“Sons of a Priest” – A post-mortem: interrogating the accomplished life of Fr. Nicholas Chukwuemeka Tagbo, OON – Toni Kan

Many of us gathered here today believe that we have come this morning to launch and publicly present a book.

But what many of do not realise is that we have come here to perform an important assignment, something akin to a science experiment with a defined process which invariably leads to an outcome.

The very act of writing a biography or an autobiography for that matter is a visceral excursion, a descent if you will, into the mindscape of an individual.

It is to return to a scientific point of reference, a forensic exercise because in revisiting a life lived or the past of a life that is being lived, one must encounter layers and layers of truth and experiences all of which would have contributed to everything that has coalesced to form that complete human being.

Which is why a biography is like a compressed resume; where was he born, where did he go to school, where did he work, how much did he achieve, where did his interest lie.

I was in Abuja recently and had cause to visit the police headquarters. Upon further enquiries I was directed to the 5th floor to a door marked – Forensics Office, Federal Investiagtion Bureau. I was surprised because whenever I hear forensics I think of American movies. The man I went to see turned out to be in the man in charge of Nigeria’s finger prints database.

My interest in forensics began long before that visit to Abuja. I am interested in forensics because I write biographies and also ghost-write autobiographies with my partner. And as the years have passed I have developed, what many could call, a morbid fascination with how people live and how they die.

It seems a tad bit too late in the day because I am too old to go to medical school but if I could I could go back I would become a pathologist because I believe that autopsies offer us the best window to understanding how  a person died or surprise surprise, how he lived.

An autopsy or post mortem examination also known as an obduction or necropsy or autopsia cadaverium is now a state sanctioned surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse by dissection to determine the cause, mode and manner of death or to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present in order to aid research or educational purposes.

Autopsy comes from the Greek words “auto” and “opsis’ meaning to see for oneself. The first recorded autopsies were carried out around 300BC by doctors living in Alexandria, Egypt. But it was a crude procedure and it took another 500 years later in 200 AD when with advances in medicine, a Greek doctor named Galen was able to compare what he found at autopsy to what his patients complained of or died off

But the first known state sanctioned and so legal autopsy took place in Bologna Italy in 1302 when a magistrate ordered an autopsy in order to determine the cause of death.

Today, almost every dead body is subjected to an autopsy in modern societies except where the family declines. There are also exceptions with Muslims.

Why are autopsies important. It was through autopsies that we realsed that asbestos, a material favoured for roofing and flooring houses was actually a killer and the cause of asbestosis. Autopsies made us realise that Adriomycin, one of the most popular cancer drugs could actually cause heart failure and autopsies showed us that people who work in silos and who do not wear face masks would catch the aptly named “silo fillers disease.”

Departing from this premise it is easy to see why I have titled my review- A post-Mortem: Interrogating the accomplished life of Fr. Nicholas Chukwuemeka Tagbo, OON

We have gathered here to conduct a post mortem of Reverend Father Tagbo’s life the one they called Nicho or Onyeisi: priest, teacher, mentor and moulder of character. The first insights are provided by a former student Oseloka H. Obaze.

Born in on Augsut 26, 1929, in Jos, Nicholas Chukwuemeka Tagbo began his academic journey in Jos with further stints in his native Awkuzu and Onitsha before coming to Christ the King College (CKC) Onitsha in 1945 for his Senior Cambridge Certificate. CKC was founded by Irish missionaries ld by His Grace Arch Bishop Charles Heerey.

It was CKC that he came into his own and from where his love for teaching budded. He taught part-time at All Hallows Seminary, Enugu where he taught a future cardinal, two future monsignors and two future bishops. From All Hallows he proceeded to Bigard Memorial Senior Seminary, Enugu from 1951 to 1053. He would subsequently depart for Dublin where he obtained a combined honours Bachelors of Science (BSc) degree in Mathematics, Chemistry and Botany.

He was ordained a priest on July 1, 1961.

He would return to All Hallows Seminary, Enugu for a short stint before moving over to Christ the King College (CKC) Onistsha where he taught from August 1962 to May 1963 before being appointed the 10th and first indigenous principal of CKC.He also had the unique and singular honour of becoming the first alumnus to head the school

Fr. Tagbo who took over from Rev. Fr. John FitzPatrick would hold the reins until the civil war broke out and he almost sngle handedly evacuated all the school’s moveable assets from October to December 1967 when Onitsha fell to Federal troops.

He fled to Oraukwu,where he set up and kept alive a miniature CKC and two days after the war ended in 1970, Fr. Tagbo was back at his duty ppost to continue his job as “architect” and “builder” of young minds.

There was a slight hiatus during which he was sent to Government College Afikpo. Devastated by the war when soldiers used the schook premisesas barracks, Fr. Tagbo was seen as the only ppricipal who could carry out the rehabilibitation and it was a task he described as a “rough life.”

