By Charles Ike-Okoh
Sir Jonathan Obiajulu Keshi was born in the early hours of June 6, 1926. It was in the then sleepy town of Onicha-Olona, north of the lower Niger. He was a child of old age; born to the late Pa Jeremiah Okoh Keshi and the late Rebecca Kikanwa Keshi of Umuozolumona, Ogbe-Obi Village. His middle name “Obiajulu” which means “now my heart is at peace” was only apt for a first male child who came late in a man’s life after girl children in a typical Enu-Ani family where Okeibuno (man is the rock of the homestead or family).
JOK as he was fondly called by his peers lived his early life with his father the late Pa Jeremiah Okoh Keshi a retired Catechist of the Anglican Communion, who had just returned from his last station of Obosi in the present day Anambra State. In 1942, he passed the entrance examination to the prestigious Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) Onitsha. However, he could not take up the admission due to lack of funds. His father had struck a deal with the then Diocesan Bishop Alphonsus Onyeabor whose son took his place in DMGS, in return for a teaching job.
Thus began his teaching career, first at the neighbouring Akwuku-Igbo, then Owa-Oyibo, Onicha-Ugbo and eventually Aba in present-day Abia State. Having seemingly lost the chance of attending a grammar school, the man had taken up the challenge. He was very bright in both science and arts subjects with passion for agricultural studies and history. He had sought knowledge in both. Hoping to get a job as a teacher of Agricultural Science, he had first attended in-service non-certificate programmes at The Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Samaru, Zaria. But his passion for history paid an early dividend. He soon made all his requisite papers in arts subjects without going through a secondary school. This earned him a place at the University of Ibadan for a degree course in History Education. JOK was thus to become the first, and arguably the only person in his home town and beyond to go through the University, without seeing the four walls of a secondary school.
In 1959 at the age of 33 he was appointed founding Vice Principal of The Provincial Teachers’ Training College, Igueben (now College of Education, Igueban) where Mr. Abraham Osunbor father of Senator (Prof.) Oserheimen Osunbor, former Edo State Governor, was Principal. In 1963 following Osunbor’s incursion into politics as a parliamentarian and Education Minister in the then Midwest Region, Sir Jonathan was appointed Principal of the school, a position he held for a reasonably long time.
In January 1970 immediately after the civil war, he was appointed Principal, Osadebay High School (Osadennis), Asaba. His mission was to salvage the school from the detritus of the Biafran war. He had had a blueprint for the school named after Chief Dennis Osadebay a major founding father of the Midwestern Region and the First Head of Government of the Region; a man he revered so much. His persistence on certain deliverables and his tenacity in his insistence had cut short his salvation mission at Osaddenis. He was sent first to Martin College Issele-Uku, and next to the then St. Thomas’ Teachers’ College, Igbuzor (now Federal Government College, Igbuzor) before moving to Escravos to head Ogidigben Grammar School, another school he helped to rebuild, as Principal. From Escravos he was again sent to rebuild Ugbeka College Evbhoghae in today’s Edo State. Sir Jonathan retired meritoriously in August 1984 a Principal special grade. He was 58.
After his retirement, still full of energy, his uncommon skills in school administration earned him a contract in an arrangement between the Federal Government and the then Bauchi State Government. This saw him on another salvation mission at the Federal Teachers’ College Gombe, where he was Principal between 1985 and 1991. In the latter year, his children had prevailed on him to decline a renewal of his contract and to return home. He obliged them and remained in full retirement until his transition in April this year.
In 1954, Sir Jonathan met the delectable Elfrida Ojeah of Ubulu Okiti who was also a young teacher. They courted for less than three years and got married at the St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Onicha-Olona on April 27, 1957. JOK’s friends used to remind him how he boasted in his early days of marriage that he went to Ubulu-Okiti to “snatch” their golden trophy as no one there was man enough to win her. His wife Ezinne Elfrida Nkeolisanyem Adaolie Keshi, Lady of Saint Mary was the first girl to attend a secondary school in her home town Ubulu-Okiti.
Their marriage which produced seven children (four boys; three girls) was unique in many ways. First, it lasted exactly 60 years as Sir Jonathan Obiajulu Keshi died on April 27, 2017 on the 60th Anniversary of his wedding. Secondly no neighbour, no sibling of theirs, no friend, ever had to counsel them after a fight because they never heard of any. But there were fights. Further, in the 60 years of their marriage not one day, not one hour, not one minute did his wife move out of the house due to a quarrel, or for any other reason.
Sir Jonathan will be remembered for many things. He had a passion for helping the needy, and would continue to do so even for people that did not reciprocate with gratitude. Most of all, he will be remembered for his passion for education, where he not only invested heavily in his children but on just about anyone who came to him, on the other. His seven children include Dr. Onochie Keshi (MBBS; MICOG; MRCPI-O&G), visiting consultant gynecologist, the Republic of Ireland, and resident consultant in Trinidad. Next is Mr. Ngozi Keshi (FCFIP; FCCFA; FCCI; CFE; FCA) an accountant and a certified forensic investigator with many fellowships. These include those of the International Institute of Certified Forensic Investigation Professionals, the International Institute of Certified Chartered Forensic Accountants, and the Institute of Certified Accountants of Nigeria ICAN, among others.
His immediate younger sibling Dr. Chuba Keshi (B.Sc; M.Sc; M.Phil; D.Phil, PhD) a veteran journalist, banker and one time Professor of Management, Monarch Business School, Switzerland; Ms. Joy Ugo Keshi (B.A; MBA;CPM & JD Candidate) a technocrat in the US. Next is Dr.(Mrs) Ifeoma Sylvester-Monye (MBBS; FRCGP; MRCGP; DCH; DRCOG; DFFP) founding Head of Family Medicine, National Hospital, Abuja where she is also a Principal Consultant; Mr. Ifeanyi Keshi (B.Sc), businessman, the UK, and Dr. (Mrs.) Chinye Keshi-Nwambuonwu (B.Sc; JD), an accountant and US Attorney.
Sir Jonathan Obiajulu Keshi, Knight of Saint Christopher died a fulfilled man of 91. He was a devout Christian of the Anglican Communion where he was a Lay Reader. He particularly regaled copiously in hymns of old for which the Anglican Church is known. He was the oldest man and Head among his kindred of Umuozolumona in Ogbe-Obi Village of Onicha-Olona. May his great soul rest in peace!