Pa Zephaniah Orchardson Campbells Diai (ZOC) was born on July 27, 1918 to Mr and Mrs Juwe Diai of Atuma Quarters in Idumuje Ugboko (Odi Ani Ancestral genealogy) of Aniocha North, Delta state, Nigeria.His parents, Mr and Mrs Juwe Diai were pioneer Anglican Christians in Idumuje Ugboko, hence they christened their son Zephaniah, after the biblical 7th century BC Hebrew prophet who brought the word of the Lord to the people of Israel in time of King Josiah of Judah.
At birth he was christianed Zephaniah Oseloka Chukwukadibia, (ZOC), but it was a testimony of the extra-ordinary mystique which surrounded the enigmatic ZOC that he seamlessly transformed in later life into the legendary ZOC Diai.
Zephaniah was the last child and second boy in a family of five children born to Mr and Mrs Juwe Diai. He grew up in Idumuje Ugboko and it was in those early years that the legend of ZOC began to consolidate.
He carved a niche for himself as an independent minded, free spirited child who even in those early years, displayed a healthy propensity and admirable appetite for activism.He was a handsome, brilliant and an extremely athletic young boy who also displayed a phenomenal prowess in foootball which astonished not only his peers and village kinsmen but indeed the early missionaries, who had come to Idumuje Ugboko to establish the early church in the entire Anioma region.
His father Juwe (who was later christened David) was accredited to be the first Catechist in Idumuje Ugboko and indeed the entire Anioma region and as a result of his good works in evangelism, the white missionaries decided to reward him by undertaking to train one of his children to higher school. The obvious choice was of course the young Zephaniah and thus he was to follow the white missionary to Onitsha where he then attended the famous and prestigious Denis Memorial Crammer School (DENGRAM).
It was at DENGRAM that the legend of ZOC was fully cemented. Zephaniah became one of the great academicals footballer of generation and as a defender (or back man as they were known in those days) his no-nonsense, hard-tackling solid defensive style laced with intelligent skills earned him the nick name ‘Maginot Line’, a name derived from the near impregnable wall of defensive fortifications put up by the French resistence against the invading forces of Hitler before the second world war.
He later returned to Idumuje Ugboko were his fame not only grew in leaps and bounds as a great footballer but indeed established the reputation of the Diai family with his elder brother Gilbert, as one of the leading intellectual lights of the Idumuje Ugboko.
A few years later, the young Zephaniah decided to venture into the Nigerian Diaspora and this took him to the Northen region were he had many exciting adventures as a young missionary. He traversed the area from Kaduna to Kafanchan, to Zaria and the hills and plains of Ugwu Hausa helping to spread Christianity in the region. He also became an active youth politician when he joined the Zikist Youth movement and even rose to become the Secretary General of the body before it metamorphosed into the NCNC.
Zephaniah returned to the East and the garden city of Port Harcourt after his sojourn in the North in the early years when SHELL had just began its exploration activities in Nigeria and his brilliance and exposure was soon recognized by the management of the Multinational company who immediately contracted him as one of the pioneer Seismic Photographers whose job was to record for posterity, the exploration activities of SHELL in the Niger Delta as they laid pipes and drilled underground tunnels through the length and breadth of the riverine communities.
He was then sent by SHELL to the prestigious Oxford University for a crash programme in Photography and later to the famous Cambridge University for a refresher course in the same discipline all of which enabled him to efficiently and effectively discharge his very tasking responsibilities as he produced award winning photographs of the early exploration activities of SHELL in the Niger Delta.
Sadly however the bright promise and future which SHELL represented was rudely terminated when the Nigeria/Biafra civil war broke out in 1967. ZOC was greatly inspired by the brilliance and oratory of Colonel Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu and as a true patriot quickly volunteered for service and was subsequently drafted into the Biafran Army.
By virtue of his bravery and brilliance as a military strategist he became the adjutant to Lt. Col Achuzia (popularly referred to as ‘Air Raid’) and those who served with him during the short lived civil war have only tales of his heroism, gallantry, discipline, his sterling leadership qualities and his courageous and humane disposition which helped to save the lives of so many young soldiers from the Anioma region during the war. Some of the exploits of ZOC during the war have been recorded in such authoritative war novels on the Nigerian Civil like General Olusegun Obasanjo’s ‘My Command’ and Major General Alexander Madiebo’s “The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War“.
After the war, ZOC returned to the quiet, sedentary peaceful life of a senior citizen. His participation on the Biafran side during the civil war ensured that he would no longer be welcomed in SHELL so he decided to concentrate more on assisting and communing with his immediate and extended family. He relocated to Benin City in the old Bendel state where he became a successful business man.
He was also at the forefront for the agitation of Anioma state and it has been claimed in several knowledgeable quarters that the pioneer meetings which set down the blue print and strategies for the renewd agitation of Anioma state in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, were held in his residence at No. 31 Oghoro Road, Benin City. Zephaniah did not also forget his kinsmen of Idumuje Ugboko for it was also at his residence that the Idumuje Ugboko Development Union (IUDU) gained greater prominence in the then Bendel state and he was to become the President of the IUDU in Benin for a period.
ZOC later moved over to Ikare in Ondo state, where he teamed up with the former military admistrator of the state, retired General Aduloju to manage his farm for a while, before returning once again to Lagos to be with his elder sister, the late Madam Dorothy Arinze. He then traveled to the United States of America on an extended vacation to see his daughter Matilda and his grand children and came back home in the late 1980’s when he finally retired to his country home in Idumuje Ugboko to spend the rest of his days on earth.
In 2005, ZOC was struck down by an unexpected stroke, and though he was still active in mind, body and senses, the ailment kept him indoors and coupled with his aging years, wore him down until he said goodbye to life at the ripe old age of 92 years. He was the last of his parents children and he was fittingly too the last to depart the world when his time came and the good Lord called him to join the saints on October 28, 2010.
All through his life, ZOC Diai was a man who loved life and lived it to the fullest. He was flamboyant in speech, manner and dressing. He was articulate and a great orator. He was debonair and had a camaraderie that was at once sophisticated and psychedelic. His generosity was legendary and he loved to give to his fellow men. His love for his friends, family and companions was unparalleled. He was a true father to all his children, a loving uncle to his relatives, a friend indeed to his peers and a man with a very large heart who made sure that all who came to him were given rest and comfort.
He was a handsome man in young and old age; tall, with sparkling eyes and a big laugh which made everything all right. He was full of humour and enjoyed life completely. His philosophy in life was ‘live and let live’ and he lived a simple, cultured, intellectually ordered lifestyle. He was a de-tribalized man who saw everyone as his brother and sister. He never discriminated against anybody.
Zephaniah was also a great poet and often recited Grey’s ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’, John Milton’s ‘Paradise lost and Paradise Regained’ and other classics from such great literary figures like Shakespeare, W.B Yeats and John Keats, effortlessly. Above all, he was a devout christian brought up in the proper Anglican tradition. He was a chorister per excellence and one of his best songs was the Anglican hymn, ‘Peace, be Still’.
Today Zephaniah Orchardson Campbells (ZOC) Diai has gone to join his Lord and Maker. He is at Peace now in the bossom of the Lord. He was survived by his wife Uche, His Children, Matilda, Nkiru, David and Ngozi and numerous grand children, Nieces, Nephews, Cousins and in-laws.
Rest in Peace. Pa Z.O.C.