FULFILLMENT THROUGH PERSEVERANCE: The Life and Times of Pa Martin Makata Onah.
“This is the price you pay for having a great father: You get the wonder, the joy, the tender moments – and you get the tears at the end, too.” – Harlan Coben
The above quote has become our lot since our great father of over 98 years breathed his last at about 6:53pm on Wednesday, March 10, 2021 at ESUTH Teaching Hospital, Parklane Enugu. We reminisce his lovely affection amidst the tears of having it no more.
The legendary icon we know today as Pa Martin Onah was a demonstrable definition of life of determination, diligence and tenacity. Now, lying motionlessly before us was a successful business man whose parents (our grand parents) Mr. Onah Nwugwuokwo and Mrs. Oyima Onah (nee Eze) were averagely modest farmer and petty traders respectively.
He grew up as the first son in a family of six children. And born in the dawning days of the 19th century, he was not exposed to formal education, courtesy of the trends of the time and setting. But he engaged in the informal knowledge acquisition processes, in conventional domestic upbringing, that earned him the reputation of a prudent gentleman throughout the town.
In his youthful age, he dealt in commodity trading, exhibiting business skills that astound minds. As the trajectory of his retail merchandise soars positively, the unfortunate Nigeria civil war broke up in 1967. The conflict impoverished countless Igbos,and Papa in his nature detest the sight of a suffering neighbours. His broad-heartedness made him turn his shop into succourcentre for those beggared and pauperized by the war. His generosity spread his fame beyond the borders of Nsukka.
As the ceasefire day came on January 1970, and Nigeria government began the project of rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation, of the nation’s torn fabrics, Papa was already a source of hope to many through the proceeds from his private endeavour. His life’s motto is founded on selflessness as summed by the words of St. Paul in 1Tim. 6:7 “After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it.”
He was a consummate Merchant who subscribed to the advisory of John Maxwell that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” As most of the people tasted Papa’s quixotic kindness, they built the aura of high esteem around him, and pitched fabulous tent of nobility on his image.
His life’s philosophy was anchored on the premise of an anonymous quote that “man should not brag about his morals until he have money to fund his temptations; because so much are hidden in poverty that wealth will expose. He also believed that man should not brag about his strengths while in wealth until he experience poverty; because a lot are hidden in wealth that poverty will expose.
However, our father always infer that in which ever divide one finds oneself, one should be encouraged by “time,” knowing that “time” makes it impossible for situations to be permanent. He was a man of proven integrity.
And as Federal government embarked on the indigenization policy of all multinational corporations in mid ’70s, his business prowess acquiesced him to the grades of distinguished companies like John Holt Nigeria PLC. He had franchise with John Holt for long till his retirement from active mercantile activities in 1990.
As a saying goes that an old man does not get old in the music he knows how to dance, papa retired into the occupation of his late father as a farmer, though then as a hobby. He performed exceedingly well.
Papa married to our beloved mother, Mrs. Susan Onah (nee Ogbu) which choice was blessed with peace of mind, and fruitfulness of nine children spread across seven gallant sons and two lovely daughters. His lack of western education notwithstanding, he was determined to give all his children the choicest of education. And at the last count, all his kids are graduates, each in the peak of his/her respective professional creed. Even the ones who choose career path in business ventures became prosperous owners of conglomerates.
Papa’s love for western education was parallel to none. This was epitomized in the outstanding role he played in the building and establishing of the first community funded secondary school in Imilike-Agu (the then Boys Secondary School Imilike-Agu) in late 70’s. He played pivotal roles in numerous developmental strides in Imilike-Agu. He chaired the rural electrification project committee in Imilike-Agu (1988-1990).
He was a disciplinarian who gives no room to chance in training his kids. Having nine children, one would think that the cares for the provision of family needs would overwhelm him from impacting knowledge on his kids, building their characters and drilling them through the societal demands of integrity. Papa was never found wanting in this regard. It was not easily growing up under the iron fist of his Spartan discipline. But little did we realize he was preparing us for greater life ahead.
It was in this era of proliferation of evil, and ubiquity of vice among sons of men, that we began to have full knowledge, and palpable appreciation of Papa’s unique approach to dispensing home training on us back in the day. As his children we owe him the debt of gratitude and ensuring that his legacies are not buried with him.
In the social order, Papa was a great advocate for social justice and equity. He was civil rights crusader of a sort. In our kindred, he stood out for the truth no matter how unpopular his position may seem.
We grew up being proud of him!
Though, African Traditional Religion (ATR) was the in thing in his days as a youth, Papa choose to identify with Christianity when he got baptized on April 12, 1957. He worshipped God, the Father of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Catholic faith. Christianity, to papa is a lifestyle not just mere religion. Papa’s life exemplified this to the letter. He was exclusively for Jesus. And at any point that his faith comes into collision with his ideologies or lust of the flesh, he easily choose the welfare of his faith and the safety of his soul with his Maker. He held several strategic positions in the church, preached the salvation wrought by Christ with his life and shone the light of the gospel in all his dealings. At old age, he would still be seen clutching his rosary and other devotionals as he communes with God on the regular.
In Papa, not just we, his family, but Imilike as whole lost a figure of moral probity and a pillar of truth. After the fall of man as recorded in the biblical account of Genesis, it became hard if not impossible to walk the earth without enmity. But Papa anyimade this possible in his days. Till date, we cannot point to anyone who holds grudges against him. Neither, did we see anyone he ever called enemy. He was everything for everybody, as the apostle of Gentiles advocated (1Cor. 9:19-23). Like St. Augustine, Papa advised that people should “hate the offence and not the offender.”
We mourn inconsolably, not because he didn’t live to the fulfillment of his destiny but because like Jennifer Williamson would say: “No matter how old we are, we still need our dads, and wonder how we’ll get by without them.” Papa was one of a dad!
nything he wished for while alive, it is that when he is gone, the society’s moral bankruptcy should be fought to finish and the church of Christ remain the conscience of the world order and retain her immaculate garment unstained as of old.
But here, our farewell message to Papa is in the words of David Mazzucchelli “Life is stressful dear. That’s why they say “Rest In Peace.” We won’t let him down. His legacy will live on in us and all he touched.
May the mercy Gates of heaven open for his entrance as we bid him farewell to the father’s mansion (Jn. 14:2). He was not a saint. But he was a good Christian, a sinner saved by grace (Eph. 2:8). Though his sins may not be so minute to escape divine justice, they are not so great to outweigh God’s mercy too. And on this we anchor our faith that Papa is heaven.
Mr. Linus Onah.
For and on behalf of the family.
Children of the Deceased Man.
Friday 23rd April 2021: Wake keep in his compound, Ugwuenwe Imilike – Agu; 6.00pm till dawn.
Saturday 24th April 2021:
7.00am – Body leaves Bishop Shanahan Hospital Nsukka Mortuary.
8.30-9.30am- Lying in state at his country home.
10.00am-12.00 noon -Burial Mass at St Michael’s Parish Imilike-Agu.
12.30pm – Internment at his compound.
1.00pm – Reception at Central School Imilike-Agu.
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