By ANIEBO NWAMU
Your health condition in the last few years got us worried. But when I visited you last, I was not alarmed because I saw a truly satisfied man who had lived life to the fullest. I knew it was old age alone that was denying you an active life. Every soul shall taste physical death, but legends like you belong to the ages.
Before you knew me, I knew you. “Opata” was already a household name by February 1977 when we moved into the same compound you lived in. At the time, you were serving as the chairman of Nsukka local government after winning a hard-fought election the previous year.
Everyone who has lived in Nsukka since 1976 knows you’re the first and the best chairman of the local government so far. The schools you founded, the roads you built, the health centres and lots more development projects – all of them stand today as monuments to a productive regime.
When political activities preceding the Second Republic dawned, you threw your hat into the ring and was, in 1979, elected member of the old Anambra State House of Assembly under the platform of the NPN, a minority party in our state. In the subsequent election cycle, you ran for Senate still under the NPN. On the campaign train of 1983, I sometimes worked as your bodyguard as we toured the length and breadth of what was Nsukka senatorial zone at the time. The election fraud of 1983 had no parallel — and they said you lost.
You didn’t lose anything eventually, for you served as education commissioner in Governor C. C. Onoh’s government. After a nine-year interregnum of military rule, another governor, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, found you worthy to serve as education commissioner once more.
All through your long and eventful days, the welfare of your people was uppermost on your mind. Each of us, while growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, received one form of mentorship or the other, including career guidance, from you. You taught us the importance of hard work. You taught us how to play politics without bitterness. Above all, you taught us how to vote.
As a politician, you were never corrupt – you were an oasis in a desert of filth. As a leader, you were selfless. You loved all Nsukka equally – you did nothing to favour Lejja or Lejja people alone. Indeed, it was in 1982, while you were in the House of Assembly, that the Adada state movement was birthed. Eventually, you had to fight alongside other contemporaries to ensure the creation of a state for the Wawa people, which became Enugu State in 1991. And when the brass hats wanted to create more LGAs in the country, you fought tooth and nail for more LGAs to be created out of an extra-large Nsukka. It pained you that the jackboots failed to create even one more LGA out of Nsukka in 1996.
Rather than nurse the injury inflicted on our people by that military regime, some chose to transfer their aggression to a co-victim rather than an oppressor bent on marginalizing all Igbo land. When I returned from Lagos, you explained your role; and I was convinced you did nothing wrong. An editor on the staff of a national newspaper at the time, I knew the military refused to split Nsukka, not because they forewarned against a “minority” report but because they found an excuse for marginalizing an Igbo area. I was aware of several LGAs created in places people had multiple disagreements and submitted “minority reports” to the military panel. Did a minority report also prevent the military goons from creating an additional state for the South-East? A fighter for Nsukka couldn’t have sabotaged Nsukka’s interest.
Goodbye, man of the people. Rest in peace, selfless leader of men, leader of institutions, and leader of Nsukka. So long, great Igbo and Nigerian leader. We’re glad you came our way.
Photo: CHIEF HON. CLETUS U. OPATA (1926–2021)