THE ESSENTIAL ELDER DR. K.U.K
Again and as it will continue till the end of time, the bell has tolled for one of us. This time it is the lot of one of our best, eminently accomplished, an epitome of candour, humility, gentleman per excellence, industrialist, boardroom guru, community leader, noble family man and above all a soldier of Christ – Elder Dr. Kalu Uke Kalu.
Elder has indeed transited to join his ancestors in the way of all mortals. Elder’s exit did not come with a surprise, especially to those who have been observing his gradual aging process.
His procession was slow, steady and consistent with nature.
My last physical encounter with Elder was at the burial of Elder Mrs. Emole, mother of Hon, Justice Otisi at Abiriba. The exact date was Saturday, the 10th day of June, 2023 at Egwuena Girls Secondary School, Abiriba and equally at his country home at Isiugwu Ohafia. I saw Elder’s wife Hazel first, as she was making entry into the venue of the funeral reception. I assumed she came unaccompanied since Elder was not by her side.
I honestly was not expecting Elder at the event having complained to Hon. Justice A.U. Kalu some weeks past of how faint Elder’s voice was, when he called me to inquire about some happenings in the new Abia State Government. I got enmeshed and consumed in the funeral service activities and forgot to go after Elder’s wife to inquire of him, until I saw her leaving the burial venue. This time, surprisingly, with Elder in tow.
I immediately sprang up from my seat and disengaged myself from the company of other senior lawyers that were visiting Abia from outer States for the event and ran after Elder and the wife. On meeting them, we hugged one another and Elder lectured me, on my prompting, as to why both his wife and himself should be at the funeral. He told me that the Emole’s were part of his family. That their family and his had enjoyed a long history of fraternal relationship and that the matriarch of the Emole family who was being interred was not only a fellow Elder of the Presbyterian Church, Enugu Parish where they worshiped together, but was like a sister to them. That short explanation in my mind had sufficiently explained why they were both there to pay their last respects to Elder Mrs. Emole.
For some inexplicable reason I had an instinct on extricating myself from my long hug with Elder, that this meeting may be my last physical meeting with him, and, that I should pay him a visit at his Isiugwu ancestral home before going back to Umuahia. I must attest to the fact that Elder actually looked frail which obviously was due to old age and spoke to me in measured and calculated low tone. I had no hesitation in promising him there and then that I was definitely going to see him later that evening before leaving Ohafia.
I subsequently left the funeral arena for the residence of Elder U.K. Eke the former Group Managing Director of First Bank Plc. On my arrival, I was informed that Elder K.U.K and his wife had been there and were just departing for Ohafia.
The decision of either to keep my promise of visiting Elder K.U.K that night or to leave from Elder U.K. Eke’s Abiriba residence, as earlier planned for Umuahia via Igbere and Uzuakoli was not an easy one, as it was already 7.00 pm.
I had to convince my team of the need to keep my promise to an elder statesman like Elder K.U.K, who possibly may have gone home to wait for me.
We arrived Elder K.U.K’s Isiugwu Ohafia residence at about 7.45 pm into the welcoming hands of Elder and his wife. I spent about one hour with them and parted their company with a gift of a big dark chocolate cake, which was professionally wrapped for me by Hazel – his wife.
My intimate and heart to heart discussions with Elder bothered in the main on the way forward for Abia State and Ohafia. Elder had high expectations of the new Government in Abia State and was still eager, even in his old age, to make contributions, by way of advice. I saw in Elder, as always, an innate desire for positive change in our Ohafia Community. We both lamented on the sordid state of affairs and the need to raise the bar in governance.
I left Elder that night with Hon. Kalu Emeghe in my company, fulfilled that Ohafia produced such a great man, who despite his advanced age and frail health was still desirous, anxious and campaigning for a better society even when it was obvious to him that he will not partake in enjoying the better society that he was clamouring for.
On my return to Abuja the next day, I called Vincent Kalu Ukpong of the Sun Newspapers and informed him of my encounter and visit to Elder and his wife Hazel.
I advised Ukpong that I had fears that Elder may not stay too long with us and that there was need for him to visit him quickly in Enugu, for an interview that will extract Elder’s thoughts on a better society and possibly share some of his prominent life experiences with him. I told Ukpong that it was equally necessary that he interviews his wife Hazel, who is from Scotland and has been married to Elder (an African) for decades, to tell the world the story of their marriage and the principles guiding their strong bond.
Ukpong promised me that he would make representations to his Newspaper on the need for the trip, which eventually and unfortunately did not happen until Elder passed away. In fact, the first person I called on being told of Elder’s passing was Vincent Ukpong and lamented to him of the golden opportunity he lost in not proceeding to Enugu as suggested, to interview Elder and the wife.
My relationship with Elder, evolved out of my foray into politics and blossomed on my assumption of political office. Ohafia elder statesmen in the mould of Elder K.U.K have this penchant of relating with younger persons who had shown some glimpse of carrying on the torch of Ohafia political cultural and social development after they must have gone. This, I must say explains my close relationship with past Ohafia heroes like Chief N.N. Nwandu, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Chief Okwara Osonwa, Prof. U.U. Uche and many others.
I have always related and deferred to these past leaders. Relating with elders will not only prepare the younger ones for old age, but will equally equip them with the tools to confront and grapple with the present challenges of life. Elders relish in story telling of their beginning, their challenges, their experience in life and if you are very close to them they will tell you about their mistakes and regrets.
I will not conclude this piece without mentioning Elder’s innate desire to see the dusty major road leading from Akanu to Isiugwu (his ancestral) home tarred. I remember accompanying him to Government House, Umuahia to make a campaign donation of Twenty Million Naira (N 20, 000, 000). This donation as handsome as it was then, would ordinarily in decent communities inure some benefits to huge campaign donors in terms of attracting developmental projects to their areas of need or choice.
I am aware that the handsome donation yielded fruits as the recipient was declared winner, but all efforts by Elder and even myself to draw Government attention to that Akanu – Isiugwu road, ended up in the award of a phantom contract for the construction of that road, which was never realized. It remains to the credit of the NDDC that part of that road, though not the entire road, saw some asphalt works in the lifetime of Elder.
Elder during his lifetime spared no time and resources in seeking the common good of the Ohafia community. I attended several meetings with him in our bid to foster cordial mutual co – existence amongst Ohafia communities and to chart a common political agenda towards enhancing the development of Ohafia. I recall readily the epic meeting we had at his Isiugwu residence and his Enugu residence. Mention must equally be made of an all – important meeting of Ohafia elders and resource persons which he conveyed and was held at the Lekki Phase 1 residence of our revered and accomplished elder statesman Elder Dr. Uma Eleazu, who through the grace of God is still here with us.
Elder was a gentleman per excellence, both in his speech which came in measured tones and in his gentle strides. Despite his exposure to western education, lifestyle and culture, he never forgot his ancestral roots and the way of living of the Ohafia man. He lived amongst his people and built his country home alongside those of his siblings in the traditional Ohafia culture. He remained ever close to all his siblings and played a pivotal role of family head to all of them, till death parted them.
I have highlighted some of these issues as stated above, as my little effort at driving home some of the attributes that sets Elder apart, from the divisive tendencies we presently experience in the lifestyle of some of our new Ohafia elites.
Elder never forgot his roots and ancestry from the beginning, including his Presbyterian Christian faith, and, paid tribute to them from the way he lived his live till the end. May the likes of Elder never be found wanting in our Ohafia community, and, may his soul find rest in God’s presence.
UMEH KALU, SAN, LIFE BENCHER
Grace Villa, Okagwe – Ohafia