By Godwin Ezaka
Rev. Fr. Raymond Ezeonu was my childhood closest friend. I started Primary School with him on the same day at the same school. My parents were living very close to their house at Ogoja road. We eventually finished our primary education and we parted ways. I left for my home town where I lived with my grandmother. However, I usually come to Abakaliki for holidays.Eventually, Raymond was admitted into Mary Knoll Ogoja and later transferred to County School Izzi, now called Izzi High School.
When he finished his secondary education, all of a sudden he said he wanted to be a priest. It became a tug of war. His father vowed that that will never happen. Raymond insisted on becoming a priest.Monsignor Mmuo will tell this story better because he was among those who rescued that situation. On several occasions, Raymond ran away from the house and his father kept hunting for him like a sacrificial item.
Eventually, Raymond went to Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu and was ordained a Catholic Priest on 8th day of April, 1972 by the then Catholic Bishop of Abakaliki, Bishop McGettrick unlike Fr. Raymond, my own case came up in a totally different way. I never dreamt, wished or prayed to be a priest.
After my Secondary School in 1963 at Holy Cross High School, Umuawulu-Mbaukwu in Anambra State, I was employed by Eastern Development Corporation (ENDC) for one year and six months. I worked equally at the Ministry of Agriculture, Administration/Accounting Division before the Nigerian-Biafran War broke up in 1967.
I and my other three brothers were conscripted into the Army. I served in the ’16 Cordo Brigade Ibuzo Strike Force’ which was the 2nd Liberation Army of Republic of Biafra.As I earlier told you, it was never my childhood dream to be a priest. The war situations actually redirected my mind into the priesthood. So, I had a covenant with God.
I asked him: “My God, if my three brothers and I who were conscripted survive this battle; if four of us come back safely alive, I’ll resign my job and enter into the seminary with the aim of becoming a priest.”Eventually, all of us came back hale and hearty.
I resigned my appointment at the age of 29 in 1971 to enter Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, where I stayed for seven years. I was ordained on 2nd day of July, 1978 at the age of 36. It was a late vocation. I never prayed to be a priest but as divine providence would have it, I am one today.
I was the first priest ordained after the Episcopal ordination of Most Rev. Michael N. Okoro as the Auxiliary Bishop of Abakaliki Diocese in 1977.My first pastoral assignment was at Corpus Christi Parish, Nkalagu-Umuhuali from where I covered St. Joseph’s Parish Ezzagu when Fr. Ray Ezeonu was on a three (3) month Study Leave in Sierra Leone. You see how life moves.
At a point in time we lost contact. As providence would have it, our aspirations for the catholic priesthood under Abakaliki Diocese reunited us again. So, He was ordained in 1972 while I was ordained in 1978 despite being some months older than him. So, while I was covering St. Joseph Ezzagu for Fr. Raymond Ezeonu, I was confronted with the problem of Twins, the whole story was terrible. For the three month, I usually travel to Ezzagu every weekend and come back to Umuhuali after Sunday masses. I was assisting Fr. Sullivan then.
On the fateful weekend, I came back from pastoral visits from out-stations. All of a sudden, I heard the cries and wailings of mothers who came to report to me that one Mr. Umoke Igwe came to the Mission House with his cohort. According to them, the man was furious and aggressive with his gang wielding dangerous weapons threatening brimstones and thunders saying “These are ahuma, aru (a taboo, an abomination) and they should die. They are not meant to live and eat”.
Fr. Raymond quartered twins in the Mission House and was catering for them. They equally narrated how the said Umoke Igwe tried to snatch the twins from their mothers and strangulate them if not for the cleverly maneuvers of the mothers who defended their twins at their own risks. I learnt that fowler called Umoke in the process sustained a sprain in his ankle which later became a fracture after x-ray examination.
After listening to their pathetic stories, I gathered all the mothers of the twins including all mission workers (your father inclusive) and told them: “If he comes again, hold him and fetter him till I come back. Eventually, true to his threats, Umoke Igwe came back to switch-off the lives of the twins. He came back for the annihilation and extermination of the twins with his cohort. Having been well coached, the women, like mother-hens, caught him like a Kite hovering of their chicks.
They caged him till I came back. When the twins’ mothers saw me, they victoriously ran to me singing: “Father! Father!! Father!!! Look at the wicked man. We have caught him.” I was visibly angry with him but I retorted and asked him: “Mr. Umoke, Umoke what is wrong with you, what are you doing here in the Mission House? What are you trying to do with the twins? Why should you come here in the first place?