By Sunday Ani
Storytelling is more of a natural gift than an art. This was clearly demonstrated by Rev. Fr. Chikere Agbo in his debut literary work, titled, “Joy cut short but dreams fulfilled.” As a priest of the Catholic Church, versed in philosophy and theology, it is only an inherent, God-given talent that could have pushed him into the business of storytelling.
On Sunday, August 8, history was made as Fr. Agbo’s family, friends and well-wishers, gathered at No. 16, Musa Yar’Adua Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, to celebrate with him as he launched his first novel.
The event which attracted a galaxy of Jesuit priests in their humble nature, as well as academics, businessmen/women, and captains of industry, saw the young priest/author revealing that apart from the innate love to tell stories, world acclaimed novelists like the late Prof Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie greatly influenced and inspired him to write the book.
Even with an understanding of the innate gift to tell stories, the author said he spent almost three years to get the book published.
On the influence of Achebe and Chimamanda’s works in writing the book, he said: “Before I started writing the book, I was reading other people’s books. I have read a lot of fiction both local and foreign. Of course, Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ remains my all time best novel. And lately, when Chimamanda Adichie came up with her own fiction, ‘Purple Hibiscus,’ I felt enchanted by the novel. Her story telling style resonates virtually with anybody such that anybody at any level can read and enjoy. So, I felt that desire to tell my own story; since it seems like I have a story and a literary voice. So, that was essentially what informed the writing of the book.”
Apart from being inspired by Achebe and Chimamanda’s novels and his innate gift for writing, what exactly inspired Fr. Agbo to write this particular novel? Could it be his environment or his personal life experience? He answered: “Well, it is very hard to find a fiction that is entirely neutral. Surely, it also came out of my own reflections on the things I see around me. I have been teaching the young people for more than 20 years. I have worked in several schools, including St Francis Catholic Secondary School, Idimu, Lagos, and I have been interacting with different people. So, it is very hard to say that there was a particular experience.
“However, where I am equally informed my choice of the story line, but that is not to say that it has any direct relation to any particular experience of mine. It is just a creation; a work of art. But, if anybody reads it and is able to draw one or two experiences or lessons for life, then that is good, but essentially, I wrote a book that people can read and enjoy. That is my primary motive; to put down something that people can enjoy and relax with.”
He described the book, ‘Joy cut short but dreams fulfilled,’ as the author’s journeys into the mind of a lad and his efforts to unravel or unlock the series of human motivations, and why, for example, people are willing to make great sacrifices for what they believe in or what they value. “The protagonist in this case is a young person who is growing up and going through the vicissitudes of life; discovering or being discovered. However, it is not easy to say whether the story ended happily or sadly because that is the whole enigma about the story,” he stated.
Fr. Agbo, who just clocked 10 years in his calling into the priesthood, having been ordained a Catholic priest on July 23, 2011, has promised that he was already in for a long walk in the world of literary work. He said he has found something that gladdens his heart, and promised that he would churn out more literary works in due course.
“I have found something that truly makes me happy. For now, we are celebrating the book, ‘Joy cut short but dreams fulfilled,’ but as for what the future holds, I am in for the long call. As for when, I can only say that something is cooking; hopefully by the time people have enjoyed reading the book and got used to my style of writing, who knows,” he submitted.
It was an evening to remember as various personalities whose paths have crossed with Fr. Agbo, a doctorate student at Santa Clara University, California, USA, all took turns to eulogise him for his humility, virtue and good nature.
For Dame Taiwo Akjayi Lycett, Fr. Agbo is bright, humble, dedicated; a clear confirmation of the kind of training Jesuit priests are exposed to.
Lycett, who is also a fellow of the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artistes, described the book as very interesting, having read through it. She recommended the book for all who want to know about the making of a priest, saying, “I have read it; it is very fascinating. It gave me an insight into the Jesuit Society as well; how they train their priests. They give them sound, wide, broad education internationally, which enables them to serve the world.
“So, it is about a mindset where you are a priest and you are not fleecing your congregation. They give you all the intellectual tools you need to serve humanity. You dedicate your life to that. It is fascinating and that is why I like all of them.”
She said she has known the author for over 20 years and has come to a conclusion that he is bright, humble and dedicated.
Chairman of the occasion, Dr. Chike Madueke expressed pleasure for chairing the event, noting that he knew the author through his children who attended St. Francis Catholic Secondary School, Idimu, Lagos, where Fr. Agbo once served. He described him as a gentleman, saying, “Whatever my children told me about him was what I saw when I finally met him. He is a gentleman. He is among those who have devoted their being to the service of God and humanity, especially the youths.”
He commended the Jesuit priests for the kind of knowledge they impart on the students who attend the Jesuit colleges in Nigeria and encouraged parents to allow their children to attend Jesuit college. “They will gain independent mind; ability to think by themselves. Jesuit offers service above self,” he said.
Personalities that graced the book launch included Chief Emeka Odo; Chairman, Enugu State Inland Revenue Service, represented by Lady Princess Ukamaka Franca; Dr. Basil Onugwu; Chief Nduka Itodo; and Chief Frank Agbedo. Others were the Administrator of St. Francis Catholic Secondary School, Idimu, Fr. Leo Abuchi Muoneme; Adesina Ademuyiwa Buraimoh; representative of Enugu Ezike Youth Association, Lagos; representative of Ikpamodo Enugu Ezike Improvement Union, Lagos; representative of Onicha Enugu Ezike Improvement Union, Lagos; representative of Amachalla Enugu Ezike Town Union, Lagos; Odo Cosmas; Dr. Odili Ujubuonu who reviewed the book; Rev. Fr. Emeka Asogwa from Port Harcourt; and Collins Ogbu of Nsukka Professional Association.
In his remarks, Fr. Agbo who was born and bred in Amachalla village of Eugu-Ezike in Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, Enugu State, thanked all the guests for making out time to attend the event. He also expressed appreciation to all those who contributed in one way or the other to ensure that the book launch was successful.