The Fall of An Iroko Tree

By Fr Pat Amobi Chukwuma

The iroko tree is the father of all trees. It is tall, huge and has accommodating branches where various species of birds build their nests, rest and raise offsprings. The leaves are edible for animals. It provides shade for human beings. It serves also as strong wind breaker. Its life span is enviable. The trunk is so enormous and wide that nobody can climb it with bare hands. When an iroko tree falls, the inhabiting birds will wander aimlessly in the forest. Their nests built on the branches are shattered. The newly hatched young ones growing in the nests either die off or are left to the mercy of the prey. The sound of a fallen iroko vibrates and shakes the foundation of nearby houses. Its huge and beneficial trunk is sawed and used for various purposes, ranging from roofing and furniture. The offshoot branches and sawdust are utilized for cooking and warming. The iroko tree serves multi purposes. It is scarce in town. It is also proverbial ancient tree. When it is said that an iroko has fallen, it entails that something which is great and painful has happened.

Thus, on the fateful early morning of Tuesday, 9th June, 2020, the sad news filtered into the air that a giant iroko tree found in the town of Neni in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria, in the person of Chief Sir Anthony Obiagbaoso Enukeme, suddenly fell without any premonition. He was the Onowu of Neni, Ezeani Akuuvom of Neni, Anya-Anaocha-ji-afu-uzo (the eye of Anaocha), the Enyi Abia, the Managing Director Tonimas Group of Companies, the Second Vice Chairman Awka Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Chairman of Anambra State Council of Ndi Onowu, to mention but a few. The sad news of his sudden demise got viral in social media locally and globally shortly after his demise. Prior to his death in the early hours of that Tuesday, there was a great wind and heavy rain on Monday night in Neni and in nearly all the Eastern States of Nigeria. It was a sign that a great iroko was about to fall. The earth was wailing while the heavens were crying. When everything became calm, the giant iroko passed onto glory while praying the Rosary with his family at Aba. His last words were: “Hail Mary full of grace, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen………” Then he slept in the bosom of the Lord and in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

When Jesus Christ died on Good Friday there was darkness all over the land of Jerusalem. The Sanctuary veil in the Temple at Jerusalem was mystically torn from top to bottom. The bodies of departed holy men and women came back to life. When the news of the death of Sir Anthony Enukeme was broken at the daybreak of that fateful Tuesday 9 June 2020, darkness descended all over the land of Neni and Aba. The fowls which have just come back from roost ran helter-skelter in confusion. The clouds descended almost above the head. It was Oye market day at Neni. The market place turned into a wailing ground. Tears flowed from Aba in Abia State down to Neni in Anambra State. Both human beings and animals were crying profusely here and there. Some dependents of the deceased Benefactor of the Needy nearly committed suicide. When a mother hen dies, her chicks mourn and wander aimlessly. Most of the beneficiaries were confusedly asking, “O God, why?”

I was on top of the mountain at Archbishop A. K. Obiefuna Retreat and Pastoral Centre Okpuno in Awka Diocese when the news of the demise of Onowu Neni was announced. After praying on top of the mountain on that Tuesday morning of June 9, I was overshadowed with the glory of God as I happily descended to base. On entering my room, some stars got out of my eyes when I blinked. My mind went to where my aging mobile phone was lying. I picked it up and checked it. I saw over 30 missed calls. Top among the missed calls were that of my Ordinary, Most Reverend Paulinus C. Ezeokafor and that of my Auxiliary Bishop, Most Reverend Jonas Benson Okoye. Instantly, hot urine filled my bladder. I ran madly into the water closet and eased myself. Then I called back my Bishop to enquire what was amiss. He broke the sad news to me that Chief Sir Anthony Obiagbaoso Enukeme, the Pillar of my parish, Saint James Catholic Church Neni, was dead. I pretended to be hard at hearing and asked, “My Lord, what did you say?” He repeated the sad news. My jaws dropped and my heart failed. My blood pressure rose almost to the point of no return. My veins shivered. My eyeballs fell abnormally into their sockets. Finally I sat down motionless and thoughtless for nearly half an hour. It seemed like the one storey building in which I was staying was turning round with excessive speed. After some time I came back to my senses and shouted, “So, Tonimas is gone! It seems like a dream. May he rest in peace!”

