Mrs Uche Okafor-Halim (1945-2017) renowned public servant

Mrs Gladys Uche Okafor-Halim (Nee Nwaokocha) was born in Sabon-Gari, Kano State on May 17, 1945 to the family of Mr. Michael and Mrs Patience Nwaokocha, devout Catholics, who hailed from Ibusa, Delta State.

Gladys as she was fondly called by her friends attended St. Louis Primary School in Sabon Gari, Kano State, St Louis College, Bompai Kano and later St. Theresa’s College Ibadan, where she was one of the very few girls who made Grade 1 in the West African School Certificate Exams in 1961. Throughout her time at school, Gladys was at the very top of her class not only academically but in extra-curricular activities such as drama and the arts.

A well-known memory at St Theresa was her exemplary performance in the historical play “Emotan of Benin” in which she embodied the lead character Emotan, the wife of an Edo King. The play became such a sensational success that the former First Lady of Nigeria and her classmate at the time the late Mrs Stella Obasanjo nicknamed her “Emotan”. When the time came to elect the house captain that year, all the students unanimously voted for Gladys and called out in unison, “Emotan is our house captain!!!” She was truly the epitome of beauty, intelligence and class.

At the end of her 2-year HSC course in St. Theresa she proceeded to the prestigious University of Ibadan on a Federal Government Scholarship, a rare feat for a girl in those days. She went on to study Economics at the University of Pittsburgh and completed her postgraduate degree at Fordham University Pittsburg, where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Economics. She returned to Nigeria in 1979 and once again she built an unparalleled career in the Federal Civil Service, where she held various administrative and leadership roles including serving as a Director the Ministry of Information, Steel, Defence and Water Resources respectively.

She was a consummate and articulate civil servant who believed in hard work and used her position to enhance the growth and development of others. She will be remembered among her colleagues, not only as the “Iron Lady” but as a Director who cared for the welfare of her officers. In 2005, she retired honorably as the Director of Planning, Research and Statistics in the Ministry of Defence after a career spanning over 26 years.

She gave the same passion and devotion to the Catholic Church- she served on the boards of various church activities, notably as the Chairperson of the Youth and Children’s Harvest at St. Dominic’s Church Yaba, Lagos and as a devout member of the Confraternity of Christian mothers. Often referred to as a true “Dominican” her role in the establishment of the Dominican University in Ibadan was well-recognised and she served on the Board of Trustees till her death.

Her love for her family was absolute. Her immediate family- the Nwaokochas fondly referred to her as “big mummy”- she was a dedicated and trustworthy sister and friend.But to me, her only daughter, she was everything. I called her Gorgeous Gladys-a truly classy lady who had very strong convictions on how things were supposed to be. I remember vividly when I was in boarding school, I would write long letters about my daily pursuits and she would reply with red markings all over my letter, correcting my punctuation and grammar. She desired the best from all those who interacted with her especially her loved ones.

One of the inspirational texts my mum shared with me prior to my last birthday with her, was “Good morning my baby Nkem. My prayer, love and God’s mercy is always with you. I would like to share with you, today’s reading in church. The Lord said to Peter, “Courage, it is I, do not fear. Yes, in your minute of fear, cry to God and say “Jesus help me” and beg God to increase your faith. Have courage, he is with you every step of the way” …. May God bless you. Amen. Love you Mum”

Mummy, I have tried to be courageous since the moment I learnt of your death – I know you would expect nothing less. My Gorgeous never hesitated when I asked for anything, even when she thought otherwise, she gave freely and willingly of herself, time and money, not just to me, but also to her family, friends, Christian mothers, Motherless babies, the Dominican University and the Church.

She never let go of my husband Ayo and I, she would always say, “Nkem, I will stand in the gap for you, always” and indeed you were with me every step of the way- in my playful childhood years in Corona Primary school, in my formative teenage years in Queen’s College Lagos, in my susceptible years in boarding school abroad at Dover College, later graduating from Medical School. You spurred me to go even further, with postgraduate degrees from the London School of Tropical Medicine and the London School of Economics and Political Science and of course, one of the most memorable days of my life, my wedding day- you have always there for me. And even when I was far way, you were always on the other side of the phone with words of strength and encouragement urging me to be the best always.

“Gorgeous, could you come back and stay a while. I want to hear your voice and see you smile. I want to hold you tight and never let go, and tell you how much, I love you so.”We, your true family: the Nwaokochas, and the Abegundes that genuinely love and miss you, pray that God grants you eternal peace.

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Gladys Uche Okafor-Halim
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