By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
Without him, I would not have attended the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), where I studied engineering. I would have stayed at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and graduated as an industrial chemist or a pharmacist.
Without FUTA, there probably would not have been Dr. Damages. I would have been at best a pharmacist, dispensing medications, or at worst a chemist mixing chemicals in a factory.
Without him, my whole story would be significantly different. But my story is what it is today because of his interventions.
My uncle, Prof. Joel Chinwuba Ike Odezue, taught Chemistry at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, for many years. Because of him, I chose FUTA as my second choice in JAMB. When I did not make the cut-off mark to study medicine at UNN, and I was settling to study Industrial Chemistry, he intervened and lured me to FUTA.
He later moved to the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, where he continued to teach Chemistry.
Always an advocate for tradition and culture, he became an Ichie, a member of the King’s cabinet in my hometown of Nnobi, in Idemili South Local Government Area.
As Ichie Ogbobelu, he championed the cause of restoring the ways of our forefathers for a generation that grew up in a world that denigrated everything African.
But before all those titles and accolades, he was just an uncle – the youngest of my father’s brothers. I grew up knowing him as “an academician.” He was a founding member of the suit-and-tie-wearing Nnobi Academic Congress.
All my formative years, he was associated with academics in one way or another. He attended several schools – from Nnobi Central School to Orukwu Grammar School, Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Yaba College of Technology, University of Ilorin, University of Ife, and Nnamdi Azikiwe University.
He was a consummate knowledge seeker, creator, and merchant. Not that there was any doubt, but his academic conquests sealed any chance I would pursue any other career line. After all, I am my grandfather – which makes me his father. And he knew what his father, the great Ezeobidi, vowed to do when he reincarnated.
I could see it in his interest in my academic pursuit. Like everybody else around me, he was aware of my unspoken but foretold mission in this life.
A few years ago, at the height of his inventive era, he handed me a chemical compound he had developed that would cure sickle cell anemia. He wanted me to take it to a laboratory in America for a clinical trial.
Please don’t ask me how it turned out.
The only time I ever slept in Onitsha was when I was a pageboy during his wedding. The wedding took place at the magnificent All Saints Cathedral, Onitsha. He was a secondary school teacher at Alor Boys but had to take his wedding to Onitsha. It was the first and last time I visited the great cathedral.
He was a high school student during the Nigerian Civil War. While his age mates were hiding to avoid conscription, he volunteered. He quickly rose to become a Captain in the Biafran army.
He never talked about his war experience. But some days, in his quiet moments, one could catch him humming the war songs of those days. Like other young men who participated in that war, he lived with untreated trauma.
His lost manuscript, Ihelemeonu, a biography of my grandmother, triggered my interest in the stories of my people. The moment I read the manuscript at his dormitory at the University of Ife, where he was pursuing his PhD, I was not the same again.
It sparked my interest in my home, history, and heritage. And it has not weaned. What I read made me ask numerous questions. And I am still asking questions to date. Though the handwritten manuscript, Ihelemeonu, was lost, and he could not rewrite it despite my pleading, its impact on me has endured.
And when my memoir, “Because I’m My Grandfather,” is finally published, the seed that his lost manuscript sowed in me would begin to bear fruits.
He was not just a terrific storyteller, he listened attentively to your story. Periodically, he would interject while you were telling him a story by saying, “Telling me? You don’t mean it.”
No other man in this whole wide world does that.
Prof. Joel Chinwuba Ike Odezue passed on a few weeks ago. His burial is on Thursday, January 4, 2024. He was 76 years old.
He was not just a gentleman. He was Gentleman.
May his soul rest in peace.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef” and “Children of a Retired God,” among others. His upcoming book is called “Why I’m Disappointed in Jesus.”