A Deep Hole of Ache as My Other Father, ARC. Ngozi Innocent Okokwu (Barrister-At-Law) Goes Home Today, 23 February 2024 -By Sylvester Udemezue

His death brings new experience to my life – that of a wound that will not heal” – Ernst Jünger

True friendship is one of the most important things we have in life. True friends are the siblings God forgot to give us; they are like diamonds, precious and rare. In the words of writer, Santiz, “true friends are like stars…. You don’t always see them, but you know they are always there”. Hence,it is also said of true friends, that even when it hurts to look back, and one is really scared to look ahead, one can look beside one and one’s true friends will be there. The value of true friends cannot be over emphasized; yes, they are like angels who lift our feet when our own wings have trouble remembering how to fly. They’re hard to find, but lucky to have. As I have learnt by experience, true friendship isn’t about being there when it’s convenient; it’s about being there when it’s not. The love and support we get from true friendship is invaluable. True friends stick by us, see us at our worst, are there in the hard times and do so selflessly, such that it can be devastating when we lose a true friend. Indeed, the death of a true friend, the pain of losing someone so important and special to us cannot be overstated, brings tragic moment. Thus dealing with the grief that the death of a friend leads to, and thinking of how to get by when a true friend is torn from our lives, is devastating, confusing, traumatising.

This is the situation I have found myself in/with the sudden demise of ARC. NGOZI INNOCENT OKOKWU, Barrister-At-Law, on 04 December 2023. It’s a devastating blow to me, leaving so many questions popping up in my mind, for the most respected God Almighty, for our highly valued ancestors, and about life generally. However, who am I to question the Almighty, said to be the All-Knowing, the All-Seeing and the All-Powerful God. Besides, as Seneca had said, the comfort of having a true friend may be taken away, but not that of having had one.

Born in 1961, Arc. Ngozi Innocent Okokwu was until his demise at an Abuja (FCT) hospital on 04 December 2023, the Founder, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of First New Generation Limited, Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria and FNG Transnational (Ghana) Limited both of which were construction companies. Ngozi Okokwu had put in over 25 years of active service in the construction industry in Nigeria and Ghana with a variety of projects and clients. Apart from numerous projects to his credit and the credit of his companies, in Nigeria and Ghana, Arc Ngozi Okokwu was the Project Manager/Consultant in the rebranding of all former Intercontinental Bank branches to Access Bank Façade, the Project Consultant for all Access Bank Next Generation Bank Development. He chaired the Building Development Committee of all Parishes under the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Lekki, Lagos State. He worked in conjunction with the Bankers Association of Nigeria (BAN) to Re-Design and Build the Police Stations damaged across Nigeria during the EndSARS Civil unrest of October 2020. He was a major contractor to Access Bank, First Bank, Union Bank, Zenith Bank, EcoBank, among other Banks, companies and Government parastatals, in Nigeria and in Ghana.

Arc Ngozi Okokwu received numerous awards, honours among which are Rotary Awards for Service to Humanity; award as the Best Overall Graduating Student in Architecture University of Jos, Plateau State; the Majekodunmi Award for Best Graduating Student; and the award for Best Design Student Post Graduate Award of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. On 05 October 2023, he was inducted into the Nigerian Institute of Architects as a Fellow. He was a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the African Bar Association (AfBA).

An enigmatic, dynamic leader, Arc. Ngozi Okokwu was well-known for his selflessness and philanthropic deeds, creative innovativeness, dedication and zeal in all he did. He was an inspiring and motivational leader, partner, friend, and advisor. It was hard for Ngozi Okokwu to come across you and not touch your life one way or another, positively. In my own case, from the moment our paths crossed in 2011, until his sad departure in December 2023, he was everything good and positive to me: my Other Father; My Partner; My Confidant; My Elder Brother; My Friend; My Learned Colleague; My Benefactor; My Helper; My Boss; My Well-wisher; My Advisor, My Fan, and many more. This is why his death is especially devastating to me.

