It was a burial fit for someone not known enough for what he was – a humanist who took and solved other people’s problems and being so good at doing that as to cultivate such a wide network of friends and associates across all imaginable divides. Doing so from a space such as the University of Ibadan where he obtained his First and Second degrees as well as made his home connected him to people from far and near, the University of Ibadan being a melting pot.
Attendance at late Uche Godfrey Opara’s burial September 10th, 2020 at Unaeze Compound in Obokwu , near Owerri in Imo State confirms this narrative of him, seeing the names from academics, former course mates, military officers, businessmen, politicians and religion to which the preaching style of a particular University of Ibadan don drew him powerfully into in his past two or so years on earth. According to the French educated Dr. David Uchenna Enweremadu from the Department of Political Science at the University of Ibadan, the place was so much filled for someone who never held public office in Nigeria. Dr. Enweremadu is the academic who convinced the late Uche to relocate and take a Masters degree in Political Science after already having obtained one in Peace and Conflict Studies. The essence was for him to be able to pursue a PhD in Political Science. Somehow, that did not click.
Uche’s decision to postpone a PhD project indefinitely was the paradox about him – being so tolerant and accommodating but fiercely independent minded and vocal. It would have been thought the two attributes can hardly go together. In him, someone showed they could. It was an experientially derived Realism but how he combined the attributes so effortlessly must be part of his message to others.
It is unimaginable that his death could have anything to do with complications arising from diabetes but which almost no one can claim to have ever observed him battling with. He woke up before everyone else and remained active much longer than anyone else, doing everything that graduate students do, including the rounds around a vast campus such as UI. With his unmatchable mastery of the geography of Ibadan City in general and the university in particular, he was the rescuer members of his circle ran to for sundry assistance. He was never known to complain of being tired as a diabetic is expected. It will remain surprising.
No one can ever fully account for the other person but Uche must be close to Heaven by now. How can it be otherwise even when the Angels can rely on his profiling of anybody? It is not that he was above being a Nigerian. It must rather have to do with a certain capacity to observe people as well as a likely belief that it is below his dignity to call a spade a farming implement. One may be wrong on this but Uche almost always got it right about people. In doing that, he was permanently above mischief or the typical Nigerian attitude to obfuscate in the name of diplomacy and finesse.
Similarly, it was unique to him to synthesise what everyone else is saying about Nigeria in a manner that compels a listener to rethink taken for granted meanings. Again, he does this so effortlessly that it could be argued that the ability came not from his academic training but from capacity to draw from his many spaces of the everyday.
There is no debate about it that he had a well honed survival instinct but he never cheated anybody and he was not greedy. He was a ‘live and let live person’. No excesses can be recorded against him. Absolutely none, either in matters of consumption or otherwise.
The only thing death has cheated us about him is if he too would have been overwhelmed by political office if, later in life, he became governor or minister. That is, overwhelmed as not to deliver the best quality of whatever he put his hands on. Based on his refrain on this over the years, one can bet he would have been above being overwhelmed. He had no illusions and could, therefore, not have been falling prey to new temptations. He was vastly conscious of them. Again, his clarity here had nothing to do with political theory or moral/ethical canvass but simply who he was, so to put it. That is probably what one or all his four very brilliant children may now take up if the rest of us still around contribute to their education.