Omeloha has left us, the unexpected long-distant phone call announced that Wednesday afternoon. The man, whose given names were Benjamin Madumelu Egbosimba, actually departed this earth on Fathers’ Day, Sunday, June 17, less than six months before his 93rd birthday.
Even as I was jolted by the news, my heart warmed up with the recollections of my relatively recent encounters with this great unsung Nigerian, fondly called Omeloha. He was called Omeloha – literally, the one, who does for all – because of his passion for serving humanity.
Flashback to sometime in 1970. The 30-month long Nigerian Civil War had just ended and Omeloha was back to Lagos. Huddled at his desk, he was poring over figures he had written down on a sheet of paper when a colleague asked him what he was doing.
“I’m calculating school fees for 28 people,” was his reply.
Indeed, supporting his extended family on his meagre civil service salary, and that of his wife, was what he spent the greater part of his life doing. He not only sent several young people to school, he also helped several others get employment in P&T. Some of these later studied overseas, where they qualified as engineers. Among the latter were many Arondizuogu indigenes, who studied in the U.S.
Many still owe him a debt of gratitude for not only getting them employed, but also for his unwavering interest in their well-being. He would, for instance, want to know if they were saving money and advise them on why they should. Whenever there were scholarship opportunities, he would send messages to them, urging them to apply. Sometimes, he would ask them to stop by the house for discussions bordering on their careers. His then telephone number – 042 (Enugu code) 254716 – was not only accessible, but also well known to them.
His philanthropic activities did not remain unnoticed by the Enugu branch of the Arondizuogu Patriotic Union (APU), who conferred the title, “Omeloha”, on him. This same title was subsequently formally conferred on him in 1987 by the traditional ruler of Arondizuogu, HRH Eze John Dike, for his passion for the development of his home town.
He was the last-born child of the eight children of Mazi Egbosimba Ikewete of Ndi Ogbuonyeoma community of Arondizuogu and Nwannedie Okoye of Igbo-Ukwu. Before he was born on Saturday, December 12, 1925 in Ndi Ogbuonyeoma, three brothers and four sisters had preceded him. His date of birth was recorded by his elder brother.
If philanthropy was the fulcrum on which his life pivoted, Omeloha should not be less remembered for his lustrous academic achievements, which culminated with a BSc degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, U.S.
Right from the year 1935 when he was enrolled at a Catholic primary school in Ndi Aniche in Arondizuogu, it was clear that he was on the path to academic distinction. Thus, he found himself literally rushed through three classes (Primary 1 to 3) in a record one year. In the last primary school he attended (St Theresa’s Catholic School, Okigwe), after having been moved from several, the headmaster and Standard 6 teacher noticed his academic brilliance and advised his brother and guardian, Godfrey, to send him to secondary school.
Enrolling as a student of the Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha in January 1945 meant giving up his auxiliary teaching appointment at the St Theresa’s Catholic School, which he had taken on the completion of his primary school education. But that insatiable thirst for education continuously spurred him on.
In 1947, Omeloha sat for the School Certificate Examination as a private student even when he was still in Class 5 and passed with a Grade II result. Thus, he raced through his secondary education in three years. But the CKC principal, Reverend Father M. Flanagan, who had initially refused to give him a testimonial, finally consented and wrote in the remarks column that Omeloha “took the School Certificate Examination without the knowledge of the college authorities”.
The next year, Benjamin got a job as a Sub-Inspector III-in-training with the Post & Telecommunications Company (the predecessor of the Nigerian Telecommunications Company, which was better known as NITEL). And this was about two months after he took the company’s examination.
While in a three-and-a-half year course in the P&T School in Oshodi, Lagos, he registered for a tuition course in economics with the Rapid Results Correspondence College in the UK. Though he had fully paid for the course and covered its syllabus in a year, he still could not take the Inter BSc examination on account of the increased work pressure at the P&T. He was later transferred to Onitsha to head its station, where his new responsibilities forced him to abandon the correspondence course, which would have earned him a BSc in economics and empowered him enough to leave the P&T. He was instead afterwards posted to Enugu, where he further distinguished himself with his reputation for excellence.
