By Paul Obi
His body to that pleasant country’s earth
And his pure soul unto his Captain Christ
Under whose colours he had fought so long
– William Shakespeare
The story of Africa and Nigeria in particular, is replete with thankless contributions of European Christian missionaries who gave their all to usher the continent into civilisation. Arguably, that gesture remains a game changer in the whole discourse of Africa and how it was co-opted with the rest of the world. For people like Rev. Fr. Dr. Willy Ojukwu, his believe was that there was also the need to increase home grown missionaries who would give back to humanity and society. Therefore, there was no other way to exemplify such ideology but for Ojukwu to offer himself. Influenced by Rev. Fr. Clifford, an Irish Catholic missionary, he would go on to become a Catholic Priest, setting the pace around the globe and the Abuja Catholic Metropolitan See even beyond imagination.
His ordination on 16th July, 1983 as the first Abuja Catholic Priest by late Ignatius Cardinal Ekadem ushered him into the service of God in various dimensions. As a committed and service-oriented priest, Ojukwu displayed his passion in helping the poor specifically those caught up during the Nigerian Civil War. His intervention and provision of succour to orphanages and children plagued by malnutrition through the Caritas International Foundation was very remarkable and commendable till date. He recently replicated that passion with the setting up of Marian Soup Kitchen (MSK) located in Gwagwalada, Abuja, Anambra and Cross River States to cater for the downtrodden and to train youths in skill acquisition.
Besides, Ojukwu was more of a global Catholic priest whose footprints dotted nearly six continents of the world. His missionary journey took him to Canada, Alaska, United States, and Ireland to Timbuktu in Mali and many other countries. In Mali, he was entrusted with ministering to idol worshippers where he converted many Tuaregs to Christianity, laying the foundation for the new faith in that country.
He was more of a strategic builder and dogged in the pursuit of his goals. Within the Archdiocese of Abuja, Ojukwu’s contributions towards building for the Lord will be timeless in the annals of history. After his ordination, and subsequent sojourn abroad, he returned with a bang, expanding the church greatly. After a brief stint at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Bwari, he was transferred to Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Maitama, which then had only a makeshift as a worship place. In six years, Ojukwu transformed that temporary structure to a widely acclaimed edifice now dotting Abuja’s skyline and the highbrow area of Maitama, working hand-in-hand with the current Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Mathew Hassan Kukah. Ojukwu would be remembered for spearheading the expansion of the church within the metropolis tirelessly.
Wart and all, he was a confirmed disciplinarian and a resolute clergy. Though, in his fierce and firm stance on issues and approaches, he could be misunderstood. But it is in those same attributes, that Ojukwu very often, brought out the best and enthralled his close watchers with legendary legacies. His calling as a Priest notwithstanding, he was more of a pragmatic persona and a go-getter as well.
At Holy Cross Catholic Church, Gwarinpa, where he was the Parish Priest and doubled as the Vicar General of the Abuja Archdiocese, Ojukwu’s brief stay and departure has left mourners to reflect on his giant strides so far. According to the Acting Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Innocent Kachala, Ojukwu “stood his grounds, against all odds in his interest in the education of our future leaders, which led to the establishment of the school. He was so keen on impacting spiritually in the lives of his parishioners that the Madonna religious book stores and sacramental was realised.” