Very few leaders I have ever seen who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of the public good as much as Chief James Agukwu Chukwudolue, Ogbuehi Omeihekwu X1 of Umuezeawala, Ihiala, Anambra State. It is doubtful that he was comparable to any leader in the whole of Ihiala, the fourth largest town in Anambra State, by the time he breathed his last on August 28, 2018, after 54 years on the throne. It will be almost a miracle if we could be blessed with a leader like him in the near future.
Researchers keenly interested in resolving the conundrum of whether leaders are born or made will find Chief JA Chukwudolue a most rewarding study. He did not have much of formal education, having stopped going to school after his First School Leaving Certificate examination on account of a lack of funds. Yet, he displayed the kind of wisdom and knowledge and integrity envied by many highly educated and successful professionals. He was frequently saddled with the most complex of community cases in Ihiala, and he frequently handled them to the satisfaction of all parties and admiration of all Ihiala people.
My own family once had a dispute which appeared intractable. But when the matter was brought before the Ogbuehi Palace, it was resolved with careless ease. A couple of years ago when my kindred complained of not having a communally owned land, I watched Ogbuehi at close quarters demonstrate acute diplomacy as well as compassionate, inclusive and farsighted leadership. He got the other three kindred families in Umuohachom to agree to relinquish a considerable swath of land to my immediate kindred in the spirit of brotherly solidarity. Any person who is familiar with the preeminence of land ownership in contemporary Igbo cosmology will appreciate the profundity of this gesture. It is telling enough that the majority of cases in both state and federal courts in Igboland are over land.
A prosperous businessman even at almost a callow age based in Port Harcourt and moved to Aba after the Nigerian civil war, Chief Chukwudolue used to travel to Ihiala almost every weekend. It is remarkable that he never encountered armed robbers or had an accident on any of the several trips over the decades. Blessed with a wonderful physique, Chief Chukwudolue rarely took ill. Though he had always had a driver, he used to drive himself up to two years ago when he was 87 years old. He would indulge in physical exercises by sometimes riding on a bicycle over considerable distances. Ever jovial, his house was ever full of people from far and near who came to eat and drink and have a good time. He was active on the social scene as he was on the spiritual scene. He played prominent in the building of churches in Port Harcourt, Aba and, of course, Ihiala. He was high in the hierarchy of the Knights of St John International.
Ogbuehi Chukwudolue reflected authentic Christian values. When the “ofo”, a symbol of moral and spiritual authority in a given family or kindred or community, was handed over to the second oldest person in a certain kindred rather to the oldest man on grounds of the circumstances of his birth, Ogbuehi was disappointed. He spoke to members of the kindred and reminded them ruefully that the action carried out in the name of tradition was a gross violation of Christian values and of the right of the oldest person against discrimination.
Ogbuehi Chukwudolue loved his Ihiala people with all his heart and mind and soul. He devoted his life to their being and welfare. He could not have done much as a leader without the fantastic support of his wife, Mrs Janet Chukwudolue, and mother of all his eight children. They were particularly close. Ogbuehi used to joke that two of them would die within the same period. What was considered a joke has turned out prophetic. Two of them will be buried on Thursday, November 22. Not even death could put asunder what God joined together. May God receive their souls.
-Adinuba is Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment, Anambra State.