Ikenga Nelson Igwe Uko: A Victorious Soul Returns to His Maker


By Okechukwu Oko

“W hen beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes,” writes William Shakespeare. So, it was not surprising that the South-East literally stood still as Ikenga Nelson Igwe Uko was laid to rest at the weekend.
Professor Eugene Rustow once remarked that the greatest force in life is the image and example of a good man. This statement captures the life of Ikenga Uko, mentor, hero, and father figure who died peacefully at his home on January 28, 2018. Loaded with honor and enshrined in public esteem, this placid, imperturbable avatar of human decency does not need anyone to burnish his image in flowery words. The simple deeds of a lifetime speak far more eloquently than any words of ours about this remarkable man and the legacy of hope, love and strength he leaves behind. He lived a life that can be appropriately described as a template of human decency.
In looking back over Ikenga’s long and immensely fulfilled life, three passions stand out: absolute faith in God, love for family, genuine concern for fellow human beings. A serene, strong, and secure soul, he exemplified magnificently the virtues of honor, honesty and integrity, which he valued so highly and persistently sought to transmit to his children and those around him. Ikenga’s kindness, life’s work and noble spirit will forever brighten and elevate the lives of those privileged to know him. He leaves behind a legacy very few, if any can surpass – a name unsoiled and unsullied, a wife and children who remain paradigms of decency and true epitomes of the virtues he espoused; friends and relatives ennobled by him, a community overwhelmed by gratitude for the contributions of their inimitable and matchless Ikenga.
Countless people who came to his home– friends, children’s friends, relatives, inlaws – were treated like his own children. I am blessed to be one of them. We were drawn to his charm, dignity, and electricity that powered our imaginations and pushed us to emulate his noble virtues. He was a solicitous mentor, pleasant surrogate father, a reliable guide, treasured friend, and most importantly, our conscience. Most of us were challenged and changed by his examples and words of wisdom. Those of us, who followed his advice, will never forget him.
He was protective of his wife, Mrs. Ori Uko.  An equable and graceful soul, a genial personality, who always sees the best in every soul, she immensely enriched Ikenga’s life, infusing it with beauty, meaning, and purpose. Mmo Ori’s love and affection illuminated Ikenga’s path to peace and enabled him to live a meaningful, fulfilled, and capacious life.
Watching Mmo Ori take care of Ikenga with tenderness and resolve, and his genuine trust in her care remains one of the most uplifting and profound lessons those of us close to the family have ever witnessed in our lives. Ikenga labored valiantly and successfully to give his children a loving and disciplined family life. He raised a family fortified by the belief that confidence and faith in God will overcome all adversities. He encouraged his children to put people before possessions, principle before prestige and love for God above all else.
Great as his achievements were, Ikenga will be remembered even more for himself. His dominant and endearing traits were a luminous integrity, sincerity, and unswerving commitment to the truth. He did things for others without expecting reward and without thought of self-glorification. A life graced by length of years, tender and pure heart, and burning desire to improve the lives and living conditions of those around him made Ikenga an unadulterated blessing and pure joy to those privileged to interact with him. As long as “memory holds a seat in this distracted globe”, history will point to Ikenga as one of the country’s noblest souls. He will always be held in enduring esteem and affection.
As age took its toll, dotage beckoned and death loomed, he gracefully accepted the trappings and limits of age, sustained by a profound and unshakeable faith in God and irrepressible delight in his family. He remained tenaciously fastened onto Jesus Christ and in Him, found the comforts of faith, hope and peace – the latter in measures that passeth all human understanding.  He refused to wallow in the futility of reviewing what he could and should have done differently; rather he contemplated life’s eternal horizon and looked forward to spending eternity with his maker. He looked to the future, not with anxiety and concerns, but with confidence and serenity. He spoke glowingly about his wife, boldly declaring that “it would have been impossible for my life to turn out the way it did, if Ori had not been my wife.” He joyfully recounted the satisfaction of watching his children enter honorable adulthood. He believed that prayer should never degenerate into a litany of complaints, petitions and requests to God, but should be one of complete surrender to the will of God, the kind of prayer Jesus Christ offered on the cross at Calvary.
We were blessed with Ikenga’s presence, we will be blessed with his memory. The greatest tribute we can pay him is to honor him with our lives and our love. Ikenga’s spirit still patrols the corridors of our lives. He stands with his arms raised beckoning us to the road that leads to a better live, shepherding us away from things that debase, distort and devalue the human soul. His memory will forever remain to us, a siren, a lodestone, a signpost and a way to decent living – the kind that assures us of a place in in God’s Kingdom.
Mmo Ori, as Ikenga enters eternity and you approach it, we know that you gave Ikenga your all, cheerfully and dutifully honored your marital vow, blissfully refrigerated him from life’s stresses and worries, and eased his passing. Ikenga now rests in the bosom of the Lord where sickness, pain, and death are felt and feared no more. We join you in bidding Ikenga goodbye and praying for the repose of his soul. Just like you admonished, there will be no tears, no grief, no regrets— just the celebration of life lived to its fullest, rich in service to humanity, and faithfulness to God.
Ikenga loved and followed the Lord and faithfully served Him to the end. And now blessedly, he returns to Him victorious, triumphant and without blemish. God has already raised up Ikenga, his good and faithful servant above the highest hills to a pinnacle of immortal glory. He ran well and finished his race with remarkable dignity, grace and faithfulness. May his example of wise, decent and compassionate living challenge and inspire us as we continue this race.  Shakespeare’s beautiful words on the death of Hamlet come to mind: “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
Left to me, Ikenga’s tombstone should bear this simple message: Herein lies Ikenga Nelson Igwe UKO, the builder of souls, the truth-teller, and the conscience of the community.
We miss you dearly Ikenga and the world is less joyful without you. Rest in Peace Ikenga, my mentor, hero, friend and moral compass.

–Oko is a Professor of Law, Southern University Law Centre, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA