WARRANT CHIEF OZO NGWUNWAGU ONODUGO
Nze Barr. Ben Onodugo (Nwa-ana-amulu-oha)
Some people are born great; some are made great; while others achieve greatness by dint of hard work. All three situations apply for Warrant Chief Ozo Ngwunwagu Onodugo. Chief Ozo Ngwunwagu Onodugo is a scion of the legendary Ochete Anobu Udeji dynasty, comprising of long generations of Ozo title holders – titles depicting fame, royalty, integrity, uprightness, trust and high moral standards. In the days gone by, the Ozo title was most prestigious and marked a man who lived a life of distinction.
The father of Chief Ngwunwagu is Ishi-Ofia Ngwumahalu of Umuoka village of Umuavulu, Abor. Ngwunwagu’s father took the Ozo title of ONODUGO ADIGHU EGBE NMA (ONODUGO, for short), among other names. The mother of Chief Ngwunwagu is Nono Nwaliweaku (nwa Uzongwa, of Alagu Village, Umuavulu-Abor). The sons of OZO ONODUGO, in order of their seniority, are: Ozo Offiadiaku Okwoji Onodugo, Warrant Chief Ozo Ngwunwagu Onodugo, Pa Anikwe Onodugo, Chief Felix Ihemakwuru Onodugo (Best Man), Pa Simeon Chipandu Onodugo (Enugu Coal Camp Master), Pa Afamefuna Sunday Onodugo, Ozo Patrick Udenwogu Onodugo (Akwulu-ahaluko), Pa Enunwagu Policarp Onodugo, and Mr. Onyeneje Onodugo.
Chief Ozo Ngwunwagu Onodugo did not receive formal Western education. His father who was a great warrior, farmer and horse merchant took Ngwunwagu to distant places in the course of his trading. The experiences garnered from the many places he visited helped Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo in his later years, as a community leader. At a young age, Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo took the prestigious Ozo title, and became Ozo Nnabuenyi. This title shot him into the lime light.
Before Ngwunwagu came into prominence in Abor, the leader of Abor community was Ozo Ukwuani Okeakpu who was also by that position a member of the Udi/Agbaja Customary Court at Eke where the Paramount Ruler Chief Onyeama Owushi was the Chairman. Ngwunwagu emerged as leader following a landslide victory at a plebiscite conducted by the British Colonial District Officer, in November 1910, at Orie Abor market square. Prominent amongst those who supported the election of Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo then were Ozo Agadangwu Ochi, Ozo Ozougwu Okpokwu, Ozo Igala Oba, etc. After the election, Ngwunwagu became the leader of the Abor community, a member of the Udi/Agbaja Customary Court, and the first person to be appointed a Warrant Chief in Abor town.
DEVELOPMENT TRUSTS OF CHIEF NGWUNWAGU ONODUGO
Chief Ngwu-nwa-agu was a man of great influence in the Udi District of the Colonial Administration. He was one of the four high chiefs out of the eight chiefs from Eke, Ngwo, Abor and Nsude, who signed the agreement that ceded ten square miles of land for both the Colliery and the development of what the government later called Enugu Township, in 1917 (National Archives, Enugu, File No C8/1924, Udi Colliery and Railway Lands Agreement ‘B’ (NAE)). The other High Chiefs included Chief Onyeama of Eke, Chief Ofo of Ngwo, and Chief Ozo-Eze of Nsude. These Chiefs, according to the document cited above, were each paid ₤50 (fifty pounds) for signing the agreement. There are also other documents revealing that Ngwunwagu was among those Udi Chiefs who received the rent for the Udi Forest Reserve, now Iva Valley Area in Enugu Metropolis. Other Chiefs who also received such rent included Paramount Chiefs Onyeama of Eke and Chukwuani Nwangwu of Nkanu. But for these Udi Chiefs, the rapid exposure and development which came to Enugu area at that time would not have been possible. Enugu eventually became the capital of the then Eastern region, notwithstanding the fact that it was among the area previously referred to as the “hinterlands” by the Europeans. The Europeans were only able to penetrate this area many years (about seventy years) after the Igbo coastal towns (such as Aboh, Onitsha, Asaba, Uguta, etc.) were penetrated and largely developed.
Warrant Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo also made positive and remarkable contributions to the development of Abor, Ojebe Ogene and environs. Under his leadership, Abor built an office at the present site of St. Theresa Girls Secondary School Abor for the construction of the 9th Mile Corner-Abor-Okpatu-Ukehe road under the Colonial Government. He also participated in the supervision of the construction of the Milliken Hill (Enugu Ngwo to Enugu Urban Road), and contributed labourers for the construction of the road.
