A Wreath for Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro
Woman hold her head and cry,
‘Cause her son had been shot down in the street and died
From a stray bullet.
Explaining to her was a passerby
Who saw the woman cry
Wondering how can she work it out,
Now she knows that the wages of sin is death, yeah!
Gift of Jah is life.
She cried: Ah-um, I – I know!
“Johnny was a good man,”“The wages of sin is death, gift of Jah is life”.
Why do good people die despite God’s promise of life to the just. This is the puzzle in Bob Marley’s “Johnny Was A Good Man”.
It is a sad contradiction that makes many wonder. It is the lamentation that moves even stones to cry. But the tears will not be for Nnamdi Wokekoro alone but for all of us, casualties in a world that rewards good with evil.
Life indeed is a twist of ironies. We are either victims or beneficiaries, but never victors. Victory in life is achieved only in death. As human beings, we are helpless when death comes calling and lack the ability to know when evil men facilitate it. But ultimately, life and death are the prerogatives of God and man can only manipulate them at grave consequences.
How can we work it out? How do we understand the cruel irony of the death of good people like Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro whereas bad people live long in wickedness? How do we explain that, despite helping many to survive varying illnesses and hardship, Nnamdi couldn’t get all the help he needed to stay alive?
What do we do as mere mortals at the passing of Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro to the great beyond? Do we weep, and if we weep what do we cry for? Do we sing and if we sing, what will the song be? Do we say that a good man who shared what he had with his friends, brothers and the less privileged couldn’t get help at his own time of need? Could this be the song of our lamentation?
On Saturday, November 16, 2019, Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro will be interred, marking the end of his journey on mother earth and I want to pay my last respect to my Boss who was snatched from this wicked world by the cold hands of death on December 12, 2017.
He was my boss at the then Rivers State Environmental Sanitation Authority. I first met Nnamdi Wokekoro in 2001 when he moved, as the Chairman (Mayor) of Port Harcourt Local Government Area into our neighborhood at Opobo Crescent, in the New GRA Phase 1 section of the capital city.
I was running the popular roadside drinking ‘joint’ called “FEMI’S CORNER” and on the sideline, I also maintained and wrote the weekly “Soap Box” column in the leading local tabloids at the time. Nnamdi liked my writings and encouraged me morally and financially.
That was how I started the friendship with the Prince of Obgu-nu-Abali that blossomed far more than blood relationship. Like a union ordained in heaven, I became one of the most loved and favoured friends and aides to the man whose kindness was legendary.
Once in a while, he would come over to “Femi’s Corner” and buy drinks for everybody and give cash gifts to people, always paying monies in excess of his bills. It was an act to assist rather than to show off. He connected my beer parlour with electricity straight from his diesel plant which was about three houses away from his GRA home and made sure I always had electricity supply free of charge. He installed street light that enhanced security and business.
My association with Ikwerre 1, spanned over sixteen years and I am yet to meet another politician, boss and friend who treated and loved me like Nnamdi Wokekoro, especially when I was his aide at the then Rivers State Environmental Sanitation Authority.
Unlike most political bigwigs, Mayor, as he is fondly called, treated me almost like his father although he was my boss. He discussed with me matters that he held dearly.
Chief Nnamdi Wokekoro transformed the then Rivers State Environmental Sanitation Authority. The capital city of Port Harcourt was far much cleaner under him; he battled street traders and artisans who encroached on public spaces on major roads.
Nnamdi Wokekoro transformed the premises of the Sanitation Authority from a huge slum into a magnificent premises. He built sprawling office structures and a police station. He reconstructed the driveways and drainages, including the landscape. He bought cars for senior staff and senior aides. Workers were happy.
I want to pay my last respect to my boss and friend, Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro and not to flatter him. He was faithful and not just to me; he was so loved by all. He radiated goodness, kindness, simplicity, humanness towards his friends, political followers and members of his immediate and extended family.
Ikwerre 1, was a politician’s delight. He was full of jest and mirth and he blended hard work with so much humour and leisure. He was liberal in associating with politicians across political parties but firm in his political decisions, always considering the interest of his followers.
How do I express and lament the painful death of my boss and friend who I sometimes criticized while I hold him in high regard? David in lamenting the death of his friend, Jonathan, sighed and cried out: “I am distressed for thee my brother Jonathan; very pleasant hast thou been unto me; thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women”. (2 Samuel 1:26).
I am sure that many people apart from Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro’s immediate and extended family, would lament and say: “We weep for you, our brother, boss and friend, Ikwerre 1, for you have been very pleasant, faithful, loyal and loving to us. Your love for us was wonderful, passing the love of women although you were a man”.
We are the more sorrowful because of the sudden death while recovering from a protracted illness. But death comes in diverse ways. Some people die through the torture of blazing fire, some die on road, water and air traffic accidents while some people die peacefully in their sleep. But Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro died suddenly after showing signs of recovery from a debilitating illness.
The journey through this earth that lasted 54 years (1963-2017) for Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro has come to a sudden end. How we wish he lived much longer and depart in ripe old age.
It was extremely unfortunate that when this good man died, his family went into a protracted disagreement and left him too long in the mortuary, an act he least deserved.
But as Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro lay motionless and speechless in the internal grip of death, we know that he is a victor and not a failure. He has been freed from the wahala of this world and the palava of mixing with wrong people. He is now in the midst of our past heroes and the rest of the saints gone bye.
He has been released form the burden of living with traitors that pretend as friends. My boss and friend, Nnamdi has been set free from the material bondage of this world that reduces men into beasts.
When the Okrika Chief, A.K. Dikibo was brutally murdered in 2004, the former Mayor of Port Harcourt, Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro said: “The killers of Dikibo are trapped in excessive greed for power. They aspire to be Vice President in 2007, President in 2011, Secretary General of the United Nations in 2015 and God in 2019”. Such was Nnamdi’s abilities in sarcasms and subtlety in sending deep and coded messages.
I can hear Ikwerre 1, singing like Bob Marley and smiling all the way to heaven. I can hear him singing on his way to internal rest:
One Love! One Heart!
Let’s get together and feel all right
Hear the children cryin’ (One Love!)
Hear the children cryin’ (One Heart!)
Sayin’: give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Sayin’: let’s get together and feel all right. Wo wo-wo wo-wo!
Adieu! Adieu!! Adieu!!! Prince Nnamdi Wokekoro, till we meet to part no more. The life you lived was largely good and honourable.
May your departed soul rest in the bosom of the all-seeing and all-knowing God. Amen.
Sotonye Ijuye-Dagogo, a Former Special Adviser (General Duties), Rivers State Environmental Sanitation Authority, wrote from Port Harcourt.