I can still remember all that happened! It was in my second year in the Seminary, and I was working in the secretariat department of the Seminary. My HOD, the then Rev. Emmanuel Ochigbo had placed my on special duties under the then Bro Peter Akinkumi, one of the first assistants in the department. In that capacity, I worked with the Labour Department under Rev. Uwalaka Kizito and typed everything “typable” coming from him, and then assisted in re-typing all the reflections Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Ben Etafo ever sent to the Independent Newspaper of Ibadan Archdiocese. We were fresh from finishing this herculean task when a new formator arrived at the seminary.

If you have known Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo well, you would know that he has a way of pushing you to work without much difficulty. The new arrival was a man who just came back from the United States of America– in my ‘ajikpako village of that time, we have high reverential fear for people from America. And this my ‘ajikpako self’ was still intact by then. Don’t blame me! It was only three years after I left the village where I had spent over twenty years. So I needed the whole ‘push’ I could get to work with this ‘Americana’. The great HOD knew this and so took me for a walk after lunch one fateful day.

By the way, in those days, taking a walk with a Reverend was a big ‘uncomfortable honour’ talk more of doing so with your HOD. Anyway, this Rev. Emma Ochigbo was a very simple man. Before secretariat, I had encountered him in the Choir department. He is humane. So, our walk wasn’t that uncomfortable. He began by ‘washing my head’; “J.B. You are great! Fr. Etafo is very happy with the work you did.” I don’t need to tell you that this blew me off the ground and I wished Fr. Etafo was still in the Seminary to tell me that himself. He continued, “You know the new formator that just arrived; please I need you to work as his secretary. Try to see him immediately after Mass tomorrow.” He concluded without waiting for my acceptance speech. Anyway not every ‘please’ means that you have an option. But wait! Imagine a local champion like me to work with an ‘Americana’, not minding that this one is from Warri.

My heartbeat increased after someone mentioned to me, “That man tough o!” Chai! Well, the session would soon in about five months, so I would be replaced – or so I thought.

The D-day came and I have no other option than to carry out the others of my HOD. “Good morning Fr,” I greeted him. “How’re you?” Ehen! That American accent! Well, I tried to maintain and explained my mission. “Can you read bad writing?” I wasn’t sure the question was for me but I was the only one standing with him beside his car which was at the time parked behind the Seminary buses in front of St. Peter’s Block. “I try” came out from my mouth. And as if he was waiting for me, work began immediately as I got a lesson note to type out. As his first secretary, no predecessor to put me through. Hmm! I never knew that some theologians and medical doctors have something in common. You can guess!

Well, that was the beginning of a relationship that contributed to over 70% of what I am as a priest today. In typing his works, his reasoning gradually became part of me. His high demands for excellence kept me on my toes till date. Here is the man who made me to fell in love with the scriptures from the way he introduced us to the History of the Old Testament.

Remember what I said above concerning him being tough. Indeed, the person was not wrong. He was really ‘tough’. I ended up working with this ‘tough’ man for three years, and that ended probably because I went for Pastoral Year Work after Philosophy. Those three years helped me to demystify what remains a mystery to many who see him from afar. Behind the tough-looks and strong talks of the giant formator is a soft heart that can doubtedly hurt a fly. You could hear him say, “I will ‘knive’ you” but I dare to say that that man cannot handle a knife. On a closer encounter, you would notice that the lion that many see is actually protecting a dove within.

Fr. Tony is an epitome of generosity. Apart from many gifts that I enjoyed from him, two stood out significantly. The first clerical wear I ever got was from him. That was a Stole he gave me in November 2012, about a month before my diaconate ordination. Again, the first chasuble I ever owned as a priest was given to me by this great man in June 2013, about 2 months to my priestly ordination. This time, three other classmates of mine got the same type of gift from him that day. I have also listened to similar testimonies from different people, including those who know only the ‘tough’ man.

Have you ever listened to him preach? O my God! Like many other scripture scholars I know, he brings the scriptures to life. Back then in the seminary, we always longed for the Sunday he would be on for the Mass. It was always a sweet memory to be preserved. I wish I could be like him when I grow up.

As usual, this space would only be too little to talk about the experience I have of this man whom I have known for just ten years. Remembering him at Mass today, I could hear him say with St. Paul, “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). That is typical of what he always demanded of his students, and would go to any length, even if hard and painful, to ensure it is actualized.

Fr. Tony, I do not wish to honour you in death – I don’t even know who would go first between the two of us. Whatever happens, take this as an appreciation of what you are and have become to many of us. I pray that God whom you serve selflessly would grant you the crown of eternal glory in the end. Amen.

As we equally anticipate your 31st priestly ordination anniversary in ten days, precisely on October 18, I have nothing to offer but a loving and prayerful heart. It shall continue to be well with you, Fr.

Happy Birthday.

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