He returned to CKC in August 1976 as the 14th principal and sat in the saddle up until October 1985 when he retired from academia.in all, Fr. Tagbo’s association with CKC spanned 4 decades during which he taught students from within whose numbers would emerge 3 state governors, Senators, eminent scientists and sundry academics, accomplished professions and world class technocrats, men who bodied frth into life clear in their mind and fortified with Fr. Tagbo’s most famous injunction which came from the college prayer – Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.

This book, Sons of a priest, is a very colourful tapestry woven out of the testimonials and tributes of many students who passed through the crucible of Father Tagbo’s tutelage and who in making the choice between an easier wrong and harder right found themselves on the right side of history.

Father tagbo was in that sense not just and architect and moulder of character, he was not just a teacher and administrator, he was a mentor.

The word mentor has gained unique currency today especially in the busines worldwhere many young recurits are told to cultivate mentors even though many do not realise where the word comes from.

Once again, we must go to the Greek not just for etymology but for elucidation. The word mentor refers to a trusted friend of the Greek hero Odysseus or Ulysess in Latin

Just as he was about to embark on one of his long sojourns, Odysseus realizing that his son Telemachus was becoming a man and afraid that leaving him in the charge of his wife Penelope would not be wise, decided to entrust him in the care of his friend Mentor, whose job was to raise him as a true warrior by teaching his statecraft and warfare.

So, today whenever we entrust our career or welfare to an older more experienced person,we refer to him or her as a mentor.

Fr. Tagbo was more mentor than teacher because as Mr.  Obaze writes “he was a hands-on administrator; he taught both lliterature and science with equal dexterity and had the uncanny ability of knowing each of his nearly 1,000 students by name…Fr. Tagbo was a disciplinarian, kept to his charge, teaching,persuading, reforming, directing and moulding hundred of callow young men who came through the portals of his famous tutelage.” P.10

The tributes in this books are effusive and flowery. Fr. Tagbo is decribed as a mentor, a teacher, a father figure, a no nonsense disciplinarian, a man who turned stones into  bread, a primus inter pares, a great gift to humanity, a legend, a man with a unique style of mentorship, evergreen principal, a father to all.

Odili Ujubuonu writing in his tribute which was published in Thisday waxes poetic – “I write this with the ink of tears. I write it with hands shaken by memories and pain…he was indeed our father and we, happily his sons. He gave us what nobody could have given us – infinite belief in ourselves, our college, our country and our God.’

Noww,I did say at the beginning that my review is an interrogation. I did not go  toCKC. I went to SPC Asaba which many CKC boys hoped to have gone to but I digress.

So, my review is a clear eyes analysis, a robust interrogation the man Fr. Tagbo was, what made him who he became and how well these tributes have managed to stay within the bounds of biography before descending into hagiography which treats its subjects with undue reverence as if they were saints.

In interrogating this book, I must point out to that what appears to be the longest contribution in a book written by sons is actually by a man who was in no way a son. This might seem curious but having collaborated with Odili Ujubuonu, the architect of this book, I can surmise that it is no accident but an insurance policy against a charge of hagiogrpy.

Why is there so much praise, so my reverence and an almost panegyristic adulation? The answer is simple, the boys who have become the men who wrote these tributes met Fr. Tagbo as a grown man, an educated and urban man who had studied abroad and lived with white people, one who told his students that the very act of eating “is a civilized action.”

But interrogate deeply and Fr.Tagbo could be seen a whip wielding abuser of children because the pages of this book are filled with students receiving between one too six to uncountable strokes of the cane. Would he be thus venerated if he lived now? The answer is blowing in the wind.

But as you read this book, I want to as Barrister (Sir) Jude Benjamin C Obikwelu writes on page 18, draw you a diagonal line. From the students of Father Tagbo through father Tagbo and to the lletter written by his child hood friend, class mate and course mate, Chief Dr. Fidelis R.C Ezemenari, KSm, Ochiagha Uga who provides a perspicacious and decades long insight into the boy that became Fr. Tagbo, the diplomatic, quiet, unassuming and thoroughbred administrator who toed the party line and did not ruffle feathers.

To understand how Chukwuemeka Tagbo became the highly venerated Reverend Father Chukwuemeka Nicholas Tagbo, OOON, yoou must by this book and even if you read nothing else, you must read from page 18 to page 31.

In concluding so that this review does not end up  being longer than the book itself, I want to praise Odili Ujubuonu and his fellow old boys for honouring their “father” and principal and in such a public and immortal way even though there had been a concerted drive to get him a well-deserved Order of the Niger because books live for ever.

This is a timely book, an essential tome, a worthy keepsake, and insightful excursion into the mind and time of a great man but it is not a perfect book. To get there, it needs the services of a more painstaking editor with an eye for details so that the typos and spelling errors that pop up now an again do not become small stones that take the joy out of a plat of rice.

I thank you all for listening.

Diagonal line


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