•Awka stands still as the world gathers to celebrate clergyman’s 50th priestly and 30th Episcopal anniversaries
•Gov Obiano, Ekwueme, Anyaoku, Soludo, others pay tribute
From Obinna Odogwu, Ekwulobia
The Cathedral Church of St. Faith, Awka, Anambra State, was filled and blazing with colours. The congregation in the church auditorium came from far and near to celebrate with Most Reverend Maxwell Samuel Chukwunwike Anikwenwa, the Emeritus Archbishop and Dean, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.
In all, there were more than 5,000 people at the Eucharistic service marking the cleric’s Golden Jubilee ordination and 30th Episcopal ordination.
In the gathering were corporate titans and business tycoons, politicians, educationists, religious leaders and traditional rulers. They all fared to Awka to identify with the cleric whom they said had paid his dues in the Lord’s vineyard.
It was a celebration that recorded an unusual human and vehicular traffic in Awka as people came from within and outside the country to be part of it. Among the top dignitaries in attendance were the Archbishop and Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Most Reverend Nicholas Okoh; Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano; former Anambra State governor, Chief Peter Obi, and former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme (represented by his wife). Also in attendance were former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; former Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, and Special Adviser to the on Inter-Party Affairs, under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, Senator Ben Ndi Obi.
Also in the number were the first female governor in Nigeria, Dame Virgy Etiaba; Senator (Mrs.) Uche Ekwunife; former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo; former Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Henry Oseloka Obaze; Hon. Justice Kalajine Anigbogu; Dr. Chike Obidigbo; Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Reverend Paulinus Ezeokafor; Sir Ikechukwu Abana and more than 20 bishops from various Anglican dioceses. Traditional rulers from Ukpo, Nibo, Okpuno, Nnewi communities and members of Dennis Memorial Grammar School Old Boys Association, among others, were also present.
The Eucharistic service was anchored by the Bishop of Awka Diocese, Rt. Revd. Chibuzo Ibezim, while Okoh delivered the sermon.
Anikwenwa, it was learnt, went into the ministry in 1964 when he gained admission into Trinity Theological College, Umuahia. After completiing his studies, he was made a deacon in 1966 at the All Saints Cathedral, Onitsha, by the Most Revd. Cecil John Patterson, who later ordained him priest in 1968. He served as Chaplain of the Cathedral and Chaplain of the Archdiocese of West Africa from 1966 to 1969.
In 1976, he became a Canon of the All Saints Cathedral and served as the Vicar of St. Andrew’s Church, Onitsha, from 1976 to 1987, when he was elected and consecrated the Bishop of Awka Diocese.
Before he became a bishop, he held the position of Synod Secretary, Diocese on the Niger, from 1975 to 1986. He was also Urban Missioner in Onitsha from 1976 to 1986 as well as the Secretary of the College of Bishops’ Meeting, Eastern Zone of Nigeria, in 1988.
In 2000, Anikwenwa was presented as the Archbishop of Province Two and, later, Province of the Niger, and the Dean, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion); in the same year, he became the chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Anambra State chapter, and remained so till 2008.
He attended Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha; St. Mark’s Teachers’ Training College, Nibo-Nise; Fourah-Bay College, Sierra-Leone; Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies, Bossley, Geneva; Ripon College, Cuddeson, Oxford; and St. George’s College, Jerusalem.
In 2008, he was decorated with the national honour of Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. In 2010, he was honoured by the Bishop of London, Rt. Revd. Richard John Charles, with the Order of Saint Mellitus (OSM).
In his homily, Okoh restated the importance of rendering selfless service to God and humanity. He said that there was nothing anyone could do for God other than obey His commandments, by spreading the good news of the salvation Jesus Christ brought to humanity. While eulogising Anikwenwa for his legacies, he implored younger priests to follow in his footsteps.
In his speech, Anikwenwa said: “I am celebrating God’s abundant blessings in the Church’s ministry, to which I was called in 1964, when I went in for training, and from December 18, 1966, when I was ordained, to December 18, 2016, and my consecration on March 8, 1987, to March 8, 2017.
“Between my 50th year of ordination and 30 years of consecration as a bishop is God’s mercy and blessings. That is what we’re celebrating.”
Anikwenwa noted that although his priestly sojourn has been fruitful, he has some regrets: “Certainly, there were things I planned to do, which I couldn’t do. So, if the bishop coming after me wishes, he might do those things.
“In Ugbene community in Awka North, there is a miserable church, which I wanted to start work on. We did everything but it didn’t materialise. But I hear that, by the grace of God, they’re starting that church.
“And at Mgbakwu, I wanted an agricultural establishment where young people would be gainfully engaged but could not do that. If you call that regret, I regret it.”
Anikwenwa, according to many attendees, performed outstandingly well while he was in office as archbishop.
Said Ezeokafor, “Archbishop Anikwenwa is one of our forefathers in the faith and I am happy that he is celebrating 50 years of his priesthood and 30 years’ episcopate. I know what it means to give this service to the church and the community.
“This is the time he will offer more service to the church by using his experience to advise the young ones on the best way to work harmoniously for the good of the church.”
Former Governor Obi, while eulogising the cleric, recalled that, “While I was governor, my relationship with him was very cordial. He was always there when I needed advice on certain critical issues. He was contributory to what we did. He was vocal and would always tell you the right things.”
Contributing, Senator Obi, described the celebrator as a true man of God, even when he was retired, “some of us still make it a point of duty to always interface with him.”
Also, Dr. Chike Obidigbo, and Mr. Oseloka Henry Obaze, governorship aspirants in the forthcoming election in the state, in their separate speeches, described Anikwenwa as a fine gentleman with great intellect.
Shortly after the service, the congregation moved to Emmaus House for a book launch, chaired by Chief Anyaoku. In his opening remarks, Anyaoku eulogised Anikwenwa for sowing so many fruitful years to the service of God and humanity.
“He is a conservative evangelist. He is a model shepherd because, in his career, he has shown devotion; he has had the distinction of emphasising human development in his mission in all areas. Like our said, he is a proud Igbo man.”
Chief Anyaoku also applauded the planning committee headed by Justice Anigbogu and his team for a job well done.