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Umueri marks Owelle Obigwe’s exit in grandeur

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IT IS said that some people are born great, but some have greatness thrust upon them while some others achieve or attain greatness through dint of hard work, dogged self-efforts and determination backed with burning zeal, perseverance and superlative faith to overcome all odds.

  Ichie Francis Anakputali Obigwe, the demised Owelle of Umueri (1934 – 2021), perfectly fitted into the third category of great heroes of this generation, judging from all perspectives. Owelle was born without any golden, silver, bronze or even wooden spoon, but he laboriously emerged as a great giant and man of fame, who bestrode the plant like a colossus and positively impacted the lives of innumerable number of people who were fortunate to pass under his tutelage (as school children).

  Owelle Obigwe was indeed a towering Iroko tree and a builder of the modern society as one of the pioneer indigenous teachers throughout the entire Omambala Clan in those years of yore! Most of his products today occupy highly esteemed and prominent positions in various fields of human endeavor” including his own off-springs, among whom is the incumbent Accountant-General of Anambra State, Hon. Hilary Onochie Obigwe FCNA, together with his siblings presently making waves in their chosen careers, home and abroad.

  Pa Obigwe, in fact, ignited many lights and raging flames in the academic spheres, and engraved his bold footprints on the sands of history, particularly in the massive infrastructural and human capital development of the Igbo race, as could be easily attested by the people of his Umueri  in Anambra East LGA, Umudora Anam (Anambra West LGA), Nando (Anambra East LGA), Omor (Ayamelum LGA), as well as Nteje and Nkwelle-Ezunaka (both in Oyi LGA), where he had plied his teaching profession.

  Alas! The mighty Iroko tree suddenly fell on 18th July, 2021, as Owelle was sadly snatched away by the invisible cold hands of death after 87 years of action-packed, eventful and hugely resourceful earthly sojourn. Akin to his towering image and fame, all roads led to UmuatuoluIvite, Umueri, on 15th October, 2021, as who-is-who from divergent backgrounds within and outside Anambra State and the country, converged in their numbers to pay last respect to a great hero, counselor, mentor and astute community leader highly respected and loved by all. The befitting funeral ceremony turned into a cultural carnival as different types of masquerades and traditional dance troupes were on parade with lavish feasting and entertainment for the surging galaxy of guests and sympathisers – what a way to bid farewell to a great man of his people.

  Born to the family of Obigwe Anakwe of Iruagu kindred, UmuatuoluIvite, Umueri, Anambra East LGA, Owelle Obigwe was the only surviving child of Obigwe Anakwe, who was a descendant of Atiwu. His father died when he was an infant which created serious challenges that prompted his two uncles, Udoo and Lawrence Anakwe, together with Auntie Nwaosi (Nee Anakwe) to take over his upbringing to ensure that the very brilliant young Frank continued his education.

  Initially, he attended St. Paul’s Catholic Primary School, located at Mkpu Akwuobi Nwakwudo, in 1942, but later moved to live with the family of his mother (Ikwunne), where Chief Cletus Asike of Aguleri enrolled him at St. Joseph Catholic Primary School, Aguleri, sited at Ugwu Nduka, to continue his educational pursuit (Chief Asike’s mother is Obigwe’s relative). In 1949, he was among five bright pupils to obtain a certificate with distinction level in Catholic doctrine and thus, qualified for teaching appointment. He was officially engaged and posted to St. Mark’s Catholic Primary School, Nneni, in 1950.

  Combining his studies with teaching, he served (then) Fr. Cyprian Iwene Tansi (now Blessed Cyprian Iwene Tansi) dedicatedly, and on the latter’s departure to Europe, young Owelle was handed over to Fr. Bouric, who helped to organise a meeting with the Irunano Age Grade on how to manage St. Paul’s Catholic School at Mkpu Akwuobi which was almost on the brink of extinction. They resolved to relocate the school to a central place easily accessible for Ivite Umueri, and Ogbu Village was chosen to host the current St. Kelvin’s Catholic School under his masterful guidance.

  Desirous to garner more golden fleece, Owelle gained admission to the Teachers Training School, Ihiala, where he rounded off his studies in 1954, and he was posted to Sacred Heart Catholic School, Nteje, but Fr. Thomas Sweemey, then the Parish Priest in the zone, wanted him transferred back to Umueri but met with some objections. Owelle was eventually posted to St. Mark’s Catholic School, in l955.

The same year, he initiated moves for the establishment of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Station. As the only indigenous teacher in Aguleri Zone, he mobilised the support of other Catholic faithful of Umueri origin to pull forces together in pursuit of the initiative. Owelle Obigwe really blazed the trail in sustained efforts toward the educational, medical and infrastructural development of Umueri town.

  When his sick mother was on admission for three months in a hospital at Adazi Nnukwu, in February 1961, Owelle seized the opportunity to discuss with the European medical officer in charge on the possibility of establishing such hospital in Umueri. Three days later, the medical officer invited him and both of them traveled to Enugu to obtain an application form for permission to open a Catholic Cottage Hospital at Umueri.

