This is a very sad season for me. Last week on this page, I wrote about my recently deceased godfather, Bernard Edrickson Akporiaye. This week, I’m handing over to a dear family friend, Jonas Odocha, who has composed a touching tribute to my darling uncle and his beloved brother-in-law, the late great Bethel Chinweoke Njoku (1934-2017) who has passed away in London.
YES indeed, a rare gem has gone home to rest in the bosom of our good Lord. The loss, the pain, the reality, all these affirm the mystery of death, specifically its finality. There is a consolation, however, which borders on what one is remembered for, and not just for how long one lived on planet earth. Sure enough there is a lot to remember this legend of a man for: his simplicity, his humility, his versatility and above all, his humanity. A man who shunned titles and other such frivolities of life, yet dined with royalty and the downtrodden alike. He was larger than life indeed.
I was fortunate to have encountered this man when I was barely 10 years old and in primary school. He was just out of college and was deemed fit to be given a teaching appointment at the prestigious Dennis Memorial Grammar School, DMGS, Onitsha, in 1956. His frequent visits to my family brought us closely together and my curiosity and readiness to learn excited him immensely.
As he left for higher studies at the University College Ibadan(UCI then,UI now) in 1957, the visits intensified and our bonding continued to grow and by 1958 when I was in Primary 6, he had taught me to play the game of Scrabble. He had owned an Isuzu motorcycle as an undergraduate which he also taught me to ride in the community same year. He did not hide his joy and encouragement when he was informed that I had gained admission into Government Secondary School, Owerri, OGSS, in 1959. He would write from UCI to inquire about how I was doing in both academics and sports. That was his kind of person. Those fortuitous visits eventually ended up in his marrying our eldest sister, Dorothy Ogugua, in 1961, after six years of courtship.
On graduation in 1960 with a degree in Geography, he was readily recruited by the oil giant Shell BP in Port Harcourt as a Personnel Officer, being one of the pioneer indigenous graduate staff at the time. By 1964 he had been promoted Personnel Manager and was identified by the parent company in The Hague for cross-posting to Shell Uganda as Head of Shell Uganda, based in Kampala. It was the unfortunate civil war in 1967 that truncated his meteoric rise in that company. But suffice it to say that he had left indelible marks in that company by the time he proved his professional mettle in Shell Uganda.
With the cessation of hostilities in 1970 the then East Central State government appointed him Chairman of Board of Phoenix Hotels & Rest Houses Ltd, to help in the rehabilitation of those vandalised facilities. He did an excellent job for which he received commendations and accolades.
In 1971 he was hired by the Daily Times group as Manpower Development Controller where his experience from Shell helped him in the transformation of that media, printing and packaging conglomerate. Just as in Shell he was soon to be seconded to London as Head, Daily Times Offices, a post which he held up till 1981 when he was appointed Deputy Chief Executive, Administration, of the Daily Times conglomerate. Again this rise was truncated when in 1984 the military intervened and sacked the entire Board and Management of the Daily Times. That organisation did not recover from that indiscretion to this very day.
Having carved a niche in the global media he was quickly sought after by European media houses when he joined Gemini News of London as its Managing Director and consultant to other media houses. This position saw him travelling round the globe in developing and head-hunting media gurus for media houses in Europe and Africa. He retired officially in 2004 when he turned 70. But he remained active in his private home office still assisting with promoting the interest of media houses around the globe until his health began to limit his activities.
To say that this man was versatile would be an understatement for here was a man who embraced technology very early in life and was never tired of reading and searching for knowledge. His love for photography culminated in his setting up his own dark room for developing and printing his own pictures. Various gadgets adorned his house for the game of chess, scrabble and other sophisticated games.
He was into computers as early as the ‘70s before they became office and household appliances in the country. Little wonder he was very much at home with world players in the global media playing field as contacts and briefings were readily available at his fingertips.
As a naturalist he was reputed to be very knowledgeable in the identification and utilisation of local herbs and roots for healing purposes which he carried out at no financial cost to his clients. He loved nature and explored it for the benefit of humanity.
He quietly carried out many philanthropic gestures within his community and elsewhere as shown by his promotion of both church and community activities wherever he was privileged to be. On the home front his house was always a beehive of activities as family, friends and strangers were ever welcome and in most cases all and sundry ate from the same pot. There were occasions the house would be abode for over 20 guests and counting, as every space was a corner for sleeping or relaxation.
His humility and simplicity could not be equaled in every sense of it. Here was a man who could eat from the same plate with his driver and the driver was comfortable eating with him. A very rare feat in a society where stratification separated the rich and famous from the poor and needy, but for him no such barrier existed.
He was indeed a very rare gem who would be missed by all people of conscience and goodwill. My mentor, my role model, fare thee well!!!
Schedule of events:
Wednesday October 18, 2017: Body arrives Port Harcourt international airport from London.
Thursday October 19, 2017: Service of Songs at his residence, Owutu Ezinihitte Mbaise; Imo State @ 6pm.
Friday October 20, 2017: Funeral service at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Owutu Ezinihitte Mbaise, @ 11 am