Book: Sons of A Priest
Editor: Odili Tony Ujubuonu
Publisers: Brand Aristotle, Lagos
Reviewer: Simon Ibe
The book, Sons of A Priest, by Odili Tony Ujubuonu, is a rare gift to the present generation and generations to come.
The book, which is, generally speaking, “Testimonials of Past CKC (Christ the Kings College, Onitsha) Students Under Rev. Fr. Nicholas Tagbo, OON,” is, indeed, a collectors’ item.
Not only does it document for today and for posterity the experiences of the boys of yesterday who have become pillars in different sectors of the society of today, it also captures the philosophy of life of a great clergyman, teacher, poet, sports man, model and disciplinarian.
The “Testimonials” of the more than 100 old boys of the celebrated first generation College for boys concerning the Principal of the school for many years can easily be passed on to present day school administrators as a guide book for success in their assignments.
Some of those whose lives were shaped by this great educationist who has gone to be with the Lord, include former Governors Peter Odili of Rivers State and Peter Obi of Anambra state, current Gov. Willie Obiano of Anambra state, other top politicians, eminent scholars, jurists, serving and retired security personnel, leading clerics, industry chiefs etc etc.
He honed them to academic excellence, molded their character and shaped them up physically in the field of sports.
His mission, apparently, was to present to the world well rounded young men who have, going by the attainments of most of them and by their testimonies of the impact of his mentorship, have not disappointed him.
It is difficult to think of any other College that has been so painstakingly documented or any Principal of a school who has been as immortalized as Father Tagbo has been through this 286 page book that is filled with memories, not only in form of the Testimonials of the old students but rare pictures of buildings, people, memorable events and a historic letter of condolence from President Muhammadu Buhari to the Tagbo family on the demise of the “Principal of Principals.”
The treasure throve of a book also has the rare picture of the war time head of Biafra, Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s visit to the College and another of the then military head of state of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon visiting CKC in 1970, immediately after the Nigerian civil war.
There are pictures of trophies won by the school during Father Tagbo’s tenure, including the historic World Schools Soccer Tournament trophy won in Dublin, Ireland in 1977. Spectacularly, there are also pictures and names of the World Soccer Heroes, the young men who did Nigeria proud by winning the coveted laurel, the first in the country’s history and the only one of its kind since then, captured in the book for posterity.
In this same priceless package, there are pictures from the “state burial ” organized for Father Tagbo by the grateful old boys of CKC Onitsha when he passed on. He died on July 2, 2016 at the age of 87 and the pictures of his elaborate and colorful burial ceremonies would have made him proud of the legacies he left behind if had had the privilege of witnessing what was done for him, not only in Nigeria but also in New York, USA, where a memorial service was held in his honor.
The treasure throve called Sons of a Priest is also not just about Testimonials but also has an interview with the legendary Principal, conducted just before his demise, emotive Tributes by those who knew the “the gentle giant ” closely, including an excitingly incisive one by Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji of the Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome) and an emotional and fascinating letter to Fr. Tagbo by his “Old Boyhood Pal,” Chief Dr. Fidelis R. C. Ezemenari, KSM (Ochiagha Uga) which, in great details, documents their odyssey together from childhood through youth to adulthood.
Ezemenari’s “A Letter to Rev. Fr. Tagbo,” written to commemorate the icon’s double celebration of his 80th birthday and 50th Ordination Anniversary is written in a conversational tone with a mixture of Igbo, Latin and English languages. It has jokes, reminiscences of their exploits in CKC, at the seminary, on the field of soccer where both made their marks and overseas for higher education where they met and spent some time with several remarkable personalities, including the now Blessed Father Iwene Tansi.
Ujubuonu’s tome, extensively reviewed by Prof. Pat Utomi ( who was a student under Fr. Tagbo, though only for a while) and Maxim Uzoatu, who has vivid recollections of the towering father – figure, captures for all time, the school’s Anthem, Motto ( Bonitas Disciple Sientia – Goodness Disciple Knowledge) and the College Prayer which has the memorable line that most of the old boys remember vividly as what has guided them along in the journey of life – “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong. ”
Another striking thread in the recollection of the old boys is that Fr. Tagbo had the uncanny ability to know almost all the students by their names and could appear, like a ghost, when he was least expected, to pull out one of his legendary canes from the folds of his soutane to hand down some strokes for any infraction of the rules of the school.
Some people wonder at the place of the cane option, especially in today’s world, but most of the old boys of CKC believe in the maxim “no pain no gain,” stressing that they would not have become who they are today if Fr. Tagbo had spared the rod.
Yet another recurring decimal in the book is that many families have come to see CKC as a family tradition, as the place where their sons must pass through, so that CKC can also pass through them. Some of the old boys testified of how they and their brothers and sometimes even their fathers attended the College.
One of the contributors to the monumental work, Amaka Cypriana Uzoh, the second daughter of Cyprian Emeka Uzoh of the Class of 1971, said her grandfather graduated in the pioneer Class of 1933 and it is easy to believe that if she had been male, it is almost certain that she would have been sent to CKC for the unique experience.
Architect Tony Maduabum of the Class of 1977 also spoke of how his father had wanted to attend the school that was set up by Irish missionaries in 1933 but couldn’t. Tony said his father then vowed to himself that his son would attend CKC. Four of them eventually passed through the College.
The myth of CKC has continued to spread in spite of serious challenges of the past whose effects have lingered, such as the virtual destruction of the school during the civil war and the takeover of Mission schools by government after the war. Fr. Tagbo supervised the rebuilding of the College as post war Principal and was there when Peter Obi as Governor of Anambra state took the historic step of returning Mission schools, including CKC back to their original owners.
The government takeover of schools from the Missions had generally impacted the schools negatively and Amaka Cypriana Uzoh, visiting CKC from the United States of America where she resides, full of great expectations, looking forward to seeing the amazing College she had heard so many glowing stories of, was, unfortunately disappointed. She wrote in her contribution to Sons of A Priest: “I was looking forward to seeing the legendary school renowned for the amazing doctors, lawyers, diplomats, scientists, orators, engineers, and professors but more importantly outstanding thinkers that it produced….(But) the school fell far short of my expectations….The buildings looked rundown and eerie….It looked ordinary, lifeless, and pitiful….”
This picture is not peculiar to CKC but is the unfortunate lot of most schools in the country. The unflattering depiction of the CKC she saw must, however, be seen as a passionate challenge by one stakeholder to others to rise up and do something.
Ujubuonu, of the Class of 82, founder and CEO of Brand Aristotle, a frontline marketing communications and brand consultancy firm in Lagos, Nigeria and an award winning cross-border novelist, has, with this book, set a machinery in motion that should lead to a conscious effort to rehabilitate CKC and return it to its pristine status as first among equals. The momentum that is being generated by Sons of A Priest must make CKC, once again, indeed, a citadel of knowledge that would be the envy of all again, not only in the South East zone of the country but in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.