By Vincent Ujumadu, Awka
IT was encomiums galore as the remains of late Chief Jerome Udoji, whose committeeâ€™s recommendation for reforms in the civil service led to the famous Udoji Award of 1974 that uplifted the standard of living of the countryâ€™s civil servants, was yesterday laid to rest in his country home at Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State. Â
Thousands of people who he touched their lives while alive, especially widows and the less privileged, wailed profusely as his remains were interred at about 2 pm. Many of them lamented that they have finally lost their â€˜husband and bread winnerâ€™.
Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State at the ceremony announced that the state government has renamed the newly completed multi_million state secretariat complex in Awka after the late elder statesman.
Francis Cardinal Arinze, who was the chief celebrant at the Requiem Mass,Â urged Nigerian to fight the course of the poor and the oppressed while they lived just as Udoji did.
â€œNigerians should fight for justice for the poor and the oppressed as the exemplary life Udoji showed. Udoji is known for his love for the country, particularly his generosity to his community and the state and at the national level. He maintained the tradition of service and reorganization of the civil service in Nigeria with particular reference to the remuneration of the civil servants.
â€œHe did not succumb to the temptations of civil service. His competence was appreciated by Nigerians and I believe that Nigerians still love their country as good and great but should avoid taking bribes. Nigerian nation needs people that will fight for the rights of the poorâ€, Arinze said in his homily.
On his part, Governor Peter Obi described Udoji as â€œa consummate civil servant, an outstanding Nigerian and one of the few that gave the country a good name,â€ adding that the likes of Udoji are scarce in the country. He urged the Federal Government to include Udoji as one the most outstanding Nigerians that ever lived.
Retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa who said Udoji taught him in class four and five between 1935 and 1937 in Oguta, Imo State , described him as number one Nigerian who took interest in the affairs of people.
Oputa said he wished he was able to pay him back for his kindness to him, pointing out that Udoji was instrumental to his being appointed to preside over the famous Oputa panel.
In the words of the former Supreme Court Judge: â€œUdoji is the first of Nigerians. He is number one citizen. He was a very good civil servant, a very good Nigerian.
During the civil war he took sides for what he believed was the truth. He may disagree with you, but that is his conviction. He is a man of his words.â€
Champion newspapers publisher, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu described Udoji as a leader who led by example, adding that he was transparently honest, very sympathetic, committed to the unity and progress of Nigeria .
Iwuanyanwu recalled that as the leader of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Udoji laid a solid foundation, which brought the cohesion that made it the only unifying voice for the Igbos.
His personal physician and Anambra State Commissioner for Healt, Professor Amobi Ilika said Udoji lived for others. â€œWe mourn him. I am his personal physician and he showed me real life style. He inspired me in most of the things I did. He brought growth and dissemination of administration. He touched the lives of many people. He was a role model and mentor. He brought discipline, productivity and order into civil service. It is a good thing that the Anambra State Government has decided to give him a state burial,â€ Ilika said.
Among other dignitaries that attended the burial were former Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme, President of Ohaneze Ndigbo Chief Ralph Uwaechue, former Minister of Health Dr. Tim Menekaya, representatives of Oba of Benin and Catholic Bishops from many parts of Nigeria .