There is no debate about it that without the Catholic Church or the missionaries, broadly speaking, the story of education and elite production from areas such as Idomaland in the old Benue Plateau State would have been vastly different. As an observer of that trend wrote several years, the missionaries were fairer than the government and more thorough too in the organisation and delivery of education. It is difficult to imagine what the story would have been if there were no Mount St Michaels, Aliade; St Francis Otukpo; Mount St Gabriels, Makurdi; Holy Rosary, Adoka, St Annes, Otukpo, Emmanuel Secondary School, Ugbokolo and many more, all of them Catholic secondary schools for boys and girls in Idomaland. The Methodists were no less powerfully present.
One implication of this is the permanent influence of clerics who administered these schools. That is the story of the Rev Father Njokus in the case of Emmanuel Secondary School, Ugbokolo. In other words, there were two of them. One was Reverend Father Timothy Njoku while the other one was Reverend Father Anthony Njoku. When Lawrence Ojabo called Intervention to announce the death of Reverend Father Njoku, the editor thought it was the fair one because the darker one had left before his own time. It was only Ojabo’s script that showed that it is Reverend Father Timothy Njoku that has died, not the fair one with his shrill voice but panoptic presence. Panoptic presence in the sense that there is no Emmanuelite who doesn’t think Fr Njoku (Fair) is watching over his conduct from an unseen moral tower till today. That is as good as things were in Nigeria up to the early 1980s. Interestingly, there are some Rev Sisters at Veritas University, Abuja who know Fr Njoku (Fair) and where he is still serving. Please, read and reflect on Ojabo’s massive piece:
By Lawrence Ojabo
Reverend Father Timothy Njoku will be laid to rest at the Vincentian Community Oraifite, Enugu State on Thursday, June 8th, 2023.He joins the company of Reverend Father Vincent O’Brien, Father Paul Roche and other Vincentian priests who followed the steps of their founder to spread the Gospel and serve the needy in communities such as Edumoga District or the larger Idomaland. He will be received by Prof Armstrong Adejo, Messrs Ekwueme, Obiefule, Okoli and other saints triumphant who trod the same grounds of Emmanuel Secondary School Ugboklo and went before him to be with the Lord.
His stay in Emmanuel Secondary School, Ugboklo were his first years in priesthood. During that time, he dedicated himself to the work of his spiritual community, (the Vincentians), education and service of the poor, the vulnerable and disadvantaged in Ugboklo town and environs. I called a few of some of his Form One students in 1978 who shared the following memories of him:
Dr Patrick Ekedegba
One morning sometimes in 1974 in Form 1, Fr. Timothy Njoku came to class. He had no lesson with us that day. He looked around the class, taking a good look at almost the entire class, one by one. He pointed at me and said ‘follow me’. I followed and that was how this village boy went with him and knew Enugu, in his pick- up van. It was an unforgettable experience. l may also add that we visited a number of his relatives in the city and l was entertained with many delicacies: Fanta, coke, biscuits etc.
Also we rented the film Romeo and Juliet which was shown in the school. And the whole of the host community thronged the school to watch the film show. By the way, my brother Tony Ogoh, was full of envy when l came back. We laughed a lot over his ‘envy’
May Fr. Njoku’s soul rest in peace
Dr Linus Igboyi
Mine was like a kidnap in Otukpo (1974). Fr. Njoku called me, “Linus” enter this Pickup, let’s go to yam market. I loaded yams that day into pickup like I was serving punishment in school. It didn’t end there. It was holiday time but Father lobbied me to follow him to school in Ugboklo. On the way he would say “awara-wara” after dodging any pothole on the road. After offloading the yams, Fr. Njoku took me to the Principal’s house (the Irish by name Fr. Vincent O’Brien) to entertain me. There, I faced the failed attempt by both Rev. Fathers to convert me to an ‘Altar Boy’. He was a bundle of love, socially, religiously, and academically. May his soul rest in paradise. Amen.
The introduction of the (ARK OF YAWE) by Fr. Njoku created fun and a stir, almost pandemonium amongst class mates and peers like Linus Igboyi, Linus Sunday, John Pius and Co. but impacted very significantly on improving our English language standard in our first year. When I think about Fr. Njoku, I remember the introduction of the “ARK OF YAWE”, films show etc. He was a fun-filled and wonderful priest.
Prof. Emmanuel Ogbadoyi.
The ‘ark of yawe” was a small piece of wood that was handed over to anyone caught speaking vernacular. If the piece of wood slept with anyone, he would serve punishment. I remember how guys made frantic efforts at night to make sure the “ark of yawe” never slept with them.
And myself (Lawrence Ojabo)
My Form One was synonymous with an impactful, uplifting and memorable experiences with Rev. Fr Timothy Njoku who had joined Rev Father Vincent O’Brien (School Principal) shortly before we arrived in September 1973. It was a great privilege to be connected with and touched at this early stage of our lives (coming mostly from very rustic rural backgrounds) by this highly educated, urbane, kindly and priestly mind who was our English literature teacher and Dean of Discipline. Fr Timothy Njoku’s passion for education was evident in his teaching style and in the way he interacted with his students. He had a gift for inspiring and encouraging young minds and many of his students went on to achieve great success. Senator Abba Moro, retired Captain Patrick Olonta come readily to mind.
