By Obi Nwakanma

C.C. Momah would have been very well known among his peers just a generation ago, because he was one of the luminous stars of that generation of which General Ibrahim Babangida, in honoring J.P. Clark on the award of his National Order of Merit in 1990, described as Nigeria’s “Aristocracy of Knowledge.”

They were special kids. Highly selected to the very exclusive Government Colleges, and to the foundational University College, Ibadan, and from then on to their magnificent careers as the first generation of Nigerians to be appointed to what was called the “European posts.” Those were still in the colonial years and the tumultuous period of the anti-colonial Nationalist Movement. 

Put in view, they seem ow like the halcyon days, but in reality, the end of the colonial era is still, in pure historical terms, not yet a blink in the eyes of time. Until he took his last breath three weeks ago, just two weeks to his 92nd birthday, Christian Chike Momah was among the last and disappearing members of that generation on whom much hope of the progress of a postcolonial society was invested. He was born on October 20, 1930 in Aba to Sidney and Grace Momah of Otolo, Nnewi. His father, Sidney Momah was a Railways man. He was in that sense, in that age, at the great intersection of a modernizing force in the early 20th century evolution of the new nation-state. 

Christian Momah grew up in the Railways compounds  between Port Harcourt and Aba, and went to the St. Michael’s School, Aba then under the formidable Headmaster, Mr. Okongwu, also from Nnewi, whose son Chu S.P. Okongwu came later to be known as a formidable technocrat and Minister in the government of Nigeria. From the St. Michael’s School, Aba, Momah gained admission, following in the footsteps of his elder brother, Godwin, who had gone a year ahead of him, to the very prestigious and very elite Government College Umuahia. 

Admissions to the Government College was highly selective and tough, and it does speak to Chike Momah’s intellectual gifts, that he was one of the only two – he and his friend and classmate, later Engineer, Kwamina Onuche, who passed the extremely competitive examination to the Government College Umuahia which he took in 1943 from St. Michael’s, Aba. Indeed from his own accounts, Momah detailed the talk to his class by their headmaster, Mr. Okongwu, when his class was busy preparing for the exam: “If any one of you manage to get admission to Umuahia, I am sure you will meet a boy, Albert Achebe there, and he will make the rain that will drench you.”

So it did indeed came to be that among the new boys that Chike Momah met in his class on arrival at the Government College Umuahia in 1944 was the boy Albert Chinualumogu Achebe. It was a class brimming with superb talents; men who would later distinguish themselves in various fields, and rise to the great heights of their callings; but as it turned out, Chinua Achebe stood out as was predicted by Momah’s old Headmaster. From that year of their meeting in January 1944, Chike Momah and Chinua Achebe became life-long best friends. It was in all, a heady period. 

Dr. Azikiwe had only just submitted his Charter of Freedom to the British Government in response to the Atlantic Charter demanding a transition to full government for Africans and the colonized; the Second World War was still raging in Europe; a group of King’s College boys had staged a protest that February of 1944, in what would become the catalyst to the anti-colonial movement. In the aftermath of the protest, the British colonial authorities arrested some of the students, some of whom they conscripted to go to war, and some of whom they put to trial, including a ten-year old Emeka Ojukwu, Momah’s Nnewi townsman, and son to the Millionaire businessman Sir Louis Ojukwu. 

These events happening in Lagos seemed far-removed to the boys at Umuahia ensconced in the salubrious remove of Umudike with its English country feel. But it must in some ways have affected and shaped the consciousness of a sensitive boy like Chike Momah. He must have absorbed all its significance in his quiet and stolid ways which often hid his radical side; that stubborn and resolute streak that was often hidden by his clam and unflappable demeanor. But it was always there. There was that quiet rebellious side that cut his own path when he was convinced. C.C. Momah may not have been a card-carrying leftie, but he acted with conviction and was forthright against cant, and deadening orthodoxies. 

