For over a period of one month, there has interestingly been a running debate at the Umuaka Times Institute among Akalites. The topic of the debate was, who built the first upstair in Umuaka? Many names were mentioned and many buildings were also presented as the first. Of all the buildings that were mentioned, three among them occupied the centre stage: The building owned by late Philip Achazie, a court clerk from Uba, another building owned by the late Patrick Ikenga, a civil engineer from Ugbele and the building owned by the late Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu, a businessman from Uba. Several findings made by Umuaka Times to establish the first upstair in the community could not get to the conclusion of the matter until Umuaka Times met a highly respected historian from Ugbele, Mr Emma Uzoma.
In a video interview that went viral a couple of weeks ago, Mr Uzoma presented his facts and figures historically and named the building owned by the famous businessman from Uba, the late Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu as the person who first completed his upstair in Umuaka in 1949.
Umuaka Times held a brief interview with the son of the late Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu, the United States based legal luminary and philanthropist, Chief Chris Chima (Chriwowo) Nwachukwu about the building.
Congratulations to your family being the family to build the first
upstairs in Umuaka.
Editor of Umuaka Times, thank you very much. You are during a great work in our community educating us about past and on contemporary issues of Umuaka; even beyond.
Tell us your name and what you do for a living.
My name is Chris Chima Nwachukwu. I am an attorney and counselor at law in the United States of America. I am admitted to practice law before Georgia and the United States Supreme Courts.
Ok. You are the son of late Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu, please give us a little biography of the great man.
Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu Duruohanehu was born into the family of Nze, Ozo Duruohaneho Ohakwe of Umuezikeoha, Uba, Umuaka, Njaba LGA Imo State in 1902. His father married three wives, so he came from a large family, but the first son of their father Chief, Nze Ozo Okwaraononihu Nwaiwu Durohaneho united the family after their father died. My father’s other brothers were: Jestus Anowute Duruohaneho- born to the same mother with my father, Michael Ukeoma Duruohaneho, James Amatobi Duruohaneho, Chief Iberosi Duruohaneho and Benedict Duruohaneho. All of them are deceased now.
Was your dad educated at any school?
During my father’s time, well behaved children were not allowed to go to school for fear of being taken away by the colonial masters. His parents saw him as too precious and home-some to go to school. He did not attend school even for one day. At the age of nine, he began assisting his mother in her fish trading business. His mother was a well known fish trader during her time. In 1925, he became a palm produce buying agent for the Colonial Divisional Officer. He later branched out and started supplying palm produce to the United African Company (U.A.C), John Holt and United Trading Company (U.T.C.) in Port Harcourt for export.
He must have mastered his trade very well and became a moneybag then?
The late Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu.
He mastered his trade and was the moneyman of his time. Because of his success and pioneer role in palm produce trade, transportation, building zinc houses when people were living in thatched houses, Eze Ojinnaka 1, invited him for a Chieftaincy title and he was given the title of Omenaukoaku 1, of Umuaka.
This is really amazing. Tell us another first thing he did.
He was also the first person that built the first store roofed with zinc at Afor Umuaka Market. Okorocha’s administration demolished the store about six years ago. He was the first chairman of Umuaka Parish Council. He donated huge amount of money for the building of St Mary’s Catholic Church Umuaka. It was when he was the chairman of the council that Catholic Church approved to build a secondary school in Umuaka. He was the first chairman of St. Saviour’s Works Committee. He worked patriotically to ensure that St. Saviour’s College did not elude Umuaka Community. He used his influence and friendship with Isiozi people especially Nwanywanwu family and Casmir Nwosu to convince them to donate land for the building of the school. In fact when I was a student at St. Saviour’s High School in the late 1970s and Casmir Nwosu learnt that I am the son of Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu Duruohaneho, he invited me one evening and offered me a special dinner. He told me that my father convinced him to change his mind and he released his land to Umuaka Community.
Really? Did Nwosu tell you how your dad did that?
He said that my father visited him one early morning and told him that he would be foolish to go to court with Umuaka community on a land matter.
Can you recall other organizations he chaired?