He spoke the Queen’s English like an Englishman. He loved Shakespeare and every set during his time was required to act one or the other of Shakespeare’s works. Our set played Romeo and Juliet. We also staged other plays like A Man for All Seasons. Members of the Ugboklo community always thronged the school to watch our dramas and film shows, which were educative, inspiring and entertaining, especially for a host village without electricity and at a time when there were no television or smartphones. The School of Basic Studies which later became Benue State Polytechnic had not yet arrived. So, Emmanuel Secondary School was the beacon of light and centre of civilization at the time. Father Njoku encouraged every student to play one role or another in curricula and extra curricula activities of the school. Students were assigned responsibilities to imbibe leadership skills early in life. We participated actively in sports, with him the Reverend himself playing Lawn Tennis. We tended the school farm and helped to purchase fruits from the village market to enrich our table. Our rabbitry provided extra proteins on our menu. And inculcated in many about the beauty and riches of agriculture and animal husbandry.
No bullying of junior students were allowed. Religious life was vigorous. Morning and Night prayers, daily Masses, special retreats before the school feast day on the Solemnity of Immaculate Conception which took place every December 8th. Of course, the parties on the feast days were memorable in themselves. On occasions, we accompanied Father to serve mass in outstations on Sundays. The Young Christian Students (YCS) was a very active movement, well into visits to the elderly and the lonely in the community. Later on, some young seminarians joined us.
Father Timothy Njoku was a devout, selfless and missionary priest who served the poor and needy and gave hope and a future to many young people he taught and encountered in Emmanuel Secondary School Ugboklo. He was not just a priest, but a mentor, educator, and servant of God. He was an exceptional individual who dedicated his life to serving the Catholic Church and touching the lives of countless people.
In later years, Father Timothy Njoku also taught at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary Makurdi, Benue State and at Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, Enugu State where he formed many future priests and leaders of the Church. He was a prolific writer and published several books and articles on various topics, especially on African literature and culture. He was a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL).
His brother priests have paid glowing tributes to him as a remarkable pastor and a missionary. He served as a parish priest at St Kizito Catholic Church Kuje, where he ministered to the spiritual and material needs of his flock. He also served the Catholic Church in many other ways and locations in the southeast region of Nigeria, such as in Abakaliki, Uzoagba, Atta, Owerri, Port Harcourt, and Calabar. He was always ready to preach the gospel, to celebrate the sacraments, to visit the sick, to console the bereaved, and to promote justice and peace. He was a man of prayer, of charity, and of humility.
Father Timothy was a Vincentian at heart. He lived the charism of St. Vincent de Paul who founded the CM (Congregation of Missions), in 1625 to evangelize the poor and to form priests. He had a special love for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. He was involved in various social projects and initiatives that aimed at improving the lives of the less privileged. He was a member of the Vincentian Family, which comprises various branches of lay and religious groups that share the same spirit and mission of St. Vincent. He was a friend and a brother to his fellow Vincentians whom he supported with his wisdom, his generosity and his humour.
Father Timothy was born on April 15th, 1945 in Umuahia in today’s Abia State. He joined the Congregation of Missions (CM) in 1967 and was ordained a priest on 29th June 1973. He was among the first batch of Nigerian Vincentians who followed the footsteps of the Irish missionaries who came to Nigeria in 1960. He was a pioneer in many ways: he was the first Nigerian Vincentian to obtain a doctorate degree in English Literature from the University of Ibadan in 1983; he was the first Nigerian Vincentian to be appointed as a Regional Superior in 1986; he was the first Nigerian Vincentian to be elected as a member of the General Council of the CM in Rome in 1992.
Throughout his life, Father Njoku served the Catholic Church in many capacities and in many locations. His unwavering commitment to his faith and his vocation was an inspiration to all who knew him. He touched the lives of countless people and will be deeply missed.
He was a man of God, a man of learning, a man of culture and a man of the people.
Father Timothy was a gift to the Church and to the world. He touched many lives with his words and deeds. He left a legacy of faith, hope, and love. He fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith3. He died on May 25th, 2023 at St. Vincent’s Hospital Enugu after a brief illness. He was 78 years old.
May Almighty God grant eternal repose to his soul and to the souls of all the Vincentian Priests who laboured so hard in Ugboklo to make it a thriving centre of culture and learning. May the memory of Father Njoku be a blessing to us all, and may he rest in peace in the arms of our Lord. Amen
We should thank God for the life and ministry of Father Timothy Njoku. We commend his soul to the mercy and love of God. We pray that he may rest in peace and enjoy the reward of his faithful service. We also pray that God may comfort and strengthen his family, friends, colleagues, students, parishioners, and all who mourn his passing.
Ojabo, the author, is from Emmanuel Secondary School Ugboklo Old Boys, St Kizito Catholic Church, Kuje, De Paul University Publications and online sources. The compilation indicates transfer of contributions to the funeral of Fr Njoku by well-wishers unable to travel to Oraifite in Enugu to St Kizito Catholic Church, Account No. FCMB,1447617108 or contact with the Parish priest on 0802 960 6520.