It was Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo who sought for, and got approval for a separate Customary Court for Ojebe-Ogene Clan. The Court was first sited in Ebe but was later removed to Ebo-Ngodo in Ukana for its central position for convenience of attendance by other chiefs in Ojebe-Ogene Clan. Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo presided over the court at one time or the other, as was the rule.
Politically, Chief Ngwunwagu would always be remembered in Abor and present locality of what was then the Udi/Agbaja District of the then Colonial Government as one who played politics without bitterness. Under his regime as the Warrant Chief of the entire Abor community, Ozo Agada-ngwu Ochi of Amukwu was brought in as Court Member representing Ibute, Abor then. Also, “Amu-Pelioku” of Ifiaka family of Ugwunanu and “Abara-Uku” (Ozo Ukwu Nwa-anukagu) of Ngwuagu were recognized as “Isi-ani” representing Ikenga, Abor and Ibute, Abor (respectively) in the Native Court at Ebe, at that time (“Native Court of Ebe, Umu-Ojebe-Ogene, Enugu, Onitsha Province”, Enugu Archives). With these respective leaders, Ngwunwagu constituted/introduced representative council where matters concerning Abor were discussed. By this, Abor was ruled democratically and peacefully. The customary matters were handled by Oha Abor which was made up of people who could afford the requirements for membership. Though its membership was not democratic, its decisions were regarded as sacrosanct.
Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo was the first man in the Ojebe-Ogene clan to build an upstair, a house, with bricks and cement blocks. The magnificent upstair was officially opened by the Paramount Chief of Agbaja or Udi District, Chief Onyeama Owushi of Eke, in June 1926. Today, the house stands to testify the greatness of Abor and her citizens.
In spite of his influence and laudable undertakings, Chief Ngwunwagu was neither greedy nor selfish. He did not acquire land in Enugu metropolis nor did he forcefully take other people’s land in his community Abor or anywhere else. He increased his influence and friendship through marriage ties with neighbouring communities of Ebe, Ukana, Umulumgbe, Ngwo, in Udi L.G.A; Ukehe in Igbo Etiti L.G.A, and Oghe in Ezeagu L.G.A. His wives, who numbered about 17, participated in his farming activities. In those days the number of wives a man had accounted for his wealth and status in his community. The marriages also gave him a sense of security on his visits to neigbouring towns and communities.
ADVENT OF CHRISTIANITY AND EDUCATION IN ABOR, UDI LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA, ENUGU STATE
A journey of a thousand mile, they say, starts with a step. This applies to the historical origin of St. Theresa Catholic Church and St. Peter Catholic Church, all of Abor. The European humanity and benevolence and their attending evangelical passion for lost souls brought them to Abor in Udi LGA of Enugu State.
In 1919, Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo initiated and promoted the establishment of the Roman Catholic Mission and school in Abor under Eke Parish, headed by Rev. Father Joachim Correia. The first mass in Abor was consecrated on 4th January 1919 in his compound, and from then, holy masses were held in his compound and he led by example by sitting in the Mass. He continued until the church moved to the present site of St Theresa Girls Secondary School, Abor.
In 1922-1923, a sizeable church building was erected at the present site of the church and was dedicated to St. Theresa and consecrated on 3rd October, 1923 (See “The Advent and Growth of Catholic Church in Abor, Udi LGA Enugu State, 1919-1996”, by Chief G.E. Njeze; see also p.32 “Centenary History of Enugu Diocese” published in 1985”).
The Catholic Mission employed teachers to teach in the school which came with the church in 1919, and Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo single handedly fed the teachers and paid their salaries for about one year before the Catholic Mission took over payment of the teachers’ salaries. The teachers were also accommodated in Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo’s palace.
In 1923, encouraged by the support given by Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo, the then Eke Parish Priest, Rev. Father Marcel Grandlin, carried his evangelical trek into the then hinterland of Abor where he established a second Roman Catholic Church at “Onu Be Ugwunecheoha”. About 1934-1935, this second church building was moved to the new and present site and was dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle and consecrated on 29th June 1935 (“Advent and Growth of Catholic Church in Abor, Udi LGA Enugu State” by Chief G.E. Njeze).
Some of the first baptized Christians in Abor were Mr. Jerome Ukwu, and Chief Isaac Madike, the Ibenekwume of Abor (p.31 “Centenary History of Enugu Diocese” 1985) and also (The Advert and Growth of Catholic Church in Abor, Udi LGA Enugu State” by Chief G.E. Njeze). On the education front, Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo sponsored and encouraged families in Abor to send their male children to school. At a time, he applied some form of coercion and persuasion. He even approved the conscription of male children into school. Chief Bernard I. Ogbozor told a story of how he was conscripted into the School. He remained ever grateful to Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo and his family until his death a few years ago.
