The Passing of Literary Pathfinder Prof Charles C Umeh

By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

 

Late Umeh

 

Nigeria has lost one of her leading lights in scholarship and literature. Professor Charles Chukwubueze Umeh, popularly known as CC Umeh, was a renowned educationist and playwright in his venerated lifetime.

Born in 1939 in Umugama village of Umuchu town in Aguata LGA of Anambra State, Charles C Umeh was the father of Dr Sabina Umeh, the former Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, and the father-in-law of the celebrated international impresario, Kese Jabari.

Just after the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1970, Charles C. Umeh emerged as a prizewinner in the BBC London-sponsored “Write a Play for Africa” competition with his entry Double Attack. The play was published in 1973 in the collection African Theatre, Eight Prize-Winning Plays chosen by Wole Soyinka, Martin Esslin and Lewis Nkosi.

Gwyneth Henderson edited the book as number 134 in the esteemed African Writers Series (AWS).

Wole Soyinka who served as one of the judges in the BBC London contest described CC Umeh’s Double Attack thus: “It is really good to see the corruption which accompanies every kind of civil upheaval, but is particularly prominent in a war in which there is so much rush, so much pace, and so much energy and emergency that quite a lot of wealth disappears in the wrong places. It is a real farce but at the same time a strong and scathing social commentary.”

On his part, the pre-eminent English theatre critic, Martin Esslin, who was also a judge in the competition wrote the following words on CC Umeh’s Double Attack: “I like it because of the good use of language, its great sense of humour and its fearlessness and objectivity in handling a delicate social problem like corruption in the Nigerian Civil War. It is hilariously funny.”

CC Umeh wrote other plays, notably Naira and Kobo, which was staged at St. Peter’s Secondary School, Achina, Anambra State in 1973. His last play, The Women’s Coup, was published in 2010.

He served as a longtime Registrar of Federal Polytechnic, Bida. He later became a Dean at Caritas University, Enugu.

A devout Catholic, he was a renowned chorister in his youth. He honed his dramatic skills through the skits he undertook in the church and school.

The hallmark of his life was ennobling humility. He devoted his time to helping the les-privileged without attracting any publicity to himself whatsoever.

All who knew him well from early in life, such as the retired Comptroller of Customs Chief Austine Osuorah and the former banking guru and Nollywood patron actor Sir Reuben Egbunonu, bear testimony that Prof C.C. Umeh lived an exemplary life, with genuine humility and a great sense of humour.

His razor sharp intellect and robust spirituality were quite worthy of emulation. He was a devoted family man.

Charles C Umeh’s award-winning play Double Attack deals with the “Attack” trade during the Biafra war, which entailed smuggling fuel across enemy lines. The protagonist of the play, Chief Enyimba, nearly collapses in death when he discovers that the ten drums of petrol his boys smuggled contain only water.

It turns out that it was actually his soldier son, Captain Chike Enyimba, who had duped his own father thusly: “The stupid attack traders, however, went home rejoicing because they made £100 out of every £1,000. Our counter attack however lies in the fact that instead of the agreed ten drums of petrol we gave them ten drums of pure water.”

The civil war ends on the note of “this is double attack indeed”.

The celebrated writer and astute educationist Prof CC Umeh will be interred in his compound in Umugama, Umuchu on Friday, August 23, 2019 after a Requiem Mass.

He is survived by his wife, son, Jude, daughter Sabina and grandchildren.