Engineer Michael Ukadikebunazua Okonwanji, fondly known by his primary and secondary school days contemporaries as Okonwa, was a Great Athlete and Footballer, Creative Artist, Civil (Water and Environmental Health) Engineer, a Humanitarian, a man of great integrity, probity and dynamism.
As a toddler, he was there for me as my eldest and big brother, taking my barrages of very inquisitive (sometimes nonsensical) questions, with his great latent, un-stretched but deliberate and resolute patience. He was more than a blood brother, guardian and mentor to me than a maternal Cousin.
As a Toddler I looked forward to Saturdays and Sundays that I would bear his pair of soccer boots (known with the brand name “continental”) on my young fragile shoulders, accompanying him to Hilltop Football pitch in Umuahia, as he enjoyed his most loved sport. He was widely known for this special pair of soccer boots in Annunciation College (‘ANNUNCO’) Isiukwu-Ato, in present day Abia State, that over 45years after leaving Annunciation College, that providence made me meet his College Son, Pastor (Engineer) Walter Ononogbu, as a colleague in Makon Engineering and Technical Services Ltd, the first things he remembered was that Okonwa had a special pair of boots that nobody had in ANNUNCO, and I quickly echoed “continental”.
As a Creative Artist, he used his prowess to design and make Draft Boards, Scrabble Boards and Tiles, Monopoly Boards and associated Currencies during the Nigerian Civil War when such in-door games were rarely found in the Biafran State.
As an Engineer he was one of the premier Nigerian Water, Wastewater and Environmental Health Engineers; little wonder he headed Eric Moore, Victoria Island and Ikoyi Water Works for Federal Ministry of Works, at various times, before the hand over to the Lagos State Government in the year 2000. He was well known for his ingenuity and creativity in running these facilities.
As a humanitarian, he was a mentor and motivator to so many of us his wards, by contributing to our education as he priced education as the greatest investment. No wonder his main principle and policy statement was ‘the greatest investment in life is education’, and he held tenaciously to these ideals, as he invested his meagre income on us his wards. He provided employment to a great number of youths of my contemporaries. His love for Civil Engineering, mentoring and guidance led me to what I am today in the landscape of Civil (Structural, Water, Hydraulic and Environmental Health) Engineering, with a flair for Oil and Gas Facilities.
Worthy to salute is his resilience and tenacity, that without any means to further his studies after his West African School Certification Examination, he did his Higher School Certificate from the home, and on joining Federal Ministry of Works, he obtained his Ordinary National Diploma, priory to his Civil Engineering Degree in University of Lagos.
As a regimented and highly disciplined man, he was a great war-veteran who fought on the Biafran side during the Nigerian Civil War, a member of the then famous 8th Commando Brigade (known as 8th Codo).
As a man of great integrity, probity and dynamism, he never compromised the ethics of public service all through his public service career, and hated with a passion the act of cutting corners, quick fix attitudes and get rich by all means syndrome.
He gave every support he could at all the challenging turns and points of my life, from childhood, through my education, my engineering career and married life. Unforgettable is the great and wonderful role he played in my getting married.
Great Okonwa, your ideals and principles will always be my guide and direct my footsteps as I toe the line of the profession you mentored me in. Your memory will ever be indelible in my Life.
The Almighty God has called, and you have left us to heed his call by departing the sufferings of this earthly life. May your Soul rest in the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
Adieu Brother Ukadike! Adieu Great Okonwa!! Adieu my Mentor and Motivator Engr. Michael Ukadikebunazua Okonwanji!!!
Rest in peace!
CHRISTOPHER IWEGBU IJELI MNSE, PE writes from email@example.com