By Pius Ujubuonu, Ichie Ozodinobi.
”EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON UPBRINGING”
The above anonymous quotation can be taken as a mat where the life of late Barrister Arthur Ezeakonobi Nicholas Duke Okechukwu was raised.
His father, Chief Mark Obidike Okechukwu [Ezeana Ogidi], of blessed memory, a brilliant, successful businessman, was the first Mayor of Port Harcourt. He was equally the first person to build an upstair in Ukpor and the first man that owned a car in the entire Ukpor – headquarters of Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State ofNigeria.
With the abovebackground, you can predict what a child brought up under an convivial environment could become. Young Arthur was born on July 21, 1927 in Lafia, Nasarawa State, to the family of late Chief Obidike Okechukwu and late Lolo Grace Agwagha Okechukwu of the Umuezema of Ehim royal family of Ukpor.
Arthur was the third child and second son of a family of ten. His father was a very successful businessman who earned his respect through dint of hardwork, trust and foresight. So his son, Arthur was born with a silver spoon.
Arthur attended St. Mary’s School, Port Harcourt between 1932-1942. Between 1943 and 1948, young Arthur was in Christ the King’s College [C. K. C.], Onitsha for his secondary school education. While waiting for his admission to further his education in the university, he was engaged into teaching as an auxiliary teacher in Etukokwu Commercial College, Onitsha; New Bethel College, Onitsha; Prince Institute, Onitsha and Priscilla Memorial Grammar School, Oguta – all between 1948 and 1953.
IN 1953, Arthur left the shores of Nigeria for the Republic 0f Ireland after securing admission into the famous University College, Dublin to study Commerce.
He graduated in September1956 with a B. Com. 2nd Class Hons. Later the year of 1956, he enrolled into the Faculty of Law and graduated in 1959 with a Bachelor of Civil Law [B. C. L.] degree First Class Honours.
He was enrolled in Kings Inns Dublin and was called to the in July 1959. Arthur came back to Nigeria in late November 1959. It was by sea. He then enrolled in the Supreme Court at Lagos as the first lawyer to be produced by Ukpor community of Anambra State. Unarguably, he remained till death, the only Ukpor born lawyer with first class in Law.
For 40 years, Arthur engaged himself into a working life. First, he joined a law firm – Messers Nonyelu and Nonyelu of G. C. Nonyelu B. L. at Port Harcourt between 1959-1961. He later joined the Federal Ministry of Finance as Asst. Legal Adviser cum Personal Assistant [P. A] to the then Minister of Finance, late Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh between 1961-1964.
He distinguished himsel by the famous budget speech he wrote which gave Chief Okotie-Eboh a momentus a standing ovation in the entire parliament.
In 1964, he became the first company secretary and administrative manager of Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Co. Ltd [NSPMC], Victoria Island, Lagos.
The coming of Civil War made him to leave the place. That was in 1966. He was a State Counsel in the Ministry of Justice during the Civil War. After the he was called back to NSPMC due to his positive contributions to the organisation. He turned down the request and chose to remain in the east.
He then joined the Aba Textile Mills as company secretary and administrative manager between 1971-1977. He was Senior State Counsel in the then East Central Ministry of Justice, Enugu from 1977-1979. He joined the then old Anambra State Judiciary as Chief Magistrate Grade 2. He was Company Secretary cum Admin Manager, the Industrial Center [I. M. T.] Enugu, 1977-1979. Attaining the position as Chief Magistrate Grade 1, he retired from civil service and set up his own law firm of Arthur Okechukwu & Co at 96 Awka Road, Onitsha and retired finally in June 30th, 2004. He also retired same day and year as the Chairman of Rent Tribunal, Onitsha.
Another solid foundation laid for Arthur by father was in the area of religion. His father was among those that brought the Catholic Church to Ukpor. The present places occupied by St. Peter Clovers Church and St. Paul’s Seminary, Ukpor were family lands his father gave to the Church.
In appreciation and as a gesture to the above, any offspring of the Okechukwu family that decides to attend the St. Paul’s Seminary, Ukpor shall do so tuition free. It was on this foundation that young Arthur built his faith in God. Thus he believed and practiced honesty, justice, and fair play. He never soiled his hands in the fetters of juju and witchraft. He was an ardent Catholic who never believed on retaliation or back bitting. If he had been taken to an integrity lab, he would test positive to piety and humility.
It was these rare virtues found in him that made the Catholic Church to initiate him into the dignified Knighthood of the Order of Saint Mulumba (K.S. M) in February, 1978.
Another area God manifested His love for Arthur was in marriage. In 1961, he met then Miss Beatrice Ukamaka Ezeike from Umudiji Ukpor. She was the only daughter of late Mr and Mrs Felix Ejike – a well known Catholic family that produced the first Catholic priest in Ukpor. I mean late Rev. Fr. Paulinus Ezike (Cssp).
Beatrice was filled with all the virtues of a good wife: love, beauty,humility, obedience, respect, diligence, intelligence, elegance, faith in God, piety, etc.
She took first position in the final mid-wifery examination in the whole of Nigeria and Cameron in 1960, and won the Maja Prize for her brilliance.
Six children: three boys and three girls, she guided and guarded her family with prayers, love, uprightness, righteousness and sowed the seed of morality into the children. She called her husband a pet name of Ako, and both raised the children up properly – making each attain a university education.
The real proof of a successful married man is found in his wife and children. Barrister Arthur was ahead of his mates when assessed through his wife and children. That was the legacy he inherited from the late father.
As a traditional man who believed so much in Igbo cultural values, Barr. Arthur initiated himself and his three sons into the prestigious Nze-na-Ozo Society of Ukpor hence he was given the rare title of Ezeana, which his late father bore while alive.
Despite this his rich pedigree and accomplishments in life, he still maintain a humble heart. He would mix up very easily and well with the rich and the poor in the society. He would attend village meetings with punctuality and regularity, and it surprised many how he could share palm wine with every Okeke.and Okafor. He became the community attorney and solicitor, and derived joy in handling cases of the community, the down-trodden free of charge. He kept himself away from amassing ill gotten wealth.
And during the Civil War, he made himself available to serve and save his community and the then Biafra. That nearly caused him his life.
As an instance, the late Pius Okigbo sent him on a chartered plane which was carrying only himself and crew members. While on his way back, the chartered plane entered into a ditch. He did not die but the memory still lived with ever.
The aircraft later landed at Republic of Benin for obvious various security reasons. It was from there that took the risk in finding his way back to Biafra.
Many interpreted his initials “AEND” to mean “Adorable, Enigma, Noble and Discipline/Dedicated.
Barrister Arthur Ezeakonobi Duke Okechukwu (KSM), Ichie Ezeana, was a rare personality. We therefore celebrate him as a worthy father, leader and pacesetter.