Home Opinion Pa Jonah C Nwajiuba (1931-2023): Indelible Footprints, By Emma Agu

Pa Jonah C Nwajiuba (1931-2023): Indelible Footprints, By Emma Agu


Late Pa Jonah C. Nwajiuba

Once in a while my ancestral home, the Umuezeala Nsu community in the Ehime Mbano LGA of Imo State, Nigeria hits the news wave, for some very good reasons. But none has come close to the spectacle that took place on Thursday, 23 July 2023. The occasion was quite consistent with the iconic status of the man whose obsequies became a one week carnival of sorts. 

On that day, dignitaries from all walks of life had joined the local folks and the Nwajiuba family to bid farewell to their patriarch, Chief Sir Jonah Chukwudoro Nwajiuba, Knight of St. Christopher, who was given such a burial befitting a prince. Shakespeare was right. The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes. 

But what did we expect, for a man who produced a vice chancellor of a federal university and a minister of the federal republic, among several successful children? What did we expect for a man who lived for 91 years, only four months short of his 92nd birthday, a devout Christian, over-shooting the biblical 70 years by all of 21 years?

So, expectedly, the quiet Umuezeala community was thrown into national limelight as some of the country’s ‘timbers and caterpillars’ (apologies to the peerless political wordsmith, the late Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, K. O), converged in the village in solidarity with the Nwajiuba family as they laid their patriarch to rest. 

Yet, it was not all about Pa JC’s high flying children. For Pa Nwajiuba was a distinguished personality in his own right: a trailblazer who achieved many firsts in his life time. Many of his kinsmen will remember him as the first person to raise an “up-stair” building in Umuezeala. Back in the days, that was phenomenal. He was also among the first persons to own a car long before the civil war started. If my recollection is accurate, he was also among the first Umuezeala son to return to Nigeria, after acquiring the proverbial ‘golden fleece’ in the United Kingdom. Those were the days before Andrew ‘checked out’ and the mismanagement of our common patrimony became a trigger for the forced exodus aka ‘japa’, of Nigeria’s youth to other lands. The ‘japa’ phenomenon is a matter for another day.

For now, it is about celebrating Pa Jonah whom I grew up to admire greatly. Though I recognised his pace-setting personal achievements, what endeared him to me was his reputation for mentoring young people. Ordinarily, this should be seen within the context of the pristine Igbo traditional world view that regarded the upbringing of the child as a communal obligation and not the exclusive responsibility of the biological parents. It is aptly captured by the Igbo dictum: “otu onye anaghi azu nwa” meaning that no one person trains a child.

What stood Pa JC out from the crowd was that, beyond his financial commitment to the education of other people’s children, he was a mentor extraordinaire who guided them to make the right choices. His passion for education was phenomenal. My eldest cousin, Chijioke Agu is never tired of recalling how Pa JC admonished him to dump his ‘lucrative’ salesman job and head back to school. He did, abandoning his ‘prestigious’ sales van and the perks that came from sales commission. Now 75, my cousin considers Pa JC as the light that led him out of self-immolation. 

In retrospect, it is not surprising that Pa JC’s eldest child, Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba became a vice chancellor and his second son, Hon. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, PH.D served as minister of state for education before resigning to vie for the presidential ticket of the All Progressive Congress party (APC) for the February election in Nigeria.

Pa JC was a great man. A pathfinder of incomparable value to the Umuezeala Nsu community. His story epitomises Henry Longfellow’s time-honoured words that the heights reached by great men were not attained by sudden flight but by toiling, burning the midnight oil. In a small handbook titled “Biography of Chief Sir J.C. Nwajiuba”, the authors, Chioma and Anulika Nwajiuba (both his granddaughters), give us a rich insight into the life journey of their grandfather. 

