Dr Ogbonnaya Onu: One death too many

Late Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, ex-presidential aspirant of APC, 2023, former governor of old Abia State and a one-time minister of Science and Technology.

TRIBUTE:

By Prof. Mike Ozekhome.

I prefer celebrating people while alive. I have done this for decades. I will continue to celebrate the living. The dead hears no tributes or eulogies. Where death however steals a match on us, clanging its filthy manacles as a hideous monster, we must conquer and mock it by remembering our dead heroes. Dr. Christopher Ogbonnaya Onu was such a hero. I mourn him. He was a distinguished Statesman of rare breed who espoused the ideals of democracy in his private and public life.

News of the transition of Dr Onu, the first civilian Governor of old Abia State, Dr. Christopher Ogbonnaya Onu, came as a rude shock to millions of ordinary Nigerians. It was just his political associates, friends and family that were shocked; I was one of them. And with good reason too. Dr. Onu was an uncommon sagacious politician with a difference. He was an advocate of politics without bitterness – in the mould of one of the most principled leaders of the 2nd Republic, the late Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri, the erstwhile presidential candidate of the defunct Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP). To that extent, the late Dr. Onu was exceptional, as there has been few of his kind in the violence-prone political landscape of Nigeria. Not for him the cut-throat methods and win-at-all-costs mentality of the average Nigerian politician, especially at his level. No. By all accounts (from the deluge of encomiums showered on him), Dr. Onu was a gentleman par excellence who loved people and humanity. He played by the rules of the game of life with love towards all and malice towards none.

I have never heard anyone speak evil or any unkind word about this renowned engineer and man of Spartan-like discipline and high rectitude. He was an exemplar of a human being; an excellent role model and indeed, something of an avatar. Debonaire, suave and graceful, with a smile perpetually planted on his feminine face, Onu meant many positive things to different people. Beyond all that, Dr. Onu was a very brilliant mind and an outstanding academic, researcher and scholar. This was amply demonstrated when he graduated with a first-class degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Lagos in 1976. He followed this four years with a doctorate degree in the same field from the famous University of California, at Berkeley, USA. Upon his return to Nigeria, Dr. Onu lectured at the University of Port Harcourt, where he became the pioneer head of that institution’s Department of Chemical Engineering. He subsequently acted as the Dean of the University’s Engineering Faculty.

But, it was outside academics – in politics – that Dr. Onu spectacularly made his mark and excelled. He emerged as the pioneer Governor of the old Abia State in 1992. On the return to civil rule under the present dispensation, Dr. Onu was elected the Presidential candidate of the erstwhile All Peoples Party (APP); but he calmly conceded it to the party’s eventual flag bearer in the election, Dr. Olu Falae. This was sequel to the horse trading between the then APP and the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Onu was not embittered. He was not the type to flex muscles over a mere political office.

Throughout his exemplary career, Dr. Onu was known for his deep love for equity, fairness, justice, national unity, cohesion, peace and progress. He also believed in youth empowerment and in nurturing another generation of leaders (the “Generation-Next”).

The handsome and calm, red-cap wearing politician was a technocrat in government. But, he never forgot nor forsook his friends. He demonstrated this to me in 2016. I had launched one of my books – “Zoning to Unzone: The Politics of Power and the Power of Politics in Nigeria”. He attended my book launch at the Yar’ Adua Centre, Abuja. He stayed on throughout the duration of the over 6-hour book presentation. Many of my supposed friends in the then Buhari government shunned the event. They did not want to associate with me – a die-hard critic of their Emperor-President Muhammadu Buhari government and its failing, wobbly, fumbling and dawdling style. Many of them were scared associating with me, lest they be upbraided and witch-hunted by the array of hovering hawks in the government. But not for Dr. Ogbonnaya. He stayed on. He showed undiluted friendship and brotherhood as a principled detribalized Nigerian, irrespective of possible adverse consequences to his office. Where are those dodgy bootlickers; fawners and ego masseurs who polluted the Buhari government today? They are gone with the wind. Like mere vapour, they vanish into historical oblivion. Ha! The ephemerality of power (Read Mike Ozekhome –https://penpushers.com.ng /amp/nigerian-leaders-and-the-ephemerality-of-power/; June 6, 2023; Mike Ozekhome –https://realnewsmagazine.net/nigerian-leaders-and-the-ephemerality-of-power-part-2/July -31, 2023; https://www.tell.ng/magu-the-ephemerality-of-power-mike-ozekhome-san/?amp, July 8, 2020.

Dr Onu’s hard work, dedication, commitment and patriotism did not go unrecognized as he was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 as the Minister of Science and Technology. He held this position until 2022, when he resigned to contest the ruling party’s presidential ticket. He lost to the eventual winner of the election, current President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

In leaving his comfort zone to stake that presidential claim, Dr. Onu was motivated not by personal aggrandizement, but by the desire to serve his people – to ensure that his highly marginalized ethnic group – the Igbo – was given a fair chance to seek the Presidency of this country. This is something that has all along eluded the Igbos. His sadness when he lost out prompted the emotion– tinged rhetorical question he asked on announcement of the results of the party’s primary election: “Where is the justice?”

Let me join Onu in asking this all-important question: where is the justice in our electoral system today? Where is the justice in Nigeria?

CONCLUSION:

Dr. Onu has gone. But he would be remembered by Nigerians for being more than the sum of his parts. He was an uncommon human being who believed and espoused the nobility of man: a belief that we can transcend our differences and not be defined by them; that we can disagree without being disagreeable; that we are at our best when we sheath our swords – and, indeed, turn them into ploughshares; that there must be a handshake across the Niger and Benue rivers. Nigerians and Nigeria will miss this Nationalist. Let me bid Onu farewell till we meet again on resurrection day with the following quote authored by William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar (Act 5 Scene 5):

“His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up And say to all the world, This was a man”. Fare thee well, my dear friend and brother. Sleep in the Lord’s warm bosom till we meet again to part no more. Amen. 

Ozekhome, CON, OFR, FCIArb, LL.M, Ph.D., LL.D., D.Litt, D.Sc, is a constitutional lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN).

WORDS ON MARBLE: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier than he/she came. Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”.

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