By Mercy Hill
Do you think that your life has ended because of the battles and challenges you are currently facing? Do you feel lonely, abandoned and depressed because perhaps you seem disadvantaged in life? Do you believe that all hope is gone because you seem to have no helper? Here is a story that will inspire you!
He was orphaned at the age of 3, and thus experienced very turbulent times in his early days. The harsh realities of life reared up their ugly heads, but he refused to give up. He was exposed to the ills of society, but he anchored his life in God. He went on to become a Catholic priest and subsequently a Professor.
In this edition of Inspirational Personalities, I present to you the Former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Rev. Fr. Professor B. A. C Obiefuna.
Good morning, can we please know you?
Generally, I am B.A.C Obiefunna, sometimes, people say its Born Again Christian, but I know I am Boniface Anthony Chijioke Obiefuna, from Nkitaku village, Agulu. The son of Nwokoye and Nwozoaku Obiefuna.
What Was Your Growing Up Like?
My growing up was a little checkered, in the sense that I was not up to three years of age when my mother died, and my Dad died when I was seven years of age. And from then we started experiencing some sort of difficulties, when both parents died. I had to live with some relatives, my brother also, Augustine Nwankwo Obiefuna. We had the sympathy of many people and we had those who really wanted to get us out of existence. Inasmuch as we were five in number, we all were not home all together. My eldest brother was an apprentice in Lafia. My other brother was a student in College of Immaculate Conception, Enugu. It was just my two sisters and myself, I must tell you, it was not easy at all. Inasmuch as we enjoyed the sympathy of some people, some others wanted to take us out of existence. But thanks to my elder sister Victoria, who stood her grounds, even as young as she was, on retaining our existence and taking care of our house. There were instances where, some people came from outside and cut down our plantains, pears, palm fruits and then beat us up, and still went ahead to sell those products without giving us a dime. You can imagine, but personally, those happenings made us strong. Then I would go out to work on people’s farm to be paid, even as a little boy, I worked as a lion. People got attracted and would invite me to their farms to work.
My elder brothers and sister had to stick their necks for us to go to school. They kept doing odd jobs just to see us there. And to the praise of God, I did very well in school. I came out tops in class. My siblings and I even without parents, we worked, and we were contented and bonded. It was in All Hallows Seminary I had my first sandals in life. Then in class five I got my first shoes while subsequently, my first wristwatch.
With regards to friends, we had some who had similarity with what we were going through, but they had their parents, so, theirs was less. I had this friend with who we were hired together to work in farms after school hours to cultivate people’s farms to get paid, I weaved baskets and many other things.
The family background by the grace of God, preparatory to the things we see in life. Life is not a bed of roses, it isn’t that smooth. If you are so prepared to face the faggeries of life, then you must thank God. I am not so happy that we lost our parents so early in life, but I must say, if my parents were alive to train us, we would have been stupid probably, because there are some with their parents and today, they are vagabonds while some are not. In our case we didn’t have our parents, but we were close to God. My parents were not close to God, (even though they were baptised before their deaths) but, they lived very well and that was what got us some sympathy from people. We the children remained close to God and that was what kept us going. I associated myself to the services to God, a very dedicated Mass Server, fully dedicated to Block Rosary; likewise, my sister who was a Legionary.
My Seminary Journey
In 1968, I joined All Hallows Seminary, which moved from Awka-Etiti to Ukpo at Onitsha. The Seminary then which was during the war, was bad, infrastructure wise. You could be sleeping, and a snake would fall on you, when you wake up and see it, you would kill it and then continue sleeping
I was good in all the subjects except English Language, even after graduation, my Rector, Msgr. Otteh asked me to stay but I refused due to the fact that those days if you are asked to stay back to teach before the results were out, later when the results comes out and you ended up failing, you would be in shame. So, I left All Hallows Seminary to stay in Umuchu with the parish priest of Most Holy Name, Fr. Felix Anoliefo, who made me the Headmaster of Adult Education there, even as a Seminarian. But when the results came out in 1975, my Rector called me back to go back as a teacher in All Hallows.
In 1976, I had to continue in Bigard, Enugu, but didn’t finish up philosophy there, that was the time they were building the present St. Joseph’s Major Seminary in Ikot Ekpene. So, we were moved there. Over there we used milk tin as plates and cups.
Eventually, In 2nd July 1983, I became a priest, posted to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Awka, as a curate under a priest from Agulu, Fr. Fidelis Nwosu. In 1985 I was posted to Agulu, and the village where I was posted, was the village where I lived with my Aunty after my parents’ demise, and the church was on the same land I cultivated a small boy. Then I became the first Parish Priest of St. John the Evangelist, Agulu.
I wanted to read Islamic Studies and I was advised to read in Rome, but the Diocese refused and asked me to study anything aside that in Nigeria.
I then proceeded to University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study International Relations as a branch of Political Sciences. I then got a Master’s Degree in Religion and Society, then later out of obedience to the Diocese, I returned to Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka to do my PhD in Religion and Human Relations. Though it took me years to convert my Registration number from Political Science to Religion, one thing I came to understand was that God writes straight on crooked lines. My colleagues who did their PhD at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, then, up to the time I became a Professor in UNIZIK, were still dragging to conclude their Doctorates. Then, I understood the need to obey constituted authorities.
