Uzzi simply walked away
My earliest memory of Papa Ambrose Chukwuka Ugwummadu was in the late 70s. We were young and impressionable yet he stood out clearly as the most pronounced uncle we had because he was always around at Abavo in Delta State particularly during school holidays when he made it a point of duty to bring along his own children from Enugu for holidays. We all proceeded to the village, Abala each time we were all scheduled to be there. He was popularly referred to as “Papa “Enugu” because he was, together with Sir Peter Iyeagbu and Late Chief Emma Nwachie (Odobor) and later Mr. Patrick Mgbazi, the earliest Abala indigenes in Enugu. Papa was a professional driver and drove for several decades into retirement.
I had the privilege of bonding even closer with him when I gained admission into the University of Nigeria. The Law Faculty of the University was at Enugu. My late elder brother Dr. Paul Onyeka Ugwummadu (may God continue to rest his gentle soul) had concluded every arrangement in December 1991. I was simply available to be dispatched to Enugu to report, first, at the famous No. 71 Obiagu Street, Enugu where Uzzi lived in for about two decades and where every Abala person visited once in the coal city. Dr. Paul had arranged my flight from Lagos and made adequate provisions for hotel accommodation at Enugu for about one week. I remember it was at the First Hotel along university road to enable me settle in quickly, deal with all the formalities of registration and tackle the cumbersome processes of securing accommodation on campus. It was also my first flight ever. Papa Uzzi was on hand at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport to welcome me and hosted me lavishly to a reception at his residence. I simply walked into a carnival because Nna Uzzi was genuinely thrilled by the very purpose of my mission to Enugu.
It was big news that his own son of Abala Kingdom was admitted into the prestigious University of Nigeria. I wasn’t the first person around him to gain admission into a university. My two elder brothers, Doctors Austin Nnamdi and Late (Dr.) Onyeka Ugwummadu were already medical doctors from the Universities of Lagos and Ibadan respectively. Brother Victor Ejiofor Ugwummadu and my own twin brother Emmanuel Chizoba Ugwummadu were, even then, at the Ahmadu Bello University and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) respectively but this one was literally his own over whom he would have custody and in respect of whom he suddenly became a guardian. I could feel that sense of responsibility and pride. He would announce to his friends and relatives that his own son is now at “Mahadum” the Igbo word translation of a university. It was the first time I heard that word. The get together extended well into the night in joy and merriment. It was not until the next morning that I visited the hotel room, which was already reserved for me.
In the years preceding my admission into “Mahadum”, my siblings and I convinced our parents to spend our holiday at Papa Enugu’s place if they were not coming. During such visits, you could appreciate the disposition of a selfless man who genuinely desired the proper bonding of families and ensured that all the children did everything together ranging from morning prayers and devotions to domestic chores to farming and recreational activities. We were all taken to the zoo and parks available in Enugu then. It was all fun! He did not spare us the lessons of hard work as he took us to the farm lands where he had cultivated a few crops to work.
He taught us the values of discipline and industry and paid attention to how we all responded to the principles and dignity of labour. That was not a problem for us given that we were already properly introduced and involved in active farm work at Abavo being a largely agrarian community reputed for food production. Tough as some of those farming activities were, Papa had an enduring grip on situations however difficult. He was both a singer and dancer but showed an unusual talent in story-telling. His peers easily nicknamed him “Omennwa” because he was, even then, very gender sensitive and had natural disposition towards feminism.
He brought all of these qualities to bear on any situation he found himself or created. He would “sing” or “dance” you out of every single situation. He had a remarkable ability to trivialize the enormity of any situation however difficult. He told me loads and loads of stories about Abala and proverbs more than anyone else. He had a firm mastery of the annals of our history and people and told them in a way that left those stories permanently in our minds. In the village, he demonstrated the true meaning of brotherhood and communal lifestyle by visiting virtually every household each time he was around. His commitment to friendship was unparalleled.
