By Nkem Okeke
Sir Richard Nwachukwu Okeke (born Richard Chukwukodinaka Okeke) Ezuo, meaning ‘complete’ of Enugwu-UkwunaUmunri – a man whose footprints in the sands of time were marked by him inspiring many with his integrity, dedication to God, family and service to humanity. He was born on December 10, 1927 to late Simon Okonkwo Okeke and late Lucy NwairuakuOkeke in EnugwuUkwu, Njikoka Local Government Area, Anambra State.
‘RN’, as he was fondly called, grew up a precocious lad. He completed his primary education in December 1943, in Kano. He attended secondary school at Africa College, Onitsha, and was the first student in the Eastern Region to sit for the Secondary School Certificate Examination in Class Five after three years of secondary school. He passed with Grade 1 and London Matriculation Exemption. After secondary school he worked briefly with the Nigeria Railway Corporation in Zaria. He was later posted to Jos as a Telegraph Clerk in 1948.
He married Miss Dorothy Nwakego Okeke in 1951, after which he left for England to attend Borough Polytechnic, London from 1952-1956 and graduated as an Electrical Engineer. He came back to Nigeria in 1957 and joined Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) later known as National Electric Power Authority, as an Engineer Grade 1. He was one of the indigenous pioneer engineers that blazed the trail of excellence and was popularly called ‘Okeke ECN’ by his peers. With hard work and dedication, he rose through the ranks from Engineer Grade 1 (1957-1959),to Engineer and Manager (1959-1960), Manager (1960-1961), Manager and District Manager (1961-1962), District Manager (1962-1964), Area Manager (1964-1967 and 1970-1972), Chief Engineer Purchasing (1972-1976), Director of Distribution West (1976-1977).
Some major transformational management and engineering feats were initiated and supervised by Okeke whilst in the employ of NEPA as Area Manager for then Eastern Nigeria, including Makurdi and Otukpo. This included the design, construction and maintenance of 66KVtransmission lines and the installation and commissioning of 7.5MVA 66KV/11KV transformer substation with 11KV switch panel at both Onitsha and Enugu. As director in 1976, Okeke planned the construction and electrification of Shagamu, Iperu, Ago-Iwoye and Ijebu Igbo.
Perhaps, what can be described as the most enduring legacy of service to his people in Enugwu-Ukwu and neighboring communities of Abagana, Nimo and Nawfia, was Okeke’s sanctioning of the capital intensive construction and supply of electricity, thereby providing a major catalyst in the emergence of these towns as pioneers in development and enlightenment in the area.
Okeke held memberships of many revered professional associations, including the British Institute of Electrical Engineers (MIEE) since1962. He became one of the indigenous pioneer members of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (MNSE) in 1969 (NSE No. 93) and became a fellow (FNSE) in 1982. He was elected a member of the British Institute of Management in 1971 and in 1977, became a member of the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN).
After meritorious service and his voluntary retirement in 1977 at the prime age of 49, Engr. Okeke established RENACS Engineering Nigeria Limited; growing it into a leading electrical engineering construction company as its Chairman/Managing Director. He was also the Chairman/Managing Director of A.B. Engineering Nigeria Limited which he founded in 1985. Okeke superintended over the affairs and made a success of the two companies until he finally handed over the reins to his second son, Engr. Chief EmekaOkeke. Thereafter, he retired to his beloved home town in 1992 at the age of 65, still maintaining the position of Chairman of these companies.
Chief Okeke’s legacy of integrity is the hallmark of his life. Integrity was the bedrock of his life as demonstrated in the exemplary standards he consistently maintained in all that he did; the beautiful family he nurtured and his unblemished career. It equally reflected in his numerous affiliations with his kindred, associates and the community in general. The lives and attainments of his seven children, among several other beneficiaries, are veritable testimonies to this great legacy of integrity.
His devotion to God was evident in his daily life, fellowship at home and with other Christians and members of the Anglican communion. He was a member of his church choir and his love for music spurred him to teach himself how to play the organ at 65. He readily deployed this skill in service to God, playing regularly at church services to the delight of Anglican faithfuls in Immanuel Church, Enugwu-Ukwu, where he also served as President-General from 1987 to 2005. In 1996, he was one of the pioneer Knights conferred with Knighthood of the Order of St Paul at St Faith’s Cathedral, Awka. Ezuo played a vital role in nurturing The parish church of St Monica, Enugwu-Ukwu (an off shoot of Immanuel Church) into being and frequently worshipped there.
As a strong advocate of education, Engr. Okeke strongly believed that a man’s legacy was in his children and their educational attainment. He spared no effort in imparting the values of education to his entire family. He was a father to many others when it came to academics. He sponsored several bright but less privileged children and took delight in the achievements of all children, both biological and otherwise.
Ezuo believed in his family, was a very peaceful man and insisted on peace amongst his children. He demonstrated this exceptionally by distributing all his assets between his wife and children in his lifetime; a commendable gesture that was appreciated by them all.
A winner of many laurels and awards for exemplary leadership and quiet philanthropy; One ofsuch was the recognition of his contributions to the progress of his town Enugwu-Ukwu for which he was conferred with a chieftaincy title of Ezuo of Enugwu-UkwunaUmunri in January 1973 by His Royal Highness, Igwe Osita Agwuna, the late Igwe Umunri and Eze Enugwu-Ukwu. In 1987, he was admitted to the prestigious Ozo Nkpu; the highest Ozo title in Enugwu-Ukwu. Until his passing, he was the longest living serving cabinet member in Enugwu-Ukwu cabinet of chiefs; having served for 43 years and second only to the late Igwe Agwuna.
Ezuo’s marriage to Chief Lady Dorothy NwakegoOkeke ended 18 days shy of their 65th wedding anniversary. The union is blessed with seven illustrious children, Uchenna, Nkemakonam, Chukwuemeka, Ngozi, Ifeatu, Anyanna and Chinedu.Engr. R.N. Okeke and his wife have had every reason to be grateful to God who has not only given them a total of twenty grandchildren and one great grandchild, but also Ezuo lived to see his first daughter; Dr. (Mrs) Uchenna Joy Ikokwu retire meritoriously as the Chief Medical Director, Ministry of Defence, Abuja, and his first son Engr. Dr.NkemOkeke become the Deputy Governor of Anambra State.
A handsome man with a unique personality! It is remarkable that Engr. Chief Sir Richard Nwachukwu Okeke, Ezuo of Enugwu-UkwunaUmunri who was born 88 years ago on10thDecember, 1927 died at10 am on 10th April, 2016, will be buried on 10th June, 2016 after his funeral service that will start at 10 am. Rest in peace. Ezuo Rest in peace, Okeke ECN. May your noble and very progressive soul find eternal rest in our Lord. Amen.
Okeke is Deputy Governor of Anambra State.