By Palang Kasmi
Just like the winds, time has passed but it is still like a dream, the passing away of Prof. Celestine Onyemobi Onwuliri, who died in the ill- fated Dana Airline crash of June 3, 2012.
He was one of the passengers on board the Dana Flight 0992 with 152 others on board, that crashed into a residential building at Ilu-Isaga, Lagos State last year, and it is now a year after his exit. It still pains, his sudden exit but this is just one of the mysteries of life. Prof., as he was popularly called, “came, saw and conquered”, He will be remembered for many things.
He was an all-round student, renowned scholar with brains and integrity that left a remarkable record of distinction; the number. 1 Knight of St. John (KSJ) in Nigeria, the Supreme Subordinate President.
Onwuliri distinguished himself in many spheres: a Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science (FAS); Fellow, Parasitological and Public Health Society of Nigeria (FNSP); Fellow, Biotechnology Society of Nigeria (FBSN); Fellow, Civil Institute of Democratic Administration (FCIDA); Fellow, Solar Energy Society Of Nigeria (FSESN); and Fellow, African Scientific Institute (ASIF).
He served as consultant to several national and international agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO), Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Carter Center/Global 2000, African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) and the Federal Ministry Of Health (FMOH) is gone.
One year after his exit, the memories of a man so dear to the hearts of many is still fresh like flowers that blossom in a garden.
Prof. Onwuliri lived well and will be remembered for many things too numerous to mention. First, faith. When desperately, helplessly, fervently and anxiously, his wife, family and friends prayed, hoped and prayed for his safety on the news of the crash, the following day, he was found intact with his scapular, crucifix and rosary, unfortunately without his life.
He was a rare breed, a successful, God-fearing, motivating, humble and humane person who has played his own part in the journey of life. Prof. Onwuliri was a scholar, an administrator, a deeply religious man, a rare gem, and worthy knight.
Born on February 17 1952, at Umuokazi Amuzi town, Ahiara, Ahiazu-Mbaise Local Government of Imo State, the professor of zoology was first son and second child of Mr. Adolphus Elihe and Mrs Rosanna Ihemegbulem Onwuliri. He started his educational career at Community Grammar School, Amuzi Ahiara where he served as senior prefect 1970/71.
He proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he earned his first and doctorate degrees with distinction winning the Vice Chancellor’s prize as the best overall graduating postgraduate student and the first student to receive honors from the university.
For a man who had his first degree in 1975, and PHD in 1980, Onwuliri had over more than three decades of experience in teaching, research, administration, and community service in six Nigerian universities and many others abroad.
At some point, he gave himself to serve in the public service as Imo State Commissioner for Information, Culture, Youths and Sports ( 1997-1999); Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources; Chairman, NYSC Board of Directors; Chairman, Imo State Broadcasting Corporation and Chairman, Imo Sports Council during which he hosted the 11thImo Sports Festival tagged Imo 98.
In the church, Onwuliri rendered services in many capacities. He was not only a member of the Knight of St John ( KSJ) but the Number One KSJ in Nigeria, the Supreme Subordinate President. He trained priests, sisters and built churches.After his passage, Most Rev Ignatious Kaigama, Catholic Arch Bishop of Jos, described him as a personal friend, a committed Catholic who put so much time and energy to the service of the Lord especially the Catholic Archdiocese of Jos.”
For his wife, Prof. Viola Adaku Onwuliri, Nigeria’s Minister for State Foreign Affairs 1, whom he was married to for 33 years, the loss is still a shock. She said she would not forget in a hurry his supportive role in her life coupled with mentoring, advising, friendship and bond, which they shared, which is responsible for her success in life.
“He had humble and modest beginnings, shattered every possible records on his path to greatness, garnering immeasurable acclaims and respect from superiors, peers, direct reports and all that came in contact with him directly or indirectly”, she said in a tribute.
“It feels like eternity and eerily hollow, through thick and thin of building our careers, family and contributing to our community and society, never a day went by we did not talk…I have started to miss those persistent phone calls from you that vibrate often while I am in the middle of a meetings, presentations, or events, moments that I can at least afford distractions, in your effort to ensure that I have the most brilliant new ideas, and plans to perfect my contributions, input or output….If I had known, the last hug would have been tighter, kisses more passionate and more than three, touch more loving and hands held much longer to make you miss your flight….Your accomplishments are what legends are made of…”
His family members say they will remember him for his family daily rosary prayers. Apart from being a prayerful, caring, a disciplinarian father, his first daughter and only girl among five children, Dr. Mrs Ijeoma Dozie, remembers her father as a man that demanded and gave excellence.
“ He was a voracious reader, our home was full of books; An English Maestro who loved correcting any piece you gave him with his red pen; a prayerful man, Marian Catholic; Photographer, loved to take pictures of special moments like birthdays, developmental milestones; a domesticated man, used to cook meals for us; a connoisseur of food and good looks, would always tell you whether your clothing was good or not; loved giving nicknames; and a man who loved giving people second chances or more no matter their wrong because of his belief in peoples capacity to change for the better even when some of them deserved to be arrested” she stated.
A special remembrance mass was held in his remembrance on June 2, 2013 at St. Jude’s Catholic Church Amuzi, Mbaise and University of Jos Chaplaincy on June 9.