Before he walked into a hospital theatre for the surgical session that consumed his precious life on 04 December 2023, we had a talk; he had called me to discuss the upcoming burial of my biological father, Mr. Nweke Edwin Udemezue who himself had then just, suddenly, departed on 18 November 2023. It was his third phone call in two weeks, about my father’s death and plans for his burial. That was how close Ngozi Okokwu was to me and my affairs, and how caring he was to me. Unfortunately, he did not live to witness my father’s burial scheduled for April 2024; he himself got suddenly recalled by his heavenly father. Walking freely and energetically into a theatre, and being put to sleep by the Doctors/Surgeons, only to never wake up after the session. What a way to leave! No goodbyes, no parting words, and nothing. Just like that! Ditto for my father, who before he breathed his last on 18 November 2023, was shouting to my younger sister (Dr Ifeoma Udemezue), “Call Sunday [Sylvester]. I want to talk to Sunday. Call Sunday. Please, call Sunday. I want to talk to Sunday”. Well, unfortunately, he could not talk to me before his death, for two reasons: (a) my younger sister, who is a medical doctor rushing him to a nearby hospital after he had slumped in Enugu town, had assured him that he would live, that he should wait until they got to the hospital, to talk to Sunday; (b) I was far away, inside a Nigerian Law School Bar Final Exam Hall, as a Supervisor, and was not even with my phone at that very moment, and thus may not even have answered the call, that is, if they had called. So it happened that my beloved father breathed his last at the gate of the hospital (Packlane General Hospital, Enugu), and could not talk to me, leaving confusing questions in my mind: How do I get to talk to my father, Pa Nweke Edwin Udemezue, again? Who knows what he had wanted to tell me? And why did death deny me the opportunity of talking to my father at a time he wanted a talk with me, the most? Death is deadly, makes a mockery of the whole life we live, and exposes us as meaninglessly nothing really but just dust, mere toys in the hands of the Creator who takes any whenever, however He chooses, without notice to us, unannounced. That was how I lost my two earthly fathers (my biological father, and my other father) within a space of about two weeks. And even when, both were in the mortuary, I kept waiting to hear that it was possible that these pieces of news were not true.

However, the fact that Arc. Ngozi Okokwu would be committed to mother earth today, Friday, 23 February 2024, has left no doubt in my mind that it is indeed true. These things are really true, that a man could be with you today, and tomorrow, no more, in the name of death.

Oga Ngozi, as we used to call you, sir, your death reminds me that when true friends die, something in/of us dies with them. The loss of a true friend is like that of a limb; time may heal the anguish of the wound, but the loss cannot be repaired. True friends fill time in our lives that will be vacant when they die. No wonder Eliza Cook said, “Every deceased friend is a magnet drawing us into another world”. This is partly because, as Carrie Jones was to explain, “Losing people you love affects you. It is buried inside of you and becomes this big, deep hole of ache. It doesn’t magically go away, even when you stop officially mourning”.

I cannot believe that today, Friday, 23 February 2024, I am at Ajaji Village in Illah Town, Delta State, not to visit my other father and friend, Arc Ngozi Okokwu, but to witness the committal to Mother Earth of his lifeless remains. It is unbelievable but a sad reality. I have no choice at this point, but to accept the reality which stares me in the face as I now stare, in disbelief, at Oga Ngozi’s corpse. I wish this was not true. But I have to face reality as it is, not as I wish it to be. Philip K. Dick was right: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”.

It’s well.

Oga Ngozi, sir, now that you’re finally being laid to rest, rest assured you’d not only rest in peace in His Exalted Bosom, you’d also live in my life, heart and affairs forever. Death has ended your life, but not my relationship with you and with your family. Goodbyes are not forever. Goodbyes are not the end. They simply mean I’ll miss you until we meet again. You’ll never be forgotten; that simply cannot be. As long as I am living, I’ll carry your memories with me, safely tucked within my heart, your light will always shine; a glowing ember never stilled, throughout the end of time. No matter what the future brings, or what may lie ahead, I know that our friendship will remain with me, and walk with me along the path I tread. Rest in peace, respected Barrister-at-law. Be at peace and let your soul fly free. One day we all will join your glorious flight for all eternity. Mr. Udems (you would always address me with reverence as “the law”) loves you, sir. I promise to stick to those wise counsel you offered me; and from the good path you showed me, I would never depart nor deviate, I promise, sir.

Yours truly,
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)
08109024556, 08039136749.
lawmentor@gmail.com.
(23 February 2024)


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