Chief Anthony Olisejindu Okolocha: An Indomitable Leader
At 94, Chief Okolocha’s passage was not too early. Yet his demise is very painful, especially to Nigerians of the older generation of Mid-West extraction.
I came to know Chief Okolocha during the Nigerian Civil war, shortly after I was appointed as temporary Military Administrator of Mid-West and more closely after I was confirmed Military Governor of the same state. In 1967, when hostilities heightened and the war broke out, it was with great danger to his life that Chief Okolocha stood out in defence of his people who were taken for IBOS by the Federal troops and as renegades by the Biafran troops. They were therefore at the centre of the crossfire. But with rare gallantry and exemplary heroism, he negotiated freedom for his people whom he aligned to the Federal forces. Subsequently, his role in the ‘triple R programme —Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction”, in the post-war era was even more remarkable.
Though Chief Okolocha was a humanitarian and religious activist, it is in the area of politics and public service that he was most known. I recall that he was the pillar of late Chief Awolowo’s Action Group Party (AG) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) during the First and Second Republics respectively in the old Aboh Division, now comprising the three Ndokwa Local Government Areas of Delta State. He was equally active at the Regional level in the old Western Region and Mid-West Region, later in Bendel State. I confess that he was a major stumbling block for our “opposition party’’ incursion into his area in the defunct Bendel State when we were of different political leanings. It is with relief therefore that we later find ourselves on the same political platform!
Chief Okolocha has spent some seven decades of his life in the active, selfless and honest service to his community, state and country, without enriching himself. Besides his sizeable house and family property, he did not acquire properties for himself after occupying several positions of trust and responsibility in government. It is instructive that rather than build a house for himself when he could, he buil a local market for his people instead. He also built the first six-classroom block in the Girls Secondary School in his town. It should be added here that this school as well as the Boys School in the town owe their establishment to Chief Okolocha’s pioneering efforts and visionary leadership.
As a devout Christian of the Catholic faith, Chief Okolocha also accomplished the Jerusalem Pilgrimage, he was a philanthropist, a humanist, an administrator, foremost community leader, public servant, a politician, and also a traditionalist. His singular efforts led to the introduction of positive reforms that are sweeping through the Traditional Rulership and Chieftaincy Institutions in the three local government areas of the old Aboh division namely, Ndokwa West, Ndokwa East and Ukwuani.
As a trusted leader of his people, government has had to use him at various difficult times to resolve intricate issues. In the days of provincial, divisional and district delineation exercises, which occasioned many boundary disputes, Chief Okolocha was used by the state government to undertake aerial boundary demarcation. Administrations after mine have also found his services very useful and rewarding. As an octogenarian, Chief Okolocha was still offering his services to the aforementioned local government chairmen either as sole conciliator or panel chairman to settle various community boundary disputes.
Chief Okolocha equally finds time to enlighten his people in both formal and informal ways. He translated many government policies and literatures into Ukwuani language, including the current national anthem, which he also distributed freely to his people. It was always a spectacle when students and natives he had taught the anthem in their mother tongue, sang same during official State visits to his area.
He was a Chief of many communities and holder of past and current institutional chieftaincies, including Aje of Abbi and Onotu-Uku of Okwelle-Abbi. He is popularly referred as Azagalaza (Big Tree), Ochiosa (Leader of All), Odogwu-Ebi (head of Chiefs), etc. In 1976, he was made a Justice of Peace, JP, (the first in Ndokwaland) and in 1985 honoured by the former Inspector-General of Police, Etim Inyang, for exemplary contributions and support to the Police Force.
I am sure that if an ant were to butchered and shared amongst his people, he would be personally considered for the leg with the tail. These are more than enough reasons why I willingly and enthusiastically nominate and recommend this rare Nigerian for the post-humous award of a national honour in any of the ranks in either Category A (Order of the Federal Republic) or Category B (Order of the Niger). It will surely be an honour well deserved. And a correction of a serious historical omission.
In the meantime, I pray God to give our departed leader the rest he richly deserves; to give his family succor; and to raise for Ndokwa people, Deltans and Nigerians at large another leader with the indomitable character of Chief Okolocha.
Dr. S. O Ogbemudia, CON
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