To Chukwuemeka Tagbo, priest, educationist and mentor

Chukwuemeka Tagbo

Chukwuemeka Tagbo

Our humanity is greatly diminished by the passing on, on July 2, 2016, of Rev. Fr. Nicholas Chukwuemeka Tagbo, OON, clergy, educationist, administrator, poet, mentor and realist. He died at Charles Borromeo Hospital Onitsha, after a brief illness at the age 86. He would have been 87 on August 21, 2016.Tagbo was an eminent alumnus of Christ the King College, Onitsha; he belonged to the C.K.C. Class of ‘49. Although a Catholic priest, he was renowned as an extraordinary educationist with prodigious skill for moulding callow lads into future leaders. Just two weeks before he passed on, he granted an extensive interview to one of his students, novelist Odili Ujubonu, as the final segment of a book project on his life, times and service. The book, which will now be published posthumously, is titled, Son of a priest -Tagbo, the legend who moulded leaders.

Since retiring  in 1985 from active priesthood service and teaching, Fr.Tagbo had been in-residence at the Sacred Heart Parish, Onitsha, Nigeria. Until his demise, he was the second longest serving priest, (after Monsignor Matthew Obiukwu) in the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha.

A native of Awkuzu, in the Oyi Local Council Area, Anambra State Nigeria, Tagbo was born August 21, 1929, in the northern Nigerian city of Jos. Fr. Tagbo had his primary education in Jos, Awkuzu and Onitsha before entering the prestigious Christ the King College, Onitsha from 1945-1949, for his Senior Cambridge Certificate. He also taught part time at All Hallows Seminary, Enugu. Thereafter, he proceeded to the Bigard Memorial Senior Seminary, Enugu, from 1951-1953 for his theological studies and preparation for priesthood. From Bigard he proceeded to the National University of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland from 1953-1956 and obtained a combined honours Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Botany. Eventually, he returned to the Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu from 1957- 1960, to complete his studies for the ministry. He was ordained as a priest, on July 31, 1960.

Fr. Tagbo’s name, personality and values became synonymous with C.K.C. Onitsha, where he served as principal from 1962 to 1973 (including the civil war years) and for the second time, from August 1976 to October 1985. Fr. Tagbo is effortlessly described as the “principal of all principals.” Such adjectival qualification is no hyperbole. In all his years at C.K.C., Fr. Tagbo was not just a hands-on administrator; he taught both literature and sciences with equal dexterity, and had the uncanny ability of knowing each of his nearly 1,000 students by name. In all his years as a teacher, Fr. N.C. Tagbo, a strict disciplinarian, kept to his charge, teaching, persuading, reforming, directing, and moulding hundreds of callow men who came through the portals of his famous tutelage. It is estimated that in his 21 years at the helm at C.K.C. over 10,000 students passed through the school and benefitted from his direct tutelage.

For his charges, he insisted on the balance of academics, sports, socials and other extra-curricular activities. Producing well-rounded personalities and leaders was for him the underpinning imperative of education. Thus, he impacted positively and proactively on our humanity, bequeathing as it were, a huge human resource legacy. Thankfully, during his lifetime, he witnessed many of his wards and past students ascend to lofty positions, both in private life and public service. Two generations of C.K.C. alumni and Tagbo’s many former wards, are now accomplished professionals in every field – government, politics, engineering, medicine, art, humanities, academic, etc – all over Nigeria and the Diaspora, contribute to mankind’s development. In retirement, Tagbo’s warmth and love for his students and the old school, his sharp wit and immense capacity for recall and anecdotes remained with him and intact until the very end. Fr. Tagbo was the quintessential Priest, Educationist, Mentor and Realist.

In Nigeria’s Fourth Republic democratic dispensation, C.K.C. Onitsha is the only school to have produced three state governors, Dr. Peter Odili, former Governor of Rivers State; Mr. Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State, and Chief Willlie Obiano, the incumbent Governor of Anambra State. All three, were Fr. Tagbo’s students at C.K.C. Onitsha. Other eminent Nigerians who were students of Fr. Tagbo are too numerous to list, but include Dr. Philip Emeagwali, Senator Mike Ajegbo, Chief Oscar Udoji, Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, Dr. Mike Ejiofor, Archbishop Valerian M. Okeke, Prof. Pat Utomi, Dr. Charles Anyaeji, Ambassador Dada Olisa, Research Scientist, Emma Onua, Microchips Inventor Cyprian Emeka Uzoh, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Justice Peter C. Umeadi, Mr. Dominic Ezeani former Green Eagles and Rangers International Captain, late ex-international, Mr. Nnamdi Nwokocha (MON), and HRH Chief Emma Nnabuife, the Igwe of Iseke, Anambra State, to name just a few.

Observers claim that C.K.C. alumni swear by Tagbo, almost deifying him. They are right. Tagbo was a legend in his lifetime; and his renown will blossom in death. He was a man naturally imbued with intellect, panache, and genuine bonhomie. In another nation, he would be a national hero. Lest, I am found to be biased in favour of my dear principal, to whom like many of my fellow students, I owe much for whom and what I have become, I will in summation, borrow the voice of another student of Fr. Tagbo, who though younger than I, knew him well. Dr. Fidelis Mkparu, Tagbo’s student at both C.K.C. and Afikpo, had this to say of the man: “Reverend Father Nicholas Chukwuemeka Tagbo is a quintessential man. He provided effective leadership to GSSA from 1973-1976 when it needed it the most. He brought the school back to its original campus in Afikpo from a forced exile in Enugu. He suffered physically and emotionally from the “politics” of the time (1973-1976), but was “consoled by the good results.” He was saddened when I shared the pictorial evidence of the current physical state of GSSA. I did not expect anything less from a man who had all the necessary qualities of good leadership, auctoritas, firmitas, honestas, salubritas, veritas et dignitas.

Cognizant of Rev. Fr. Nicholas Tagbo’s preeminent role in shaping many lives, C.K.C. Onitsha alumni for succeeding years submitted his candidature for the Nigerian National Award Honours. In 2010, as C.K.C. alumni worldwide joined the Archdiocese of Onitsha in organising the dual celebration of Tagbo’s 80th Birthday and 50th Ordination anniversary, he was finally honoured on Thursday July 22, 2010, with the well-deserved high national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON). In passing, we remember him, we celebrate him, we thank him and we will always believe in him.

• Obaze, the immediate past Secretary to the Anambra State Government was Fr. Tagbo’s student and a member of the CKC Onitsha, Class of ‘73.

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