Long before he became the Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi was the biggest donor to the construction of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Awka. This fact was revealed by the then Bishop of Awka, Bishop Simon Okafor at the dedication of that magnificent edifice -- despite the protests of Peter Obi. The paternal bishop, noted for allotting praise in poor doses, gave it in full to Obi as a good example to engage in Christian Charity.
Very few people are also aware that Obi's family scholarship scheme, co-ordinated by his Sister, Rev. Sr. Martina Obi, is unrivalled in Anambra State in the number of scholarships offered to date. Unlike many other awards, especially from latter-day politicians, the Obi Family scholarships are not announced from the rooftops in boisterous indecency. One of these political predators even claimed he bought vehicles for priests ordained in his hometown – a tale debunked by the town in question.
Similarly, not many people are aware that Peter Obi gave hefty amounts to different Churches in the State for revolving loan scheme for the poor.
In his business life, Next International Company, which he founded, has groomed many successful businessmen. In terms of employment, the companies he has substantial interests in, have provided employment to thousands of Nigerians within and beyond Anambra State. These are some of the quiet efforts of this outstanding humanist and community developer.
The recent practice of publicizing his support to schools was simply to let contributors to the scheme confirm utilization of the funds, thus encouraging them to donate more.
All in all, Obi's life is subsumed in inconspicuous philanthropy, which prompted Bishop Okafor to call on Christians to emulate him: “If Obi does not want his charity publicized, why publish it?" I am aware this will be the dominant argument from rattled e-rats.
A few days ago, due to an urgent mission that took him abroad, Mr. Peter Obi delegated Mr. Fidelis Okafor and me to represent him at the graduation of trainees of the MASDEVAN Farm at Urum. Many of them were sponsored by him. Again, this is part of his cocktail of measures towards contributing to the societal welfare and development.
From the beginning to the end of the journey to the Farm, many remarkable events took place. On my way, I stopped by St. Peter's Catholic Church, Urum to have a glimpse of the Ave Maria Clinic opposite the Church. Such projects remind one of the happy past when Okwute was the Governor. As the winner of the Bill & Melinda Gates award as the Best Governor in the Eradication of Polio, he was given monetary rewards, which he matched to build 12 hospitals in the remotest parts of the State in partnership with the Churches. While the one built through the Anglican Bishop of Awka is located at Awka-Ofemili; the one at Urum was constructed through the Catholic Bishop of Awka. This gesture has its own lessons: Bishop Ezeokafor did not choose his hometown, Nanka; while Bishop Ibezie did not favour Mbaukwu. Left in the hands of predatory politicians, guess what would have happened!
As I was appreciating the hospital, I saw a group of boys all over the road, some with white cloths and red bandanas around their heads. Some carried pots of what looked like medicine. Behind them were approaching big masquerades. Being a fan of pageantries, I am comfortable with masquerades for their entertainment value. The masquerade cult is one of the mysteries of our culture about which the uninitiated may only speculate any may never know.
In the course of the masquerades’ displays, the parish priest of the Church, Fr. Anthony Ibekwe warned them not to enter the Church premises, to which one of the handlers responded: “Fr, even the Bible said that what is God's should be given to Him and what is Caesar's to Caesar”. After the encounter between the mundane and the spiritual, Fr. Ibekwe took me round the hospital. Recalling the attainments of Peter Obi as Governor of Anambra State, he described him as an Angel of Light sent by God to illuminate the State. Whether the light is still aglow or extinguished is not the topic for the day.
Interestingly, Fr. Ibekwe revealed that this is the only health institution in the area: “Val, I am so happy about the Clinic and it is my desire to see it fully functional. It is painful when my people have to go to Awka even for elementary sicknesses. Kindly let Oga know the Clinic also needs a serviceable laboratory and some other equipment”. I am always enthralled by how Priests appropriate any town they are posted to as theirs – treating it and their people with love, care and understanding leniency.
Arriving MASDEVAN Farm and noting the transformation the place has continued to undergo, I give kudos to the Priest-Founder, Fr. Sebastian Anokwulu – incidentally, my teacher at Akpu Seminary in the early 1980s. The success story of the farm would not be complete without the involvement of Mr. Peter Obi. Aside from sponsoring many of the trainees and donating sundry funds, he initiated a revolving credit scheme for the best students.
The passing-out ceremony had in attendance a host of personalities, including Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor who has continued to demonstrate that priests still understand the core of their calling to incorporate winning souls for Christ and living like real apostles; not competing with earthly potentates for the glory of the world which is fleeting - "sic transit, gloria mundi’ [so passes away the glory of the world].
I also enjoyed the presence of my contemporaries such as Fr. Damian Ogwatta and Fr. Christian Umeojilinaka. Doubling as the MC, Fr. Umeojinnaka reminded us in rough Latin: "Agricola Habemus" how do I interpret it? I have a farmer or what? Agricola is the Latin word for farmer, from which we derive the word agriculture and the event was an agricultural one. You can now do the interpretation.
I also met Msgr. Jerome Madueke, a thoroughbred theologian. I do not know his thought process, but he appeals to me as a traditional priest, who, if given the opportunity, may strangely preach the return to Vatican 1.
Many other priests present, young and old, were in solidarity with their brother priest, the bishop and the universal Church under Christ's vicar, the Pope.
At the end of the programme, I left the place convinced that the MASDEVAN Farm project has been a huge success, which commends itself to replication in other parts of the State and indeed, our great country, Nigeria.