LATE CHIEF EDWIN NNAJIUBA OZO-IBEKWE, LLB: THE EXIT OF AN ICON
hief Edwin Nnajiuba Ozo-Ibekwe, LLB (a retired Deputy Controller of the Nigerian Customs Service) is undoubtedly one of those personages for whom King David's lamentations over the death of King Saul could appropriately be ascribed to (II Samuel 1:27). However, there is one important difference between King Saul and the personality of this eulogy: While King David was lamenting the passing of a man who sought an opportunity to send him to an untimely grave; the writer of this eulogy is not lamenting, but celebrating the life and times of a dear father and gentleman who sojourned on this side for more than eight decades. Yes, along with my siblings, we are celebrating and glorifying God for permitting our father to remain with us for over eight decades; in which period he impacted us in more positive and salutary ways than space would allow us recount here.
Chief Edwin Ozo-Ibekwe was born the second child of Ozo-Ibekwe Oguanya and Ugbonwamu Ozo-Ibekwe (nee Ohotu of Obodongwu, Iwollo), in 1934. After his primary education at the Iwollo Community Primary School, he enlisted into the Nigeria Police Force, due to the lack of means to continue his studies. However, he never lost his avid enthusiasm and fervour for education and knowledge, which became evident by the singularity of purpose with which he pursued further studies via the then Rapid Results College, a long distance learning programme moderated from the UK. Chief Ozo-Ibekwe's educational achievements through this means is confirmation of the saying that Success is not an accident; and that hard work, perseverance and discipline are what translates visions and dreams into reality. Chief Ozo-Ibekwe did not relent after he had through dint of toil and hard work passed his General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) examinations. With the same determination and zest, he confronted and surmounted the Advanced Level of the same examinations.
Chief Ozo-Ibekwe's voracious appetite for knowledge was later to provide motivation for his pursuits in legal education. Representing another milestone to be achieved in his noble quest for knowledge for its own sake, this self-made man soon embarked on that journey; a venture that ended with his successful acquisition of the LLB degree and subsequent admission into the Nigeria Bar. All these happened while he juggled between providing for a family that included a wide spectrum of near and distant relatives; and working as a civil servant, a no minor feat by any standards! As I write, I can still hear echoing in my ears the words "Patrick, you are not painstaking, you are not painstaking..." This phrase represents just one of the very many choice words of caution and encouragement that our father used to instil in us the virtues of hard work. In the end, such phrases ensured that my siblings and I persevered until we were able to convince our father that we heard and ran with his words and visions for our lives: And he lived long enough to see the fruits of his tireless efforts.
Chief Ozo-Ibekwe, the businessman finds vindication in his pursuits during the Nigerian Civil war (1967-1970). The war caught many unprepared, especially those within the territory of the former Eastern Nigeria, including Chief Ozo-Ibekwe. The irrepressible and enterprising spirit of the Igbo man came to the fore when in the face of much adversities, the communal economies of the former Biafran enclave thrived while the war raged, despite the blockade. This state of affairs was engineered by, and relied on the resourcefulness of Igbo men and women like Chief Ozo-Ibekwe in their various localities. Armed with the discipline and resilience for which he would always be remembered for, and which eventually made him a success story; Chief Ozo-Ibekwe went into business as a bicycle wholesaler and retailer. Such ventures were of considerable assistance to the local economy at the time; the bicycle was the cheapest and most important means of transport for goods and persons during the war; indeed, to own a bicycle then was a sign of wealth and enterprise. Thus, when seen around riding on his white-chromed ladies bicycle, then popularly called "white horse" by the locals, Chief Ozo-Ibekwe represented the hope and optimism that propelled Ndigbo!
Another important facet of the life and times of Chief Ozo-Ibekwe was his active years as a member of the Nigerian Customs Service, a period spanning three decades. His journey into the Customs department bears recounting, even if briefly; it reveals an aspect of the man that is probably unknown to many. With the cessation of hostilities in the Nigerian Civil war, and while many in the former Biafran territories were thinking of how to pick the pieces of their lives together, a young Nigerian Army captain appeared in Iwollo, looking for an old friend and former Nigerian Police colleague; he was looking for Chief Ozo-Ibekwe. The efforts of this Army captain - in no small measure accentuated by the fact that his friend, Chief Ozo-Ibekwe was eminently academically qualified at the time, helped the latter secure employment in the Nigerian Customs Service. However, the reason this young Army captain came calling is even more significant in revealing the real Chief Ozo-Ibekwe. While in the Nigerian Police Force, both the Army captain and Chief Ozo-Ibekwe served somewhere in what is now Cross River State. The young Army captain had suddenly found himself in the midst of a disciplinary process, instigated by a gang-up of colleagues he had previously crossed paths with. God provided a way out through Chief Ozo-Ibekwe, the lone voice who stood by him all through his ordeal. The young Army captain remembered that, and the friendship between the two blossomed into their twilight years. While in the Nigerian Customs Service, Chief Ozo-Ibekwe would later criss-cross the length and breadth of the country in service to the fatherland.
This narration would be incomplete (probably unfair as well) without recalling what is, perhaps, the most significant trait in the character of Chief Ozo-Ibekwe. Chief Ozo-Ibekwe recognised early enough the value and place of knowledge in the making of a complete and wholesome human being. Chief Ozo-Ibekwe not only sought knowledge for himself, he was also an all-too-willing partner and supporter of the determined but indigent student. He could not hear and remain still, of a hardworking student who could not continue his studies because of the lack of funds! It was a failing that many have benefitted from, and for which many would thank God for. Although, the writer of this piece is one of his children, I should also thank God for this 'character flaw', it ensured that I can confidently say I got the best of what modern education could offer. I am certain the rest of my siblings would say the same!
Before I conclude, it is worthwhile to mention that what is contained here may at best have described only half the live and times of our subject, Chief Ozo-Ibekwe, and the blessings God had bestowed on several lives through him. A diverse group of persons - from relatives to former colleagues and friends - who have made personal visits and placed phone calls to express their condolences attest to this fact. While we the immediate family and relatives of this icon receive our ultimate comfort and strength from the Lord our God; we are nonetheless consoled by your outpouring of support and kindness at this time.
To any that may have been wronged by our patriarch - for none can satisfy all - we say forgive and move on; better still, show by example that you can better his deeds by helping the people around you, including strangers! To those that the Lord blessed through our patriarch, we say, 'pass it on' to others, especially the oppressed and the afflicted. As we celebrate the life and times of our father, we urge all and sundry to remember that the bell now tolls for us on this side. That is why "it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting" (Eccl. 2:7).