It was there, when the normally calm Christian Momah caused some outrage among the largely English teaching staff of his school in his final year, when he spoke truth to colonial power. According to the lore at Umuahia, after their final Matriculation exams,  the principal of the college, Mr. William Simpson, addressed Momah’s class in a valedictory ceremony; at the end of which he invited a response from the departing seniors. It was Christian Momah who rose calmly and forcefully criticized the colonial character of the school and put to question the value of some of the policies under which he had been educated. It was quite unexpected, and it caused the “Oh Dear!” moment for the Principal. 

It was an unforgettable act of candour, and it was an essential aspect of C.C. Momah’s character. It was there when in 1966, he reluctantly shook the outstretched hands of Professor Saburi Biobaku, his old teacher at Umuahia and mentor at UCI , and told him straight to his face, “Sir,if you were not my beloved teacher I would never shake your hands,” over what Momah discerned to be his unsavory role in the Eni Njoku case at UNILAG. At Umuahia, Momah was a formidable, very elegant cricket batsman.

One of the favorites of Charles Low. He was in the same School House with the likes of V.C. Ike and Chris Okigbo at Umuahia, and was like them, among the so-called “Bisiriyu Boys” – those bright, very talented boys whom their English and History master, Mr. Saburi Bisiriyu (later better known as the Historian, Dr. Saburi Biobaku) gathered around him, and whom he took with him in his field research work in the neighboring village near the school. 

Chike Momah was admitted to the University College, Ibadan in 1949, a year after it was founded in 1948. His friend Chinua, who had gained a year ahead of him with a double promotion at Umuahia, had gone ahead of him to Ibadan, admitted at the top of the six National Merit students to study Medicine. But in 1949, he gave up his scholarship, dropped out of Medicine, and enrolled for a General degree in English, Religion and History, where he once again became classmates with C.C. Momah. 

Nonetheless, at Ibadan, while Achebe was active in Students journalism, writing for and later becoming editor of the University Herald, Momah earned his dues as a member of the University College Ibadan Cricket XI playing alongside such cricket greats as Ebens Ikomi, Rex Akpofure, George Alele, Caleb Olaniyan, Chris Okigbo, Wilfred Chukudebelu, Afolabi George, Henry Enahoro, Leslie Harriman, Kelsey Harrison, and many such with whom he also played international cricket as a member of the Nigerian National Cricket team coached by Morocco Clarke in the 1950s. Momah  not only won his cap as Nigerian cricket international under the captaincy of his Umuahia junior by one year, Namseh Enoh, but he also retained a life-long interest in the gentleman’s game of Cricket. 

Even on retirement, and then living in New Jersey, he often played with the many West Indian cricketers against whom he showed his paces. On graduating from Ibadan he was appointed as Land Officer in the Eastern Nigerian Civil Service in 1953. It was what was then known as a “European post.” For many a man, such a position would be a god send to line their pockets, particularly because of the new developments in Eastern Nigeria in those years. But it was precisely because of this that Momah left the Civil Service, where he was already marked for the top, among his generation. 

Unable to stand all the attempts to bribe him for land certificates, C.C. Momah sought a transfer, and moved Westwards from Enugu, to the University College Ibadan as Assistant University Librarian, and from then on, lived a life of the mind. In 1962, he was Acting University Librarian at the newly established University of Lagos. He left the UniLag Library in 1966, with the Eni Njoku situation that involved his old teacher Biobaku, and against the backdrop of brewing National Crisis; first for graduate studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, and then on to the United Nations Library in Geneva. 

From Geneva he moved to became Librarian of the United Nations in New York, from which he retired in the 1990s. He spent the rest of his life doing charity and making peace, and having  lively time, especially with his alumni of Government College Umuahia whose US association he was Grand Patron. He was a great dancer, and a jolly, affable, and kind man with a quiet integrity.

Christian Chike Momah – Cricket batsman, novelist, librarian, international civil servant and great Umuahian ascends now into immortal ancestorhood; survived by his wife and life-long companion, Ethel, daughter of the formidable Z.C. Obi, and his daughter Ada, who once wrote for the Nigerian magazine, Thisweek, Chidi Momah, current Vice-President (Legal) of the NNPC, and Azuka, a Sportscaster with the ESPN in Florida. C.C. Momah was a lovely man by all proportions. 

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