*From Govt. College Umuahia days till . . .
By Gabe Igboko
I came to know Azu Emuchay in 1972 when he was admitted into Government College Umuahia as a class one student. His elder brother, Chika (Emuchay C.) and I were friends and classmates and in class two, having gotten into that esteemed institution the year before.
But the strict tradition and rich culture of the school didn’t encourage ‘unwarranted’ familiarity with juniors just as the ‘enjoyment of seniors’ jokes’ was not tolerated either. However, peculiar events in school and providence brought Azu and I exceptionally close.
The school was structured in many ways to promote keen competition both in academics and extracurricular activities, including sports and civic responsibility programs. Virtually all known contemporary world sports, including Cricket, Hockey, Basket Ball, Volley Ball, Lawn Tennis, Table Tennis, Tennikoit and of course, Soccer as well as athletics were well taught and coached by highly qualified teaching staff and crew headed by Mr. J.M.A. Sinulo.
We played and practiced these variety of sports in well carved out array of arenas of international standard. Incidentally participation in the sports programs especially athletics was compulsory as every student was expected to make his standards, that is the minimum threshold time or score during inter-house competition. All these academic and extracurricular activities as well as the general disciplinary conduct of each student including cleanliness of the students and their houses were guided and regulated under the Cock House Competition Program which culminated in awards and honours to the best students and houses during the Parents Teachers Awards Event at the end of the school year. Laurels and trophies known as Positive Victor Ludorum were presented accordingly and vice versa for negative victor ludorum.
Despite all the numerous avenues and opportunities especially in sports, which presented a leveler and the easiest way for juniors and seniors to mingle without undue attention or raising an eyebrow, Azu and I did not cross paths.
In fact, I became very close, till today, to some of the juniors, especially from Azu’s class, like Don Egbuchulam and Ricco Obiamalu who were key members of my hockey and cricket teams as well as others like Isuofia and Victor Akpom that I have not seen since 1975, and the prolific sports writer Onochie Anibueze of Vanguard Newspapers who I saw last many years ago in Lagos. Notwithstanding, Azu was to join me as a scribe in the Umuahian News Agency, our highly structured print and electronic news media and current affairs outfit with the likes of our respectable seniors; Casmir Okolo, Ugochukwu Okorafor and Willy Nnorom of blessed memory. He also was with me in our Electoral Regulatory Body which had the late Ubani Osuji (Barry) of blessed memory as the Chair. But our membership of these two bodies wasn’t what brought us really close.
Azu and I seemed to have similar privileged backgrounds. I was the fag of a very popular and influential College Prefect, Obi Gwacham – Santos Mac Gwacham (Asst. House Captain of New House) who was also the school Hockey Captain and the Asst. Cricket and Table Tennis Capt. Azu on admission was the fag of a very respected and highly revered School Captain, Zeuwa Okorocha from Cozens House. Once you are a fag to a very popular maggie, more so a School Captain of Zeuwa Okorocha’s stature, your own popularity and acceptability in school are seamless.
This was how Azu’s profile began to rise. He metamorphosed from taking care of the school captain’s special diet to being the Cozen’s House Rep. in the kitchen when Henry Njoku (Brigade) handed over to him, to taking charge of the pantry for the whole school. Along with that responsibility also was his being a member of the inner room of the subsequent notable House Captains of Cozens; Ejiofor Dan (Danny Kay), Agunwa Boyce and Okafor Anthony (Chokos) and grooming the various fags and helping hands in that seat of power! Thus, was how Azu’s influence began to grow. And there is no gainsaying the fact that he cut his firm administrative prowess and management prudence teeth from those early Umuahia days!
In 1974, our very revered and top-rated principal, Samuel Onochie Ogoazi created three more College Prefect positions, namely Dining Hall, Labour and Library Captains. BON Otti, a product of the last Lower Five (Special) program was appointed the Dining Hall Captain and third in hierarchy in the twenty-two number powerful college captains. BON created a completely new department and appointed me as the Dining Hall Monitor, in charge of the cleanliness of the entire dining hall whilst retaining S.K. Kalu (my classmate in class four) in charge of food (in the kitchen) and Azu Emuchay (our junior by one year) who came highly recommended in charge of the distribution – sharing (in the pantry).
