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The road to Azumini

The day before the Easter – known as the Holy Saturday – and the Easter day itself have a reputation as days when people should not adventure very far afield. That is why not many people would casually fix a bustling event to which they expect many guests and hope that such an event would become a resounding success.

But that was the big gamble that the family of the late Sir Dick Emuchay of Azumini of the Ndoki kingdom of Ukwa East LGA in Abia State took this last Saturday. They also got away with what many people would have regarded as a costly gamble, not without many worthy reasons. Azumini is not on ‘the way’ to anywhere, so if you go to Azumini, you intended to ‘go there’; you didn’t just branch in from somewhere else.

The ancient trading outpost that was a beach head for the export of palm oil produce (and I heard it had played the same role earlier for slave trade alongside Opobo and Igwenga, now re-baptized Ikot Abasi) through its reputed and serene Blue River creek, is a community steeped in rich history, which would take many pages to tell, but this is hardly the time and place to do that now. Suffice it to say that I journeyed to Azumini last Saturday, like an incredible crowd who had thronged there from all the cardinal corners of the globe to perform a very significant, if simple rite of passage.

Azumini’s recent history, and in fact, that of the Ndoki kingdom or the Ukwa zone would be incomplete – and some would daresay, empty – if the name of late Sir (Dr) Dick Emuchay was not stamped at its centre. In fact, Alhaji Baba Dahiru, the representative of Governor Ibrahim Dankwanbo of Gombe State at the ceremony jokingly wondered why Azumini would not be renamed as ‘Emuchay Town’. But that represents how, even to outsiders, their experience with the community revolves around the present and past Emuchays.

Dick Emuchay was born in 1919 in Abak, in today’s Akwa Ibom State and attended the best institutions of those days – Government College, Umuahia; King’s College, Lagos and Higher College, Yaba before proceeding to University of St. Andrews Scotland and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He practised medicine briefly in the United Kingdom both as general practitioner and house surgeon before coming back to Nigeria to provide service to his own people.

Even though it was with his stint as an administrator that his later-day acquaintances were wont to associate him, Dr. Emuchay lived the best part of his life, and until his death in 1995, as a man dedicated to the rural areas, identifying with their daily lives and aspirations. If he had chosen on return from UK to operate from the cosiest offices in Lagos or Port Harcourt, he would have easily done so, but it was to the rural people that he always returned.

In that way did he become the senior house surgeon as well as the medical officer in charge of rural areas, Aba between 1955 and 1959. He was also the medical officer in charge of General Hospital Degema in today’s Rivers State between 1958 and 1959. The epitome of his love for and commitment to the rural practice and specifically to his home community came in 1961 when he established a cottage hospital in Azumini and became its medical superintendent.

That was his love of his life and his later establishment of the Group medical Practice at No.1 Emuchay Close at Ogbor Hill at Aba was an adjunct and support to the Azumini Cottage Hospital. After the civil war, Dr. Emuchay became the chairman of the East Central State Public Service Commission between 1972 and 1976, and when Imo State was carved out and he moved over to the new state to perform the same function till in 1982. He left that position to become the first pro-chancellor and chairman of the governing council of Imo State University (now Abia State University, Uturu) till in 1985.

The federal government of Nigeria recognized his contributions to nation building in 1986 through the most deserved conferment of the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR). Incidentally, in 2012, one of his sons, Ambassador Okechukwu Emuchay, for contributing enormously in other ways through sterling services to Nigeria and his people, was also decorated with the same award of MFR by President Goodluck Jonathan.

The throngs of the high and mighty as well as the ordinary people who trooped to Azumini last Saturday in great numbers was a fitting tribute and acknowledgement of what the Emuchay brand has meant to all of us, even beyond the shores of Nigeria. Even on such a difficult day and judging from the fact that Azumini is not easy to access, people of different complexions voted with their feet from different parts of the world. Most defied challenges to ensure that they came to be counted among those who were there on the day the Emuchays celebrated the past and invited us all into their present and the future.

The business at Azumini last Saturday was two-fold. It was the formal launching of the Sir Dr. D.W. Emuchay Foundation under which varied rural community projects would be undertaken because that was where his wife and children knew his heart lay. In other words, the Emuchay family had invited the world to witness and contribute to the institutionalization of the “legacy of community engagement, enrichment and empowerment through the establishment of the Sir Dr. D.W. Emuchay Foundation”, as the mission statement clearly pointed out.

As a way of ensuring that the Foundation was immediately delivering on its promises, the foundation stone was also laid the same Saturday for the Engineer Acho Emuchay ICT Centre and Academy, just by the reputed Blue River in the town. Engineer Acho who died on May 8, 2011 had an exceptional passion for ICT and possessed the same level of love and passion for the rural areas which their parents passed on to all the children of the Emuchay Clan.

