ACHILLEUS-CHUD UCHEGBU writes that February 18, 2018 was a different kind of Sunday for Dr. Obiora Okonkwo as Catholic Bishops recognized his philanthropy and blessed him for building a church in Abuja.
Nigeria’s Catholic Bishops began their 2018 annual conference on Sunday, February 18 with a con-celebrated mass at the St. Gabriel Chapel in Abuja. St. Gabriel Chapel is located within the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria complex in Durumi area of the city.
However, that the Catholic Bishops celebrated a mass at the chapel is not the story. The fix was that Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, an Ogidi, Anambra state indigene and proprietor of The Dome entertainment center, was called up for special mention and acclaim by the out-going President of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishop Ignatius Kaigama, for single-handedly building the sprawling church.
Though still under construction and reaching almost 70 percent completion, the Bishops decided to celebrate the opening mass of their conference at the chapel, to appreciate what Dr. Okonkwo has done, and is still doing, for the church.
That was exactly what Bishop Kaigama did.
In a move that surprised everyone, Bishop Kaigama who presided over the mass, asked everyone to sit as soon as the entrance hymn ended. That was against tradition. Actually, the mass begins with the end of the entrance hymn. But Bishop Kaigama asked that everyone sits down. The congregation, which included publisher of The Sun, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Ministers of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs, Chief Audu Ogbeh and Geoffrey Onyeama, National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, ex-Senate President, Senator David Mark, Senator Hope Uzodimma, Chief Osita Izunaso and a host of other political heavyweights, took their seats.
There were also Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr Samuel Kanu-Uche and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Samson Ayokunle.
Bishop Kaigama moved on and addressed the congregation. In his address, he spoke of how sweet it was for the Bishops, and the congregation, to celebrate mass in the sprawling but uncompleted church. He also said it was gratifying to be “in our own home”. He was happy that at last, the CSN has a befitting chapel. But it is more than a chapel. It is a “big church” as observed by a worshipper.
Before Bishop Kaigama concluded his remarks, he said “this chapel has been donated to us by one man, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo”. Amidst applause from the congregation, Bishop Kaigama called out Dr. Okonkwo to the altar for special recognition. At this point, Dr. Okonkwo became the cynosure of all eyes. Kaigama was not yet done. He stretched out his hands and blessed Dr. Okonkwo while invoking more divine favours on him for the work he has done for the Catholic Church in Nigeria.
Okonkwo, an unsung and humble philanthropist, had done even more for the church and mankind. He is the Political and Economic advisor to the Archbishop of the Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province. He is also instrumental to refocusing the investment visions of the archdiocese and helped in the commencement of the Holy Family Youth Village at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University which value is put at over N1billion. Okonkwo was also a member of the National Executive Council of the Christian Association of Nigeria as one of 10 nominees representing the Catholic Church. His philanthropy extends to university scholarships to indigent students in Anambra state.
A holder of a doctor of philosophy degree in political science, which he earned with distinction from the Russian Academy of Science in 1998, Dr. Okonkwo, who had adopted the Karu Motherless Babies Home in Abuja as his prime focus, began construction of the church having been moved to do so after observing that the CSN has been without a suitable chapel since it moved over to the nation’s capital.
Okonkwo has remained quiet about his donation of the church. Some members of the congregation would probably not have known of his gesture in this regard had Bishop Kaigama not called him out for special mention. Those closely associated with him say that has been the hallmark of his philanthropy. “He rarely talks about what he does for people. He simply does it and moves on. You would not have heard about this church if not that the Bishop mentioned it. He wouldn’t talk or boast about it”, said a close associate who preferred not to be identified.
Okonkwo announced the donation of the church at the celebration of his 50th birthday. Cardinal John Onaiyekan performed the turning of sod ceremony alongside other bishops. Construction has progressed since then bringing the project to a state where the bishops agreed to con-celebrate their first ever mass in it.
For a chaplaincy that began as a mass center only in 2002, the progress made has been phenomenal leading to the donation by Okonkwo.
Reminiscing on the story of the donation, leadership of St. Gabriel Chaplaincy wrote in the programme brochure that “building a worthy edifice for the worship of God is one of the ways of giving back to the Lord for the blessings received. This is exactly what Chief Obiora Okonkwo, an energetic and successful Abuja based businessman; the donor of the new chaplaincy church has done.”
Writing further, it said: “A humble Catholic of no mean dimension, Chief Okonkwo at the celebration of his 50th birthday thanksgiving reception told a gathering of members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), invited dignitaries from all walks of life and parishioners of St. Gabriel Chaplaincy that the Lord has been very merciful and good to him and his family and his ultimate urge to appreciate God for his kindness is to build a house of worship to the Lord”. That was the beginning of the journey. That decision changed the landscape of the CSN.
Today, “the new multi-million naira St. Gabriel Catholic Chaplaincy Church which stands out as one of the most cherished churches in the Federal Capital City is a dream fulfilled for this astute businessman and philanthropist. A church building with sitting capacity for about 1000 worshippers is what Obiora Okonkwo has built to say ‘Thank You Lord’ to the creator of all things and the giver of life”, was how leaders of the chaplaincy narrated the journey to reality for St. Gabriel Chaplaincy church building.
As it is said, God loves a cheerful giver. That’s a biblical truth. But that bigger encouragement is the biblical promise held out in 2 Corinthians 9: 6-7 wherein it was stated that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”.