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Men of gravity and grace

A tribute in honour of Archbishop Val Okeke and Prof Pat Utomi


The headline for this piece in honour of the true, the good and the beauty exemplified in two great mortals of our time-Most Rev Valerian Maduka Okeke, the Archbishop of Onitsha and the Metropolitan of the Onitsha Eccl. Province, and Professor Patrick Okey Utomi – has to do with  grace and gravity, hence the choice.

Reminiscing on their salad days at the Christ the King College, CKC, Onitsha in the late sixties, Utomi once recalled, “One of us was studious, very focused and dedicated and very often inspired to assist others. That one was …Valerian Maduka Okeke”. This was in their halcyon days at CKC when young Val. was already carving a niche of greatness for himself. Prof himself was no less determined. He laid the foundation of what he was at those young years. Any wonder he became a presidential adviser at the young age of 27 already with his Ph.D.

However, Pat’s reminiscence, for whatever it is worth,  incontrovertibly shows his honesty and humility for it takes greatness for one to recognize and give credit to another great person. If Val was “focused  and dedicated”, Pat was “honest and humble”, and so both friends and classmates were providentially marked out for great achievements in their future endeavours.

Evidently, men endowed with gravity and grace are indeed men of sterling virtues: for while gravity signifies an external austere mien devoid of empty flamboyance, arrogance and ignobility radiating rays of and oozing out great achievements, grace resonates with an inward, internal guilelessness, saintliness and morally uprightness. The question is, how are Val and Pat men of gravity and grace? They are the end result of the combination of gift of nature and sheer effort in being the best of their folks. They’ve employed everything without reserve in grace and effort in self-actualization and in uplifting their society. They are eminently qualified to represent the best our society aspires for. Their lives are that of total self-giving to the society which both gave.

Blessed with robust health, intelligence, strikingly balanced personality, boundless energy – both mental, spiritual  -  Archbishop Val radiates grace, gratitude and greatness. To demonstrate a clear perception of his mission, he has studiously compartmentalized spiritual and secular programmes into a capsule. For, while he is seriously focused in superlative development of pastoral agents, he is equally deeply concerned with the capacity-building of the flock under his care. With admirable audacity of foresight, he transforms his archdiocese to meet with the challenges of today.

Those close to the archbishop say he is generous to a fault, and free from all cupidity, regarding nothing with pleasure, except what will be of benefit to God and humanity. This quality underlines the success of his numerous projects such as the grassroot evangelization/riverine apostolate (focusing on human capital development); feeding the poor apostolate; infrastructural development; and his various spiritual development efforts.

An obvious model, Archbishop Okeke’s Episcopal ministry naturally drew into its orbit individuals or groups aiming at goal identification with his own. To these, he welcomes with open hands, warm embrace and encouragement.

Certainly, he has all the attributes of a charismatic and transformative leader. The widespread enthusiasm with which people accept his initiatives and cue in to the end confirms the general acceptability and success of those initiatives.

Having discussed, albeit briefly, on Most Rev Val Okeke, let us look at another man of  grace and gravity, Prof  Pat Utomi, the Director of the prestigious  Lagos Business School and Vice Chairman, Bank PHB.

In the run-up to the general elections of 2007, Prof Utomi was nominated as the presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress, ADC, a party known for its people-oriented programmes and youth empowerment agenda. Brilliant ideas and honest empowerment programmes, for now, can hardly succeed in Nigeria, especially if they are plans for electioneering campaigns. And Pat failed the (s)election process but his ambition was far more  valued and, by far, outlived his failure to win, if indeed he failed.

Even before his debut in politics, Pat made waves in many spheres of the society. At Lagos Business School, he was a master at propagating germane and progressive ideas beneficial to the ailing economy of the nation. That some of the ideas are not utilized is as a result of the rot in the system and also of the imbecility of policy makers and /or implementers in government.

Today, Prof Pat Utomi is a household name in Nigeria. Arguably, he has contributed more than any of his folks in the task of nation-building. He is a mentor to the emerging middle class and to the youths of this nation. An Igboman from across the Niger and a devout Catholic, Prof Utomi has come to be recognized as a force to be reckoned with in any socio-political equation in Nigeria. At a time when probes in the country are yielding great harvests, Pat’s name has been singularly unsullied, which confirmed the impression of him as an honest, detribalized Nigerian.

His concern for the youths is seen in his campaign speeches before the 2007 general elections. In one of the campaign speeches, Pat was quoted as saying: “To all young people in this country, I was to charge you to recognize that if you allow the conditions of this country and the sins of yesteryears’ people to defeat you then; you must take responsibility for defeating yourself”.

Men of grace and gravity as personified in Val and Pat are indeed a blessing to their generation. Posterity will remember them as men who left their society much better than they met it. Ride on Archbishop Val as you turn eight as an archbishop on  9 February. And ride on Prof Pat as you turned 54 on 6 February. Happy birthday Prof! Happy anniversary Archbishop Val!

* Adimike, a reverend father, is the press secretary to the Archbishop of Onitsha.


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