By Sunday Apah
It’s over 14 years now since Chief (Sir) Harrison Jefia, a financial business mogul, politician of high repute and community leader per excellence join our ancestors, yet his vacuum is yet to be filled because of his doggedness in dealing with political and business issues when alive.
Chief Harrison Jefia was a Nigerian banker, politician and community leader, born June 30, 1928, at Ughevwughe and Ekakpamre in Uhurie Kingdom, Ughievwen clan, Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta state. He attended Agbasa Catholic School, Warri between 1939 to 1945, he later went to United College of Commerce, Warri from 1946 to 1948.
Jefia attended banking and management courses in London from 1962 to 1966. He was bank accountant with Barclays bank limited between 1952 to 1957, manager of the bank 1958 to 1966, he was later employed senior bank manager of African Continental Bank Limited from 1966 to 1974, financial controller, 1975-1976.
As a politician, he was elected member, House of Assembly, Bendel state, 1979-1983. He was an associate member, institute of Bankers, associate member, Nigerian Institute of Management Fellow Royal Economic Society, member National Party of Nigeria between 1979 to 1983. He was one of the founding fathers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta state.
Jefia was raised in-between generation, born in the years before the end of World War Two, what they call the “silent generation”. A generation with one foot firmly planted in the 1930’s and 1940’s with the other placed unsteadily in the 1960′s. He was blessed with children that were raised in the sixties, seventies and eighties, challenging times for parents with the traps of drug use and pre-marital sex, neither of which I believe Jefia had been prepared for in the lesson plan his father had given him.
Jefia had a sense of humor. He loved to laugh and make others laugh, and he was never in danger of taking himself too seriously. He was a servant. He would do anything for anybody anytime anyplace. He was humble. In a stuffy academic world, he was just himself. He was generous. If there was a financial need, he gave. His giving to many seemed limitless and it gave him great joy.
He was compassionate. His heart was tender and easily broken by the pain and suffering in the world. He loved Jesus. Quietly and simply, he ordered his life grounded in that love. That was why he was honoured as a knight in the Catholic Church by the Pope as a papal knight.
His senior daughter, Mrs. Lyn Onoriode Jefia-James described her father as a wonderful father that she loves so much more than words can express.
Lyn Onoriode Jefia-James said, “how do I write the words? How do I say it out loud? When death, man’s enemy steals the life of someone you love, there are no words. Simple words don’t do an entire lifetime justice. Nothing can explain why death swoops in, grabs someone you love and swallows them whole.
“So, I try to say the words. I try. I write. I delete the words. I write. I hit the delete button again. I write. But there are no words. Tears flow instead. Today, I feel defeated by my father’s death but I know God loves him most.
“My heart feels like a block of lead that I can’t lift off the ground. The sadness makes me reflect on the loss of my dear father every year that passes. I reflect on the fact that so many beautiful souls on this earth are taken away. It is so painful. As I began to reach out for the right words to express my thoughts about my big father, Chief Harrison Jefia, I remembered the many valued and meaningful roles that he played throughout his life.
“A brave, deep, wise, meticulous, diligent, handsome, courageous man of style, panache and class he was. His convictions were unshaken. He flew high the family flag and worked in God’s vineyard selflessly. He was indeed a pace setter, and goal getter, neat, very sociable and fashionable.
“My father was an entrepreneur, politician, ideas hub, friend and champion to others. He loved to work, but his life was so much more than that. He was also devoted to God. Family traditions were very important to him. He was steadfast, willing and good fun. He exemplified courage, leadership, wit, brawn, care, and how to fight and win. With your death, Life is no longer taken for granted.
“Turning through the pages of his life, I saw a man, who was bold and unwilling to settle for less. He lived a principled life underpinned by a strong sense of right and wrong. He was hardworking, consistent, and never complacent. You were no doubt an inspiration to me father”, she added.
Jefia as a business man saw opportunities and made the most of it. One could say that what he touched turned to gold because he had a vision and his vision prompted him to act. He knew that two or three heads were better than one when it came to business and politics.
Remembering Jefia made me to see face to face with a man of passion and a dedicated supporter of a new Nigeria and Delta state. He remained an ardent lover of news, politics and Nigeria. His love for music and hockey game was second to none. How he dissected the word came with great wisdom only a Rabbi could accomplish. As a purveyor of rich African culture, values and language, he replied wicked, conniving, and drunken minions in simple, fluid, spot-on and deeply penetrating language. His wisdom was simply traditional, while his life was a huge success.
Few hearts like his, with virtue warmed, few heads with knowledge so informed. If there’s another world, I can almost bet he’ll live there in bliss; as his last moments, an ordeal with death, were an attestation to how Chief Harrison Jefia saw God and made Heaven.
Nothing will ever take away memories of Chief Harrison Jefia from the people of Delta state and Nigeria. Death, though, leaves a heartache no one can heal, but love leaves a memory no one can steal. Although it’s difficult today to see beyond the sorrow, I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death. Jefia will continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make.
Jefia have left an indelible imprint in our memories. We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared a lot in common. While we mourn the loss of Chief Harrison Jefia, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil in Heaven.
As I look out at the faces in the Catholic and Anglican Dioceses of Warri, I remember how he used to exchange banters with everyone-young and old, thus enlivening the churches. I see many family members and friends who have missed the friendship that he brought into their lives.
His compassion, zest for life and relentless drive to challenge himself has inspired friends and strangers alike. No one could deny his magnetic personality, nor ignore his persistent drive to make things better. He enjoyed Gospel, Jazz, R n b, Soul and Music generally.
Jefia went through the vicious rounds of clinical procedures, physical and emotional struggle, fragile as he seemed then, his heart was constant, determined and sure. He strove to be independent and never a burden. He gave the people of his communities, Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta state and Nigeria strength, and hope.
Jefia, the world, with all its beauty! Sunrise meant more every day. On your knees, you got, stronger, in so many ways. Deep inside, a fire still burned. You knew you weren’t alone. It is through an appreciation of the many complex dimensions of your children and family’s heart, particularly the relentless strength of their affection that their memory of you will endure. God must have looked upon you, and knew what he had to do.
God saw you getting tired; a cure was not to be. He wrapped you in his loving arms and whispered ‘Come with me.’ He suffered much in silence, but your spirit did not bend. You faced pain with courage, until the very end. God took you to His loving home and freed you.
We will remember Jefia’s passionate engagement with life – both in hardship and in triumph. It is evident that God’s fingerprint has been all over these difficult circumstances, and death proved the truth of these words.
Jefia did not go gently into that good night. He raced against the dying of the light. Jefia No! Death is just a stop-gap. “Thank You Jesus. Now, we are all yours.” These deeply penetrating words with your maker will forever remain etched in our hearts. The tender firebrand that you were will live in our hearts – incandescent and unyielding forever.
In the end, your life mirrored the grace of the thief at the right hand of Jesus and you found salvation in the end. Rest on; sleep well at His bosom.