What prompted your journey to priesthood?
The bible says, from your mother’s womb, I formed you. I became a priest from my closeness to the altar as a Mass server. The motivation to Priesthood was divine. As at the time I finished primary school, my brother bought so many entrance forms for me, but I told him I wanted to go to the Seminary. Meanwhile, I wrote other entrance exams but the only result that came out was that of All Hallows Seminary. Even at the Seminary, I abandoned myself to God, even though I was not disposed to becoming a priest.
During my ordination, I never slept together with other seminarians. I came from Fr. Ekwu’s place at Amawbia, and on my way, I told God to make me have an accident if I was not meant to be a priest and then I didn’t want to die; just an accident as a sign. Funny enough, I got to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, everyone was there, and I just arrived. That was my disposition, that is also my advice to all those who are aspirants to sisterhood, brotherhood, priesthood alike, just be yourself, do not try to be like anyone.
Would you say you are successful?
I don’t know if I am successful or not, but I know I am a happy priest. And of course, anything that will deprive me of Joy in priesthood cannot be part of me.
I didn’t experience the other side of life, but I value my priesthood more than my academic achievements. That is why when I give students assignment or any project work, you must refer to my priesthood for example, Rev. Fr. Prof…
Priesthood possibly helped my life by some measure of discipline. And, the way I see things is quite different, from my days in the Seminary, how I got things I never had money to buy, until this moment. That’s why anytime anything people perceive as awful happens to me, I just say in Igbo language ‘ifechukwu amaro odieme” and that has formed my philosophy of life. And I see God as a great provider. You can never have it all sweet in life likewise all bitter.
What is your greatest achievement?
Priesthood. The Catholic Priesthood, which I see as God giving me His Grace and giving me the grace also to respond to His Grace. I know I am a professor, but there are so many people out there who are professors who can never be Priests. At the end of my tenure as the Dean Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikwe University, I built something we call the monument of fulfilment, to show how fulfilled I am, likewise anyone who comes out with any degree from that Faculty, including Lecturers.
I have no failures, I only see them as springboards to greater heights. But one thing I was not too comfortable with was the delay I experienced during my Doctorate degree, due to sickness and the environment I was. And then people who I felt would encourage me, somehow talked down on me. However, I used that experience to advise others, even students under me presently.
What lessons have you learnt?
I have interacted with people and I believe in interacting with people. I belong to the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, and I have this joy in practicing human relations, so I came to learn both in the pastoral and academic levels, that things don’t work the way they appear. But in all, learn to accommodate and listen to people.
I also learnt that hardship does not kill anybody, because when people come to our house now, they will be like, look at the mansion you have here. But they never knew that we lived in a thatched house, with neither windows nor doors for long time before things became better.
Another is that hardwork has a lot of virtue in it, while laziness does not give you vision in life. Obstacles never block your way, it only gives you another route to follow.
If probably you could begin life again, would you take to the academic and priestly life?
Incidentally, there is no world again, it’s either heaven, hell or purgatory and interim. But, for me, as I said earlier on, I am a fulfilled Priest and Academician. If, like you said, I was to come back again, I would be a Rev. Father of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic church. I am a Professor today out of obedience to my Bishop who told me to find something to do then.
Recently, you celebrated your birthday, what is the birthday for you and what do you celebrate in it?
Hmmmm, I said earlier on, that life is celebration. Birthdays are worth celebrating to thank God that you are born to be what you are now. I started celebrating my birthdays since I was in the Seminary, and I celebrated very little. After my ordination, I could not hide it any longer, it spread. My birthday became a June celebration and some of the books I have on Charismatic Renewal were given to me by people. They contribute to my joy in life. But more importantly people call me Nwozoaku, because my mother’s name was Ozoaku, my feast and ordination anniversary are celebrated in that same June. So, you see, it is thanksgiving to God for the life he has given me and my siblings, considering what we have through.
How many books have you written?
I have written up to sixteen to seventeen books and I will be giving a lecture on it come 25th day of July 2019.
Recently you published a book on Strategic Evangelisation, what was going on in your mind when you wrote this book?
The situation we find ourselves in today needs planning and strategizing. The pulpit preaching for me, is no longer the only way to evangelize. People need to study the environment in which they are and plan on how to address the culture in which they are and bring other people who are members of the church to direct them, either by one month or six months on an area of evangelization, so that everyone will pursue one goal.
Again, Chaplains are appointed to various groups in the church, we don’t just say they can do it themselves, we need to sit in with them to strategize and build up from the grassroot. We must build the faith and not through intimidation by our words, but by way of dialoguing and identifying with their problems.
Advice To The Youths
All that glitters is not gold. Life is not a bed of roses. We need to live our lives and not other people’s lives. You need to be yourself in order to happy and this takes you to inwardly investigate yourself. And then ask yourself these questions: how do I build my tomorrow? How do I help the future generation not to repeat the mistakes I made? How do I remain focused? How do I become a crusader of human development?
Thank you very much Rev.Fr. Prof. B. A. C Obiefuna, it was a nice time with you.