In solidarity with the Enukeme family and my parishioners of St. James Catholic Church Neni, I cut my stay at the divine mountain short. I packed my belongings and drove off in tears. When I reached Neni, the whole town was still clouded in darkness. People stood in clusters wailing. Silence surrounded the Oye market filled with people. The birds of air were making unusual dirge sounds. Inside the late Obiagbaoso Enukeme’s home, I glanced at the throne of the Man of the people, landlord and Onowu of Neni. It was empty. However, I saw his spirit hovering around it. Some sympathizers sat silently in groups. I joined one of them and sat speechless for about ten minutes before uttering my heartfelt condolences. Then we stood up and prayed for the eternal repose of the Breadwinner and Benefactor of the Needy and the Helpless, late Chief Sir A.O. Enukeme.

At Holy Mass in the church the next day, the parishioners were praying and crying at the same time. Onowu’s sitting position at the front pew was empty. But with my spiritual eyes I saw his spirit sitting there. On Friday 12 June 2020, some priests, the parishioners, family members, friends and well-wishers wearing masks against COVID-19 assembled again in the same church for a Requiem Mass. Tears flowed. Our prayers ascended while the Angels descended. The glory of God filled the whole church as we prayed God to mercifully grant Sir Anthony Enukeme a seat among the Saints.

Indeed, Sir Anthony Obiagbaoso Enukeme was a successful business man based at Aba for many years till death did him part. His group of companies known as TONIMAS remains attractive and progressive. He was an oil dealer, a transporter, hotelier, a politician and a philanthropist. He was charity personified. He built houses for the homeless, for widows and for orphans, fed the hungry, raised up the downtrodden and brought smiles to saddened faces in various dimensions both at Neni, Aba, Anaocha, Anambra, Abia and throughout Nigeria. He solely built all the edifices (church, chapel, grotto, hall, rectory, podium and borehole) at St Agatha’s Catholic Church Aba and St James Catholic Church Neni. He contributed immensely to the spiritual, physical and pastoral growth of the Dioceses of Awka, Aba and Ekwulobia. If Heaven can be assessed by road, the people of Neni will be the first to be there. This is due to the fact that the late Iroko built a network of roads that cut across the nooks and corners of Neni Town. It is not an overstatement to say that Neni town has the best road network in Anambra State, courtesy of the fallen Iroko, Sir Anthony Obiagbaoso Enukeme. Even one walks into the kitchen and toilet through tarred roads. Vehicle owners residing at Neni are rarely seen at mechanic workshops. A car being driven only in Neni can last till the second coming of Jesus Christ. May the Angels of God escort the late Ezeani Akuuvom peacefully into the Kingdom of God!

The vacuum created by the sudden demise of Sir A. O. Enukeme is unimaginable. Who can fill it? The sun has set untimely. The moonlight has been overshadowed by the cloud. Nevertheless all is not lost. When there is life, there is hope. Thank God, Sir Anthony Enukeme left behind a calculated and amiable wife and six promising grown up children. I wish they would continue the good works of their late husband and father. Also Neni is blessed with men and women of timber and caliber. Any of them can step into the shoes left behind by the fallen Iroko. Generosity was his trademark. Givers never lack. Generous persons die gloriously while misers die miserly.

In conclusion, Anthony Obiagbaoso Enukeme has been transformed from mortality to immortality. Since no one can boast of perfection, may God temper justice with mercy as he stands before the Divine Judgment Seat! May the uncountable acts of charity he disbursed on earth cover his multitude of sins! May the Angels and Saints in Heaven grant him a warm welcome in their midst. By God’s grace we shall meet to part no more on the Resurrection Day. Adieu Onowu Neni! Adieu Pillar of St James Neni! Adieu Enyi Abia!