Today, I will do what I normally hate to do, when writing my essay OR prose. I do not appreciate those who, instead of writing a story, rather, subject their readers to certain academic stress. I love to read stories that seem as if the writer and the reader/s are in some sort of conversations. That’s my chosen style of public writing.
But today, because I’m about to write on a family that, ordinarily, I would’ve had no privilege of writing about, aside an opportunity, and being an all-rounder family, I’ll dare to sound literary. And here’s an opportunity, though a melancholic opportunity to so sound.
Let me open my story with a long quote from one of William Shakespeare’s books, JULIUS CAESAR.
In my days at our well cherished Marco, those of us in the arts, were subjected to much cramming, otherwise, known today as memorization. I remember a very brilliant classmate of mine, now a senior officer with the Nigerian Immigration service, Patrick Odey Onah. He crammed that voluminous book, page-to-page.
Until date, I address him as ‘Julius Caesar’.
One of our tutors, Mr Luke Ohiero, literally, chewed the book, front page to back page.
Sorry, I digressed.
Marc Anthony had gone to the Roman Capitol to sympathize and empathize with his friend, King Julius Caesar, who, unfortunately, like an iroko tree, was felled by one of his trusted allies, Brutus.
It was on that funeral, that Marc Anthony, made the following statement:
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest…
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men…
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me”.
As a little boy, growing and gallivanting about in the dusty streets of Okuku-Yala, from Abakaliki to Igoli, from Ibibio land thru Efik, to our generic Ogoja, a particular family name resounded. My readers should bear with me, please. This may take a bit of ‘so long a letter’, sorry, an essay. Also, bear with me, that when mentioning such great names, I do not mean to imply an individual name; I mean an entire family, a generation!
Another family that relatively contested with that name was the Odeys. The Odeys of Dr P S O’dey, my late foster father.
The family I’m compelled by a very compelling situation to write about today, is the Late Pa and Ma Ukpo’s progenies.
Ma Ogeyi Ukpo, an Gabu woman and also of the Yegwa Ikpala Akor, of Ugaga, got married to Pa Akuma Johnny Ukpo of Okpoma, whose ancestry, can be traced to Ebo, all in Yala, in then Ogoja, now Yala LGA. Pa Akuma Johnny Ukpo was said to be a very great hunter and farmer, a highly enterprising man, whose hunting prowess, took him all the way to Okpoma, where he settled and made a home for himself and his progenies. The union was blessed with several children, who later, would become a historical first : First in almost everything.
When Mary Knoll College was established in Okuku, for the sake of the boy child of Old Ogoja region, in 1953, like all ambitious children, one of the Ukpos, wasted no time to seek the western knowledge, aka, education. No need going into the long history in founding Marco, by the Irish priests: In one of my stories about my alma mater, Mary Knoll College (Marco), I’d told my readers about how, instead of Marco, SPC (St Patrick College), Calabar, was founded.
In the Old Ogoja, before Marco, was TTC ( Teacher’s Training College), also fully known as St Thomas’s Teacher’s Training College, Ogoja. But TTC was established to groom future teachers, a mixed school, it was. Let’s leave that for another day.
The young Edrah Joseph Ukpo, upon graduating from Marco, 1957, later trained as a physicist, ended up as the first physicist of Old Ogoja, to become a Roman Catholic Mission priest. As Marco old boy, he was the first to be ordained into the Roman Catholic Mission priesthood. He grew in ranks to become the first indigenous bishop of the then Ogoja Diocese, where, again, in his chosen field, he rose to be appointed by the Vatican, as the first indigenous Ogoja priest to be made Archbishop of Calabar Diocese. The now retired archbishop is the first child of the Ukpo clan.
Archbishop Edrah Joseph Ukpo, during his reign as leader of one of the biggest and richest churches in the world, influenced, through the Papacy, the establishment of missionary schools in both Ogoja and his natural home, Okpoma. The Mater Dei Dei Nursery/Primary School, Igoli-Ogoja and St Paul’s Seminary, Okpoma, are some of the examples a man’s love for his community!
