Tribute as uncommon icon goes home in a blaze
Written By Anthony Iwuoma
Posted By Town Crier News Nigeria
Published By Fitness Network Communications
Engr. Benedict Ikechukwu Nwokenkwo was born to the family of the late Sylvester and Martina Nwokenkwo of Agbaghara Nsu, Ehime Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State, in 1950. He was the first fruit of the union of his parents.
He attended St. Columba’s Primary School, Agbaghara Nsu, and later St. Dominic’s Secondary school, Ugiri, both in Mbano, where he was until the Nigeria-Biafra civil war between 1967 -1970, resulting in the closure of the secondary schools. Many of the students, especially those aged 16 years and above recruited or conscripted into the Biafra Army.
Ben made several attempts to join the army willingly but was rebuffed until he succeeded in joining the “pay and records” accounts department where his work entailed gathering information and record of the soldiers on the war front and barracks and making sure that their parents or next of kin were paid salaries when due.
He was later trained and moved to the war front, as a bodyguard to a Biafra colonel, an assignment he carried out till the end of the civil war in 1970.
After the civil war, he enrolled and sat for the West African School Certificate Examination, WASCE but his result was seized. He re-sat the examination the following year and came out with flying colours to the glory of God he.
Ben opted to be a Catholic priest and moved to the seminary at Ahiaeke, Umuahia, Abs State where he trained and taught. However, his mother’s objection and lamentation that her first son must bear her grandchildren aborted his priesthood ambition. He left the seminary and moved to Jos, Plateau State where he secured a job in an engineering company as a supervisor. He was there for three years before he left to study civil engineering at the India Institute of Engineering Technology, Madras.
On returning to Nigeria in 1978, Ben got a job with an engineering consultancy firm, Omokhodion Associates and he was posted to Yola, then Gongola, now Adamawa State where he contributed to the construction of general hospitals and federal secretariats in Borno State, and then Gongola State.
He was a lover of education and believed that every child must have a formal education. To this end, he was instrumental in the education of many through counseling and sponsorship.
Dee Ben, fondly called Bosoco, had a large and genial heart. Very simple, down to earth, and uncommonly generous, he threw the doors of his house open to all, beginning from his days in the North and all through the years he lived in Lagos.
He took many of us under his wings and sheltered us in his Lagos house. He fed us and gave us the best of care, with the able support of his exceptional wife, Auntie Irene, without whom all the love would never have got such enviable expression.
We would go to Mile-12 market in Ketu, Lagos, and fill the pickup truck with foodstuffs. The store was always brimful and nobody lacked what to eat. There was no discrimination as regards brothers, sisters, in-laws, kinsmen, or even employees in the BIG house. Dee Ben and his wife ensured that everyone was happy, and really, we all were.
What do I say about a man who loved me so much, who showered on me the love I never got where it was supposed to flow from? He never even had close contact with me before then but that I was in need was enough for such an uncommon man, with a heart of gold.
My cousin, Chidi Onyeka, actually did the introduction and I will be ever grateful. Dee Ben told him to invite me over to Lagos. Then I was roasting in Kano, searching for an elusive job after my national youth service.
Well, I was more than happy to relocate to Lagos and Dee Ben lovingly admitted me into the BIG House. My hope for coming to Lagos was to work in their company but Dee Ben thought otherwise. Seeing that I still nursed the idea of furthering my education, he gladly sponsored me through post-graduate school. Woah! I attended school like a prince and was chauffeured most of the time.
l also had my own room downstairs and was the favourite of the kids. They always flocked around me and we got on so well. I remember how easy it was for me to get them to sleep, which made Auntie Irene wonder. They all called me Uncle Bro T.
On one of the holidays, I took Samuel, whom I nicknamed Guv’nor (actually after the late Governor Sam Mbakwe. It was a prophetic nickname and my prayer that he would attain a very great height like Mbakwe) to the airport. After showing him some aircraft, the small boy was so excited he said, ‘Uncle Bro. T, let us enter the aircraft and fly to America’. I told him one day he would but for now, did he want to leave his siblings and parents behind? He simmered and reluctantly agreed. We returned home.
Dee Ben was such a simple soul, and humble to a fault. I don’t think there is any chance of meeting any great soul like him.
There’s one particular incident that remains evergreen. I was the secretary of our town’s union at the time. I can’t remember exactly what happened but I was mandated to issue him a reprimand, which I did while he harboured me in his house and fed me. He still kept me in his house and took care of my bills and I kept eating his food; that made my respect for him indelible. Because he was not petty; he knew how to separate what was official from personal hang-ups. Oh, what a man!
I later relocated from the BIG House after I completed my course and got a job. Neither Dee Ben nor his wife was happy that I was leaving but I persuaded them that I had to start being a man. They also supported me as I moved to my own apartment in another part of the city.
Some years later, Samuel’s desire at the airport some years back came to light, as the entire family emigrated to the United States. It was such a happy development at the time because the leaves were getting brown.
I was happy for them but not so excited, even till now. Because that trip was to cost me the closeness of a family that I had adopted as mine and who so accepted me. Distance could disrupt a relationship. Of course, it took a toll on ours, as I could not watch the children grow and they barely had memories of their Uncle Bro T.
It was only at Debbie’s wedding earlier in this year that I saw her and Guv’nor for all these years and I was so happy.
That meeting did not offer me complete happiness because I had hoped Dee Ben would be there; he wasn’t. The great reaper had afflicted him and prevented him from witnessing that momentous moment of his daughter’s marriage. Now it has eventually taken him home.
The truth, the whole truth, however, is that Dee Ben has actually had the last laugh. He didn’t die. As he finally returns home to his Maker on Friday, December 2, 2022, he lives in the memories of his loved ones and people like me that he really touched.
I can NEVER repay you, Dee; can’t even thank you enough. Nevertheless, from the depth of my heart, I want to say it out loud, THANK YOU!!!
Safe journey, sir… Looking forward to the cracking of that glorious dawn on Resurrection Morning.
The late Engr. Nwokenkwo was the elder brother of Chief Emma Santana. His remains shall be interred at his family house in Umuduruebo, Agbaghara Nsu, Ehime Mbano LGA, lmo State on tomorrow, Friday, December 2, by 11am.