Some people are of the mistaken conclusion that tribute is reserved for only the dead. The truth is that tribute is also paid on departed souls as well as on worthy persons while they live. And so, I’m paying a special tribute to Christian Ndubueze Dadio Anyanwu, a Catholic Priest who, from all we can see, has distinguished himself as a worthy servant of God.
Our experience with Fr Chris, as he’s fondly called, is that you can’t be in his presence and not conclude that he’s a pleasant personality. Even the way he laughs is so captivating. This Director of Social Communications at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja, studied at the elite Gregorian University in Rome. In him is easily seen the manifestation of the truism that education polishes a man, including a woman, and explains his humility in spite of his lofty academic attainment; PhD in Mass Communications!
He was born on June 5, 1967; 50 years just yesterday. He was ordained a Catholic Priest on December 17, 1994, some 27 years ago. Because he’s a way of making illustrations with stories, and graphically paints them each homily time at Mass, he’s justifiably become the darling of our parishioners at Holy Cross Catholic Church, Apo Mechanic Village, Garki New Town, in Abuja. People who seem to indulge in sleeping off at Mass don’t do so because Fr Chris spices homilies with anecdotes. True, it’s really difficult to get into specificity as to the one singular reason that endears him to the parishioners.
Part of what Fr Chris will likely say when he marks his birthday, and he’ll do so with a book presentation, is that his dad was “a very good man” who was unfortunately “murdered in cold blood” on September 3, 2012, in front of his house, a dastardly act that has remained one nasty experience he wouldn’t forget. Such wickedness that was visited on Okogba, as his father was known, was effectuated by boys, youth hoodlums aged between 18, 19 and 20, from Ubima Village of Ikwerre, Rivers State. Okogba was murdered in front of his house at age 69, just one year short of attaining three scores plus 10 which we’re told in Psalm 90, is “The length of our days…” Since 2012 till date, the men and women of the Nigeria Police Force haven’t been able to unravel the persons behind the heinous act suspected also to be cult-related. A conspiracy theory has it that the boys were sent on the mission to murder their victim.
A brief account of what happened: The mother of Rev Fr Chris was in her shop when three boys arrived and dragged her out. Her husband heard her voice and rushed out from his house. The killers retorted something like, “yes, it is you we really want,” and ruthlessly pumped bullets into him. Up till this very hour, the Police haven’t arrested any culprit. The Okogba Family waited for some time and buried their dead because they couldn’t allow grievances to continue for too long; and as true Christians that they’re, they wouldn’t pay evil with evil. In imitation of Christ, they’ll rather be good to even professed evil men. After all, there’re good people in the same society of bad people.
It’s to this end that they want to give back to society with the proposed launching of Okogba Foundation for Education, Empowerment and Security, a non-governmental organisation, NGO, to give local scholarships for secondary and tertiary education. Fr Chris reasons that if the youth who killed his father were empowered or had education, they probably wouldn’t have committed the atrocity. Perhaps, because we’ve seen cases of well educated and highly placed people commit great evil acts. Fr Chris’ conclusion doesn’t seem to have factored in, the fact that well educated persons have sometimes come out to be a letdown to society because they lack the discipline to give verve to other virtues.
There’s the possibility that some of the youth group mightn’t have the zeal for academic pursuit and so can be assisted with funds for trading or business, and helped into skill acquisition programme of the foundation that targets the local society of Ubima and not beyond the Ikwerre area.
The testimony remains that Okogba was a symbol of truth, wasn’t into politics and never wanted anybody to be taken advantage of. He was a just and principled man. So, why kill such a man? The assassination has remained a mystery to the entire family even though Fr Chris who’s the first son of the house, and his siblings have forgiven whoever was responsible for the murder, and have since carried on with life. And on the evening of Friday, June 9, three days away, Fr Chris will celebrate his 50th birthday with the presentation of his book titled “Introduction to Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution,” here in Abuja.
Okogba was a bicycle repairer in Ubima Ikwerre who, because he was highly patronised, made some good money that enabled him give his children good education. They also got good training in other spheres of life. He had 12 children, and from one wife, and thus qualified as one of the most prolific fathers who lived in contemporary time. Okogba who could have fittingly come from Mbaise, a clan so well noted for subjecting one woman to the ordeal of having as many as 12 children, can be said to have had more than his fair share in the fascinating act of procreation. The explanation for having a whole lot of children all alone, from one wife, is simply because “he married early.” Okogba later migrated into cement business which gave him more money.
This is a good celebration time for Fr Chris who was born during the heat period of Nigeria-Biafra civil war and became a priest by circumstance. His father, a lover of quality education, merely sent him to a minor seminary to acquire good education, not with any intention of his becoming a priest. He’d arranged for him to write the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, examination which wasn’t allowed in the school. As such, the rector of the seminary wasn’t told. When he later found out, he gave him corporal punishment instead of expulsion. The young Chris passed the JAMB examination quite alright and later gained admission to study Bio-Chemistry at the University of Port Harcourt. But all of a sudden, self-motivation set in. After one year, as God arrested him, he left the university and went into the senior seminary, a development that made his not-so-Catholic father furious, and in his lamentations, made trouble from one Catholic Priest to another.
When Okogba saw that venting his anger on his rebellious son wouldn’t change his mind, he man banished him from coming to his house. Luckily for Chris, he’d an uncle as a Catholic Priest, Fr Hyacinth Orlu Orlu in whose place he stayed for two years. Fr Orlu and Chris’ mother had to beg Okogba before he calmed down. Then he got converted and formally wedded his mother and became a strong Catholic that the day Chris was ordained a Priest became his happiest day. From then, his dad started to support him and they became so close.
His father not only always gave him grass cutter meat and palm wine, but also for his brother-priests. One day, Fr Cyprian Okpalakunne went with Fr Chris to his village and they also got the gift of grass cutter mean and palm wine. When they returned to their parish and were eating the bush meat pepper soup made of the gift from Okogba, a call came that shattered their world. It’s bad news. His father had been murdered by some boys! Two years after in 2014, his mum died. She couldn’t live long after the assassination of her husband.