|LATE HIGH CHIEF ENGR. CHILAKA OKWUONU|
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LATE HIGH CHIEF ENGR. CHILAKA OKWUONU
BIRTH AND FAMILY BACKGROUND
‘To everything under the sun there is a time, a time to be born and a time to die’ says the preacher.
Late High Chief Engr. Chilaka Okwuonu (Ksc) was heralded into this mother earth in Port Harcourt on the 14th day of September, 1939. He was the first son of Late Chief Stephen Ajaonyemba. Okwuonu of Eziato-Umuagom Owutu in Ezinihitte Mbaise L.G.A. of Imo State Nigeria. His mother, Late Mama Helene Okwuonu’s (Nee Nnaji).
Late Chilaka’s father was one of the notable Port Harcourt-based wealthy and enlightened men of his time. His father was a mentor and benefactor whose house in Port Harcourt was a constellation where most Mbaise men and women came for help and succour. This was the kind of family young Chilaka grew up from.
The time came for Chilaka to go to school and like his mates, he joined and at a good time too. He started his primary education at St. Cyprian Port Harcourt in Rivers State and finished at St John’s Central School Amumara in Eziniitte Mbaise in 1952.
SCHOOLS, EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS AND WORKING EXPERIENCE
Young and vibrant Chilaka had his secondary education at New Bethel College Onitsha from 1953 to 1957. While in the secondary school, he was the Captain of the school football team as well as a dormitory prefect.
After his graduation in 1958, he worked a while with the then Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) in Kano where he held several positions.
In his quest for further education, the indefatigable Chilaka headed to Ghana where he studied Architecture for 2 years before leaving for the United Kingdom (U.K.) for further studies. From the year 1963 to 1967, he studied in Sheffield Polytechnic U.K. and qualified as a Structural Engineer. In 1969, he had a Masters Degree in Structural Engineering from Badford University in the U.K. In the year 1996, he bagged a Doctorate of Philosophy in Business Administration.
While in the U.K. Engr. Okwuonu also worked as an Assistant Engineer with White Young & Patners – Badford &Partners. He later went to East Africa where he worked shortly as an Executive Engineer in Ministry of Works, Zambia before returning to Nigeria.
On his return to Nigeria, Engr. Okwuonu established C. Okwuonu & Partners, CIKADA Ltd. and KADA Enterprises. As an astute engineer, late Chilaka was involved in the construction of more than 100 landmark structures, roads, erosion protection projects etc in Nigeria. Some of them include: the Vice President’s Complex Abuja, Imo State Liaison Office Victoria island Lagos, FUTO Library, Law Faculty Complex UNN (Enugu Campus), Governor’s Lodge Imo State, Union Bank (Markurdi Branch) and Bauchi General Hospital. Others include: Ramat Specialist Hospital Umuahia Abia State, Signal Workshop Ikeja Airport, Glass Factory Aba, Reconstruction of Enugu Main Market, housing Estate Abakiliki Road Enugu, many roads etc.
In the mid seventies, he and his spouse established the famous Hotel Codial Ltd. in New Haven Enugu. He was the Chairman of this hotel till his demise.
Between 1998 and 1999, Chilaka Okwuonu was the president of Rotary Club of Enugu. He was the Vice President of Nigerian Institute of Structural Engineers and a patron, member and fellow of many professional and socio-cultural institutes. He presented and published many technical papers in building, structural and civil engineering.
As a political chieftain, Chief Okwuonu worked with various political parties in Nigeria in different dispensations. He was the brain behind the successful political outings of many of his political associates including the emergence of his wife as the first and only female Deputy Governor of Imo State. He was the Apex Leader for the PDP in Ezinihitte Mbaise and a member of the Imo State Elders Council under the Ohakim Administration.
Not only that he was a good political and community leader, Chief Okwuonu also dedicated all his life to the service of God and mankind. In 1993, he was admitted into the prestigious Knighthood of St. Christopher (Anglican Communion). He served in many church committees and was involved in the execution of various church projects. Just to mention but a few; he and his family single-handedly erected the church building of Holy Trinity Anglican Church Umunama, the parsonage and water bore-hole of Holy Trinity (Ang.) Church, Owutu, Mbaise, roofed the church hall of Cathedral of Transfiguration of Our Lord (CATOL) Owerri, installed tiles in St Michael and All Angels Cathedral church building, sponsored the training of many priests etc.
As a philanthropist, Sir Okwuonu gave scholarship to many youths and helped a lot of people in need.
A PROMOTER OF CULTURE
High Chief Chilaka Okwuonu was very outstanding in showcasing Igbo tradition and Mbaise culture in particular. From the first Igbo word that came out from his mouth, every body around would know where he was from. He was always proud to identify himself as an Mbaise man and promoted the speaking of Mbaise dialect wherever he went. He instituted the Mbaise New Yam Festival and the Abigbo Cultural Dance Group in Enugu. Also he propagated the practice of good Igbo and Mbaise cultural values till his death.
TRADITIONAL TITLES AND CONFERRMENTS
As a great lover of the Igbo tradition, Chief Okwuonu’s first title in life was the famous ‘Ezeji’ title which he took on February 14th 1981. Since then, he had legions of conferment such as ‘Omeri of Ife-Ezinihitte Mbaise, Okenze of Owutu-Ezinihitte Mbaise, Ozuoha of Mbaise Cultural Club Enugu, Ugwumba 1 of Ezinihitte and Mbaise, Aare Babaseye of Owu Abeokuta in Ogun State etc. Until his death, he was the Traditional Prime Minister of his community Owutu in Ezinihitte Mbaise. Because of his contributions to mankind, he was also honoured with numerous awards by many religious, socio-cultural, educational and professional bodies.
Chief Okwuonu was an epitome of humility, a contented man, a jolly good fellow and was ready to play and identify with every body including the poor and children at all times. He showed amazing kindness, hospitality, love and care to many that came his way. He had the propensity of keeping records of everything. He was transparent in all is dealings with people and sought peace and unity of people wherever he found himself. In fact, he was an all round man. A hero indeed!
Chief Okwuonu had always been known to be a healthy and a strong man. When he slightly took ill and travelled to London recently for medicare, he was still looking strong and promising. When he was about to go for a medical surgery in a London, he held his children, blessed them and promised to return a healthier person. Never did the world know that the unseen enemy that is known to strike with misery was around the corner. Little did the world know that Chilaka’s time on earth was up. He passed on on Saturday, the 30th day of August, 2014 at a time many least expected.
May his gentle soul rest in peace.
Left to morn him are:
Her Excellency Lady Dr. Ada Okwuonu
Deputy Governor Emeritus Imo State – Wife
Ezeji Okezie Okwuonu – Son
Uloma Opara (Nee Okwuonu) – Daughter
Nkechi Abia (Nee Okwuonu) – “
Ezeji Obioha Okwuonu – Son
Mrs. Edith Ezinma (Nee Okwuonu) – Sister
Mrs. Onyinyechi Okezie Okwuonu (Nee Oguguo) – Daughter in-law
Stephen Chuks Alo Okwuonu
Adaoma Okezie Okwuonu
Prince Emeka Opara
Olanna Okezie Okwuonu
Adangozi Emeka Opara
Nathan Emeka Opara
Mr. Chike Abia
Mr. Emeka Opara
Sir Joe Nwachukwu
Engr. David Nwachukwu
Elder Monday Ezinma
Barr. Emperor N. Iwuala (Ksc.)