Though I had been on special diet from my class one, with exeat as it were exempting me from certain general meals like fresh fish (but definitely not bread and kwo kwo) but with my new position I joined the league of very special diets whose high quality food was prepared entirely differently, and entitled to seven rations (portions) for me and my office (of two assistants – Uguru O. and Uche Emelumadu) in line with the college captains and second only to the Dining Hall Captain, Asst.
School and School Captains who were entitled to nine! From being a beneficiary of Azu’s service in the pantry when I used to pass my plate (the terminology used) on the days of special diet, like fried fish and the equally popular ‘isi azu’ and fried plantain to now being his Boss, answerable only to the Dining Hall Captain, we became even closer; a situation that would ordinarily have given rise to some envy and rivalry.
I still remember vividly when I ordered that the food of Niger House should not be released until their section (which was the first part on the left) of the dining hall was completely swept and tidied of the food particles and debris from the earlier breakfast. And since the rest of the school had assembled for their meal that afternoon, the sweeping had to be done after the designated meal time.
That made the entire house to be late (by at least 45 mins) for subsequent school activities, including siesta following, which usually would be compulsory like most programs in Umuahia! The School Captain (Ahiwe) from Niger House didn’t find it funny at all and would have ordinarily sent me round the run’s track were it not for my new exalted office as a school official. I remember also how my close friends like Okoye O.C. (Murray) in New House with me, Tony Egbuna and Ike Ukeje (in Erekosima) and Nwosu C. (Chukwuka) from Fisher would always come around for the extra special diet I always had, especially if their food was shared (massacred) for some reason.
The more defining and indeed the most determining factor in my relationship with Azu came from an event principally outside school. Following the sudden and shocking demise of the veteran and highly respected educationist and seasoned administrator, Nathan Okeoma Ejiogu (the beloved father of our dear friends and schoolmates, Chimdi – Hurricane, Uche Nigga Charlie and Nedum Ejiogu) the Chairman of the East Central State Public Service Commission on Friday, August 4, 1972, just as we were on summer (long) vacation, the Administrator of East Central State, Ajie Ukpabi Asika appointed Dr. D.W. Emuchay (the father of Chika, Azu and Okey Emuchay) as his replacement. Subsequently my late father, P.M. Igboko was initially appointed as a commissioner in (Member of) the Civil Service Commission by the first Military Governor of East Central State, Col. Anthony Aboki Ochefu just before his shocking removal from office in November 1975, and reappointed by his successor Lt. Col. John Atom Kpera to join the Dr. Dick Emuchay ably led commission.
With the creation of Imo State in February 1976 all indigenes of the new state in top civil and public service positions, with a few secondment senior key officials relocated mainly to Owerri the State capital and Aba under the administration of Lt. Comdr. Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu. The commissioners (mainly) and permanent secretaries, with other top government officials lived in Shell Camp and Aladinma Housing Estate respectively.
We (the new arrivals from Enugu) regrouped into a formidable force to be reckoned with in order to confront head on the initial bitter rivalry with our locally based colleagues who needed to assert their authority and control of the necessary ‘perquisites’ in their territory as they felt highly threatened by the intimidating ‘ammunition’ in our arsenal, like money and our parents’ cars we had easy and ready access to. We must have easily overcome the fierce resistance with the help of our brothers and partners like the Ejiogus and Onyewuchis whose hybrid positions provided easy logistics for our incursion!
In the end we all became one jolly large family. These included the Ogbuagus, Obidiegwus, Okeahialams, Nwapas, Udebiuwas, Otukas, Ukpabys, Ebizies, and later the Ogans and Nwakamma-Okoros among others. At the head of the locals (landlords as it were) were the Njamanzes, Obiekes, Ekeochas, Nwokories, Akurukas etc! Others like the Egbuchulams, Ukaonus, Orjis of Orji, Chiedos and Osujis in line with the Ejiogus and Onyewuchis were great allies for glaring reasons of either Umuahian connection or other genealogy considerations.
