First, it started as a rumour. But soon, the rumour was confirmed as authentic – an air disaster. Then it dawned on Nigerians at home and in diaspora that a tragedy of major consequences had befallen our country. Unfortunately, and to the chagrin of many Nigerians and others, Prof. Cellestine Onwuliri in the end after speculations was one of the victims.
Thus, it became part of Nigeria’s darkest history that Professor Cellestine Onwuliri, a former Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Technology, Owerri, a former Commissioner for Agriculture in Imo State Government, a former Professor at the University of Jos and many other eminent Nigerians have lost their lives in that Dana air disaster. The worst in our aviation history and crashes. This was so because there is no zone in this country that does not have its citizens in that air disaster. And what is more, except one or two States, every State had a victim in the air disaster. Imo State, according to some accounts lost as many as twenty three persons in the air mishap.
In fact, it will be a futile exercise trying to profile Professor Onwuliri because in every aspect of life in which he put out himself, he made a mark. In his major profession, academics, he reached the zenith on that ladder. To become the Vice Chancellor of a University like FUTO was no mean feat achievement. For the period he was there, it is on record that he brought a lot of innovations.
The University recorded almost an explosion of infrastructural developments and achievements in various areas of academics, research, administration, structural projects and international connections with relevant organizations and bodies. For example, during his tenure the maintained stable Academic Calendar; entroduced On-line Course Registration; Established FUTO International School, created the position of Director, Quality Assurance; marked and celebrated the Silver Jubilee Anniversary of the University with the publication of a 467- page compendium entitled “FUTO at 25” within his first six months in office, upgrading of FUTO Community Bank to the status of a Microfinance Bank now called FUTO Microfinance Bank, established FUTO Host Community Forum and Boundary Verification Committee and many other achievements within the ambit of general administration to enhance teaching and learning, scholarship and research.
In the field of academic development within his tenure, Prof. Onwuliri demonstrated indepth manifestation of a renowned academic. For example, he ensured the establishment of some Departments – Biology, Mathematics, Statistics, Science Laboratory Technology, Fisheries and Aquaculture Technology, Forestry and Wildlife Technology, Management Technology (Financial Management Option), Philosophy of Science and Technology. He also established a School of Environmental Science and Technology which commenced academic instruction in the 2010/2011 session with five new programmes/departments.
More than these mentioned above, during his tenure, some important projects were completed. These included, Establishment of the FUTO International School Owerri; Recovery of FUTO Prime Estate at Abuja; completion and commissioning of the Centre for continuing Education Building; completion and commissioning of the Biological Sciences Building; completion and commissioning of the Zinox computer Building; completion and commissioning of the 750 – capacity Lecture Theatre Hall, and many others.
As Prof. Onwuliri was leaving FUTO at the completion of his tenure as the Vice Chancellor, in addition to some of the myriads of achievements, he left behind several other uncompleted projects, most of them at advanced stages.
As an intellectual, Prof. Onwuliri equally recorded notable accomplishments in the field of academic. For example, apart from passing out thousands of students in University of Jos and in FUTO, he had also exercised authority in supervision and appraisal in several academic examinations both internal and external in his capacity visiting Professor, such as, Dean, Chairman of Academic Boards at different levels encoding supervision of over 74 currently active Professors. As a brilliant scholar, earlier, he was awarded Vice Chancellor Postgraduate Prize of the University of Nigeria for Excellence in scholarship in 1980, the very first person to be so honoured. What is more, at the peak of his intellectualism, he was a fellow, Biotechnology Society of Nigeria (FBSN), and held many other professional fellowship, including his admission into the Nigerian Academy of Science (FAS) in 2009. I recall with good memory, given the height of his intellectual achievements, as he was being admitted to the academy, I wrote, “Professors’ Professor Goes to Nigerian Academy.” Because Academy of Science is a preserve for those who have attained super-height in the field of science. And Prof. Onwuliri reached that peak.
Although Prof. Onwuliri was academically and intellectually very active, resourceful and productive, he did not forget the basic foundation of every Igbo man – the family. He was indeed a successful family man. Married to Prof. Viola Onwuliri, a Professor as who is currently Nigeria State Minister of Foreign Affairs. A widely travelled eminent Nigerian lady. she belongs to several organizations in the areas of research, Women Advancement and Child Protection; a seriously-minded and resourceful lady of letters.
Prof. Cellestine Onwuliri as a family man was alert, conscientious, and a committed husband and father. Their five children, four boys and one girl by the legacy of their father will be adequately connected
A pious man with undiluted sagacity, Prof. Onwuliri carried his religious obligations to the fullest and very seriously. In this wise, he was a front sitter in Catholic Church, and Major General of the Christian Order of the Noble Knight of St. John. And until he gave up the ghost he was fervent in prayer. No wonder he was holding rosary in his hand when he died just maintaining communication with his heavenly God till the last. How best could he have died as a devout Christian?
Today in the spirit world, Prof. Cellestine Onwuiliri must be a happy man because his family members, relations, colleagues and friends throughout the globe have collectively felt his death. No wonder, many have a lot to say of him, “I feel an acute bereavement at the tragic loss of Cellestine Onwuliri. A sparkling star, suddenly and brutally blown out of our firmament. The pain of his passing will be felt in Mbaise for a long time to come. May God console Viola and her children”(wrote – Chief Nwoga, an apex leader in Mbaise). “Prof. Cellestine Onwuliri was a Charismatic Leader who carried every member of his management team along. May God grant him eternal repose.” (wrote – Mr. Nwogu of University Liberia). In his own expression of grief, Hon. Nnanna Igbokwe representing Ahiazu/Ezinihitte Mbaise said, “A painful death and loss of great man whose contributions to the society has touched the lives of many. He was a blessing to mankind, the Mbaise nation and Nigeria at large.” In his own comment, Dr. Okechukwu Agunwa, President of Ezuruezu Mbaise remarked, “Prof. Onwuliri’s death is a great loss to Mbaise nation and to all people involved in academia. He is being missed and will continued to be missed.
Thus, is our lamentation,