Through his granddaughters, we learn of how Pa JC endured difficult years in school in Onitsha where he shared a room with three other students, how upon leaving school the quest for employment saw him traversing the creeks of the Niger Delta and above all, how his modest height was used as an alibi to deny him a teaching job in parts of what today is known as Imo State. This is how Chioma and Anulika captured it in the brief biography: “All efforts made failed, and the ready answer given was that he was too small, and his hand could not reach the black board…” It is one of those ironies of life that Pa J.C. whose height purportedly disqualified him from handling a teaching job ended up producing children who literally broke education’s glass ceiling. He couldn’t have been happier in his life time.

To the glory of God, once he got the opportunity to prove his worth, the young JC rose meteorically in a career that saw him work in Shell as a labourer, office boy and administrator. His Shell odyssey was an epitome of patience, humility, and sheer courage. His survival instinct pushed him to great levels of dedication and sacrifice that commend his story to the younger generation. 

Again, we turn to Chioma and Anulika to guide us as they quote their grandfather: “At one of the base camps, the typist had to visit his home town in Owerri…I was asked to take some documents to the administration section. That draft document was to be sent to Owerri but it had to be typed. I casually asked if I could help, and the Chief Clerk asked if I could type and asked me to try. As I was typing, the party leader (not political party!) came into the office and saw me typing. He told the Chief Clerk that the chap who went to Owerri should not return, and I should transfer to the Administration Department. That was how I became an administrator”. As they say, the rest is history. 

Beside Shell, upon his return in 1974, from the United Kingdom where he had gone to study, Pa JC worked with the Federal Ministry of Finance, Lagos for three months before joining the company of J. Allen & Co Ltd, a division of John Holt Nigeria Ltd., where he worked for nine years. He was also at Steyr Nigeria Ltd for three years. From 1985, he went into private business and consulting.

Pa JC qualified as a chartered secretary and administrator after obtaining the HND in Business Studies (Administration) from the Teesside Polytechnic, London and Diploma in Management Studies from the Kingston Polytechnic, Surrey, England. During his sojourn in England, he worked with the firm of Flexible Metallic Tubing Company in Haringey, London while his wife, Happiness Nwanyiegwu (Nee Iwueke) whom he lost in 1994, was undergoing training as a computer operator and part-time hair dresser.   

In retirement, Pa JC who held the traditional titles of Eziokwu bu Ndu of Nsu 1 (same as of Umuezeala Nsu) devoted his time to mentoring of young people, community development and church work and particularly, stabilising the Nsu Community Bank (now Nsu Microfinance Bank) that continues to serve as a reliable financial services outlet to the community and provider of employment opportunities.

Writing in his verified Twitter handle, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the February 25 presidential election, Mr. Peter Obi, captured the event and late Pa J.C. thus:  “Yesterday, I joined Prof. Chinedu Nwajiuba, Former V.C. of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, and Hon Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, former Minister of State for Education, and the entire Nwajiuba family at the burial ceremony of their father, Sir Jonah Chukwudoro Nwajiuba, at Umuezeala Nsu, in Ehime Mbano, Imo State.

“Late Sir J.C. Nwajiuba, despite having a successful career, was a remarkable leader in his community and contributed immeasurably to the growth and development of his community.

“He was a devout Christian who lived for peace and love for all and impacted the same values in his children…” 

The father of six children – Chinedum, Chinwe, Chukwuemeka, Chigozie, Kelechi and Chidinma, Pa Jonah Chukwudoro Nwajiuba will be remembered as a consummate administrator, indefatigable community leader, trailblazer and uncommon mentor, who bequeathed to Nigeria and the world great children, among whom are Chinedum and Chukwuemeka whose contributions to education and people empowerment in Umuezeala Nsu and beyond amply demonstrate that the late nonagenarian lived out his dream. I am proud to have known him and benefitted from his legacy of compassion and goodwill, indelible footprints that he has left on the sands of time. 

•Agu, a veteran journalist and CEO of Gavinta & Associate Ltd, is a native of Umuezeala Nsu in the Ehime Mbano LGA of Imo State.

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