Unfortunately some of the caterers he mentioned their names are no longer in business. We must still abide by that as much as possible. For a man to write his funeral programme – the time and the sequence of events is wonderful. This is because most people don't like to think of death. But he welcomed death.
In a meeting with members of Knight of St. Mulumba a few years ago, he read to them the programme he prepared for his burial. The people were stunned.'
He further explained that 'since he passed on we have been very sad but we got good news that His Eminence Cardinal Francis Arinze would say the Mass in the burial. When my father passed on I contacted him immediately, it was so difficult for him to come but he later found time and the family appreciates. The best honour we can give to our father is for the Cardinal to bury him. The burial is on May 21. His Eminence, Francis Cardinal Arinze has been a good family friend. Every year in the month of August, he has always visited my father and would always pass a night. Last year August he was here.
'We are happy as we read in the newspaper that the Anambra State government wants to give our father a state burial. That is very good. I met with Governor Peter Obi who assured that he will invite all the governors of the old Eastern Region. And that he will also make sure that everything goes well.
Contending that his late father was a centenarian and not a nonagenarian as has been reported he said late Udoji was not just over 98 years, but even over 100 years old. This is because at that time he was born, people were not too sure of written records, rather they only knew their ages from events. In the case of the late lawyer, his son expatiated that an Ozubulu man who is elderly came with the information that late Udoji was born before one Mrs. Onwunzo (nee Mbaso) who was baptized at St. Michael's Catholic Church in 1910. So if my father was older than her that makes him over one hundred years. But 1917 was recorded as my father's date of birth. At that time nobody could be sure of his age because events were not documented. It was only through incidents that people chronicled their births, like when Christianity came to our village, those born then could use it to determine their real age.'
Chief Udoji said he had a bond with his late father and lamented that what he would miss most in his death was seeing him.
'I was educated in Christ The King College, Onitsha. When the war started we moved to Kenya where my father worked with the Ford Foundation. So I completed my secondary education there. I later went to the US and did both my first degree and MBA. Then I came back for my Youth Service and started work. To say how I feel loosing my father is like you who said you have lost your own father too, you know it is devastating because there is this special bond between father and son, and we enjoy it so much that you feel devastated. I never felt this way in my life before.
You feel that a part of you is gone. It is so difficult to cope. But I have been told that with time things will get easier. What I will miss most in his death is seeing him. I mean seeing him and getting good and honest advice. You know that in this world you can only rely on your parents and your family more or less and we were very close. When people need help, they always come to me, but when I need help I always go to him. He is the only person I go to when I am in difficulty, not necessarily material but taking decisions in life, he is always there.
'His being there always earned me striking advices.
If you are close to your father you talk everyday, there are certain things he would tell you that you will never forget. For instance if you read his book he emphasized that people should try and be accountable at work. But personally he gave me so many advices, to face my studies and not go into sports at early age. That really helped me. Indeed he guided me that when I came back from the US I wanted to go into all kinds of businesses and he was there to guide me properly. The bond that exists between father and son was there between us. Sometimes we had lunch between 1 and 2 pm and we stay there and just talk till about 5pm. These are the things I will miss.
'I can say like people have been commenting and writing in the newspapers, they knew him as a good man and somebody who achieved so much in life. But for the children we see him as a loving and caring father. He made sure that he directed us in ways that he believed were better ways than the ways that we chose for ourselves. For instance I wanted to go into sports as a child he advised me properly and said look my son if you want to go into sports better become a graduate first, then you can do sports. He really guided us very well. He never treated us differently from other children.
'There is one example while I was in CKC, Onitsha, our principal then was Rev. Father Tagbo, whom we admired so much. He was always beating me and I was shocked as I felt that he was hitting me too hard. So when I got home, I told my father. He said if he was beating other children he can also beat you. So we were not treated differently from any other child, and that helped us a lot. We were not spoilt. In fact at that time one of our stewards, Mr. John, used to give his son one pound to go to school, that was in the late 60s and our father gave us the same amount. At that time we were not happy with him but we later realized that he made us better human beings and we are very grateful.
On the Udoji Award, he remarked 'The way I feel by the popularity he got through that Udoji award is that I believe in destiny. But I think the most important part of the life he lived was that he lived the life of a very good and devoted Christian. He was really a very good Christian who gave to the poor. He built the church for the village, he tarred the road, he had a trust fund of a lot of money that I cannot even touch, and none of his children can touch the money. And from the interest he gives to the Church, the sick and the poor every year. This is something we are trying to emulate.
To make sure he lived up to the expectation of carrying on the good works of his father, Oscar vowed that he must continue with his legacies. 'All our father taught us was how to live a good Christian life. All his children will try as much as possible to live a good Christian life, to do the things he did, caring for a lot of people, always have a trust fund through which assistance is given to needy people and the church.'