The exemplary life led by Lt. Colonel Christopher Edorhe Unuigbe still evokes fond memories 23 years after his passage, Davidson Iriekpen writes
To the family of the late Lt. Colonel Christopher Edorhe Unuigbe (rtd), if the pain and sorrow they have had to cope with could wake the dead, he would have long risen from the dead a long time ago. Unfortunately, this has not happened. Like every other year, last Monday marked exactly 23 years since he departed this world, yet members of his immediate and extended families have still not come to terms with his departure. Everyday, happenings around them still make them mull and sigh as they try to control their emotions inflamed by inestimable grief.
Col Unuigbe died on February 11, 1996 at the age of 52, leaving behind his wife, Patience, and five children who though have grown up, still greatly miss their dad due to happenings around them.
Admired by both the young and elderly, Christopher or Colonel as he was fondly called depending on one’s generation, died a great man.Perhaps, if he had lived in about 2,400 years ago, he would have qualified for the Pens of Pericles, a chronicling of the great by the great; a scribbling by the best of pens in the land.
Even though 23 whopping years have passed his passing on, his fond memories have not been dimmed by the lapse of time. Although a few other deaths have occurred in the family over the years, losing Christopher was specifically devastating and unforgetable. There often seems to be something that rekindles thoughts of how remarkable his life had been.
Despite the fact that he died young, his life was a strong affirmation of the saying that it’s by no means the number of years one lived that matters but the impact such a person made while alive and the lives they impacted.
Christopher led an exemplary life that proved to be a positive inspiration for everyone that came in contact with him. His generosity was not limited to his immediate family; friends, associates and in-laws had endless experience of his benevolence.
Colonel’s death thus represents a great loss not only to his immediate and extended families but his community. To the extended family, he was a unifying voice that fought doggedly to foster unity. He abhorred disputes and rancour and ensured that every disagreement, especially those that could potentially cause disunity in the family were promptly dealt with.
He believed very strongly and worked towards the education and uplift of every member of his family. He was a pillar. To his brothers and sisters, he was more or less a father; to his children, he was a guardian angel; indeed, to his wife, he was a dependable ally. To his in-laws, he was indeed God sent.
While he was alive, Colonel was a beacon whose light shone brightly on the entire family. His house was a Mecca of sorts; a place where virtually everyone sought and actually found succour. It’s instructive he never despised anyone, but rather drew everybody close and in doing so united members of the family.
Such were the impacts in made in people’s lives that even with the passage of time, words like “if only Christopher or Colonel were alive” still resonates.
His selflessness was evident in the fact that there was hardly anybody who left with a sense of dissatisfaction after having met him. From his meagre salary as military officer, he tried to make everybody happy. Perhaps the most enduring legacy lay in the tireless steps he took in bequeathing a yearning for education in his family. Having benefitted so much from education, which saw him traversing various cities of the world, Unuigbe encouraged members of his immediate and extended families to embrace education. He didn’t merely inspire them to pursue learning, he also paid their tuition fees. Even on his sick bed when those whose fees he had long borne feared their education would be truncated, he did not disappoint them. He carried on till his last breath. Those he persuaded to school and who refused are today regretting due to how the country has evolved.
In good times and bad, he never lost his capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with his warmth and kindness. He was admired and respected for his energy and obligation to others, and especially his devotion to the betterment of is people.
Born on May 24, 1944 to Pa Oviosun Unuigbe and Madam Comfort Imoafen, his early life was greatly influenced by his father (alias “De Bala” of blessed memory). He learnt from him the values of being upright, bold, truthful and caring for the welfare of all. Little wonder, then, that these qualities featured prominently in the life of Christopher Unuigbe even unto his death.
He had his primary education at St. Peter’s School, Uhonmora-Ora, and at Christ Church School, Ilaro. Thereafter, he had his secondary school education at Holy Trinity Grammar School, Sabongida-Ora, from 1959 to 1963 and was popularly known as “Chro Unisco.” He passed the concessional examination into University of Ibadan in 1964 and graduated with B.A. Hons (History) in 1968. He became a teacher on graduation and taught as a senior tutor at Anglican Girls Grammar School from June 1968 to March 1971.
He left his teaching job and joined the Nigerian Army as a commissioned officer in March 1971. He held several positions in the Nigerian Army comprising the following: history instructor at the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna from 1971 to 1975 and Commandant, Command Secondary School Kaduna from 1984 to 1987, among others. While in service, he returned to school and obtained a Post-Graduate Diploma in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos in 1975. He retired from the Nigerian Army in September 1990.
Upon retirement from the army, Colonel returned to his country home where he established a poultry business. He would later go into politics the next year when the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida administration lifted the ban on political activities. His genial personality and reputation endeared him to politicians in both the Owan axis as well as in the entire Edo North.
First, he pitched his tent with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) where he ran as running mate to Dr. Asuen who eventually lost the party’s ticket to Chief John Odigie-Oyegun who later became the state governor in 1992.
The high point of his political career was when he was appointed the Edo North Coordinator of the Alhaji Bamanga Tukur Presidential Campaign Organisation on the platform of the National Republican Convention (NRC). Shortly after the process was truncated by Babangida, he became ill and never recovered until his passage in 1996.
For those who knew him, his death was quite devastating. But they often found solace in his immense contributions to humanity and the positive impression he made on the lives of those fortunate to have known him in such a short sojourn on earth. It’s one memory that would always linger.
For those who knew him well, no doubt his democratic ideals as a great statesman with a strong voice who could have made a difference especially in these trying times of dearth of good leadership in the Owan axis will always be missed. So is his input in giving his people a very strong voice.
Despite the fact that it’s been 23 years since he passed on, the family is consoled that while Christopher was alive, he lived his life in the service of God and mankind. No doubt in the years to come, he will certainly live in the hearts and minds of all those he touched positively during his short but eventful life.
Speaking with THISDAY on how the family has been coping with the absence of Colonel, his wife, Mrs. Patience Unuigbe, who is the most affected by the loss, described him as great man, a loving and committed husband and father.
With an emotion-laden voice, she said: “It is only he/she who wears the shoes knows where and how it pinges. Life has not been easy since I lost my husband. How I have been able to cope for the past 23 years, only God can tell.”
To show how affectionately and intimately she missed her husband, Mrs. Unuigbe said, “It has been 23 years of lonely life.” She, however, thanked God for keeping her and the children alive and healthy, adding. “It has been very challenging, but God’s grace and mercies have been able to see me and the children. God has been my shield and buckler.”
Barely managing to speak because of the emotions the loss of her husband still evokes, she said: “He was a loving and committed husband and father. This love was also extended to everyone that crossed his path/way.
“We thank God for giving him to us. His life was a light that shone for all to see and follow. It gave hope, counsel and pointed people to their destinies. We cherish our memories of him and they will forever remain evergreen in our hearts.”
With the devastation of losing him still fresh in her mind, she noted: “My pain each time is that he died young, he worked very very hard, but he did not live to reap the fruits of his labour.
Still trying to console herself, she concluded: “In all of these, God has proved himself strong and mighty, since He is husband of the widows and father of the fatherless.”