GRACE MIRROR: A TRIBUTE TO VERY REV. FR. NICHOLAS CHUKWUEMEKA TAGBO, OON
BY MOST REV. VALERIAN M. OKEKE
‘Man fully alive is the glory of God’. These words of St Irenaeus of Lyons resound with much intense vibrations as we reflect, with Gratitude to God, on the life of Very Rev. Fr Nicholas Chukwuemeka Tagbo of blessed memory. Our memories of father Tagbo are replete with copious snippets of landmarks and achievements, which in their assemblage, mirror the power of divine grace active in man. Thus, a tribute to Fada Tagbo does not only underscore the importance of sustaining memories of our heroes past, but also serves to inspire and motivate the young and above all glorify God who in His love choose him as a visible manifestation of His omnipotence. Hence, the apostle Paul remarked, in his second Letter to the Church at Corinth, we affirm that, ‘we are not competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant’ (2 Corinthians 3: 5-6). Therefore, we are grateful to God for the glorification of His name through the life and priestly ministry of Fr. Tagbo.
Fada Tagbo was many things to different people. He was a priest of God, a zealous pastor, an erudite academic, a resourceful person, an experienced and uncommon teacher, a benign disciplinarian, an administrator, a talented sportsman and coach, a counsellor, a crusader of excellence and integrity, a model, a motivator, a legacy and our quintessential patriarch. He was encountered in different capacities: as a priest, principal, teacher, coach, and as an elder. In all these multidimensional media of encountering, three factors remained constant: he was firm, fair and friendly.
Above all, he loved God and the priesthood, and the people of God whom he encountered in different capacities. His students were like his children. From the onset, Fada recognized the priesthood as not his, but as a gift from God. He discharged his priestly duties with much devotion, purity of intention and a singularity of purpose. As a priest of God, he cared for the souls entrusted to his care. He was a shepherd with the smell of the sheep. His wittiness, availability, humility, collaborative spirit, understanding, and matchless sense of humour gave his care over his flock a family feel. He had time for reading, meditation, mental prayer, contemplation, and celebration of the Liturgy. Today, we can say without much fear of equivocation, that the gift of the Roman Catholic priesthood, whose fraternal solidarity and spiritual benefits, Fada Tagbo enjoyed for fifty-six (56) years bore fruits innumerable to be measured.
In the academia, Fada Tagbo became a bridge between the old and the new, the then and the now, and the past and the present. His academic sojourn took him to Christ the King College, Onitsha (1963-1973; and 1976-1985) and Government Secondary College, Afikpo (1973-1976). He received the mantle of leadership from Rev. Fr. John FitzPatrick, to become the first African principal of Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha, Nigeria. He brought on board his pastoral sensitivity, scholarly ingenuity, administrative meticulosity and African heritage to the humongous task of forming the young, the future of today. One of his undaunted achievements was the ability to steer the ship of C.K.C. Onitsha during the course of the Nigerian civil war. During those periods, he secured the school movable assets and records, held fort the functioning of the school and rebuilt damaged structures. He taught, reformed, transformed, persuaded, directed, moulded and encouraged thousands of fledging young men who came through the porch of his famous tutelage. He was interested in his students’ welfare and studies like they were his biological children; he knew almost all by their names and supervised their academic progress as well as the demeanors of the staff. For Fada Tagbo everything, every day, every moment, every act, every decision and every word matters. He was that meticulous. He gave no room for half-hearted staff and made no compromise for mediocre students. Yet he was loving, charming, endearing, kind and homely. His students and indeed everyone bear witness that the bond between Fada and his alma mater was no fleeting sentiment.
Everyone knows the benefits of sports as well as its negative effects when approached wrongly. So does Fada Tagbo. Beyond the healthy benefits of exercise, Fada Tagbo brought discipline and tact into sports. He taught his students the need for consistent practices and instilled in their psychology the ‘winning mentality’. There was more to victory than results. Losing with dignity was preferred than winning with disgrace. His students understood this and they played to the rules. Fada Tagbo built a team fortress that represented the state in most national competitions. However, he never sacrificed excellence and academics for sports. Under his able leadership, among other trophies, C.K.C. Onitsha won the World School Soccer Championship held in 1977 in Dublin, Ireland, the first ever and so far only such laurel for Nigeria.
In the evening of his life, especially when he had already retired from active service, Fada Tagbo joyfully accepted the position of the background. It wasn’t his manner to complain, curse or nag. He enjoyed such healthy fraternal relationship with his brother-priests that his presence became a source of comfort and encouragement to the priests with whom he lived in the rectory.
Tales of death have often being identified with horrific images and eerie feelings. With Fada Tagbo, the contrary was the case. During the fading moments of his life, when he grew older and older, when his health and physique weakened, Fada was more of a companion than a burden especially to those with whom he lived his last years. He aged gracefully. For the greater part of that period, recognizing the fact that the journey back home was imminent, his song became that of appreciation, admonishment, encouragement, and assurance. When he finally breathed his last, there was no grimace of death, for he had left on the faces of his companions, traces of smiles which resulted from his humorous conversations. By the time the doctor confirmed his death, Fada Tagbo had already prepared his close associates, his students, his flock and his friends to cope and accept the reality of his physical absence.
For the most part, we have more or less written of Fada Tagbo in the past tense. Let us speak and write of him in the present tense. In an era where man listens no more to preachers, unless they are witnesses, Fada Tagbo serves as an inspiration for humanity, because though dead, he still lives on. He is a gift to humanity, the Church and to the field of academia; a gift that keeps on giving, a teacher that keeps on teaching. He teaches and inspires both the old and young, clergymen and laity, teachers and students, and leaders and followers alike. From him we learn: never to give up on a weak or struggling kid, dedication to duty, pursuit of excellence, zero tolerance for mediocrity, compassion, resourcefulness, goodwill, and a host of other virtues. Evidence of the fruits of his labour includes ebullient and spiritual clergymen, international and national heroes, and a galaxy of world-beaters and servant-leaders.
Therefore, we are blessed. Borrowing the words of Stephen R. Covey, in a world where turmoil dominates and words of discouragement prevail, we feel blessed to meet daily with individuals around the globe whose lives convince us that there is an abundance of good among us. In a time when echoes of crime, injustice, compromise for the best, indiscipline and mediocrity are common, in an era when schools and youths are being bombarded with negativism and sensitive social dilemmas, we are privileged to be presented with dedicated teachers and persons who were rich in character and made a difference in their own unique ways. Fada Tagbo was such an individual, teacher and person. Our memories of Fada Tagbo would always be that of a beloved father figure and role model. He will never be forgotten and will forever be the mascot of his era. He never dies. He fully lives on. His legacies live on in us his students and children. His life radiates the glory of God who made him and called him to the exulted ministry of the catholic priesthood. Thus, like St. Paul he makes bold to say; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me (2 Timothy 4: 7 – 8)” Hence, we pray and hope that God raises him up to live forever in the company of all the saints in heaven.
Most Rev. Valerian M. Okeke
(The Archbishop of Onitsha and the Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province)