Soon after his marriage on November 10, 1956, to his childhood playmate, Florence, at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Enugu, he was promoted 1957 to the position of a senior technical officer at the P&T.
In January 1958, while visiting Lagos with his wife and first daughter during his annual leave that he got a government scholarship, which he did not apply for, to study electrical engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, U.S. Since he still retained his post as a senior technical officer with the P&T, this qualified as a study leave with pay.
In the U.S., where his wife joined him the following year, he continued to excel academically. Even with his tight schedule, he made out the time to groom his wife in physics and mathematics. He also found time for religious activities and travels around the U.S..
Later becoming the president of Purdue’s African Students’ Association, a post he held until his graduation from the university with a BSc degree in electrical engineering in 1961, was an icing to his extracurricular activities. On Nigeria’s Independence Day on October 1, 1960, he was chosen by fellow Nigerian students to address a university audience.
He later returned to Nigeria and to his job at the P&T but was this time posted to the telecommunications company’s headquarters’ External Plants Section in a different part of Lagos in 1962. In February 1963, Florence joined him in Lagos as one of the mathematics teachers of St Gregory’s College, where she taught the likes of Emeka Azikiwe (the son of the late nationalist Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe), the late Funsho Williams and the twin sons of the late Dr Lambo. She later moved on to a neighbouring school Holy Child College.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Egbosimbas fled first to Enugu, where Omeloha temporarily settled for a job in the Public Works Department, before moving with his family to Arondizuogu.
He briefly returned to Lagos at the end of the Civil War before he was transferred to Enugu in1973, where he became the P&T’s District Engineer/Manager and an assistant to the then Territorial Controller Jonathan Boytie Ogufere, who established the P&T-sponsored team, Vasco da Gama, on May 16, 1970.
Reuniting with his family in Enugu afforded him the time to ensure that the children attended the best schools and practised their Catholic faith with devotion. The family’s membership of the Enugu Sports Club took care of the extra-curricular activities, which included the weekly Thursday outings to watch movies, as well as local and international youth camps.
Several years later, he was at the helm of P &T as the Territorial Controller of the former East Central State (now split into Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states) and became the chairman of the Enugu-based football club, Vasco da Gama. Under his watch as Territorial Controller, new post offices and telephone exchanges were built. By 1983, after 12 years in Enugu, he resumed as the P&T Territorial Controller of the then Bendel State, present-day Edo and Delta states.
The following year, he retired from P&T and devoted his time as a full-time member of the Arondizuogu Patriotic Union Executive Committee. Before now, he was so passionate about issues bordering on the development of his home town that he also became a member of the Arondizuogu Leaders of Thought.
In 1995, Omeloha became a member of Knights of St John International Commandary 414, Enugu while his wife joined the Order of St John International Enugu as a Lady Auxiliary (LAUX 339) as well as becoming a member of the League of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a member of the Association of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in 1996.
The couple celebrated the Golden Jubilee Anniversary of their wedding in 2007 with their children and their families coming together in a bond of fellowship to celebrate the landmark event, with hundreds of family friends and relatives.
Sadly, on November 17, 2011, his wife and companion of 55 years passed on and was interred on December 16, almost a month after.
Omeloha, who departed this earth-life on Father’s Day, June 17, 2018, lived the rest of his years trusting in the goodness of the Most High and counting his blessings.
Omeloha is survived by six Children, 18 Grandchildren and two great grandchildren as well as nieces, nephews and other relatives and in-laws. He touched the lives of both family and many mentees, is greatly loved and will be missed by many.
Omeloha of Arondizuogu! Sir Benjamin Egbosimba!! May your journey to the Abode of the Blessed be smooth!