While he lived, Oscar Mbanefo Onwudiwe, president of Lagos based Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga, trodded the earth like a giant. But when time called on his days, he walked away quietly, largely unsung.
Few days ago, on January 20, 2021, Oscar, became one of the many casualties of the rampaging Coronavirus pandemic. Though aged, 68, he died in his prime. He was still, young, energetic and full of life. He left behind a wonderful family and many unfulfilled dreams. One of which was to see a restructured and progressive Nigeria. He was a warrior who strived and fought for a better country for all and sundry; a true statesman deserving of eulogies from the highest political offices in the land.
Oscar was an excellent lawyer, a patriot and a champion of the Igbo course for justice. He was a trailblazer who groomed and nurtured many lawyers to become legal luminaries.
He had a listening ear and was kind and humble almost to a fault. I first met Oscar at August 6, 2019 at the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria – CIBN, Victoria Island, Lagos. It was during the launch of a book written by Professor Pat Utomi, titled “Why Not?” I had approached him to ask for his contact since he was the new president of Aka Ikenga, having taken over from Chief Charles Odunukwe; who also took over from Chief Goddy Uwazurike, in what is a tradition of sound leadership.
Subsequently, we became quite close and was always willing to speak to me. On Sunday, January 10, days before his unfortunate death, I called him on to share his views on a report I was writing. It was on the outcome of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo election, which produced Ambassador George Obiozor as president-general. As always, he answered all my questions brilliantly, and we had wonderful conversations about Ohanaeze and the future of Ndigbo and Nigeria. He was typically passionate and proffered solutions. Afterwards, he told me he was battling an illness. I had noticed because he was labouring to speak. But I concluded it must have been common cold, little did I know it was Covid-19. Four days after, I sent him a text to know how he was doing. There was no response. I didn’t know it was now matter of death.
Onwudiwe was a man of many talents; an advocate for change who fought relentlessly for the disadvantaged Igbo people, both in his professional and personal life. He was the initiator and co-founder of Aka Ikenga, and used the platform to make a strong case for Ndigbo at the national stage. He was also instrumental to the formation of other similar groups such as Ndi Igbo Lagos, World Igbo Congress, and League of Anambra Professionals (LAP) Lagos. Organisations that continue to benefit the Igbo in different walks of life: political, professional, and academic on a global scale.
“So much has been said about Oscar and I could not have said them better. But I liked very much the Oscar who has his Igboness ingrained in his heart and wore it proudly on his sleeve,” wrote his close associate, Ambassador Ozo Nwobu.
“Oscar approached me as I was about to leave for my diplomatic mission to South Korea in 2010 and tasked me to engage the South Korean economic giants – Hyundai, Samsung, and LG to partner with any of the South Eastern State governments in setting up Skills Acquisition Centres (SAC) in our geopolitical zone.
“I bought into his vision and dove into this assignment with gusto on my arrival in Seoul. The South Korean were willing and enthusiastic partners, who saw the wisdom of having skilled hands to handle their after sales services at especially the lower end of the society, where it really mattered most. I had argued that our society thrived on repairs and not replacements of parts/or equipment. A component of that proposed arrangement was the local fabrication of some of the parts especially in the motor industry. This was to take advantage of the motors spares structures in Nnewi etc. Politics got in the way and that ambitious dream never took off.
“Oscar used the platform of Aka Ikenga to make a strong case for Ndigbo at the national stage. His eloquence and articulation of issues captivated his audience particularly none igbo. He never wavered in his call for the restructuring of Nigeria to allow Ndigbo and indeed other ethnic groups, have control of the economic, social and political agenda.
“Oscar left us when we needed him most in the run up to 2023, when his brilliance would have made the difference. He broke not only the hearts of his dear wife, children, grandchildren and family but our hearts too. Oscar was a quintessential Igbo man and Nigerian who touched our lives in different ways and left a mark on it.”
Like Nwobu, many who have encountered Onwudiwe have attested to his kindness and relentless fight for a batter deal for Ndigbo and a better Nigeria for everyone.
“Oscar was a man of many facets and talents, Oscar was a advocate of change and a super change agent..,” wrote another associate, Engr Dr Afam Nwana.
“Oscar’s life work will be credited with the following accolades as the initiator and co-founder of Aka Ikenga: a founding group of Igbo scholars and professionals to serve as a think-tank that would address the needs of Igbos. This led to the formation of other like-minded groups such as Ndi Igbo Lagos, World Igbo Congress, and League of Anambra Professionals (LAP) Lagos.
“These organisations have gone on to benefit the Igbo man in different walks of life: political, professional, and academic on a global scale.
“Like Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi, history will record that Oscar Onwudinwe, President Aka Ikenga, passed on being in active duty of their representative organisations for change.
“As Nelson Mandela once said, it is our light and not our darkness that frightens us; Oscar understood the light in him and used it for the benefit of humanity for generations to come.
“I am consoled by the fact that I knew the great man Oscar was and even happier to be a part of his legacy. May God give Maureen his wife and his children fortitude to bear his loss and grant them succour in the days to come.”
Indeed, Oscar was a fighter who fought and won many health battles, including colon cancer. He also survived gunshot wounds inflicted on him by armed robbers who invaded him home over two decades ago.
His sudden death is another sad reminder of the fact that Covid-19 is real and can be lethal. A tiny virus that has thus far caused the death of 2.4 million people, and afflicted over 100 million.
He will be committed to mother earth on Friday, 26th February, 2021 in his home at St. Monica, Ifite, Ogbunike, Anambra State, after a funeral service billed to hold at St. Mark’s Anglican, Ogbunike. It would be the climax of events that would kick off on February 16th, with a requiem mass at Our Lady Mother of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, Addo Road, Ajah Lagos State. This would be followed by virtual service of songs billed for Thursday, February 18 at 5pm.