The entire village marveled at his relationship with Papa Simon Anierigo Osadebe (Akalam) even when they existed, between them, enough contrasting factors that would have otherwise jeopardized their friendship including but not limited to the fact that Uzzi was an avowed Christian of the Anglican denomination while his childhood friend had always been and remain a proud African Traditional Worshipper. It is difficult to point at any person who had picked up a quarrel with him or with whom he had one. He was indeed simple and selfless and could naturally navigate the very many complex issues that cause strife and disaffection in human coexistence. Papa Enugu Uzzi was able to manage them all.
He was also very contented and, in consequence, foreclosed all the sources of unnecessary anxiety and depression. These traits enabled him see and focus on the brighter sides of life in dealing and relating with others.
He had a huge sense of humour firmly rooted in an uncanny native intelligence. He had a way of diluting the seriousness of issues and situations yet effectively communicating serious messages thereby. He was equally sarcastically. For instance, if you were unable to deliver an assignment within a time frame given or expected, Uzzi would refrain from scolding you over your inability to perform that assignment but would jocularly praise you for even completing it within the time that you did since he doubted that you could ever deliver at all. He loved relieving the past with stories and often burst into songs with his sonorous voice which sometimes found expressions in his feet as he danced away his sorrows and anger. He was reputed to be a wonderful singer and dancer in his hey days just as my own Mum was (the kind of dexterity that our own Onyeka (Jasper) and Blessed Ugwummadu exhibit in contemporary times).
Thus, you could tell of a simple man with a free spirit, hence he simply walked away in the fullness of time. He was never involved in any complex situation and consciously distanced himself from any complicated matter all through his relatively long stay on earth. Very early historical account had it that even as children, he was the one nominated from his family to go to school where pupils were occasionally flogged for failing to perform assigned responsibilities. He finally gave up that ambition paving the way for his elder brother, my own father Umegbolu Ugwummadu to attend school in his place. It has to be so because his younger siblings were all considered under-aged to start schooling.
In many respects, he enjoyed my company as I did his too because I learnt quite a lot about our history and people from him. I made out quality time to be with him whenever I could afford it outside the workload I had at the university. He loved the small stout brand of beer and I made sure he had one or two bottles each time we met. In many ways, it facilitated our bonding and the quality of time we shared together. In such similar and uncanny vein, weird if you like, he started telling me around 1995/96 that he was ready to die.
I was extremely uncomfortable with those repeated remarks until one day towards the end of 1996, when I came visiting, he beckoned at me to take my seat close to his and tell him everything happening in the University concerning me. He insisted I must tell him the whole truth and will not take the drink which I offered him until he heard from me. Apparently, he had heard a few things about an on-going court case which I instituted against the institution. It was a matter I instituted mobilizing other students and by which we successfully challenged the astronomical increase in the school and service charges by the Institution. It is possible that his sources must have twisted the story somewhat in a manner that aroused his curiosity.
Surprisingly, he announced that he will no longer die as he had insisted in the preceding years. It was my turn to seek explanation and I demanded to know what he meant by that and why. His response was instructive and remarkable. According to him, if it has come to pass that his own son, an Abala young man was doing anything whatsoever worthy of media report, then he was going to wait patiently to see how things panned out. In other words, there was a future full of hopes and prospects. Thus, he was no longer willing to die. He would wait to see what tomorrow holds. You can imagine that!
What a time to exit. My own Father, his immediate elder brother whose birth terminated the incidences of death of children before him (partly for the grace that he carries and the potency of his middle name “Umegbolu”) thought, rightly too, that he would be the first to return to their Creator having arrived first. Our ways, no doubt, are not the ways of the Lord Almighty. He barely survived the sad news because of his present health condition. He suspected that something untoward had happened because he didn’t hear from Uzzi within the weekly period intervals that he usually called. We could not break the news to our parents until Sunday the 6th of September, after an elaborate arrangement to cushion the effect of such sad news on his age and health.
I commiserate with his widow, Mama Joy, Joy the eldest child and daughter, Delight, Chinedu, Uche, Chidi, Ijeoma and Chukwukadibia (Junior). Go well Papa Uzzi and find eternal rest, Amen!