I’ve heard it said that:
“[t]hat man is a success – who has lived well, laughed often and loved much, who gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children, who has filled his niche and accomplished his task, who leaves the world better than he found it, who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it, who looked to the best in others and gave the best he had”.
I can tell you that the unknown author of this statement aptly captured the personality of the man I and my siblings called ‘Papa’ and others in our community and beyond fondly called “Sir Aloy”, “Onyenkuzi”, “Deede Ogbonnia” or “Onyedinmanazu” respectively.
BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE
In John 1:6 – we were told that “There was a man sent by God”. In our case that man is Chief Aloysius Ogbonnia Okereke (Onyedinmanazu). He was born in November 1925 in Ndikwuegbu village in present day Aborshi Autonomous Community, here in Izombe, Oguta LGA of Imo State. He was the last child of Mazi Ogbonnia Okereke Onyedinmanazu Ikwuegbu-Eze Ikwuegbu and Lolo Ivu Okereke. His birth brought a lot of joy to his parents, especially his dad who was then serving as a Native Court Judge at the Oguta Native court (now known as customary court) and, when it was time to give him a name, his dad elected to name him after himself as a symbol of identification among the living; hence he became Ogbonnia Okereke the son of Ogbonnia Okereke Onyedinmazu, signaling his dad’s absolute faith in him.
Papa lost his mother barely three months into his life and his father about nine years after. The loss of his parents at such a tender age unleashed a period of untold hardship and uncertainties for the young Ogbonnia Okereke. The additional loss of the comfort of his father’s compound in Ndikwuegbu exposed him to a lot of safety and security challenges too early in his life. It took the wise but divine driven decision of his wonderful sisters (Dee Aliezi, Dee Nnenne and Nne Mgborie all of blessed memory) to save his life by putting him under the foster care of their in-law Chief and Lolo Ezeani Amaraehudo ( aka Ezekwesiri) in Ndionwanibe. It was under their protective custody and that of the legendry Chief Egwuagu Onwanibe the young Sir Aloy eventually grew up in Ndionwanibe-Izombe, in present day Umunwama Autonomous Community of Izombe. His safety and security enhanced, Papa undertook menial jobs at a tender age to survive as an orphan.
He however distinguished himself very early in life as a responsible and wise child and manifested notable brilliance, humility, and thoughtfulness to the admiration of his foster parents who soon became incredibly proud of him. In what later became a self-fulfilling prophesy, in Papa would be established the great iroko and patriarch of the Okereke Dynasty/family tree, whose roots run very deep; with branches and branchlets continuing to spread far and wide. This bear ocular credence to saying of our people that what an elder can see sitting down, a child may not be able to see even if on a roof top.
The loss of his parents dimmed his chances to have a go at education at the early stages of his life. But as he grew older and became convinced that education was a sure way to success, the young Aloy Okereke pursued academics very vigorously and channeled all his efforts towards his goal of being educated. He enrolled himself at St Gregory’s Catholic school in 1944, the same year he was also baptised as as a young adult. He was promoted twice out of turn for his uncommon brilliance and, by 1949, he had obtained a Standard Six Certificate at St Kevin’s Ogbaku with the remarkable grade of Distinction. He earned instant employment as an auxiliary teacher and direct admission into the Preparatory Teachers’ Training College, which offer of admission he couldn’t take due to paucity of funds.
Papa had to take up temporary appointment as a Beach Master in the then Benin based Knocking Lumber Ltd – a timber company operating in Kalabari Beach in Oguta II and was posted to the Ahoada office. He had a short stint with this company and saved the money required for continuing his education and went to the Teachers Trianing College (TTC) . Upon completion of his training at the TTC, Papa was employed by the Eastern Regional Government in 1954 and rose through the ranks to retire in the Headmaster Special Class Category in 1987. Papa taught in several schools within the old Ohaji/Egbema/Oguta LGA in Imo state and old Ahoada Division in the present-day Rivers State.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LIFE
My father met and fell in love with beautiful Martha Adaku Okereke on his way back from school at Okwukwu. They were wedded on 24th December 1957. My siblings and I later learned, through our uncle (Engr. Vitus Egwuagu) that our dad and mum’s wedding were the most celebrated of that era with recorded performance of a brass band that he hired from Enugu . Their marriage was blessed with eight children, 25 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. For 55 years they shared everything life could offer them together. They were a great team, loving, caring for and supporting each other in every way. Following the death of our mum in January 2012, our dad got married to Mrs. Nnenna Okereke in 2015, in what can best be described as “divine arrangement”. Madam Nnenna became a precious gift to the Okereke family. She, together with my immediate younger sister (Mrs. Jovita Chinyere Oduenyi (Nee Okereke)) took exceptional care of Papa in his old age with best in class support from all his children.