He filled and submitted the form and within three months, an approval arrived for the establishment of the hospital. Armed with the approval document, Owelle immediately mobilised some prominent Umueri people, including Messrs V.M. Nwosu, Stephen Anakwe and three others, who accompanied him to Port-Harcourt to meet with Igwe N.U. Okoye (Okebo I Umueri), who provided financial boost to the project.

  Subsequently, a general meeting of Umueri Youths Association (UYA) was convened and unanimously endorsed the proposal, followed by selection of the site, while contact was made with St. Charles Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha, which swiftly replied positively that the hospital should be under the management of Bishop Charles Heerey. UYA went ahead to raise funds for the project.

All these feats were possible because the Minister of Health, Dr. E.P. Okoya, was a school mate of Owelle Obigwe. The status of the Umueri Cottage Hospital later upgraded to General Hospital, Umueri, after the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War and Owelle Obigwe handed over the approval letter and other relevant documents to the Umueri General Assembly (UGA).

   Owelle was under pressure to marry as the only surviving child of his parents and consequently engaged his heartthrob, pretty Lolo Pauline Onuegbuna Obigwe, in 1963. The same year, he became the first Chairman of   Okanna Age Grade, Umueri, to maintain his exemplary record of scoring first.

He was the first Umuerian to sexure admission into St. Charles Teachers Training School, Onitsha, in 1957; first Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) at Omor, in 1972 – 1974; first leader of Umueri Teachers and Students Union, in 1958, and crowned with the conferment of the chieftaincy title by Igwe N.U. Okoye as the Owelle Umueri, in 1976, as mark of appreciation of his yeomanship in the emancipation of the people and his leadership roles in the revival of the Eze or Chieftaincy throne in Umueri

  Owelle was at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in 1977, where he obtained an Associateship Certificate in Education (ACE) before his promotion to Senior Supervisor of Schools and posted to Oyi LGA Education Council, in September 1983. He retired from active service on the same rank in July 1984, but was called back to continue as it was believed that he was wrongly retired based on years of service, but he turned down the offer believing that it was God’s will for him to quit at that point.

  Bubbling with life and strength on retirement, he joined the Tabansi Group of Companies, Onitsha, as the Estate Manager due to his intimacy with the people of ancient Nri Kingdom, particularly Orimili R.N. Tabansi, an appointment he efficiently handled for six years before returning home to join his kith and kin at Umueri to continue his catalytic services, like his memorable journey from Umueri to Enugu two times in one day in pursuit of government’s approval for the inception of Community Secondary School, Umueri, which was officially commissioned in 1987.

  As a man of the people, he ventured into partisan politics as a strong member of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and eventually got appointed as a member/commissioner in the Civil Service Commission, in September 1993, under the administration of ex-Governor Chukwuemeka Ezeife, but the democratic government was short-lived and was overthrown by Buhari’s defunct military junta, on 31st December, 1983.

His Excellency, Governor Willie Maduabuchi Obiano (Akpokuedike Global) in a condolence message to the bereaved Obigwe family, on behalf of his family, government and people of Anambra State, commiserated with them to bear the painful loss with God’s manifest grace, describing late Pa Obigwe as “a famous educationalist,” who had served the state “in moulding future leaders from a classroom teacher, headmaster and retired as supervisor of schools, known as a community leader and peace loving man,” just as he prayed God to admit his gentle soul in Paradise.

  Hon. Justice Chukwudi C. Okaa, the first son-in-law of Owelle Obigwe, described him as one who “loved, cared and bore no grudge, counted no wrong,” adding, “I have known Christians who were not gentlemen or gentlemen who were not Christians but my great in-law was a committed Christian and gentleman…. Though he has passed on, he will always live eternally within all of us as we will always remember him for his kind and gentle nature, and for the values he passed on to us. The examples he set, the guidance he gave and the trees he watered will always be indelible marks in the lives of all of us.”

  Owelle Obigwe was survived by his wife, Iyom Pauline Onuegbuna Obigwe, seven children, 28 grandchildren and four great grand-children, among whom are Mrs.Ogochukwu Cecilia Okaa (Nee Obigwe), Hon. Hilary Onochie Obigwe FCNA, the incumbent Accountant-General of Anambra State, Mr. Chukwujekwu Cosmas Obigwe, Mr. Innocent Obigwe, as well as Mrs Ifediora Ukamaka (Nee Obigwe), Engr. Francis Chinedu Obigwe, Mr. Jude Chibuzor Obigwe, Elder Alex Ifediora (son-in-law) Mrs. Rita Ugo Obigwe, Mrs Amaka Obigwe and Mrs. Ebele Obigwe (daughters-in-law), Barristers Jenifer Ugonnia Okaa and Chukwujekwu Okaa, among other relations.

 Adieu Owelle, great man of fame!

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