The nation was thrown into deep mourning when the first Executive Governor of Abia State, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, died at a hospital in Abuja. Onu, who was 72, died on April 11, 2024 after a brief illness. His death came not long after the demise of some other prominent Nigerians like the former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, and Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN).

Born at Amata, Uburu, in Ohaozara Local Government Area in the present Ebonyi State on December 1, 1951, Onu had distinctions in his academic pursuits from primary to university level. He attended Izzi High School in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, where he obtained Grade One with Distinction in his West African School Certificate exam. He was the overall best graduating student at the College of Immaculate Conception (CIC), Enugu, where he sat for High School Examination. He studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos where he obtained a First-Class degree in 1976. He later went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he obtained Doctor of Philosophy (PhD degree in Chemical Engineering in 1980.

Onu taught at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Ezzamgbo in Ebonyi State, after graduation from the University of Lagos. He later became a lecturer in Chemical Engineering at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) after obtaining his PhD at the University of California. He later became the pioneer head of department and acting dean of the Faculty of Engineering at UNIPORT.

He was one man that played many parts and recorded successes in them. He ventured into politics from teaching and first aspired to be a Senator in the old Imo State on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). In 1991, he contested for the governorship of Abia State on the platform of the National Republican Convention (NRC). He won and was sworn in as the first Executive Governor of Abia State in January 1992. His reign was short-lived as the late Gen. Sani Abacha sacked the then civilian government in November 1993.

Onu governed Abia State before the creation of Ebonyi State out of the old Abia and Enugu States. As governor, he laid solid foundation for Abia. He not only abolished the state-of-origin syndrome in the state, he also made sure there was even development across the state. He also established the Abia State Polytechnic, Aba; College of Technical Education, Arochukwu; Broadcasting Corporation of Abia and National Ambassador Newspapers, among others. A man of integrity and a man of his words, Onu never compromised his position both as a governor and as a minister.

As Minister of Science and Technology, he tried to showcase Nigeria’s inventors and inventions through the annual National Science & Technology Week which he started in 2017. He also tried to encourage Nigerian youths to develop interest in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) through 774 Young Nigerian Scientists Presidential Award which he initiated.   

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He had sacrificed his position as the presidential candidate of the All People’s Party (APP) for Chief Olu Falae after the merger of the party with the Alliance for Democracy in 1999. The Presidency was zoned to the South-West then. The party lost to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo emerging as President. In 2010, he emerged as the national chairman of the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP). His party merged with some other parties, including the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013. Immediate past President, Muhammadu Buhari, appointed him Minister of Science and Technology in November 2015, a position he held until he resigned in 2022 to contest the presidential primary election of the APC. He and others lost the election to President Bola Tinubu.

He was a polished and principled politician and played politics without bitterness. He didn’t also play the politics of jumping from one party to another. He was a loyal party man who went into politics for public good rather than for personal gain.

Former President Buhari honoured him with the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 2022. He was also a certified member of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and a fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Engineering and the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers. He wrote books on different areas including philosophy, poetry, politics, biography, science and technology, and development studies. He was married to Dr. Chinyere Onu and they both had children and grandchildren.

Many prominent Nigerians have paid glowing tributes to Onu. In his tribute, President Bola Tinubu said the former minister believed in and defended Nigeria’s unity, advocated peace, and promoted fellowship across the Niger. Former President Buhari described the late politician as an intellectual giant and one of Nigeria’s most outstanding scientific minds and intellectuals.

Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex Otti, described his death as a huge loss to Abia, Ebonyi, the South-East and Nigeria as a whole. Otti promised to honour and immortalise him by ensuring that the democratic journey he started in Abia State as a civilian governor was upheld and advanced especially with regard to the well-being of Abia people. We mourn him and commiserate with his family and political class and urge politicians to emulate his good virtues.