My father’s family was extremely important to him, and he was glad to go hungry so that his family will feed. To him, nothing was too big to sacrifice for the education and well-being of his children and others, especially people living with us. He was extremely meticulous and when he is not dropping us back to school, he will personally examine the tyres of the car and observe the conduct of the driver before allowing us to board the vehicle, whose numbers he will write in his diary. At home, Papa will keep a daily recording of everything that happened at home while we were in school. His diary became a daily calendar of events at home, which we all looked forward to reading with excitement on holidays.
Our humble family home where daddy raised us was a modest bungalow which he surrounded with a floral garden with beautified flowers. He took special interest in maintaining the flowers personally. Birds made their nests around us. In the evenings, like olive branches gathering around the table of the Lord, we all gathered in the make-shift dinner table for supper and ate together. It’s during this time that those who did well were rewarded and corrective feedback were provided to those who may have committed some infractions in the day. It was during such periods we were also told stories about our ancestors, family values, benefits of hard work and virtues of delayed gratification thereby cementing the glue that has held the family together.
Papa was very hard working and showed compassion towards everyone. He exemplified simplicity, humility, determination, discipline, uprightness, and diligence. He was a very thoughtful man who led by the power of his own example. Papa showed us the importance of right ordering of priorities and carefulness in spending. He constantly emphasized tact (‘ako na uche’).
Papa taught us many, many things but I think most importantly he let us know that if you really put your mind to something, anything is possible, and he told us never to be afraid to give anything a go or to allow circumstances of life change us from who we are. One of his favourite quotes which speak to his resilient spirit and belief in the ‘audacity of hope’ is “If bad be your prospect, do not sit still and cry, but jump up with confidence in the Lord and say to yourself, I must succeed.” We were often reminded that “if wishes were horses beggars would ride” and that “the heights attained by great men were not gotten by sudden flights”.
Papa’s devotion to God was total. The events of his early childhood steered his greatest interest to be in the things of God based principally on the ethics of the Catholic faith. He was not only strong in faith but was also very outstanding in Church activities. He was the pioneer Choir Master of St Gregory’s Catholic Choir that metamorphized into Izombe Station/Parish Choir ( who he remained their LIFE Patron till death) pioneer Izombe Parish Treasurer, Pioneer Treasurer of Izombe Parish Building Committee, former Izombe station Council Chairman and one-time Catholic Men Organization Chairman, Izombe parish. It is recorded for him that the palm trees that surround this Parish compound were planted by him and Rev Fr Kelly.
Papa was recipient of the Ezinna Award for good Christian life, recipient of the Archdiocesan Exemplary Jubilee Family Award, recipient of the Golden Jubilee Award for 50 years of fidelity to Christian marriage, pioneer recipient of the Nnanwereugwu Award of the Izombe Parish CMO and installed as one of the Twelve Pillars of the Catholic faith/church in Izombe in 2019.
In recognition of our dad’s and mum’s perseverance in keeping the family focused during the infamous ‘Izombe crises’, when malice waxed in destructive swagger and almost destroyed the tranquility and equilibrium of our community, the Okereke’s family was inducted into the very prestigious Owerri Arch-Diocesan Exemplary Family Award in October 2000 by His Grace Most Rev. Dr. A.J.V. Obinna.
Papa died as the oldest Catholic and man in Izombe!
PUBLIC LIFE AND COMMUNITY SERVICE
Papa was an exemplary teacher and represented all that was good in the teaching profession, leaving enviable records as a teacher of no mean repute. As was typical with teachers of that era, he believed in the maxim spoil the rod and spare the child as opposed to spare the rod and spoil the child. He was held in awe amongst his co-teachers and pupils, who do not fail till today to acknowledge the role he played in shaping their formative years and had the distinction of retiring in the Headmaster Special Class Category in 1987 and lived for another 34 years post retirement in good health and love of his family and pupils.
In retirement, he was appointed the Principal of Queens Technical and Vocational College Awa for several years and was nominated at different times to chair diverse customary Arbitration Panels to resolve several knotty land disputes in Izombe. It is gratifying that the rulings/decisions of his led panels were always affirmed by the courts and even Ecclesiastical authorities in matters involving Catholics. He was also a past Chairman of the Izombe Secondary Commercial School Governing Council during her glory days.
Sir Aloy was also a community leader in his own rights that served Izombe community, Oguta LGA and the Nigeria Union of teachers (NUT) with utmost sincerity and sense purpose in various capacities including as member Oguta Divisional Council under the Chairmanship of Late Sir RBK Okafor between 1972 – 1974, Former NUT c
Chairman Oguta LGA, the last Chairman of Izombe Cabinet of Chiefs (before the splitting of Izombe Clan into four Autonomous Communities), Chairman Aborshi Autonomous Community Cabinet of Chiefs, Ndikwuegbu Village Chief and representative in the Council of Chiefs and Eze’s Cabinet, etc. We recall how our home used to be a beehive of community activities in Papa’s active years and that key decisions that moved Izombe forward including crowning of kings were conducted in Papa’s modest sitting room. We also recall with glee stories of Papa’s uncommon display of courage during the Biafran war as a Senior Red Cross Officer and how he used that position to effect the release of any only son of Izombe extraction recruited for enlistment into the army/war front on humanitarian grounds.