Some of the early beneficiaries of formal education in Abor included: Pa Simeon Onodugo (Coal Camp Master), Chief Isaac Madike, Pa Peter Onyechi, Pa John Mbaeze, Chief Joseph Okpokwu, Pa Lazarus Edikpa, Pa Paulicarp Onodugo, Chief B.I. Ogbozo. By providence and before the advent of a school in Abor, Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo had sent Chief Felix Ifemakwuru Onodugo, his immediate younger brother, to go to school in Udi, and later to Bonny in the present Rivers State where Felix obtained his First School Leaving Certificate (Standard Six Certificate) in 1923, thus becoming the first Abor indigene to obtain First School Leaving Certificate.
Since the year 1919, the Catholic Church has made tremendous achievements in Abor where it is still enjoying near monopoly of operation in spite of the presence of pockets of other denominations, mainly Pentecostal churches, which mostly operate and worship in private homes and temporary buildings. That seed sown in 1919 by Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo has now grown and blossomed, yielding flowers and fruits as evidenced by the numerous indigenous Catholic Priests and the religious, including Rev. Sisters that Abor has today. This testifies to how enthusiastic the people of Abor have been to embrace the Roman Catholic Church. The enthusiasm is still here, thus culminating in this 2019 Centenary Celebration of the coming of the Catholic Church in Abor, which ushered in education, infrastructural development, economic empowerment and, by extension, better standard of living for the people of Abor.
Though Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo was not a baptized Christian, he lived the Christian four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and courage (or fortitude), with the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Before he died, he enjoined members of his family not to build an altar for him or worship him like a god, and that all of them should embrace Christianity. To the glory of God, the family has been trying to keep this faith. Today, one of the sons of Chief Ngwunwagu, Chief Sir Cyril Ndubuodi Onodugo (Nnabuenyi) is a Papal Knight of St. Sylvester (PSS); his grandson and grand nephew, Chief Sir Ralph Ugwu (Akaekpuchionwa) and Sir Reginald Onodugo, respectively, are Knights of St. John International. Also of the same direct descent with Chief Ngwunwagu are Rev. Father Stan Uche Onodugo, Rector of Sacred Heart Minor Seminary, Nsude, Udi LGA, Enugu State; and Rev. Sister Francisca Onodugo, of Dominican Monastery, Farmington Hills, Michigan, USA. Of distant descent with Ngwunwagu also are Late Very Rev. Fr. Charles Ekeowa of Umuozo Uwenu, Umuavulu; Rev. Fr. Gabriel Ugwunwangwu of Amukwu, Abor; and Rev. Fr. Elias Madu of Ohemje, Umuavulu.
Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo brought honour and respect to Abor. During his reign Abor featured prominently in the then British Colonial Administration in Udi District. It was Chief Bernard I. Ogbozo who said, “Chief Ngwunwagu was a paragon of sacrifice, a true symbol of patriotism, and a model of politics by principle for the entire Abor”. Also, in the posthumous award given to Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo by HRH Igwe L. U. Ukwu, Agodom II and Ezeudo I of Abor, the following was said of Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo:
Today, this symbol of Abor patriotism, a leader who made great sacrifices for the education and evangelization of the Abor community, a man who loved his people like a father would love his children is today remembered for his superlative leadership and contribution to what Abor is today. The Igwe and people of Abor give honour to whom honour is due albeit posthumously with this well-merited award.
(“Ofala ’98 Festival: 5th Coronation Anniversary and Conferment of Chieftaincy Title”, by Igwe Louis Ude Ukwu, KSM, JP, Saturday 26th December, 1998, pp. 60-61)
The children of Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo and all members of Onodugo family and Umuoka village, including other numerous relations, affiliates and friends are delighted that he is today being remembered again, many years after his death, for what he did in Abor. Indeed, Warrant Chief Ngwunwagu Onodugo and, later, HRH Igwe L.U. Ukwu (son of Chief Ozo Ukwu-na-eje-b’eze, Nwa Ozo Nwa-anukagu) who founded Christ High School, Abor, a foremost secondary school then in the vicinity of Udi LGA of Enugu, represent the great lights through which Abor community has been illuminated. Abor has not looked back since seeing the light, for s/he who is in the light will never walk in darkness. Amen!
THANK YOU AND MAY GOD BLESS US ALL. AMEN.