Sunday, September 16, 2012

Late MEE Ezekiel’s Grandad, Chief Pa Josiah Eneriakpose Atunu, Dies At 117

THE call came in to Mrs Victoria Ezekiel at about 12 noon on Monday, 3rd of September in Warri, Delta State. It was the news that the Atunu clan has anticipated for more than 20yrs, but one that still stung — the patriarch of the family, and one of the oldest people in the country —  Chief Pa Josiah Eneriakpose Atunu, is dead. He was believed to be 117yrs old. Mrs Ezekiel, Chief Atunu’s oldest surviving child is an old woman herself at age 80yrs. She sighed softly and the tears flowed freely,quietly. “ I thank God for his life,” she said to her last born, Irene who was present.
Within an hour, Godwin Atunu and Simeon Atunu , her two brothers and her were on their way to Owhe to start attending to their dearly loved father. By 2pm, the news of his death has spread and people trouped to his compound on market road to mourn the man whom they have known all their lives and is beloved like a cherished monument in their home town.
Chief Atunu started his life as a young trader of Abada Cloth in Warri, then later moved to Ogu in Igboland where he became a medium scale yam and fish farmer. At the height of his successful farming business, he employed more than 200 people working for him in his fish farms in Ogu, Oweru and Ughelli in Delta State , Ojigolo in Kogi State and Agenebode in Ika local government of current Edo State. He retired from active participation in his businesses in his 70s and returned home to Owhe in Isoko Local Government Area of current Delta State. He remained very active in the community as an elder.
The overwhelming question that comes to everyone that knew him is — why did he live so long? What is the secret to his unusually long life? “only God knows” is the refrain that you automatically get from his children. But dig deeper, and you hear things that give you food for thought. “ He was a peace-loving man, you will never see him upset and raising his voice” says his oldest son, Godwin Atunu, a builder. “ He disliked oppression of any kind and lived to make the lives of those around him better. He always treated his workers with respect and like family. You could never tell the difference between his children and those of his workers and others in the neighborhood who flocked to his home for daily sustenance”.  Everyone you spoke to around him points out that he put a great deal of emphasis on education and will tell whoever came to him to announce the birth of a new child to make sure they go to school as he blessed them. He was an unwavering Christian from the time he gave his life to Christ as a young man when the Anglican Missionaries converted him despite his family’s involvement in traditional religious practices. Another son, Winfred Atunu, Head of Niger Delta Developement Commission Projects in Delta, fondly points out that his father was never trained as a judge, but people voluntarily came from far  and near to ask him to arbitrate disputes amongst them. Some of them already went to formal law courts, but decided to come to him to obtain justice  based on wisdom and fairness instead of law, because he was widely known as a just man. Another son, Simeon Atunu of Warri Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd,  also talked about the nature of this wise man. “ He had a very calm disposition. He was a man of few words who believed there was more wisdom in listening than talking”. He also talked about Chief Atunu’s  belief that words are very powerful, you can use them to build people or tear them down, so he cautioned people to use them wisely. All these addressed his disposition and some  of his life’s  philosophy. But it was his eldest grand daughter, Reverend Becky Ezekiel, a retired physical educationist, formerly with the Lagos State Sports Council, before she was called to ministry, who shed some light on other aspects of his life. She said her grandfather loved riding his bicycle around his home town instead of going in cars, which was very good exercise. He did this into his 90s until his children pleaded with him to stop because they were concerned about him falling. He ate a lot of fish, naturally because of his vocation, and only ate meat sparingly. His favorite meal was yam and fish pepper soup and only ate fruits that naturally ripen on the trees in his compound. His diet contained very little vegetables and little to no processed foods and refined sugar. His favorite drink, surprisingly, was Calypso Coconut Liquer, unlike the traditional gin, Ogogoro, favoured by most of the elderly in Delta. He vowed that there will never be any strife amongst his descendants for as long as he lived, and indeed the last time he traveled to Lagos was at age 90 years to settle a feud amongst two of his grand children.”   He was very worldly for his time,” Reverend Becky continued, “ he was always a hardworking man who contributed financially to the education of people in the community around him.  He was never ruffled by anything. He was a compassionate grandfather to all his children and grand children and never discriminated based on their financial standing or wherewithal. His eyes were never deem, he was like Moses. He was never a liability to anyone. He stood for uprightness and was committed to his family and community, even people he did not know. “His children adored him and made sure one of them was with him daily to monitor his welfare.  It was a common sight in his compound to see him holding court, entertaining guests who dropped by impromptu with some of his children just singing him a praise song to show their love for him. Our friends loved him, and even friends of his grandchildren who are outside the country, routinely drop by on their own when they are visiting the country just to spend some time with him and hear some rare words of wisdom. He was everone’s favorite grandfather. Reverend  Becky added that “we all cried when we heard that he died, but he had strongly instructed that he did not want anyone to mourn when he dies, and he wants everyone to celebrate.
Pa Atunu will be proud at the amount of celebration because it has been a carnival in Owhe since he died. People respected him for his judgement. People came to him to arbitrate disputes and has singlehandedly mended a lot of family and community feuds amongst his clan. He rejected traditional titles that could have been his birthright because of his commitment to Christianity  and abstinence from any traditional religious customs or beliefs, and only accepted the chieftaincy title of ODION OKARO  (wise leader of the clan).  He liked being successful, but his idea of success was based on how much you did for others, as opposed to how much money you have amassed for yourself. He was not without some occasional mischief though. His family fondly recalled that when he turned 100 years old, he called his children, gave them money and instructed them to go and buy him a bus. A bus? They were incredulous. Why do you need a bus they asked. He said, I do not need it, I want it so that when I get to heaven, I can tell all my friends who died before me that not only did I live longer than them, but I also bought the biggest vehicle!”. His children did his bidding, bought an 18-seater, and they squeezed themselves in and drove a few blocks to the local Anglican Church he attends to give thanks to God for his life.
He is survived by 12 children and 50 grandchildren, notable amongst them was late May Ellen Ezekiel (MEE) Mofe-Damijo, journalist and author/publisher of Classique Magazine in the 1990s,  Hannah Ezekiel Ede of Dallas, Tx. USA, Esta Ezekiel INYANG, former journalist with The  Guardian Newspaper and Newswatch Magazine, now vice president - Investments at US Bank, Wisconsin, USA. Emmanuel Ezekiel , a therapist in Wi,USA, Benjamin Ezekiel, a pharmacist with Roundy ‘s Corporation in Wi, USA, Roselyn Ezekiel Edemenaha of Eco Bank, Nigeria and Moses Okodudu of Warri Refinery and Petrochemicals. He is also survived my numerous great grandchildren oldest of whom is Nichole Onome Yembra, daughter of late MEE, who is a certified public accountant and consultant with Ernst and Young, USA. He was preceded in death my his wife Madam Abobome Atunu who died in 1991 at age 86 years. He also buried two of his children and another grandchild, outside of MEE. Burying these family members were the saddest days of his otherwise extraordinarily blessed life. His last breath was expended calling each and everyone of his children’s names, praying for them and blessing them. He was on his grand children’s prayers and blessings when he quietly went home to his Saviour. He had said periodically in the past two years that “ I am all packed and waiting for whenever God sends death to take me home”. A very significant statement that highlights what he always preached that you do not take any material things with you, only your faith in God and love for others.
Mrs Inyang is the sister of Mee Ezekiel.

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