The younger Ukpos didn’t slack in progress, considering their chosen professions. Mr Dominic Yegwa Ukpo, was a professional teacher, a gentleman by all civilized standards, who taught many of the folks in his Old Ogoja region.
Paul Oluohu Ukpo, another brilliant Ukpo son, upon graduation with a Bsc in Applied Physics degree, proceeded to the famous John Hopkins University, USA, where he studied Radiation/Nuclear Science, making him one of the first nuclear Physicists OR scientists, in West Africa. He was one of the President IBB-led junta civilian henchmen. No, one his private, political and cerebral ‘kitchen cabinet’ advisors.
Once, in a private chat with a colleague, Babangida, aka, IBB, had described Paul Ukpo as a man whose brain was equal to ten nuclear weapons, exploded simultaneously! Public gossip has it that it was Paul that brought Tony closer to IBB, and not otherwise.
Both are not alive to tell us who first introduced the other to the junta strongman.
Before we get to my main choice in this tribute, may I touch just a little on others.
Aunty Philimena Irima Ukpo, rather, fondly addressed as Aunty Philo, a seasoned professional teacher, now based in (California ?), USA, had taught in many government schools, including the famous and legendary Mount Carmel, TTC and Federal School of Arts and Science, Ogoja, etc. A very wonderful, brilliant and cerebral brain, she’s currently putting together, a story on her family tree. Two of her sons, Kenneth and John Odeh, born to Idoma military retiree of Benue State, were my Marco juniors, aside being my 4th generation cousins, with their grand mother and mother, having been my mother’s first and second generation maternal cousins, respectively.
Kenneth is the first Nigerian/West African pilot, in living history to be promoted to the rank of Flight Captain, American Delta Airways, USA.
He is proudly, an Ukpo progeny. John, one of Kenneth’s younger siblings, is a black belter in Karate (Taekwondo?), also based in the States.
Uncle John Ukpo, he too, before his demise, was a teacher in Nigeria, whereupon, he left for higher education and better job remuneration in the States. He died some years ago.
Uncle Emma Ukpo also taught in Marco. He died recently, here in Nigeria. He was pilot. Dr Emmanuel Ukpo was a General Manager : An experienced General Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the international trade and development industry. Skilled in negotiation, especially, on matters, bothering on airport and flight management. Dr Emmanuel Ukpo resided in California, USA.
Uncle Mark Ogbeche Ukpo, was the first Ogoja son to have dared to contest, under a democratic system, for the governorship office of Cross River State. He too, was a farmer.
Another of the old generation Ukpo, Mrs Lillian Udeozo, nee, Ukpo, one of the first female elites of that region, married to an Ibo man, was also, one of the early OR first to found a private kindergarten (school)in one of the eastern parts/states of Nigeria.
Stephen Anthony Ukpo, he too, a latter day Maryknoller, (compared to his oldest brother, the retired archbishop), was gifted in sports, especially, in the game of Shot-put, Javelin and a little of Soccer. He was admitted into that great college, to do his HSC program, from a school in Biafra, a name known by, for the whole of Eastern Nigeria.
After the protracted Nigerian Civil War, he enrolled into the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA), whereupon, he maintained a steady growth in the Nigerian military. Under the IBB-led junta, he was appointed governor of the Old Rivers State, where the present Bayelsa was just an entity in the state.
As people of all walks of life, across the world, gather, Oct 2nd and 3rd, 2021, to inter the bones of one of the greatest stars that arose, out of the horizon of Old Ogoja and his hometown, Yala, it is imperative, I do a brief of the man, Brig-Gen Tony S Ukpo, beginning with his core constituency, the Nigerian army.
The Late Brig-Gen Stephen Anthony Ukpo was born in Okpoma, Yala, Cross River State, on 16 July 1947. Joining the army, he was appointed Company Commander (1968), Battalion Commander (1969 and 1971 – 1973), Brigade Major (1970) and Instructor, Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna(1973–1974).
He was a member of the inner circle of army officers who arranged the bloodless coup on 27 August 1985 when General Muhammadu Buhari was replaced by General Ibrahim Babangida. After the coup he was appointed a member of the AFRC.