He was also the first chairman of Orlu Palm Kernel Traders Association. He was the patron of so many social organizations including Otu-Obi Social Club of Umuaka. He was a philanthropist to the core. He helped and trained so many people. When he died in 1996 at the age of 94, he was survived by one wife, three sons, seven daughters, fifty grandchildren and two great grandchildren. His second wife and two sons predeceased him. His epitaph which is still inscribed on his tomb says: He did what he could, with what he had.
The building in question was built in 1949, did your dad tell you how he was gathering sands for the building then as there were no tippers?
Transportation was not a problem to him then. He and his younger brother, Justus Anokwute Duruohanehu owned a transportation business during that era.
Please explain further.
They had lorries transporting goods throughout eastern region then. Also his elder brother, Michael Ukeoma Duruohaneho had transportation business within that period. Michael Ukeoma Duruohaneho’s business name written on all his lorries then was, Let Them Say, Let Them Say.
Is it true that it was the late famous engineer, Patrick Ikenga from Ugbele who built the house as his contractor then?
Yes, he built the house. Patrick Ikenga according to my father was his friend and a well respected engineer throughout the eastern region during their days. He was impressed with the building projects he undertook in Port Harcourt within that era.
Do you remember your dad ever telling you the cost of the building? If yes how much?
Actually we did not discuss about the cost of the house, but we know that in those days money was scarce. He told me the idea of building the house started when he was overpaid by 150 pounds of the produce he supplied at UTC in Port Harcourt, which is like 15 million naira today. They paid him twice without realizing it.
Really? (general laughter). Did he return the money to the colonial masters?
His appointed interpreter asked him not to return the money, but he refused and returned it. The interpreter wanted both of them to share the money. When the white colonial officer found out what happened, he asked my father whether he has build a house and he answered him no. The colonial officer approved for him to buy molded blocks from UTC Fabricated Blocks Department at a reduced amount. The blocks of the house were bought at UTC Port Harcourt.
Oh my God this is amazing. In today’s market value, what do you think is the worth of the house?
I really don’t know. I hope a quantity surveyor of Umuaka extraction will carry out the evaluation and let us know.
Ok. Are you aware that people are not happy that the house is being renovated? Why the renovation?
I moved out from the house when I completed my own building in 2000. When my elder brother’s son wanted to renovate the house, I can’t object since I am not residing in the house and don’t intend ever returning there.
You said that the money spent to do the roofing and iron deck was enough to build another house, was your dad a man of taste?
Yes, my father was a man of taste and style. His first initial house was embedded in the balusters throughout the house. You can see the picture he took in early 1960s posing with his foreign made double barrel gun. In the era, even locally made den gun was not easy to own. After he completed his house, other two upstairs that were built in Umuaka- one also at Uba and the other one at Ugbele were decked with wood. Their decks and staircases are woods till today. This was the period that rods were imported from England. He was a man of wisdom. He had the ability to foresee the future.
How? My late brother Raymond and I, coming to USA to further our studies was entirely his idea. Although he never attended any school, he was quoted as saying, “I am not a graduate, but when graduates make mistakes, I correct them”. He traded with Europeans earlier on and his conducts and behavior reflected that.
Can you explain how he could have felt today if he rises from death and sees the high level of immorality, corruption and attitude of the people of this generation in terms of disrespect to elders and customs?
My father, like most people of his generation were people of high moral standards; source of making money was more important than the wealth itself. If you listen to the video of the interview, the editor of Umuaka Times granted to Mr Emma Uzoma of Ugbele, he laid emphasis on the work the people that built those early upstairs in Umuaka were doing. He said that Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu was a palm kernel trader; Chief Philip Achazie was a court clerk; Patrick Ikenga was a famous engineer and contractor that built several houses in colonial era including Catholic Cathedral in Owerri; and Frank Nwaka was a famous mechanic in Port Harcourt. If any of them rises up from the grave today, he will be disappointed on how we have bastardized and somersaulted our traditions. We have devalued and debased our customs; everything now is monetized.
Chief, congratulations again to your dad and his entire family for being the first to build an upstair in Umuaka. We will come again for another interview.
Thanks a lot.