Some of the terminologies we developed in our coded esoteric language were “Memberno” and “If You Come by Majella You Go by Majella” which still have their meanings till date! Ironically, how Okey confirmed Azu’s death to me was; “Memberno my dear brother, Azu is gone”.
We the Igbokos and Emuchays became very close, and even more so after the sudden and shocking death of our father on November 26, 1977. Dr. Dick Emuchay led the high-powered government delegation, and represented the Military Governor, Navy Capt. Adekunle Lawal at the funeral. Most of the times we traveled back and forth from school together. On one of such occasions, we were involved in a terrible accident as we had already arrived Enugu from Owerri, when a lorry at top speed rammed into the Datsun 180K of an uncle of the Emuchays’ (Dee Da) at Kenyetta by Amawbia Street junction on that fateful Sunday afternoon that he was taking us back to school at Enugu and Nsukka. Luckily enough and by the grace of God none of us (me and my younger sister, Chika and Okey) sustained any life-threatening injuries despite the massive damage to the car.
We have been part of many memorable events in the Emuchay family, ranging from the birthday celebration of Dr. D.W. Emuchay on Wednesday, August 5, 1981 when, with Jovita and Majella Okeahialam, Ernest Nwapa and a few others we spent 2 days at Azumini, generally celebrating (swimming in the slightly treacherous blue river which challenged Jovy). As a two-time Hon. Commissioner in the government of Abia State I traveled from Lagos to Umuahia to pay Chika solidarity visit, even as an uncle of mine, Mazi Goddy Okereke was his Director PRS.
We were there in 2008 when the Anglican Prelate honoured their mother, Auntie Christie with a prestigious award during an elaborate national church program in Akwete. We were at Acho’s funeral in 2011. And in 2014, Okey had come to vie for the governorship of Abia State and insisted that no other person than my humble self would formally introduce him to the party hierarchy and electorate. This was notwithstanding that I was the State Legal Adviser of the party and should be non-partisan in the exercise.
I also tried to explain that I was billed to travel to the U.S. the day before to take my first daughter to college but Okey and his two main campaign coordinators, Chima Onyekwere and Mazi Sam Inyama would not entertain my excuses. It was by the grace of God that I was able to make the last flight from Owerri to Lagos on that very rainy evening of Monday, August 25 and just managed to make my international flight (following my delayed flight from Owerri due to very bad weather) that night.
Azu and I did not interact much for many years besides running into each other at airports or meeting at events occasionally. But in the last couple of years, it would appear as if we were on a mission to catch up on lost grounds. On Sunday, April 15, 2018 we (together with Okey) spent over 6 hours till late in the evening as my elder sister and I led other family members to Nkpukpuoha for the 50-year memorial of Chuke Nwachukwu’s parents and the dedication of a magnificent modest church building and vestry by Chuke and Ijeoma in commemoration.
We danced and danced (with some of our friends from Owerri and Calabar/Itigidi) and made merry, reminiscing on our glorious past years! During the church service, Auntie Christie had paid my family special recognition as Chuke introduced his guests to the presiding prelate and the congregation.
Then on Friday February 14, this year, Azu had seen me in the church during the funeral service of the father in-law of Mr. Billy Okoye at Ohanso, Ndoki and came over to stay with me. We spent over 3 hours from the end of the service to the reception before I left for Lagos and a few people at the well-attended event from Abia and Ukwa East in particular who had known us differently were surprised to hear us telling them that we were like brothers.
Much as Azu’s sudden death is a rude shock to all of us, especially to his immediate family; wife, daughter, mother, siblings, cousins, in-laws and host of other relations and associates, I am particularly grateful to God that my last meeting with him was on such a symbolic day; February 14! In that regard, two notable quotes of a highly respected American author, Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing at the age of nineteen months come to mind:
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it” and “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us.”
Azu Emuchay remains part of us indeed!
But for now, we say requiescat in pace.