PA JOHN OTOZI EGWU: A PROFILE
My father was born in 1915 to the family of Mr. & Mrs Egwu Ogbaegede of Umuebe in Izhia of Ohaukwu Local Government Area. His father popularly called 'Nwangiri' (Spirit) for his gallantry at defending the frontiers of his Umuebe Community from the enemies during the inter-tribal wars lived for over 120 years and was married to three wives.
Papa's mother, Ogba Alike was from the famous Ndi Uzi kindred of Amike community and was a woman leader and mobilizer. Pa John Otozi Egwu was, therefore, reared in a polygamous family, surrounded by ten siblings in all of which three younger sisters are still alive.
He started his primary school at Central School, Ngbo, and was the first person to receive Western education from his Umuebe community. Central School, Ngbo was one of the few schools established by the Methodist Church in the old Abakaliki Province. Perhaps, because of the influence of the missionaries and mission schools in those halcyon days, Papa became one of the early converts to Christianity and a strong Methodist till death.
Papa could not attain his desired height of academic education owing to unflattering family challenges and subsequently dropped out of school after his Primary 4. He thereafter lived briefly with his uncle, Chief Nwite Odeligbo, and later got enlisted in 1940 into the Nigerian Regiment of the West African Frontier Forces.
Papa fought on the side of the British Army during the Second World War in Burma (Myanmar) in South Asia, Egypt in North Africa and Israel in the Middle East. Throughout the battles, he showed bravery and courage.
His incontrovertible feats during the battle earned him rapid promotion from platoon sergeant to the rank of warrant officer. He was specially regarded and loved by his English commander, Ltd Col. Sam Woods, who led the Nigerian Regiment of the Royal West African Frontier Forces in which papa served. Papa in turn respected and, indeed, had special attachment to Mr. Woods. It was this affection that made Papa to name his son, my humble self, Sam, after Mr. Woods.
Papa's homecoming at the end of the World War II was dramatic as it was fulfilling. While he was out at war, rumours had it that he was killed in battle. This unfounded story was targeted at a young and beautiful girl betrothed to Papa few months before he joined the army. That girl later became my mother.
A lot of young men took advantage of my Dad's absence for two years to approach my mum for marriage. She turned down their requests and believed my dad was not killed and would eventually return. So it was, and when he came back, he arrived in full military attire, with ranks and medals adorning his uniform. It was on the popular Okwo market day in the full view of all and sundry that trooped to see one of theirs who had gone and fought in the World War overseas and came back alive despite rumours of his death in battle. The Okwo market virtually closed at noon as news of his return spread like wild fire. From the market, he was escorted by many dance troupes, relatives, friends and wellwishers to his father- in-law to the delight and warm embrace of his fiancÃ©e and disappointment of his competitors.
After a period of rest, Papa got employed by the then Abakaliki County Council as a court bailiff. His duties took him to many parts of Abakaliki Province where he lived, worked and was admired by people. These places include the customary courts at Ntezi(Ishielu), Effium(Ohaukwu), Ikwo(Ikwo), OdomoKe(Ebonyi), Iboko(Izzi), Ndubia(Izzi) and Abakaliki. Papa never used his privileged position to cheat, intimidate or suppress people and was admired and loved by both his superiors and subordinates. There was always resistance from people against his transfer each time he was moved from one court to another.
It was when Papa was working at the Iboko Customary Court that the Nigerian Biafran war started in 1967. While the entire Abakaliki was threatened by the advancing Nigerian troops from all sectors and many families were fleeing and retreating to safer parts of Igbo land as refugees with the attendant risks and damage, Papa applied his military experience and discipline as we simply made a detour to the outskirts when the Nigerian soldiers were just 20 kilometres to Iboko town, and one hour before the town was captured and overrun.
The entire Abakaliki had fallen to the Nigerian troops; insecurity was high, and Papa had to relocate us deeper into the hinterland that would be inaccessible to the soldiers. Four days later, we again relocated to his kith and kin in Ngbo(Otuokpeye Amoffia) Ohaukwu Local government Area. Papa did not take us to his village, Umuebe, Izhia, where we are now gathered, because the 135 Battalion of the Nigerian Army was stationed here after the fall of Abakaliki, leaving the entire Izhiamgbo desolate as its inhabitants got scattered as refugees in other parts of Igbo land.
At the end of the three-year civil- war, the customary court system became extinct as it never functioned throughout the period of war since there was no formal government. The entire workforce of the customary court system was thrown into the labour market.
Papa got a contract opportunity with Ohaukwu local government council as a postmaster at the Ngbo Court Postal Agency and later retired fully from service six years after.
As children, Papa taught us the fear of God as he told us Bible stories during family morning devotions. A family Morning Prayer was a tradition he kept till his last breath on earth. He taught us discipline, hard work, forthrightness, honesty, and compassion for others. He constantly advised us on patience and forgiveness. He would use himself as an example and advised us to always live in peace with our spouses.
Papa loved speaking English language and was an encyclopaedia of dates of events. I always marvelled at his retentive memory even at over ninety. At eighty, he still read his Bible without the aid of reading glasses. He remained strong till death even to the astonishment of his doctor.
Papa spent his last days in prayer and singing of choruses and praises. The last night of his life on earth was exceptional as he spent the whole night singing choruses and praises with clapping of hands to God. In the morning, he developed cracked voice and could hardly be heard and was so weak he had to be taken to the hospital despite his protest to the contrary. At the hospital, he again refused to be attended to but was persuaded by his doctor (Dr Obeka) to accept some medication. He was administered with drip and oxygen. Few minutes later, he closed his eyes and slept off. The doctors and nurses had great difficulty convincing those that took Papa to the hospital that he was not sleeping but had passed on. What a peaceful transition!
Behold the passage of a great man.
He believed God and He gave him strength.
To conquer his environment
Behold the passage of a warrior and peacemaker
He fought a world war for the peace of the world
Behold the passage of a great counsellor
He lived his life motivating others on the path
Daddy, though we no longer see you, you still live in our hearts. As we daily face the challenges of life and the uncertainties of this world, we shall continue to be guided by the examples you set for us both in words and action.
Adieu Nwoke gbara German!
Adieu Eze Udo 1 of Amoffia!
We hope to meet you in the bosom of the Lord where we shall part no more.
Dr. Egwu is a former Governor of Ebonyi State and former Minister of Education.