He was a distinguished bearer of many titles, notably Knight of Saint Mulumba, Grand Knight Emeritus, Udora Umuchu etc. Chief Innocent E. Ofor, the retired top civil servant of Anambra State, passed on in the early hours of August 21.
Born in 1929 in Amihie village of Umuchu town of Aguata LGA, Anambra State, Chief Ofor had his primary education at St. Matthew’s School, Umuchu and St. Charles, Achina between 1937 and 1945. He then proceeded to St. Thomas, Ibuzo in Delta State for his Teacher’s Grade II Certificate which he obtained in 1951. Through tuition he earned GCE O and A Levels between 1955 and 1957.
He capped his educational pursuit with a 1960 BA Hons Degree from the University College, Ibadan. He would later bag a Post-Graduate Diploma in Economic Development in 1966 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He travelled to Washington DC in the United States in 1980 to earn a Post-Graduate Certificate in Public Management.
He was an Assistant Divisional Officer (ADO) in Owerri in 1961 before transferring as ADO to Orlu from 1962 to 1965. Between 1966 and 1967, he served as the Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce-cum-Industry and Secretary of Eastern Nigeria Industrial Estates, Enugu. He was appointed the Secretary of Hotel Presidential Ltd, Enugu in 1967 before the Nigeria-Biafra war supervened.
He was posted to the Biafra Civil Defence Directorate as Assistant Secretary at the beginning of the war. When Enugu fell to the Federal troops he was made the Biafra Civil Defence Secretary. He miraculously drove his car in ignorance over a landmine laid by the Federal troops without getting hurt. He was captured by the Federal troops in Enugu and was saved through divine intervention. In 1969 a bomb exploded at Uga Airport about a meter or two from his car, leaving only shrapnel in his ligaments. He was invited to appear before a high-powered Federal Government panel at the end of the war over some intelligence reports, and he was cleared unscathed.
He returned to his post at the top of the administration of Hotel Presidential, Enugu at the end of the war. In 1973, he was appointed the Secretary of the State Scholarship Board. He served as the Under Secretary and Principal Secretary, Cabinet Office, Enugu, between 1976 and 1977, before assuming duties as Resident of Enugu Capital Territory. He then became the Deputy Permanent Secretary, and Secretary for Education. He served as Permanent Secretary of the State Education Commission in 1978, and as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education.
A devoted Catholic, he 1978 came in contact with the teaching of Opus Dei, as established by the Spanish clergyman St. Jose Maria Ecriva. He became a Knight of St. Mulumba (KSM) in 1975, serving as a Grand Knight from 2002 to 2008, and passed on as a Grand Knight Emeritus. He was in 1980 made a cabinet chief of his native Umuchu by HRH Igwe Oforbuike (Ezeora), taking the title of Udora (The Peace of All). He served as the Secretary of the of the St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Umuchu Pro-Cathedral building committee for all of 28 years.
The real story of Chief Ofor’s life was the love he retained to his last day for his wife Maria (nee Onuigbo) who died in 1987. Chief Ofor’s entire life was emblematic of his love story with his beloved Maria about whom he had written a book. The then young Innocent first got into contact with then Miss Maria Ngozika Onuigbo back in 1955, some three years after finishing high school. They fixed their marriage for 1957, but it had to be deferred because, according to Chief Ofor, “unexpectedly I gained admission into the University College, Ibadan.”
While the young Innocent attended University at faraway Ibadan, Maria began her career as a teacher. They agreed to put forward the marriage to the end of his three-year university course. Sometime in 1960 Maria somewhat changed her mind by opting to enter into a convent to fulfill her strong spiritual quest to become a reverend sister. When Maria’s renowned father, Matthew Onuigbo, got into the picture of Maria’s decision to enter the convent he consoled Innocent while undertaking to take up the paying of her fees. In a classic case of platonic love, both Innocent and Maria continued to write to one another every week.
A catch emanated some weeks before Innocent’s degree examination when the University Chaplain, Rev. Fr. Folley, who was fondly called the “Story Teller” saw him for the first time in the company of a girl, a fellow chorister. Ofor confessed that his proposed wife had gone into a convent and he had given her his consent “when I could not change her mind”.
“Wrong!” shouted Father Folley who argued that Ofor’s support for his fiancé to enter the convent could be a ploy to “get Maria out of the way to take on someone better!”
According to Ofor: “I was very hurt by the Rev. Father’s motive as I was still offering Novena prayers and masses asking Jesus to take another girl to the convent and return Maria to me. When the chaplain insisted on my withdrawing the support in concrete form, I agreed to carry out his order but pleaded to be allowed to do that after our imminent degree exam. Yet Father refused and decided to ban me from entering the examination hall unless I complied.” The students in Mellanby Hall of the then University College, Ibadan reduced it all to a joke, stressing that Innocent was in a very serious competition with Jesus Christ over a girl!
With tears in his eyes and prayers in his heart, Ofor undertook the journey of some one thousand miles, then done day and night. He left Ibadan at 5AM and arrived at Aba in the then Eastern Region, where Maria’s parents lived, at 11 PM the next night. He met Maria’s parents in a mood of mourning because Maria had lost her place in the convent because the authorities could not find the “Motherless Babies” that Maria had chosen for her career. She was not allowed a change of course, and was advised to go look for a husband!
The rest, as they say, is history, for Innocent and Maria got married in December 1961 at Assumpta Church, Owerri. The marriage was blessed with nine children, including a set of twins. The earthly love tango of Innocent and Maria ended on July 13, 1987 when she breathed her last, and Chief Ofor stoically greeted the sad news thus: “As the Court of Heaven pleases.”
The first daughter, Geraldine, married to Sir Chidi Christopher Ezeoke, Head of Service of the Anambra State Government, joined the Saints Triumphant in 2008. Chief Ofor is survived by Chief Gerry Ofor (Ukpaka Umuchu), Prof (Mrs) Ifeyinwa Emejulu of UNIZIK Awka, Ntomchukwi Reginald of MTN, Chinedu in USA, Mrs. Chidimma Maxim-Uzoatu, Engr. Ebuka in Kenya, and Lady Chika Anierobi. Chief Ofor was blessed with 28 grandchildren and counting. He would be given a grand burial at his compound in Amihie, Umuchu, Aguata LGA, Anambra State on November 21.
Iconoclastic poet, and writer, famously called Borojah, writes from Lagos.