Therefore, the centre is being built to embody and give life to this passion which would ensure that both his love for ICT and its capacity to touch on the people he loved make an identical impact through community capacity building. All present looked forward to the day in the near future when the centre would catalyze the capacity building and empowerment of the local youths and the elderly through ICT. Speaker and after another at the star-studded occasion, extolled the vision and foresight, which informed the activities of the day.

President Olusegun Obasanjo who laid the foundation stone for the ICT Centre, both in his natural humourous and serious minded statements, was effusive in the praise of the late and living Emuchays, pointing out the aptness of the project which they are embarking upon. As other speakers like Senator Abaribe (who chaired the occasion),

Senator Adolf Wabara, representatives of SGF Anyim, Ambassadors Tom Aguiyi Ironsi, state governors and other dignitaries, too numerous to mention, President Obasanjo pointed out the need for such capacity building as, according to him, mineral and natural resources were no longer as important, in the current scheme of things, as the possession of intellectual resources which have made nations like Japan and Germany great today.

President Obasanjo is always at his best at such occasions where, through his humourous interjections, he leaves behind object lessons for all to note and see. He did not fail to remind all that he had left other very important engagements like the 80th birthday of his friend, Chief Emeka Anyaoku to come to Azumini first. He had flown to the Uyo Airport from where he came by road to Azumini, in order to underscore the importance he attached to the projects as well as his personal respect and recognition to the organisers.

He singled out Ambassador Okey Emuchay, MFR, Nigeria’s consul general in Johannesburg, South Africa, who seemed to be the largest nectar that drew most of the distinguished visitors to the event, without underplaying the role and impact of this other siblings, Azu and Ndu. Obasanjo is not a man who minces words and extolled the performance of Ambassador Emuchay at his post, which has easily singled him out as the best to have occupied that position since it was set up – a fact that made the president honour him with a national award last year.

If Obasanjo was able to place the Azumini event highest on his scale of preference, amidst his very crowded programme for the day, as to have come there first, instead of going to Obosi to honour Anyaoku, some other dignitaries, had thought otherwise. The Abia State Governor, Chief T.A. Orji had decided to attend other events first and by the time he raced to Azumini to ‘receive’ President Obasanjo into his domain, the former president had come, done his part and departed.

But the former president found great company with the likes of Senators Abaribe and Wabara; Hon. Eziuche Ubani, Hon Peterside who represented Governor Amaechi of State and unveiled the Sir DW Emuchay seal on behalf of the government and people of Rivers State with a ‘token’ sum of N10 million. President Obasanjo was also received by a motley of guests from all over the world especially guests from South Africa who had also come in their numbers and who, in their spoken and unspoken words, paid effusive tribute to the Emuchay impact on their lives and circumstances.

The bishop of Johannesburg was also among the distinguished guests that crowded the large arena where the event was hosted. The goodwill enjoyed by the Emuchays knows no precedent and that was what must have encouraged them to host such an event on such a difficult day. Their friendship and their ever outstretched arms of solidarity and comradeship were richly recompensed at the event as guests told of challenges they encountered on their road to Azumini.

The story of two diplomats who had set out from Abuja on Good Friday, had taken seven full hours to get to Lokoja and had arrived Azumini at 4.30am on the Saturday of the event was a metaphor of what others had encountered. Yet the road of Azumini remained crowded with friends and well-wishers who came through the Enugu, Port Harcourt and Uyo airports, with those who drove in from all parts of the former Eastern region and were undeterred by being delayed by soldiers and police personnel in Abia state who mounted checkpoints and stopped road users till the end of the well-enforced environmental event on the last Saturday of every month.

Everybody came to get an opportunity of redeeming the many IOUs which they owe the members of the Emuchay family. Some even recounted of how they used to salivate as they awaited the appetizing jollof rice which the matriarch of the family, Lady Emuchay (the Adaugo Abia) used to bring to them in the different high schools they attended with her children. My personal testimony is that the Emuchays are next to none in their capacity to build and sustain relationships even when they have nothing material to benefit from such relationships. They have enormous respect for people, institutions and positions and never fail to exhibit courtesy and good manners.

There is no doubt that Sir Dick Emuchay and his wife were great experts in bringing up their children in the best human traditions and with the fear of God. It shows and shines out like the brightest star. Those who see the Emuchay children as successful, professional, competent and focussed should never fail to look back at their roots. Those legacies were what the world trooped to Azumini to celebrate, last Saturday. As we drove back to Enugu after a most fulfilling day, one of my friends in the car reasoned: “you can now see why our friend Okey is the most efficient and most natural diplomat in the world”.

The other one quickly countered, “he should get an opportunity to do what he does outside our shores here…” Is that a wish or suggestion? (Lest I forget, I must congratulate President Jonathan for what has happened to the Enugu-Umuahia-Aba road since I plied it two years ago. It took me two and half hours to drive from Enugu to Azumini on Saturday; in May 2011 when Engr. Acho died, it took me six hours. We must not always criticize the government; we should also applaud it when necessary).

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February 2016
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