Augustine Sochukwuma Odinkalu, former teacher, customary court judge and community leader was laid to rest Thursday in his native Umuhu-Okabia, in Orsu local government area of Imo State, amid praises for living an incorruptible, selfless, God-fearing and exemplary life.
Pa Odinkalu was the father of Chidi Odinkalu, renowned human rights lawyer, activist and academic, who until November 2015 was Chairman of National Human Rights Commission.
An estimated 1000 relatives, church members, sympathizers as well as friends, associates, and classmates of his nine surviving children came to pay their last respects to the elder Mr. Odinkalu at a mass held to bid him farewell at St. Joseph Catholic Church in the town.
Some of those at the mass later proceeded to his family compound about a kilometre away and, along with his relatives, gathered round his grave in prayers as his casket was lowered and covered with earth.
At exactly 1:31 p.m., the last prayer was said for the repose of his soul, and family and sympathizers departed the graveside in front of the one-storey building that was his home till death.
Pa Odinkalu died on 24 December, 26 days after he was rushed into hospital in critical condition, and three days after he was discharged by doctors who believed he had recovered enough to return for a medical review of his condition on January 4. He was 79.
The programme booklet for Pa Odinkalu’s burial mass was headlined “Farewell to one of God’s finest”. And ubiquitous young men wore brown T-shirts at the mass advertising that message.
The copyright for that epitaph, according to the family, belongs to one of the contemporaries and friend of Pa Odinkalu for over 60 years, who, on becoming aware of his death, described the late judge as “a complete man and one of God’s finest creation.”
That description of Pa Odinkalu rang through most of the speeches at the mass and at his internment. “Over his lifetime, Austin (Pa Odinkalu) grew and earned a reputation as a man of his word, with an uncompromising commitment to equity, enlightenment and fairness,” his eldest child, Prof. Odinkalu wrote in a tribute.
Prof. Odinkalu spoke of how over 20 years ago, his father, as a customary court judge, refused a bribe offer of one million naira by a party to a land dispute even when he “barely earned enough to put a roof over his head”.
He also recalled that in all the capacities that his father served, “It was his standard practice to refuse gifts of any sort from people whom he came across or had issues before him. The family knew not to accept any gifts on his behalf… The few who attempted with material blandishments to pervert his sense of propriety always left his presence in discomfort or dismay.”
Pa Odinkalu’s eldest daughter, Maria Ihemeje, described him as a “saint” who did his best training his children “morally, spiritually and educationally” while another daughter, Roseangela Ohaeche, described him as a phenomenon “who rescued the oppressed from the oppressor”, “stood up in town hall meet-ing/village square to speak up for a widow whose husband’s possession were being taken away” and “went around prisons and jails to bail out people who were not supposed to be there in the first place”.
Born in August 1936, Pa Odinkalu qualified as a teacher in 1959, and retired as a school head in 1990. Impressed by his exemplary years of public service, the Imo State government appointed him customary court judge in 1993. He retired in 2002.
Pa Odinkalu is survived by Anthonia, his wife of 51 years, nine children and 21 grand-children.