Tribute to Ogbuefi Ezenwanne (Dr. Benson C. Morah)

Adieu, Ogbuefi Ezenwanne!

You'll be greatly missed but I take solace in lessons of life you impacted on us. You're an encyclopedia, a compendium of knowledge on the ways of life of our parents and grandparents on the one hand and modernity on the other. It was just last November 2022 that I chatted you up on whatsapp while you’re relaxing with a bottle of 'Hero' beer at the home of your youngest brother, Dr. Erasmus Uche Morah in Abuja. You had just come back from Canada, as you often did to escape the harsh winter over there. I pointed out how modest you're despite being the envy of every family in Amikwo village and Awka as a whole; how you looked after all your siblings after the death of your parents; and how you took all your brothers to Canada in one-fell swoop. In your characteristic manner, you replied that you're proud of the achievements of your siblings, and that your contribution was only a minuscule part! Naturally, I hailed your modesty and humility!

I can never forget how I learned humility and open-mindedness from observing you. Sometime ago in the 1970s, you visited my late father, your uncle in our small mud house in your maternal home in Umuonaga village, Agulu-Awka. You spent hours consulting and discussing with my father on family matters, especially your plans to take your younger brothers to Canada, following the death of your mother, who was my late father's sister. Although still just a small boy then in primary school, my late father used to invite me after your visits to ask what I had learnt from you. My late father would tell me each time that you possessed a PhD from one of the best universities overseas and that you served as a professor in a renowned university in Canada. But this notwithstanding, you still had the humility and open-mindedness to seek his opinion and discuss your plans for your siblings with him! This touched his heart and impressed him a great deal.

My father once told me how you supported his late sister, your mother, immediately after the Biafran civil war. As a student in Canada in the early 1970s, you were managing to send money home for her to start life again. I believe that’s how your father's house was renovated and how those stores in front of your Aguegbe compound then were built and rented to those military men stationed at the Government Technical College and at St. Paul’s College! My father also told how you once sent money to your mother to purchase an empty piece land directly behind your father's compound in Aguegbe to enable you enlarge the compound you inherited from your father. In simple terms, my father strongly advised me to make you a role-model.

As time went on, you continued to visit and spent time with my father whenever you returned to Nigeria from Canada, or when you were working with the National Population Commission in Lagos. I recall one of the times when you visited and my youngest brother, Ekene, asked you, “Pencil, are you going?” He could not pronounce ‘Benson’. You smiled, lifted him up and said to him that your name was Benson, not ‘Pencil’!

Whatever life lessons my father taught me through your examples, I later observed and confirmed for myself as an adult. I remember when you started to work with the United Nations, first with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and then later with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). I distinctly remember spending time with you each time you came on family visit or home leave. What struck me the most was your style of communication! Despite our significant age difference, you never imposed your ideas on me. And you never failed to ask about every member of our extended family. You always wanted to know how your maternal home people were doing.

You always found time to visit not just relatives but old friends. I remember one journey we made to Nnobi, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State. It was to see your late sister, Titi's mother-in-law. Even though there was a leak in the radiator of the Toyota corolla you had parked in Awka for such purposes, you hadn’t enough time to take the car for repairs and maintenance. You asked me to fill water in a 20-liter plastic galloon, which we used to keep refilling the radiator after some distance, until we made it to Nnobi and back to Awka. What a sacrifice well worth it, I thought to myself then!

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Cited from William Shakespeare ‘Romeo and Juliet’). Your traditional title 'Ezenwanne', which directly translates as “Brotherly King”, is truly an embodiment of who you are: A king who chose to be a man of the people. I can talk of the various times you visited or transited through my United Nations duty stations in Angola, Nairobi/Kenya, Darfur/Sudan, New York/USA, etc. You always found time to see me. What touched me most was one time when you came to Luanda, Angola in the 1990s and I was stationed in the deep field, far away from the capital. You would not be deterred. You requested that my United Nations Headquarters should allow me to travel to Luanda so that we could see before you returned to Harare, Zimbabwe. My office complied. Even though my office had prepared accommodation for me, you still paid for a bigger hotel room so that we both could be together and had ample time to catch-up. You repeated the same when I was in Darfur, and during your visit to Khartoum. As the Regional Director of UNFPA in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, your residence was literally a transit accommodation for my late wife and I. Each time, you would insist that we book our tickets to accommodate a stop-over before continuing to our destinations.

Ogbuefi Ezenwanne, as I always hailed you, we already miss you greatly but as William Shakespeare wrote in his book “As You Like It”, “…the world's a stage, … And all the men and women merely Players … And one man in his time plays many parts …. (and the next) their exits….” There is not a doubt that you had played your role well and bequeathed life lessons to so many, me in particular. It is now our duty and obligation to continue from where you left the stage! I remember, in 2009, when your youngest daughter, Ifeoma had completed a Master’s degree and was looking for a job, you called on me. I also remember, in 2011, when you again called me about your eldest daughter, Nneka who just got married at the time and going through the usual initial marital challenges. Both times, I was happy that I did not disappoint on your requests.

With these few words and examples, I hope you should feel proud that you made an impact and left this world a better place than you found it. For me, your children, your siblings and other foot soldiers you left behind, you should rest assured that we’ll continue to reference your life-encyclopedia and compendium of knowledge to continue to fight the good fight of life. I can hear you urging us as St. Paul told his mentee Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many ….” (1 Timothy 6:12 KJV)

Ogbuefi Ezenwanne, Ije awele, ijeoma Nwadianna!!

From your cousin, your Nnaochie (Maternal Uncle), Dr. Anthony Chukwudi Nweke