Today, Thursday November 25, 2021, our friend from childhood, Dr Chike John Akunyili, KSJI, KSS, Agbalanze Agulu, is being laid to rest in his hometown.
Writing these words represents a most unpleasant experience for me, like sand in the mouth, especially since I am unable to deliver them in person at Agulu. I would have wanted the opportunity to hold the hands of his beloved children, our children and console them now as they are left to mourn his most painful loss and commit his remains to Mother Earth.
Recalling our literary exertions dating back 55 years ago, it has been echoes of Thomas Hardy’s The Choir Master’s Burial with a strange reversal of some roles.
Like others in our merry gang, we had provided close marking to one another as we arrived at and proceeded from the various important milestones in our lives, careers, marriages, births of the children, their departure to faraway high schools and the other major developments in their lives.
Chike’s choice of the medical profession had made it possible for him to impact the lives of many at the lowest level of their vulnerability, their health. His popular hospital, St Leo, occupied the same geographical locale of Trans-Ekulu in Enugu, as the aptly named Nkasi Obi Ndi No N’Afufu Catholic Hospitals. A whole lot of synergy there!
This has been the subject of a long stream of testimonies coming from individuals, civic and religious groups, our College of Immaculate Conception, popularly known as and called CIC, Enugu Alumni Association, Catholic Bishops, countless priests, nuns and others. Not to be left out is the faculty of our next-door neighbor, the Bigard Memorial Seminary.
At the College of the Immaculate Conception, where Chike remained the President Emeritus of the Enugu branch of the Old Boys’ Association, his catalysing influence had led to phenomenal levels of infrastructural development at our dear alma mater to the envy of all and the admiration of the Enugu State Government and beyond. This is a clear illustration of what good leadership can engender. Lagos, Abuja, Atlanta, New York and others came marching happily home, cheque book in hand. The rest, as they say, is history. The result of these efforts is still unfolding at the campus even as we speak.
An Ogui Enugu boy, I arrived at the CIC Enugu in January 1962. Chike himself who had grown up in Ogbete, a.k.a. Coal Camp, was one of the other 71 in my class of two streams. We can boast that there has never been such a collaborative bunch in the history of the school. This ultimately led to a phenomenal performance in the 1966 West African School Certificate Examinations with a 100% pass from the 60 candidates presented. Chike was in Class 5A of which everyone had secured the much-coveted Grade 1. I chose to recall this early aspect of Chike’s academic exploits because I know for a fact that he relentlessly repeated the same to his children as they embarked on their own quests. And as we can all testify, it worked. The laurels and accolades which they have individually garnered in abundance speak for themselves. On that score, Chike has clearly fought the good fight and in Nigerian parlance has delivered.
As we pursued our individual endeavours, our paths were intricately intertwined, relentlessly seeking the common good. One thing I can vouch for was Chike’s ability to unwind and as our people say, “enjoy life!” Any time that I found myself in Enugu since relocating to Lagos, I was sure to have a ball in his company. He would selfishly seize me for himself to truly spoil me with hospitality. Understandably, our CIC Enugu family revolved around his open and welcoming attitude and guidance. His demise has therefore been a monumental and disarming loss to us all. All the many Principals of the school over the past five decades will attest to that.
It is our hope and prayer that all who are gathered here today will strive to separate the earlier depressing shroud of politics and insecurity in our land from the proud legacy of the man we are laying to rest today. As painful as his death was, Chike would then not have died in vain if we move forward with the sacred duty of securing the future for our grandchildren. We must not use his passing to disseminate disinformation and foment disunity at this time that Ndigbo are beset with self-doubt and so many existential threats.
We commend the soul of Chike Akunyili into the merciful bosom of God. May He compassionately grant strength and fortitude to the entire Akunyili Family, kindred, in-laws, co-in-laws and friends who are dealing with the sadness of this loss.
May Chike’s soul rest in perfect peace. Amen!
Azih, a materials and system engineer, is resident in the United States.
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