In the 1980s most television watchers in old Anambra State were struck by the engaging perspectives of Father (as he was then called) Obiora Ike on the two philosophical programmes of the two television channels in Enugu then, the Nigerian Television Authority on the Anambra Broadcasting Service Television. Fr. Obiora was the newest guest on the programmes, but his contributions were particularly arresting. In no time, he became a professor at 37, and was elevated to the status of Papal Chamberlain. He speaks nine languages fluently, including Hausa, Arabic, Greek, Latin and German as well as French.
For some reason, throughout these years my path and Msgr. Ike's did not cross till about five years ago at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos when the senior priest came for the public presentation of a series of multidisciplinary books of Peter Alex Egom, better known in the Nigerian media as Ashikiwe Adione-egom, the motor park economist a sobriquet he adopted in his eccentric days.
It was no surprise that Egom and Monsignor Ike had struck up a relationship so deep that the erstwhile eccentric economist had become a director of the Umuchinemere Ltd, the flourishing microfinance bank in Enugu foundation by the Catholic multitalented priest. They were intellectual and spiritual soul mates. Egom, who once toyed with Pentecostalism and even became a pastor, had returned fully to the Catholic Church and attended the mass everyday for years before he died of prostate cancer in Lagos in March, 2013.
Not long after the book lunch, I found myself in Enugu on a Sunday. Though lodged in a hotel New Heaven, I made effort to worship at the church in the Federal Housing Estate in Nike where Ike was the pastor or parish priest. As expected, it was a rewarding liturgical experience. But more important was the lunch in his residence, even though he did not know I was coming. I did not see any domestic aides, suggesting that he may have prepared the meal himself and was perhaps carrying out the domestic chores personally. Though he does not eat food with salt, he quickly prepared my own meal with salt and served me diligently. I savoured it all! How many times does one get a person older in age in Africa and highly accomplished by any standard in the world to serve one?
Ike is not just a parish. Priest He was then the vicar general, that is, the second in command in the whole of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu. He is also the leader of the highly influential Catholic Institute for Development, Justice, Peace and CARITAS (CIDJAP), a role which casts him in the mould of a liberation theologian in his own right. A liberation priest is in practical terms fighting social and economic injustices against mostly the marginalized in society in the firm belief that the struggle is consistent with the spirit and letter of the gospels.
As Ike and I were eating and chatting over some philosophical issues, I quickly remembered an account Fr. Raymond Arazu, another exceptional brilliant theologian and philosopher, gave on his 56th birthday in November 1995 which also marked the 29th anniversary of his priestly ordination. It was a moving testimony about what is now popularly called servant leadership involving the late bishop of Enugu Dioceses, Reverend, Michael Eneja. Eneje was already by April 1966 the parish priest of Fegge in Onitsha where Azaru, a deacon about to be ordained a priest, was staying; Eneje had some priest and domestic servants under him.
Yet on the eve of Arazu's ordaination, he personally carried a bucket of water on his head in the dead of the night from the ground floor to the would-be priest in his room which was on the third floor. In a very low tone so that he would not attract the attention of other or disturb the pace of those already asleep, the parish priest explained that he did so because the tap might not run the morning when Arazu would be preparing for his ordination!
"I stood speechless", Arazu was to write 29 years later. "In God's presented to me in concrete term, as a model, the night before my ordination. I usually do not see vision. My lessons are in real life situations. I wish I could become something like that!"
Msgr. Ike is in the category of servant leaders like the late Bishop Eneje whose canonization is just a matter of time. He is an authentic minister of the gospel in the order of Melchezedec, a polyvalent scholar par excellence, an enthusiastic campaigner for a better Nigerian society, a dedicated work for the poor and the oppressed, a priest with stupendous energy and a wonderful social mobilize. He turned 60 on April 7, 2016.
Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting in Lagos