Sometime in 2018, I visited Dara Akunwafor in Ukpor. I noticed he had a guest of about three gentlemen who came all the way from Ibadan to convey a message of invitation for Dara Akunwafor to serve as a Keynote Speaker at an event scheduled to hold in honour of Late Chief Adegoke Adelabu of the “penkelemesi” fame.
Hon. Chief Mbazulike Amechi (Dara Akunwafor) was a man of many parts, a man of many constituencies, a man for all season and many things rolled into one. I am not here to praise or eulogize him. I cannot think of doing so because I belong to a school of thought that believes that people should be celebrated while on earth and not when they are dead, far gone, cannot hear the praises, appreciate or respond to accolades. Most times, when people die, those who did practically nothing even mere visit for the dead while alive will flood the oration gravesheets with well written tributes. It is vanity for people within this category to embark on such eulogy or adulation about the dead; a mere waste of time and exercise in futility.
Dara Akunwafor also fondly called the boy is good, it is on your eternal record and that of mine that I have told you all you need to hear. I have showered you with all the praises, honour, respect, encomium and ovation you deserved while on earth. We laughed, smiled, worried, discussed and provided solutions together on many occasions. Therefore, I will only use this opportunity to relish your memories, the reminiscence of a great life well lived.
My first encounter with the boy is good happened in the year 2008. I visited his Maryland Lodge home in Ukpor to present a copy of the biography of Chief Jerome Oputa Udoji, CFR,CMG. Not minding the fact that I was a young author/biographer and was even an undergraduate, he welcomed me so warmly, encouraged me and asked me to keep in touch with him. Since then, I have made uncountable visits to Maryland lodge to see Dara Akunwafor.
What struck me the first time I visited Dara Akunnwafor was his humility, his candour, his simplicity, his eagerness to help, his welcoming spirit, his retentive memory, his deep grasp of historic events, his style of storytelling, his love for education, his deep love for his family, his outspoken love for Igbo culture, his ever willing nature to defend ndi Igbo, and his love for his hometown Ukpor. On entering his Maryland lodge, you will be greeted with a giant life size statue of Jesus Christ boldly written, “Jesus the Saviour”. Next to the statue is a well raised and covered structure housing the Ofo with the inscription, “Symbol of authourity”. The fact that he attends Church did not remove him from cherishing the belief of his forebears.
Sometime in the year 2011, Dara Akunwafor called me to congratulate me for a successful graduation from the University. He invited me to come to Ukpor and see him. I visited him and we discussed about the need to get his book, “Nigeria: the two political amalgams” revised up to the current time. The book was published in 1995. This means I have to work as his Research Assistant and my remit included researching and writing the revised part of the book, that is, from 1996 to 2014. The target was to formally launch the book in 2014 or 2015. With all equanimity, I accepted the role pro bono. I did my part, followed the event and submitted the manuscript in the middle of 2014.
On one of my visit to discuss matters with Dara Akunwafor, it happened that my visit coincided with the period the former President of South Africa, Nelson Rolinhlahla Mandela died. Late Mr. Emma Okocha, a veteran writer, author of the “Blood on the Niger” later joined us from Asaba. After our discussions on various aspects of life and while he needs to be in South Africa for the funeral of the departed sage, Dara Akunwafor gave me a photocopy of the letter Mandela wrote to him from prison. I went home so happy and carefully kept the photocopied historic letter in my archive.
Whilst I was writing the first-ever Who is Who in Anambra State, I consulted Dara Akunwafor and he gave me his fatherly blessing. He did not stop at blessing; he wrote the Foreword to the first edition of the Who is Who in Anambra State together with Dr. Alex I. Ekwueme GCON(former Vice President of Nigeria), Dr. Dozie Ikedife OON(former President-General Ohaneze Ndigbo), and Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife CON (first civilian Executive Governor of Anambra State). When the formal book presentation/launching was in the offing and was to hold in June 22, 2013, we sent out letters to many notable Anambra greats. One of such was Chief Vincent Obianodo the Chairman of Young Shall Grow Group. To verify the authenticity of our letter, Chief Obianodo called Dara Akunwafor who told him that he is fully involved in the book project. Dara Akunwafor’s response boosted our event financially. The power of the words and endorsement of Dara Akunwafor was made manifest at the event. To add icing to the cake, Dara Akunwafor graced the event with his presence. I recall vividly how many people rushed to take photographs with him.
