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Tribute to Nwokenife, a patriot

THESE days many people die after  “brief illness”. In our part of the country, whoever dies after a protracted illness is seen as having “died a good death” because he gave his children and other relations the opportunity to look after him and say thank you for everything he did for them before departing.

This is the lot of Chief Innocent Okeke Akametalu aka Nwokenife of Uruekwo village, Enugwu Ukwu in Njikoka LGA of Anambra State. He was one of the greatest pioneers of economic empowerment of his people, a great motivator and selfless personality whose motto seemed to be: “In the happiness of others I derive happiness and satisfaction”. Nwokenife was indeed a great patriot in whom Umubulanocha kindred, Uruekwo village, Enugwu Ukwu community and the entire community of philanthropists and selfless entrepreneurs were well pleased.

Born on January 4, 1922, he was the fourth child in a family of seven children. By dint of hardwork and perseverance he later assumed the role of protector and provider for the entire Akametalu family and their kindred.

Nwokenife never had the opportunity to taste formal education but due to his endowed intelligence he taught himself arithmetic and how to read and write the Igbo language while babysitting in Agu Ukwu. In 1939 he moved to Enugu to live with his uncle, the late Benson Uffoh. While in the city he appreciated the benefits of education and vowed that his younger siblings must acquire formal education. And he ensured that they did.

In 1943 he relocated to Gusau in present Zamfara State and established his own business. It was there that he made his name and  fortune and put his footprint on the sand of time. He established a trade line between Gusau and South East Nigeria. In 1951 he chose his life partner, Mrs. Florence Oyibo Akametalu (Omie Umuagbala) from a dance group that performed then that took EnugwuUkwu by storm. They later wedded in Gusau in 1953 with the late Chief and Mrs. Charles Okonkwo, parents of Chief J. A. Okonkwo Offia di Uhu III of EnugwuUkwu na Umuri as sponsors. The marriage was blessed with nine children. He would later become the most reliable and biggest produce transporter in the old Sokoto Province. He also expanded into transport business with the name Nwokenife & Sons. Here he engaged many idle hands who were wasting away at home as either drivers, conductors or apprentices.

Through Mr. Utomi, Professor Pat Utomi’s father who was then the General Manager of BP, he was appointed the Operator of the BP Filling Station in Gusau, the largest filling station in Sokoto province. The station had barely opened its doors for business in early 1966 when the disturbances in Northern Nigeria started and this great entrepreneur and pioneer industrialist had to relocate to the East, abandoning his flourishing business empire. He left the North with a total of eight 911 lorries, one three tons Austin and one Renault bus. He used them to carry stranded Igbos who had converged at Cabinet Hotel Gusau to the East free of charge. He would later accommodate them in his Enugwu Ukwu residence until they found their way to their own hometowns.

Again when the civil war broke out and the Federal troops captured Awka in 1967, Enugwu Ukwu became threatened. It was at this point that Nwokenife made all his lorries available for the evacuation of people and their property from Enugwu Ukwu. While the vehicles carried goats, boxes and food items of other people, Nwokenife insisted that no member of his family would take along anything that was not for their subsistence in their new refugee camp. This writer and members of his family were beneficiaries of this exemplary philanthropist. Without his offer of vehicles that conveyed the total of 267 people from Enugwu Ukwu to Osumenyi in Nnewi South LGA, most, if not all, of these people may have become casualties of the war as there was no money to charter vehicles to convey them to anywhere.

This “save my people action” of Nwokenife remains very significant and indelible in the minds of many people as there was another businessman of same Uruekwo village Enugwu Ukwu with us who preferred to load and convey firewood in his own 911 lorry instead of human beings. As the popular 7Up advert would say the difference between Nwokenife’s action of saving human beings and the other businessman’s action of saving firewood was very clear.

At Osumenyi the Enugwu Ukwu people who were camped at St. Lawrence primary school premises developed very close association and friendship with the Osumenyi hosts  which has been sustained till date. Some Osumenyi families that readily call to mind at this period were the Oguines and Onwughalus.

Chief Innocent Akametalu carried his undying love for his people to his post war life at No. 29 Eze Street Uwani Enugu.

This has remained the meeting venue of Uruekwo village indigenes resident in Enugu till date, a ready accommodation for any Enugwu Ukwu person visiting Enugu for the first time. Of course his homestead in Uruekwo Enugwu Ukwu has also remained till date the meeting venue of his Umubulanocha kindred. Such selfless humanists as Innocent Akametalu are rare gifts to any community.

As his remains is committed to earth today April 20, 2012, may his kind and generous soul find rest in our Lord’s bosom, Amen.

Mr. SAM EKPE, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.


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