Opata Goes Home at 95

*Body to be buried Nov. 27 at Lejja

The remains of Second Republic politician Chief Hon. Cletus U. Opata will be buried at his hometown Lejja, Nsukka LGA of Enugu State, on November 27. He died at age 95, according to a statement jointly issued today by the family and a Local Organising Committee (LOC) constituted for the burial.

In the obituary announcement signed by the deceased’s son Obinna Johnpaul Opata and two others, the Opata family and the LOC enjoin well-wishers to join them in paying their last respects to the beloved icon.

Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (represented), Senator Chuka Utazi, House of Rep member Hon. Dr Pat Asadu, serving and former commissioners, traditional rulers, lawmakers and local government chairmen were on the committee for Opata’s burial.

Tributes of all shapes and sizes have been pouring in for the political colossus who was a key fighter for the creation of Enugu State 30 years ago. Political and community leaders speak of a dogged supporter of just causes including for a proposed Adada state. A mentor to many politicians in the Nsukka area of the state, Opata is variously described as selfless, iconic, humble, honest and peace-loving.

A graduate of History, Opata attended the University of Ibadan from 1963 to 1966; he had to complete the programme at the University of Nigeria in 1967 on account of the Nigerian civil war which he fought on the Biafran side.

He ventured into politics after he resigned as a school principal and was elected chairman of Nsukka Urban Divisional Council in 1974; and, following the Local Government Reform of 1976, Opata was elected first chairman of Nsukka LGA.

For the politics of the Second Republic, he was a founding member of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Although NPN was not popular in the then Anambra State, he was one of the few who won a House of Assembly seat in the South-East under the party’s platform in 1979. But the party’s name was to deny him victory in 1983 when he ran for Senate: he was very popular and yet lost narrowly to the NPP candidate, Engr. Isaiah Ani.

The NPN however won the controversial governorship election in Anambra State, and Chief C.C. Onoh appointed Opata commissioner of education. The military coup of December 31, 1983, truncated the Second Republic.

Nine years later, Opata became education commissioner again in the government of Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo in the ill-fated Third Republic; the Abacha coup of November 1993 ended the government once more. Like other politicians who served without blemish, Opata was at different times appointed member of the governing councils of the University of Nigeria and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, even as he continued to champion the causes of Nsukka people as leader of some pressure groups.

Opata is revered throughout the Nsukka cultural zone for his selflessness and hard work. He was not just the first chairman of Nsukka LGA but also the best so far. His administration (1977—1979) built the Government Technical College and Urban Girls’ Secondary School, Nsukka; it gave matching grants to 10 communities for the construction of other secondary schools as well as awarded over 60 scholarships to students. It attracted the Health Care Centre (now School of Public Health Technology, Nsukka), constructed Opi Health Centre, and expanded the Eha-Ndiagu and Ibagwa-Ani health centres. The Opata-led LG administration expanded and modernized the Ogige Market, and acquired Nsukka Timber Shed and Industrial Site. It also built several rural—urban road networks, and rehabilitated scores of primary schools.

As commissioner of education, Opata approved 62 secondary schools, including three science schools, in Enugu State.

The late politician was both a community leader and a church leader who was widely recognized as a peacemaker. Only on October 23, his beloved community honoured him and three other “iconic sons” by inducting them into the Lejja Hall of Fame. On the occasion, Lejja implored Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to immortalize Opata’s name by naming an institution after him.

The chairman of the LOC for Opata’s burial, Barrister Peter Okonkwo, said a state burial should be expected, as distinguished personalities from all walks of life would be guests on the occasion.

His body will lie in state at both the Enugu State House of Assembly and the Nsukka LG Headquarters or Adada House on Thursday, November 25. There will be a wake at his residence on Ogurugu Road, Nsukka, on Friday, November 26. A funeral Mass to be conducted by Bishop Prof. Godfrey Onah of Nsukka Catholic Diocese at Federal Government Girls’ College, Lejja, will precede the burial of his body at the family compound at Umuoda village in Lejja on Saturday, November 27. A reception will follow on the sports field of FGGC, Lejja.

The burial date was earlier planned for November 5 — billboards mounted in Enugu and Nsukka indicated so. It was however postponed to November 27 for security reasons, because the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) ordered a week-long “sit-at-home” in the South-East, starting from November 5, if its detained leader Nnamdi Kanu was not released before then.

Left to mourn Opata (who died on May 18, 2021) are his wife and six children, eight grandchildren, an elder sister, and several nephews and nieces.

– Reported by Aniebo Nwamu

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