Two burials/funerals changed the historiography of my village. One was in 2010 when Chief, Onyishi Odo Abonyi passed. The other was last weekend 26th February 2022, when Pa Ambrose Obetta went the way of all flesh. Their deaths made our people agree with the age-old submission of Pierre Renoir that “the pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
My village — Akparata, is an obscured hamlet in Ada Obollo Etiti, Udenu LGA, Enugu state, inconspicuously known for its small land mass and modest native population. It derived its name from a tree dialectally called “Akparata,” analogous specie of achi plant, which was a predominant vegetation in the village in ancient times. Seeds from the shrub when grounded into powder serve as essential viscous spices in soups like Egwusi and some other local sauces.
The village also has a very interesting geographical layout. From north to south, the hamlet was laterally divided into two dorsal halves by the Obollo Afor — Obollo Eke — Ehamufu highway. Sandwiched between two timeless streams that ran their respective courses through its east and west borders, Akparata hosts arable green savanna landscapes. These two fresh water sources — Ebonyi and Adukwure streams confluenced at the axial end of the village where Ebonyi engulfed Adukwure to form a bigger river running through Abakaliki (from which Ebonyi state derive its name) to Rivers state where it tributed in Bonny river.
Akparata had continued to cut an average figure of a minority village (paucioribus villa) both in numerical and intellectual strength, in the greater Obollo Etiti concourse until there arose from its stock, in Umuogbene kindred, in the early years of the 20th century, one of the most politically exposed giant, named Odo Abonyi, whose influential dynasty span over four decades. Nicknamed Ichakporoko, Chief Odo Abonyi commands rare aura in community leadership.
He neither had formal education, nor resided outside our local stead. He was a thoroughly home-bred courageous politician full of native intelligence, who become a force to reckon with, from the days of old Anambra state down to the current Enugu configuration.
When democracy was restored in 1999; he was instrumental to the formation of All People’s Party (APP) that metamorphosed into ANPP and later APC. With APP, he dominated Udenu politics till the ruling PDP in the state lured him to join forces with them and form a united front.
And when he retired from active partisan politics in 2007, he became a consultor, offering fatherly advisory to all public office seekers irrespective of party affiliation. He was also Onyishi (eldest man) of our village and of his Umuogbene clan. As the natural wear and tear of life’s struggle took hold of him, he entered his emeritus home; and coincidentally, that was about the time his third son Dr. Godwin Abonyi became the Chairman of our local government area. His second son, Igwebuike Abonyi, an astute political journalist, and consummate editor, became image maker of National Chairman, of the largest political party in Africa — PDP.
He died in 2010 and an era ended!
His funeral held the record as most heavily attended requiem event of all time in the anal of our history till last weekend when another rare gem Pa Ambrose Ugwu Obetta, was buried amidst record-breaking high capacity attendance of guests/sympathizers.
Pa Obetta could easily pass for a quiet unassuming country man. Born some estimated 83 years ago, he eked out a living as career timber dealer.
He journeyed into eternity with an enviable baggage of good will. Though, it is hard to bear the loss of a gentle soul like him, our people took solace in his enduring legacy and the royalty he earned for posterity.
He was a great man who burgeoned the Obetta Akputa dynasty in grand style. Using the noble occupational job of timber lumbering in the renaissance period of 20th century, Pa Ambrose endeared himself to many, as an honest gentleman. Until retirement from his signature timber business, he was a household name to his contemporaries as a community leader.
He made his house, a home for all. Many persons in my generation found his family house a centre for buoyed social harmony.
There are pronounced similarities and a few dismilarities between Odo Abonyi and Pa Ambrose Ugwu Obetta. One was a pragmatic politician while the other was an artisan — a professional timber Lumberer who dominated the art in Obollo and Idoma. Both were polygamists in line with the trend of their time.
The death, and burial/funeral of one drew exceptional crowd of political elites across the land, the other opened our borders to great military officers of Nigerian Army command, clergies and laymen alike.
Both prefigured the parable of Morocco Maduka in his minstrel music that “ife onye na-eme na-ede, oburo ka onye ra na-ede” (the size of one’s good deeds much more than the size of one’s height is a measure of one’s greatness).
Both were Onyishi Akparata and that of their respective kindreds.
Despite not having formal education, both loved education and ensured they gifted their children and wards the best of it. And it paid off. Their respective children having acquired enough knowledge in schools became agents of positive changes in our town.
Oliver Obetta, like Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi (who was Nigeria’s first complete soldier) grew through ranks to be a Lieutenant Colonel and counting. According to Chinedu Ugwuagada, “he will go far in military service.” A complete soldier from an obscured village. A chartered accountant and fellow Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers, he had mentored many to successful military and sundry careers.
Like Igwebuike Abonyi, he stands at laudable pedestal in human capital development. He pays school fees for many indigent students of our village. He feeds so many mouths who are biologically unrelated to him. He economically empowered scores.
Dr. Godwin Abonyi gifted us a model multipurpose village hall. And together they are major financiers of wider Ada Agu parish church building project.
Ichakporoko Foundation, established in honour of Odo Abonyi’s love for education has continued to enliven the hopes of some indigent youths across Udenu/Igbo Eze North federal constituency.
From Akparata Ada to the larger Obollo Etiti community, Lt. Col. Oliver’s Dad was revered as an advocate for social justice and equity. An opinion holder of repute, Pa Ambrose gets bruised at the slightest sight of injustice in the society.
I knew him well as family, for he was acquiesced to us, as he maintained personal friendship with my Dad, his namesake. This gave me vantage position to assess his life of selflessness. When he died on mid morning of Monday, January 17, 2022 Obollo Etiti caught cold.
His obsequy was epitaphically a celebration of life of a worthy elderly mentor. The funeral was noble, and colourfully attended by who is who in the Army and VIPs of the society. I have done M.C jobs in countless big events before now. But last weekend’s outing at the at the auspices of Lt. Col. Oliver ranks among the most memorable.
Pa Ambrose, although an African Traditional Religionist, was visited on his sick bed at Annunciation Hospital Enugu by a Reverend Father, days before his death. They conversed privately and he blessed him.
Catholic church has his likes in mind when she posited that: “those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 847).
In the didache of Her Eucharistic prayers, the Church intercedes before God for the repose of souls of men of good will (irrespective of their religious inclination) like Pa Ambrose: “…to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom.”
To this end, we are consoled that such beautiful soul was called to a deserving rest after a life filled with charity. According to the late country music legend, Don Williams, “heaven doesn’t wait for only those who congregate,” rather like our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ said: heaven is reserved for those who do the will of God (Matt. 7:21). And this divine will is summarized in “love of God and love of neighbour” (Matt. 22:37-39).
Having spent their lives observing the golden rule of “do unto others what you would like them do unto you,” we have no doubt that these two great patriarchs, Chief Odo Abonyi (a professed Catholic) and Pa Ambrose Obetta are in abode of peace in paradise.
This is not to say they don’t have their pitfalls as humans. But their virtiues outweigh the flaws. On the scale of divine justice, the burden of human frailty inevitably weighed heavily on them, but not beyond the arm beat of divine mercy.
A native Nsukka parlance holds that “Onye nwa lir’ bu onye mutar'” (Having a befitting burial is a sign that one was survived by a worthy child).
Today, what we pictured as “obscured village” in the introductory passage of this piece has plateauxed beyond Igbo borders; thanks to the exploits of these illustrious figures. It therefore behoves on us to make good use of the doors their lives and times opened to better our lots as a people. “The song is ended, but the melody lingers on” so said Irving Berlin.
May daylight spare us!