Dr Ogbonnaya Onu : Tribute One Death too Many


I prefer celebrating people while alive. The dead hear no tributes or eulogies. But where death steals a match on us clanging its filthy manacles as a hideous monster, we must still remember our heroes. Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu was such hero. I mourn him.

News of the transition, of this first civilian Governor of old Abia State, Dr. Christopher Ogbonnaya Onu, came as a rude shock to millions of ordinary Nigerians – not just his political associates, friends and family. I was one of them. And with good reason, Dr. Onu was a sagacious politician with a difference. He was an advocate of politics without bitterness – in the mould of one of the leaders of the 2nd Republic, the late Alh. Ibrahim Waziri, the erstwhile presidential candidate of the defunct Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP).

To that extent, the late Dr. Onu was exceptional, as there has been few of his kind. Not for him the cut-throat methods and win-at-all-costs mentality of the average Nigerian politician – especially at his level. No. By all accounts, (from the deluge of encomiums showered on him), Dr. Onu was a gentleman par excellence who loved people and humanity, and played by the rules with love towards all and malice towards none.

No one ever spoke an unkind word about him. He was an exemplar of a human being, an excellent role model and indeed, something of an avatar. Beyond all that, however, Dr. Onu was more: a brilliant mind and an outstanding academic and scholar. This was amply demonstrated when he graduated with a first-class degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Lagos in 1976, followed four years later by a doctorate in the same field from the famous University of California, at Berkeley, United States. Upon his return to Nigeria, Dr. Onu lectured at the University of Port Harcourt, where he became the pioneer head of that institution’s Department of Chemical Engineering and subsequently acted as the Dean of its Engineering Faculty.

But, it was outside academics – in politics – that Dr. Onu obviously made his mark and excelled, emerging as the pioneer Governor of the old Abia State in 1992. On the return to civil rule under the present dispensation, Dr. Onu was elected as the Presidential candidate of the erstwhile All Peoples Party (APP); but he calmly conceded it to the party’s eventual flag bearer in the election, Dr. Olu Falae, sequel to the horse trading between the APP and the Alliance for Democracy (AD).

Throughout his exemplary career, Dr. Onu was known for his love for equity, fairness, justice, national unity, cohesion, peace and progress. He also believed in youth empowerment and in nurturing another generation of leaders (the “Generation-Next”).

Onu was a technocrat in government. But, he never forgot or forsook his friends. He demonstrated this to me in 2016. I launched one of my books – “Zoning to Unzone: The Politics of Power and the Power of Politics”. He attended my book launch and stayed on throughout for the duration of the book presentations. Many of my friends in the then Buhari government shunned the event. They did not want to associate with a die-hard critic of the government and its failing style. Many of them were scared associating with me, lest they be upbraided by the hovering hawks in the government. But, Dr Ogbonnaya stayed on. He showed friendship and brotherhood irrespective of possible adverse consequences. Where are those dodgy bootlickers; fawners, ego masseurs today? Gone with the wind into history.

His hard work, dedication, commitment and patriotism did not go unrecognized as he was appointed by President Muhammed Buhari in 2015 as the Minister of Science and Technology, a position he held until 2022, when he resigned to contest the ruling party’s presidential ticket, losing to the eventual winner of the election, current President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In leaving his comfort zone to stake that claim, Dr. Onu was motivated by the desire to ensure that the people of his ethnic group – the Igbos – were given a chance to seek the Presidency of this country – something which has all along eluded them. His sadness prompted his emotion– tinged rhetorical question which he asked on announcement of the results of the party’s primary election: “Where is the justice?” Let me join Onu in asking the all-important question: where is the justice in our electoral system.


Dr. Onu has gone. But he would be remembered by most for being more than the sum of his parts: an uncommon human being who believed and espoused the nobility of man; a belief that we can transcend our differences and not be defined by them; that we can disagree without being disagreeable; that we are at our best when we sheath our swords – and, indeed, turn them into ploughshares; that there must be a handshake across the Niger and Benue. Nigerians and Nigeria will miss you. Let me bid you farewell till we meet again on resurrection day with the following quote authored by William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar (Act 5 Scene 5): “His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up And say to all the world, This was a man”. Fare thee well, my dear friend and brother. Sleep in the Lord’s warm bossom. Amen.

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