By ODILI TONY UJUBUONU
I write this with the ink of tears. I write it with hands shaken by memories and pain. Pain, not of regret or unhappiness but one which draws from that certainty of truth you know is and would never change. When reality upends the sacred vial of truth can anyone or anything change it?
No. Nothing can change the fact that Rev. Fr. Nicholas Chukwuemeka Tagbo, OON – the longest serving and first black principal of Christ the King College, (CKC) Onitsha is now at home with our Father who art in Heaven. He was a true father of countless sons whom he had carefully moulded to become leaders in all walks of life across generations and across the globe.
These men are crestfallen at this moment not because they lost a father who was more than everything to each of them. No. The ‘Amaka boys’ as they are fondly called never believed their Father could die. Their story is my story. Their conviction was my conviction until reality stole our belief beyond reach. I guess my hurt and indeed that of countless students who passed through him is that we’ve grown to believe that Father was immortal. Father still vividly lives in each of us. He must have implanted an unusual psychological chip in our heads that made him seem indestructible by death in our minds. We left his school many years ago but, he lived in our minds everyday afterwards. He reigned in our thoughts at very important periods of our lives. Like a guardian angel, his words of exhortation illumined our paths, leading us to decisions that formed milestones in our lives. He was more of our Avatar, an eternal guiding light to what we would later become in life. What this clearly points to is that Father, while he lived, constantly prayed for us, his sons.
Tagbo encouraged us to work hard and also provided us with more than enough to play with – football pitches, cricket pitch, hockey field, basketball courts, volleyball court, lawn tennis courts, badminton court, handball court and huge field for athletics on the one hand. Then on the other hand student law courts, debating and literary societies, altar servers, Man ‘O’ War, Historical and Current Affairs Society, name it. The CKC of his time was run by the able hands of his students with minor guidance from the tutorial staff. He made us forget our homes and gave us the veritable fillip to live like a family of over six hundred children. He knew each of us by name, at least by our surnames. Tagbo taught us to pray but above all, taught us to dream. In dreaming, he was quick to remind us that dreams were not enough. He fitted us with wings and urged us to dare. To the wide golden fields of life we dared… thankfully most of us soared to remarkable heights. He gave us faith without fear; love without weakness.
The greatest aspect of his power was his reputation. Nobody ever wanted to be in his black book because of stories of his skills in straightening crooked boys. We feared him like a god yet we loved him like a father. He was indeed our father and we, happily his sons. He gave us what nobody else could have given us – infinite belief in ourselves, our college, our country and our God. He taught us to live above the common level of life. He made us commit to choosing the harder right instead of the easier wrong. He made us never to be content with the half truth where the whole can be won. Loyalty and honour were etched on our sacred breasts just as hard work became the colour of our bloods.
His life was a treatise in modesty. It took me almost a lifetime to finally brace the profundity of Tagbo’s virtue of humility. A man of his ilk was content to make great men out of plain boys while he remained a simple priest. He gave up his life ambitions to make us rule our worlds. Tagbo was satisfied to be just a principal and a priest while some of his classmates in Christ the King College became bishops and one would later become a cardinal. He gave Nigeria over twenty Senior Advocates of Nigeria and remained an obedient citizen. He raised men who became GCON, CON, CFR, MFR etc. but was content and very proud to be honoured with just an OON. He produced three state governors while he remained a simple priest in a local parish. He had over a hundred billionaire businessmen as his sons yet he remained faithful to his vow of poverty as a priest. He trained boys that became Chief Judges of about four states and senior judges in courts across Nigeria, yet he ended as Citizen Nicholas. His bell of humility tolled twelve when he happily lived as a poor old priest under the current Archbishop of Onitsha Diocese who was once his obedient student in Christ the King College. Our Fr. fathered Senators, members of the National and State Assemblies, over seven Secretaries of State Governments, movie stars, top writers, university professors, world class researchers, inventors and their likes, yet he lived as a quiet priest who reposed in his silent corner of no allure – praying ceaselessly for his errant children.
Yes; talking about errant children, Tagbo typified the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ talked about, who would leave ninety-nine obedient sheep and go after one errant sheep. Tagbo would go out of his way to ensure that the erring child followed the path of honour. He could sneak into a hostel by 1:00 a.m. to do a head count while the students snored and slumbered. He could travel the miles and tear the wires to ensure that a bad boy returned home a prodigal. He made us live the motto of our school Bonitas, Disciplina, Scientia – Goodness discipline and knowledge!
n Ujubuonu writes from Awka