Ilom Chukwuji: Lights out for people’s advocate

When Shakespeare, through Macbeth described life as “walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more, it is like a tale told by idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, the undiscerning mind might think it was just mere fanciful poetry.

However, when subjected to serious rational scrutiny, one will be convinced of the verity of the timeless statement.

Death has been described as a puzzling reality which humankind finds difficult to talk about.

According to one author, man’s inevitable experience is the gripping reality of death, which is an experience he must personally undergo.

As Edgar N. Jackson wrote in his book For the Living, “death is the most acute form of deprivation experience because something we love or cherish has been taken from us.”

Death cuts us off from all relations from this earth. It also cuts us off from relationships with our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, in-laws, kinsmen and all that we cherish. That is precisely what the death of Barrister Ilom Chukwuji has done.

Any wonder the late Dele Giwa wrote in Sunday Concord of June 8, 1980 that “death looks for a happy home where it can turn happiness into grief and ensure that for days (even forever), the household will have nothing to discuss but the blow of death.”

Born to the family of Pa Steven and Mrs Ashikodi Chukwuji on September 16, 1948 in Ejeme Aniogor in Aniocha-South Local Government Area of Delta State, the late Barrister Chukwuji attended Isele Uku Primary School after which he attended the Institute of Stenography, Onitsha in Anambra State. He studied Law at Edo State University.

The society, it is said, comprises three sets of individuals. First, those who make things happen, second those who watch things happen and third those who wonder what happened.

Undoubtedly, during his life time, Barrister Chukwuji belonged to the category of those who make things happen because his  stance was such that cared for the advancement of humankind irrespective of who was involved or one’s cultural, religious or socio-political partialities.

A fine opinion and community leader, the late Barrister Chukwuji’s life impacted positively on the lives of those with whom he had close contact.

Known as people’s Lawyer among those lowly and wretched clients he elected to render legal services to despite their inability to provide the necessary legal fees, Barrister Ilom Chukwuji endeared himself to many poor individuals he saved from oppressive elements.

When confronted with the fact that he needed to charge clients substantial amount of money that is commensurate with the legal expertise he rendered, he would say “everything is not about money. It’s about saving them from oppressors and ensured they are happy. I relish people’s freedom and happiness more than money. Above all, if I don’t render the services to them, nobody will”.

He bequeathed to his family, friends and well-wishers rare virtues of service to the poor, sincerity, uprightness, truth and non-infantile religiosity.

Those very close to him never expected him to die at the time he did. So, when it happened on July 16, 2019, the news thundered like a tornado shattering the composure of all who knew him and what he stood for.

Since his death, one has been turning the pages of his life, from his birth date in 1948 in Ejeme Aniogor, in Aniocha-South Local Government Area of Delta State to his last breath on earth on July 16, 2019 and the event in his life played out like a live film.

Those who cried unceasingly when he died didn’t do so just because a great tree had been felled by the wicked axe of death, but because they have lost a man who was an incarnation of goodness.

A reflection on his life and death presents an analogy of a fast-forwarded film. How time flies! The young boy Ilom who had his primary education at Isele Uku Primary School in Aniocha-South Local Government Area of Delta State has already completed his activities on earth and is now knocking at Heaven’s Gate.

The late Barrister Chukwuji had in him an inspiring soul which did not allow him to miss the rare opportunity fate threw on his path as one of the leaders of thought in his community and beyond.

The late Diokpa, as his close friends fondly called him, did not believe in self-centredness. His having a large heart even in situations of privation provided him the opportunity to reach out and show goodwill to others. Discrimination was what he abhorred most.

The ‘People’s Barrister’ was a man of peace and love, and above all, was humble. His commitment to peace, unity and love for his community and his fellow humankind, even his pursuit of justice and equity marked him out as a great personality.

Indeed, good things do not last forever. This could be why everyone, irrespective of their good way of life are faced with the mystery of their deaths and those of their loved ones. Man does not comprehend why he should have to die. But death is a natural phenomenon. It is an unavoidable part of human destiny to which man is subjected.

The late Chukwuji was part of humanity and his death has cut him off from all relation to the world and other humankind.

A secular culture sees death as the end of a person, the absence of potential life, and the loss of being. But for Christians who believe in life hereafter, death is not an enemy. It is man’s true birth into life everlasting, the passage from earthly becoming to eternal being.

This being so, the Chukwujis, Ejeme Aniogor, Aniocha-South and the totality of humanity should not grieve over the temporary loss of their husband and father since, from the Christian perspective, he is not utterly dead.

We concede that the temporary loss of life called death inflicts pains and agony on the survivors. However, they should get consoled by the fact that there is hope of seeing and being with their husband and father again at the time divinely appointed for all who had slept would be woken up.

In the circumstances, the death of Barrister Chukwuji should be seen as a mere liberation from this sinful earth. They should see the death of their husband and father as a means through which he has been liberated from the suffering (not suffering in the material sense) of this world.

His death has put an end to all forms of earthly pain, poverty, old age, and its associated problems. The Chukwujis should not see the death of their husband and father as the untimely closure of his days or as a negative event, but rather as a positive phenomenon and the goal toward which every man is moving every moment of their lives.

They should also remember that from Christian viewpoint, death is not an enemy but a friend because, as a friend, it just cuts the cord that binds the human boat to earth when the work of life is done so that the boat may have a smooth sail.

Death is the entrance to eternal life which is to be anticipated with a contented heart and to be prepared for in a conscious state by making one’s peace with God. Even, with God’s promise of resurrection for those who did His will, death seems to be necessary for the attainment of higher life or perfect happiness which would not be realised here on earth.

Since it is an end to suffering and the beginning of a new life, we should rejoice that the late Barrister Chukwuji has left in this sinful world the slough of imperfect happiness.

So, it doesn’t matter how many the eulogies and tributes are today for the late Eze, they will all fall short in some ways of his recognised greatness. And what is greatness if it is not being recognised by an anonymous many?

As we mourn the death of this great man who was the epitome of manhood and filled with the milk of human kindness, we shall bear in mind that sooner or later, with or without warning, whether we think of it or not, we shall all die, and that every moment that passes brings us one step closer to our end, to the last moment that will carry us away.

This is because the consciousness of death gives meaning to our lives; more so when uncertainty surrounds the day and time it would be.

As Leonardo da Vinci argues that just as a day well spent brings a happy sleep, so life well spent brings a happy death, the Chukwujis, members of Ejeme Aniogor community, Catholic Men Organisation (CMO), members of the legal profession and his close associates should weep no more and believe this Vincian postulation because, since their husband’s and father’s life was well spent, no doubt, he is having a sound and happy sleep in the bosom of the Lord.