EPILOGUE [So, here is my conclusion]
We are gathered here to thank God for the precious gift of our father to the world for 96 solid years (1925 – 2021). We bid farewell to his mortal remains, while memories of his love and teachings will remain evergreen in our hearts. We say goodbye to a great and noble man who transited to eternal glory the way he lived – simple, peaceful, purposeful, heroic, and without disturbing anyone.
In fact, the symmetry between his words, actions and measured life style, together with the manner of his transition that fateful Sunday (during the usual Izombe Parish Mass time), bear testimony to his right standing with God and man, to his impeccable integrity and transparent honesty. Little wonder God granted him a fulfilled life, gracious old age, and the rare privilege of bowing out as “Okenye Izombe”, the last man standing within their ‘Ositadinma’ age grade and the great elites of Izombe of his era.
Chief Aloysius Okereke was someone, most of all, with whom to share everything this wonderful life has to offer. He was all this and much, much more. We have been so blessed to have had him as our dad. To say we loved my dad would be an understatement – and to say we going to miss him would be an even greater understatement. In his ever-graceful manner my father was always there for everyone – family, friends, neighbours or colleagues; he was there whenever sound advice, support, or help was needed. We cannot begin to imagine not having Papa on the end of a phone or seeing him when we popped around at our country home. We cannot imagine him not being with his grandchildren, or great grandchildren and other close relatives whom he cherished so much.
Papa, your death brings to fore the transient nature of life and the truth in the saying that:“ Life is like a tale, told by a fool, full of sound and fury but which in the end means nothing” Though you lived fully and died at the ripe age of 96 years as Okenye Izombe, after masterfully completing your assignment here so well and prepared us for this day, your exist has created a big vacuum in the Okereke’s dynasty and the community at large. We are consoled by the positive testimonies that greeted the news of your death and in the assurance of the scripture in John 11:23 that “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me, though that person dies will live”. It is with this resurrection faith as further encapsulated in 2 Timothy 2:11-12 that “if we have died with Christ, we shall also live with him, and if we endure, we shall also reign with him” that we commit you back to GOD.
Indeed, there was a man sent by God. His name was Aloysius Ogbonnia Okereke the last child of Ogbonnia Okereke Onyedinmanazu. He was sent for a divine mission to establish the Okereke Dynasty and teach us simplicity of life, integrity and that a good name is better than gold hence his choice of ‘Onyedinmanazu’ (one who people speak well of even at his back). He was sent to teach us that “onye kwe chi ya ekwe’ and that “Aka ajaja butere onu mmanu mmanu”. He was sent to teach us the value of absolute faith in God and how to be a God made man and sacrifice for others.
Papa was sent to teach us that you can be a good Christian/ Catholic and live to full old age without blemish. Papa you have completed your assignment so admirably well, fought the fight and ran the race of faith (2 Tim 4:7). May God now give you that crown of everlasting life which he promised the saints. May you now hear these beautiful words from Christ “come ye blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you” (Matt:25:34) and be united with our mum and your angelic sisters in that perpetual light of glory. We love you so deeply, but God loves you more. Rest on in peace till we meet to part no more. Thank you immensely for being our daddy magnificus and mentor, and more importantly for the heritage of your good name!
Well, Dad – we are going to remember you for all the above and so much more. And we are going to miss you even more deeply.
But your decency, sincerity, generous and kind soul will stay with us forever. So, through our tears, we see the blessings of knowing and loving you – a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have.
And in our grief, we can smile knowing that “De Papas” is with “De Mummies” again in heavenly bliss.
Adieu ‘Mazi Ogbonnia Okereke “nwa Ogbonnia Okereke Onyedinmazu”’, Rest in peace ‘Chief Emeritus’ . Laa na udo Nnanwereugwu!!!
Left to Mourn him are:
His wife Nnenna Okereke
Cletus & Amaka Okereke
Jovita Chinyere Oduenyi (Nee Okereke)
Charlie & Sarah Ibeawuchi (Nee Okereke)
Tony & Tochi Akim (Nee Okereke)
Ephraim & Pavel Okereke
Clovis & Toyin Okereke
Owen & Chioma Okwara (Nee Okereke)
Uche & Chizoba Chukwu (Nee Okereke)
25 Grand-children, 2 Great Grand-Children and a Host of Other Close Relatives.
Mazi Cletus Chuks Okereke (Son)
For the family.