A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF A GREAT MIND
(The Life and Times of Mr. Valentine Obiefula Nnaji)
Neither books nor spoken words can ever suffice to articulate who he really was, but here we succumb to the constraints of material and time to say what we are opportune to.
V. O. Nnaji, as he was popularly known, was given names that not only told stories about his background, but also predicted the personality he was born to represent. The name “Valentine” accurately predicted him as an embodiment of love and peace; while the name “Obiefula” hinted of the great faith in God by many that a lone child would not only survive, but be a mustard seed that grows into a giant tree of many boughs.
Born in the beautiful morning of Friday, the 13th of January 1933, at Uzoagba, Valentine Obiefula Nnaji did not find it difficult to fit into the highbrow aristocratic background within which he was born. His father, the Great Sir Patrick Nwannaegbule Nnaji was a top-ranking executive in the then Public Works Department of Eastern Nigeria, and the First Grand Patron of the Mbaitoli-Ikeduru Patriotic Union; a man of no small stature who planted kings and princes both far and near, and made too many faces wear smiles of joy. His mother was Madam Bernadette Edozieuhu Nnaji of Umumkpe, Uzoagba who was brought up in the Catholic Convent by European missionaries.
In spite of being born within such great affluence, the young Valentine wore humility and gentleness like a cloak. He humbly passed through his primary education at St. Michael’s Primary School Enugu, his secondary education at Metropolitan College Onitsha, and afterwards got his advanced papers and diploma in Architecture via a London Correspondence School.
After this first stage of his education, he joined the Civil Service of the Ministry of Works in 1952 at a very tender age where he received further in-house training in Building Construction.
On 29 December 1961 Valentine became joined in Holy Wedlock to Mercy Chikanele Anuna of Umuiyi, Akabo who was only 18 then, but was already reckoned as a role model in her neighbourhood, not only in beauty, but in character and intelligence as well.
However, a sudden storm rose in the life of the young Valentine when his father, the Great Patrick Nwannaegbule died suddenly in 1961 not too long after the birth of Valentine’s first son whom his father named Agamadodaigwe, “I will pull down the skies”. Valentine immediately took the bull by the horns and organized his step brothers, ensuring that the after-effects of the terrible loss were ameliorated to the best of his ability.
After the demise of his father, Valentine sojourned a little longer in Enugu but latter moved to Onitsha where he lived most of his working life. His marriage to Mercy was blessed with 5 male and 3 female children out of whom 7 survive. Valentine was a man of peace and love. Perhaps these qualities were to be most demonstrated in his family life. At home, he was nothing but honey: honey to his wife and honey to his children. There was never a moment of altercation. The love that existed between him and his wife can only be described as phenomenal. People had often wondered how possible it was that such love and bond could still exist amongst a couple, even at old age. It was “darling – darling” all the way. But aside from the grandeur of their upbringing which undoubtedly came into play in their married life, the truth also remains that both had completely depended on Jesus Christ as the rock of their lives, including their home.
As a career civil servant and a technocrat, Valentine was a perfectionist. You had to be a very patient person to work with him. In Building Construction where he was a master, he was a “hot cake”. During the Nigerian Civil War he was instrumental in the Biafran war construction effort, contributing his expertise especially in areas of bridge reconstruction and building maintenance.
After the war, his career in the Ministry of Works of the East Central State took him back to Onitsha and then to Owerri after the creation of Imo State in 1976. During this period he also found time out of his busy schedule to get more involved in the affairs of his community, serving as the Chairman of the community at that time. In 1982 he was transferred to Umuahia where he remained until March 1987, when he voluntarily retired from the State Civil Service as Senior Technical Officer/Yard Superintendent after 35 years of meritorious service.
Valentine Obiefula was a man with unbreakable will power who never said “die”. He was also a man who could never stay one second without engaging his faculties in one meaningful activity or another. As such he never for once succumbed to the rust of retirement, but immediately went into private practice. He was the Chairman of Nnaji-Vally Consults and Construction Company, a registered private establishment which undertook several personal and corporate construction contracts, and also partnered with other companies on various outstanding projects such as the building of the very first hostel block of the College of Technology Owerri, now Federal Polytechnic Nekede; the building of the Local Government Council Office at Isiala Mbano; the renovation of Okpara Nursing Home of the then General Hospital Owerri, etc.
Valentine Obiefula was a Christian who believed not only in the Lord Jesus Christ with all his being, but also believed that Christianity should be reflected in character as well as profession. He was a member of the Christian Fathers Association of the Catholic Church. He was also a man who believed in the Almighty God as the God of all creation and of all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He welcomed all who came in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and never expressed animosity against anyone, least of all, based on belief. What most people who knew him did not know about him is that he was a man of prayer who laboured most of the time in his “closet” rather than in the open. However, the most conspicuous evidence of his walk with God may, perhaps, be the fact that he produced in his household four Pastors and members of the clergy during his life time.
On February 21, 2001, while preparing for the supervision of two construction jobs in Uzoagba, including the residence of the Parish Priest at St. James Catholic Church Umueze, Valentine suffered an attack of stroke at his home at Uzoagba. It was a severe attack but God rescued him and he was soon up and about.
On August 19, 2005 he suffered another severe attack of stroke. Once again he survived and was up and about except for a partial loss of his speech.
When, however, he suffered a third attack on August 17, 2007, there was a consensus amongst most men of God who rallied to the occasion that Valentine Obiefula Nnaji had lived his life. But despite the severity of the attack, he refused to yield to death until he had bid his beloved family a final farewell. At the Federal Medical Centre Owerri, he stayed glaringly alert for five days, embracing his wife and his children as often as he could in a final valedictory gesture. Afterwards, he went into a peaceful sleep and then went to be with the LORD on Friday, the 25th of August 2007.
Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour has one word for all who grief for the demise of this great mind.
“Your brother will rise again.” ---John 11: 23
May his gentle and peaceful soul rest in the Lord until the fulfilment of the word of the Lord. Amen.
(AN ORATION BY IZU NNAJI AT THE FUNERAL SERVICE OF HIS FATHER)
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