A Journey Through a Jungle


When the Nigeria-Biafra war broke out, he was barely able to walk a short distance. So, as families were relocating to towns as far as 70km away, he trekked for only a few minutes before a relation carried him on the shoulder or at the back. Terrorists dressed in Nigerian army uniforms had invaded Biafran villages, killing and maiming innocent people. In the face of that existential threat, people ran helter-skelter.

He and his age mates constituted a problem for their fleeing relations. A number of children, especially those who cried uncontrollably, were abandoned in bushes. Hunger and malnutrition killed many. Kwashiorkor afflicted several children of Biafra until the International Red Cross was able to intervene with powdered milk, stockfish and essential vitamins.

The war survivor whose story is being told here is Dr Joseph Uchenna Ogbuanya, who was born in an African jungle where life is a struggle from birth to death.

He had to fight other wars at the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1970. In fact, he started fighting from the womb, before the war. His mother Nkwo Nwani had a prolonged labour — it lasted four days — and was faced with having a stillbirth or dying with her unborn child. At last, fate smiled on the baby and its parents: he was born healthy on January 24, 1962.

Named Uchenna at birth and later baptised Joseph, the son of Ugwuja Ogbuanya and Nkwo Nwani was not allowed to enjoy life even as a baby. For, not long after he was born, Nigeria’s descent into the abyss gathered speed. A rigged election, a coup, a countercoup, a pogrom and a civil war welcomed Uche to the jungle.

Things got worse after the war. Luckily for him, he was still a child and was unaware of what his parents were going through at the time. It was a pleasure trekking the 9km distance from his village to St. Theresa’s Catholic Parish in Nsukka for his catechism in 1973. He and his friends trekked to, and returned from, Nsukka on the same day. On most days, each carried a bundle of firewood for sale in the “township” before going for the catechism. Uche passed and was able to receive his first communion in 1974. His confirmation followed shortly after.

Needless to say, he was a true Christian — a Catholic — from childhood. Even as an adolescent or a young adult, he lived a worthy Christian life, eschewing all vices including disrespect, disobedience, quarrels and fighting. He was ever humble, and his relationship with female friends was platonic.

Uche’s journey in the jungle continued after he left high school. It was a year after the “Austerity measures” of the Shagari government, and unemployment was rearing its ugly head. Life was getting harder, so much so that the price of a tin of milk jumped from 10 kobo to 30 kobo! The “Structural Adjustment Programme” was introduced in 1986 and the malaise got worse. By 1987, a dollar exchanged for as much as N10! Uche was lucky to survive the tribulations.

His last fight — with high blood sugar and high blood pressure — was the only fight he lost on February 21, 2024. A lot happened between 1971 when he started school and 2024, as shown above. Perhaps it was his good conduct and closeness to God that enabled him to endure the hard times in the jungle. He hardly missed the Sunday Mass and constantly received the Holy Communion. He prayed quietly and regularly until sickness halted him.

His latest title (“Dr”) came after he obtained a PhD in Political Science from the Enugu State University of Technology, ESUT, in 2021. That doctorate degree was the reason he never lobbied to be made principal of a school, although he had been on grade level 16 since 2016. He lectured at the Nsukka campus of ESUT while he researched for his PhD thesis.

Almost a decade earlier, he had completed his master’s (M.Sc, Political Science) at UNN. His pay as an employee of the state government was not significant, so he persevered to obtain a doctorate degree, if to crown his efforts in the academia with success.

Dr Ogbuanya’s love for education was natural. He attended at least three primary schools, three secondary schools, and three tertiary schools. In 1975, after primary 4 at Central School, Lejja, he followed his older cousin, Cletus, a policeman, to Port Harcourt where he completed his primary education and entered secondary school in 1977. After completing class 1, however, he returned home to join the pioneer students of Boys’ Secondary School (its premises now occupied by FGGC), Lejja, in class 2.

Early on in his educational career, Dr Ogbuanya was a B student. But, at each level, he worked his way up to become an A student. A trail of his career provides the proof: In primary school at Lejja, he wasn’t considered a high flier, but when he moved to Port Harcourt he took the first position in almost all his classes. He didn’t make A’s in all eight subjects in the WASC of 1982, though he received enough credit passes to qualify him for university admission. But, instead, he sought a career in education by attending a teacher training college and, thereafter, a college of education. After obtaining his NCE, he went straight to the University of Nigeria where he bagged a B.Sc. in Political Science. Just two years later, he enrolled for a master’s programme.

Disruption of the academic calendar by ASUU strikes, a crumbling national economy, school work and family responsibilities weighed heavily on him while he was pursuing the PhD. As a result, his fees piled up — he was only able to pay the backlog in the year he defended his thesis. He must have planned to seek a full-time lecturer job after his retirement.

His marriage to Esther in 2001 was the tonic he needed to continue fishing for academic laurels. For him, both the home front and the academic front must be fortified. And the plan worked. His wife soon bagged a master’s in education, and he encouraged her to seek a PhD as well. In no time, he found advertised vacancies leading to the employment of Esther as a lecturer at the Federal College of Education, Eha Amufu. She, too, bagged a PhD soon after.

Dr Ogbuanya and Dr Mrs Ogbuanya strived to make their marriage a happy one. The family also thrived, as God blessed them with four children. Ezinne, their first daughter, is currently a student at UNN. Joe owed his survival up to this year to his wife’s care both at home and in the hospital.

His health deteriorated from September 2023, and, despite all precautionary measures to ward off a stroke, it struck him on December 27. He never really recovered from it.

Dr Ogbuanya leaves behind several good friends. He was the last child of his parents but became the first to join the saints at a relatively old age. Both of his parents had lived to their late 80s and 90s. He leaves behind sisters, brothers, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces and in-laws. He leaves behind the dreams of a better life for the children born of two literary doctors. In his last days, he apparently felt sad that the opportunities he had worked hard to create were slipping through his fingers. It was the likely reason he cried often when friends came to wish him quick recovery from the stroke.

The worries of the past few decades have ended. Dr Joseph Uchenna Ogbuanya no longer worries about the state of the jungle called Nigeria. Now in the Lord’s bosom, he won’t worry anymore.

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