He was appointed deputy director, Defence Intelligence Agency (1985).
On 12 September 1985, he was sworn in as Minister of Information and Culture. He was appointed military governor of Rivers State on 26 August 1986. In this post, he inaugurated the provisional council of the Rivers State Polytechnic. He reassigned to become principal staff officer to President Ibrahim Babangidain July 1988. In this role in April 1990 Ukpo told reporters that 10 officers and more than 150 soldiers from the lower ranks had been arrested in an attempted coup against Babangida. He was retired as a Brigadier-General.
Uncle Tony Ukpo, as he become fondly known, amongst his civilian folks, before and on retirement from the Nigerian military, embarked on many business establishments. Earlier, Gen Tony established a few hotels, the Akuma Lodge, Le meridien, Five-Zero-Two hotel, Kolanut Center (a conference center with some foods). All of those, spanning across Igoli/Akunana Ogoja, Calabar and Port-Harcourt, etc.
The first and until his demise, diagnostic center, South-South and South- East of Nigeria.
ASI Ukpo Diagnostics & Medical Center (ADMC) was established in 2013 to make comprehensive diagnostics and medical services affordable, readily available and easily accessible to Nigerians, especially those residing within the South-South and South-East geographical zone of the country.
The diagnostic center was established with the best state-of-the arts equipment, any where in West Africa. It’s the first of such private medical centers in West Africa.
The Asi Ukpo Oncology Centre is poised to be the premier cancer treatment center in Nigeria and West Africa, utilizing the best equipment available in such medical science!
Away from military and medicine, the Ukpos, through one of theirs, Brig-Gen Anthony Stephen Odey, were the first to establish an agro allied industry, in the former South Eastern State, now Cross River State. In the times of South Eastern State, today’s Akwa-Ibom State was a territory in that defunct state.
From the he farm that created the industry, for the first time in the history of Old Ogoja, mechanized farming was developed and practiced. The first detergent, yogurt and milk factory, was established by one of the Ukpo family members, with himself, the now Late Tony Ukpo as CEO/President.
Yam peels, pure ashes, mixed with natural charcoal, were used to produce organic soap, long before the now trending organic toiletries.
It should be noted that, it was Uncle Tony S Ukpo, who first imported herds of cattle from India, the world’s largest producer of milk. The soldier turned farmer, also imported cows from Australia and Finland. The first time I heard of Holstein Friesian cow, was through the then GM, Tony Ukpo groups of companies, Late John Odey, who became a federal minister, under the Goodluck Jonathan- led junto.
A Holstein Friesian cow, Jogan in Karnal yields 76.61kg milk in 24 hours, which is the highest milk production by a cross-bred cow, claims scientists at the National Dairy Research Institute.
Under human capacity building, the Ukpos, out of the respective families, with due respect,across both Old Ogoja and the present day Cross River State, has encouraged more appointments and employments.
Aside making a federal minister, a few state and federal commissioners were appointed by Brig Gen Tony Ukpo, not to talk about those whom the likes of Late Paul and Mark Ukpo influenced the governments of their times, to appoint. The hospitality industry, established by Tony Ukpo, has given employment to not a few members of the families across the state and country. The farm in Okpoma, another major employer of labor, has been churning out the largest number of poultry birds and eggs, (un)arguably, the largest in the entire South-South of Nigeria!
The medical center, earlier mentioned, is the melting pot for many medical experts. The Asi-Ukpo Diagnostic Center, houses employees, cutting across, countries, states and tribes. The first and only one, presently! A few of the medical practitioners, kept redundant, no thanks to the current national strike, have found employment with Asi-Ukpo medical center!
As we mourn the two sons and daughter of the Ukpos, whose demise, occur so simultaneously, one wonders what life is all about, may we also rejoice, that though they die, their good works still live amongst us!
Of all the many children of the Akuma Johnny and Ogeyi Ukpo, only two are left to mourn their siblings, to whom they share the same breast milk!
Adieu. Adieu. Adieu, the fallen heroes and heroines of the great Ukpo Dynasty, the first amongst the firsts of this world!