By all measures, the 68th birthday of His Grace, The Most Rev’d Valerian Maduka Okeke, the Archbishop of Onitsha and the Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province fittingly underscores the centrality of grace in any meaningful human endeavour. The Archbishop effectively turned the birthday thanksgiving Mass into a veritable tool to pour out his heart in prayer. He expressed his deep passion for a new Anambra transformed into a progressive family of peoples, characterised by love, peace and harmony. Baring his mind with deep faith, active hope and profound passion at the birthday Mass, the Archbishop, in a spirit-filled and faith-inspired moving message to the political class of Anambra, condemned all forms of destructive and desperate activities.
He called for the dethronement of politics of bitterness, politics of bloodletting, politics of division and favouritism, politics of exclusion, politics of excuses, politics of back-stabbing and politics of enmity, and appealed for the enthronement of the politics of family harmony, brotherliness, cooperation, development and peace, and indeed politics without bitterness in the electioneering campaigns. He proposed a politics of societal transformation that will accentuate the greatness of Anambra and place it as a cynosure of admiration. In a spirit-filled and positively heightened atmosphere, filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Archbishop poured out himself and made the famous life-giving, heart-changing and life-transforming “I desire Speech/Prayer”, which came at the beginning of the Mass.
He desires a State that will be the consolation and motivation of Ndigbo; he desires a State where politicians place the welfare of the citizens as a priority; he desires a State where politics is devoid of violence, bloodletting and bitterness. While charging the ruling class to embrace brotherliness and to denounce any form of violence, he insisted that Anambra should be devoid of any do or die attitude or any form of by fire or by force disposition. The peace-loving and harmony-promoting Prelate denounced violence and destruction of whatever hue. In his thoughts and words, no kingdom divided against itself can stand and in no way should Anambra be counted in the generation of brother-killing Cain. According to him, a State richly blessed with human and natural resources, Anambra was positioned by God to be primus inter pares, the light indeed and by performance, not merely by name.
And this task requires the cooperation of all the stakeholders in the Anambra socio-political enterprise. Seconding the spirituality and philosophy of the Archbishop, the success story Ndigbo have become betrays years of cultivation of virtues without which no one can achieve greatness, yet requires proper and intentioned domestication to move to the next level of depth and frequency. And through Anambra’s numerous blessings demonstrable from her multifaceted and multilateral forays, she stands in debt to lead Ndigbo to a new dawn of politics without bitterness, which promotes the never-ending transformation of our resources into capitals and our challenges and tribulations into tributes, opportunities and blessings.
The reception of the Archbishop’s message by the ruling elite that graced the occasion, namely His Excellency, The Governor of Anambra State, Chief Dr Willie Obiano and Wife, Dr Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano, His Excellency, Mr Peter Obi, CON, the former Governor of Anambra State, the gubernatorial candidates of the various political parties in Anambra State, Nze Akachukwu Nwankpo (ADC), Prof Charles Soludo and his Deputy, Dr Onyekachukwu Ibezim (APGA), Mr & Mrs Valentine Chineto Ozigbo (PDP), High Chief Dr Obiora Okonkwo (ZLP), Chief Primus Odili, Anambra State Chief of Staff, Ozonkpu Victor Oye and Senator Dr Victor Umeh, current and former National Chairmen of APGA, respectively, Mr Obinna Ufudo, Prof Kate Omenugha, Commissioner for Education, Hon Evarist Uba, Lady Ngozi Nwanosike, etc. is a great highlight of the event.
The speeches, feedback, and indeed the conviviality that pervaded the entire arena bespeak the acceptance of the message of the Archbishop by persons of different political cum religious persuasions. For a moment, they forgot their political differences and celebrated happily like a family, like brothers. It sufficiently demonstrates the sincerity of the Archbishop’s appeal, which his ministry embodies. It spells the personal integrity that has marked his apostolate, being discharged with the fatherly concern without fear or favour, discrimination or favouritism. It is palpable that the Archbishop’s presence is an oasis that refreshes with wisdom, peace and harmony. His house is a big family space that accommodates politicians of all parties and people of various walks of life. In fact, all the false insecurities, superficial division by party lines and all segregations dissolve in the Archbishop’s presence.
Living his spiritual fatherhood, he creates an abode where no one is a stranger, and no one is an outsider. There is only one party in his house, and that is the party of the children of God, where everyone is welcomed, accepted and treated with dignity and love. The Archbishop is the microcosm of what he desires for the State, an oasis of peace. Indeed, people of different political leanings and religious denominations have experienced this harmony, in the presence of which various prejudices fizzle away. The power of personal testimony is the audacity of the Archbishop. In conclusion, his birthday goes down as the day the Archbishop set the hearts of the Anambra political class on fire for proper development of the State founded on peace, harmony and brotherly cooperation, eschewing all forms of violence, hostility, and all destructive tendencies. It was one of the most eloquent and profound expressions of love of God and neighbour.
And indeed, a father’s passionate appeal and a cry of hope, conscientising his spiritual children and beloved people of the State, and thusly, he made a case for great Anambra, reputed for its excellence. The Archbishop promised to continue his pastoral outreach to all, especially the excluded, the marginalised, the poor and the less fortunate ones. In many and several ways, the Archbishop identifies with the appalling sufferings of the poor. His activities proclaim and echo what the love of God and neighbour provokes, demonstrating nobility, generosity, leadership and godliness. In his ministry, charity wins out over legalism, turning our numerous resources and goods into valuable capital for personal and societal transformation. Greatness always expresses itself in thoughts, actions and visions.
Happily, the Archbishop entered the Federal Prisons Onitsha, fed the prisoners with a sumptuous meal and many other provisions, and changed many of them by the amnesty promised by the Governor, making it a life-changing event. He reconciled the politicians and set their hearts on fire for a peaceful State. The necessity for a holistic Prison corrective facility lubricates his commitment to Onitsha Prison, which he visits at least three times a year (Christmas, Easter & his birthday). He brings Christ to them, the Good News of their salvation. He started with strengthening and renewing the spiritual and pastoral services to the inmates, entrusting the task to a vibrant and dedicated young Priest and a Nun. He renovated the Chapel and built a new one for the Prison Staff and families.
He charged the Chaplaincy to do everything within their reach to provide life to the inmates, including organising music and sports activities. He initiated the reconstruction of the Prison Dormitories and made them habitable. He provided Pipe Borne Water and vehicles for conveying the sick to hospitals. He also detailed the Archdiocesan Legal Department and JDPC Office to offer Legal services to the inmates and, through that means, liberated many innocent ones. Beyond that, he gives regular food materials and other material goods to support the inmates, including Medical care at the Holy Rosary Hospital and Maternity, Waterside Onitsha. Over and above these, he constructed a Skill Acquisition Centre for the Federal Prison Onitsha for proper integration into the society when one finishes serving the time. The list never ends! In pastoral outreach and solidarity to the Federal Prison Onitsha, the Archbishop lives his belief in the sacredness of human worth. Even when one is in an existential or physical prison, man retains his dignity. Happy 68th birthday, Your Grace, Most Rev’d Valerian Okeke.
• Fr George Adimike is a priest of the CAtholic Archdiocese of Onitsha, Nigeria