The Who’s Who in Enugu State gathered at Ikem, headquarters of Isiuzo Local Government Area, to bid the final farewell to Honurable Chijioke Leonard Ugwueze, member representing Isiuzo State Constituency in Enugu State House of Assembly on Friday, July 31.
If tears, grief, moving testimonies and excellent score card could wake a dead man, they would have raised him from the dead instantly. If numbers, solidarity and unending love could have re-energized him, he would have risen from the casket to an exultant crowd. If the plight of his heartbroken wife, Amaka, four children, mother, family and friends could have revived him, he would have come back to life. And if his father, who was buried in July, could have helped from the spirit world, he would certainly have chased him back to earth.
The weather, kept in check by skilled native rain makers, looked clement, in contrast with the heavy hearts and sorrowful mood of the people. Several clergymen across various denominations affirmed his versatility. The Preacher said the large number of mourners underscored his humanity and the many lives he touched. Several traditional rulers from various communities in the state came to pay their last respect to the fallen Titan, whom many of them had conferred traditional titles on for community development.
Born February 27, 1971, Aguiyi, as he was fondly called, lived a momentous but short 49 years. He was not born with a silver spoon but through a creative brain and brawn he made a golden spoon for himself and others. He loved education and earned a masters degree in political science at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology. Gifted with unusual strength and entrepreneurial skills, he went into commercial agriculture while still in secondary school, diversified into livestock and peaked as an industrialist. Working closely with his equally strong and gifted wife and other siblings, he created Leomakz industrial complex, which today employs hundreds of staff, including expatriates, with products spanning across the polythene value chain.
He joined politics as a youth at the grassroots to fight for a fair deal for his thoroughly marginalized people and rose through the ranks to become the chairman of Isiuzo Central Development Centre, chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Isiuzo Local Government Area and until his death June 19, 2020, member representing Isiuzo at the Enugu State House of Assembly.
As chairman of the local government, he built primary health centres and developed local markets to improve on the health of the local communities and their earnings from agriculture produce. He encouraged and supported parents to prioritize education of their children, especially girls. He deconstructed politics as a top-down elite vocation and brought local men, women and youth into politics. He inspired youths in Ikem, Isiuzo and Enugu East Senatorial zone to brace up for the much needed generational shift politics.
Humble and intuitively intelligent, Chijioke was focused on his goals in agriculture, politics and business, three areas he navigated and excelled. A wrestling champion in Ikem, he deployed his natural strength and skills to achieve his goals in these sectors. A workaholic, he worked his socks off building his business empire. He was both the boss and the frontline factory hand. He led from the front.
Unassuming and fearless, he respected his seniors but hated and fought injustice. He had his political combats and those who crossed his path acknowledged his sterling qualities. Politics is a game of betrayals, conspiracies, coups and counter coups; Aguiyi, had his fair share of political adversaries too but he always closed up the gap after every battle and forgave every wrong. Many times he sacrificed his personal interests for the greater good.
It was in recognition of the sacrifices he made for his party in over 20 years in politics that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi backed him for the House of Assembly. As it turned out, he just completed one legislative year when death happened. In that one year, his sterling qualities shone like a million stars. His major concerns were the welfare of the masses, grassroots education and empowerment, employment generation, social justice and political emancipation of the people.
His former colleagues were overwhelmed with emotion during the valedictory session at the Enugu State House of Assembly on Friday, July 31. That Aguiyi lay helpless in a white coffin before them instead of rising to raise or support a motion reaffirmed the vanity of life and everyone forgot titles. All the false fumigations, precautionary panic, and false COVID could not assuage for the magnitude of the floral abortion of a potential future governor of Enugu State.
Julius Caesar was killed on 15 March 33 BC not necessarily because of what he was but for the fear that what he was, “augmented, might run to this and these extremities….”! So it may have been with Aguiyi.
One after the other, the lawmakers bowed to grief, many too distraught to be coherent. The anguish, pain and immense sense of loss were obvious. All members, past and present, were unanimous that the loss was indeed unquantifiable; that a great future had just been cut short; and that it was a deep blow to Ndi-Isiuzo.
His wife, Amaka, described the loss as a ‘traumatic nightmare’: “I keep on trying to wake up from this deep slumber but the more I try the more I face the reality of your absence. I feel like turning the world into a movie and I’ll prefer to watch mine in a reverse order, seeing you all over again. That will be my utmost ecstasy.”
She sums up Aguiyi’s sterling qualities: “…you dedicated your life to the service of humanity. You are compassionate, a cheerful giver, a very intelligent, benevolent God-fearing man with a large but melting heart.”
He was a constructive and optimistic person. Chijioke Jnr, his first son affirmed this; “You believed that everyone could do better; that there’s no limit to what one could achieve if they put their minds on it. You told me if I have a goal I want to accomplish, I don’t need anyone to wake me up in the morning; that goal will wake me up.”
He captured his father’s philanthropy aptly: “Your goal was to change the state of your family, your community and help anyone who needed your help…you lived your life for everyone around you.”
Chibuikem, his second son, says, “The love my Dad spread on this earth continues to grow and lives on. Chinecherem, his first daughter, says her father’s death “is a dilemma and no one really seems to understand it. When people tell me ‘sorry’, I have no idea what to say.” Her hope is that “I will be able to shoulder the burden and strive to achieve your goals for me.” And the baby of the house, Chikamso, his last daughter, says, “I lost more than a father; I lost a precious treasure; I lost a part of me…I was hoping I would have had more time to get older to know what it really means to lose a loved one.” Her one promise now is “to be successful in life and make him proud. And my prayer is that God will avenge the death of my father.”
Ejike, his younger brother, described him as “a rare gem, an icon, a pillar in our family and a man whose life revolved around service.” He said his death is a ‘brutal fact’ which has “thrown me into untold agony, tears, pain, gloom and created a vacuum that will take our family years to fill.”
Edward Uchenna Ubosi, speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly, said Chijioke’s death “was a big loss to the family, Enugu State House of Assembly and the entire Eastern Region of this country. He was a great politician, a philanthropist, an astute administrator and resourceful businessman of high repute.” He lamented that the House of Assembly would “miss his worthy contributions and his enviable humourous nature.”
Professor Simon Uchenna Ortuanya, secretary to Enugu State Government, said of him, “You concentrated on helping others; you were caring, full of love, kind hearted, warm, generous and a blessing to a lot of people. One lesson I learnt from you was to fearlessly look at adversity in the face and cower.”
Chinyeaka Ohaa, permanent secretary of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, lamented: “He was my adopted brother, who I trusted very deeply. He was a man of promise, courage and fearlessness. Above all, he had strength of character. The loss of such…loyal friend can indeed leave a very deep void in the hearts of many people, including my humble self.”
Professor Sam Ugwu, national president of Federated Ikem Improvement Union, said Aguiyi was “one of our foremost sons…You exhibited intelligence, courage, eloquence, versatility and proactiveness. You were fearless, a pathfinder for the youths and audacious; a political scientist and industrialist who empowered the youths in Isiuzo and beyond.”
Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, governor of Enugu State, personally conveyed the condolence of the State to the family of Hon Chijioke Leonard Ugwueze in a solemn visit that was devoid of officialdom. He said his death was a great loss to the people of Enugu State.