Sometime in 2018, I visited Dara Akunwafor in Ukpor. I noticed he had a guest of about three gentlemen who came all the way from Ibadan to convey a message of invitation for Dara Akunwafor to serve as a Keynote Speaker at an event scheduled to hold in honour of Late Chief Adegoke Adelabu of the “penkelemesi” fame. To be precise, it was Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR (former President of Nigeria) who instructed them to personally pay Dara Akunwafor a visit and seek his approval to serve as the Keynote Speaker. The three gentlemen told Dara Akunwafor and I that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo extolled his sharp retentive memory about events and history, then called on them that if they needed someone who will deliver an elaborate keynote speech on Chief Adegoke Adelabu, that such person is Chief Mbazulike Amechi.
Part of my remarkable experience of that day was the fact that I saw one Igbo cow in his compound. Surprisingly, that efi igbo has a name, “Oguejiofor”, given to him by Dara Akunwafor. I enquired to know more about this cow called “Oguejiofor” and Dara Akunwafor in his unique style of storytelling narrated amongst other things that Oguejiofor hears his voice, alerts him when people are coming, wades off aliens coming into his house, trained to eat both local and foreign food, to mention but a few. To buttress his story, Dara Akunwafor called his Personal Assistant to bring bread for him. He took the bread and called Oguejiofor. Immediately Oguejiofor heard Dara Akunwafor’s voice, the efi Igbo ran towards him. Dara Akunwafor threw some slice at Oguejiofor and the cow ate all, demanded for me, Dara Akunwafor gave Oguejiofor more until the bread finished. Yet, Oguejiofor demanded for more through his noise and body gesticulation. Dara Akunwafor then called Oguejiofor by name, informed the cow that the bread has finished, asked the cow to leave the area and stop making noise. Oguejiofor quietly left the area. Pronto!!!.
Interestingly, each visit or call to Dara Akunwafor was always refreshing and a moment to learn new things. I recall on one occasion, I had to call him on behalf of a group of patriotic ndi Igbo who were arguing in their forum whether the eating/rearing of pork meat started in recent times in Alaigbo. This was in the year 2020. I called him and he did not answer the first time. I returned the call and Dara Akunwafor in his unique humble way apologized telling me that he was driving to his office in Ukpor, very close to his house. I was surprised that at 91, Dara Akunwafor was still able to drive. Then on the question, he told me amongst other things all I need to know about pork meat in Ala Igbo and that he built the Niger Pork Company in Ukpor in 1963. I thanked him for his elaborate answers and reverted to the group that requested I place the call.
Last year 2022 during his usual birthday in June 16, I called to felicitate with him, someone picked up the call and informed me that a birthday holy mass was being celebrated in his honour. I later called again and he answered the call. We spoke at length. I made other calls to him in the following months. On the 1st of November, 2022, the day the Catholic Church celebrates the solemnity of All Saints( all Hallows), Dara Akunwafor left this earthly body, left the people of God on mission and joined the Church triumphant in heaven. Our loss is the gain of heaven. You fought the good fight and ran the good race. You shall be crowned with your well deserved Corona iustitia( the crown of justice, the crown of glory) reward. Dara Akunwafor, you are out of the world but safe in God’s hands.
Unfortunately, it is sad to note that Dara Akunwafor was not honoured with a national honour while on earth. This is a sad commentary. This simply portrays the kind of country and leaders we have churned out over the years. In the same country Nigeria, persons of alleged illicit wealth, questionable characters, and corrupt leaders are honoured almost every year with earth shaking national honours, honorary doctorate degrees, chieftaincy titles and awards.
That notwithstanding, let me use this medium to call on Nnewi South Local Government Chairman, Anambra State Governor and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to consider naming any road, institution, or building in honour of Hon. Chief Mbazulike Amechi. I propose that the new Anambra International Passenger and Cargo Airport be named Mbazulike Amechi International Passenger and Cargo Airport. As a foremost nationalist and Honourable Minister of Aviation in the first Republic, Dara Akunwafor deserves such befitting honour. May the soul of Hon. Chief Mbazulike Amechi(Dara Akunwafor, the Boy is Good) continue to rest in peace. His final remains will be interred on February 16, 2023. May God continue to lead the way.
HENRY ONYEDIKA ADIBE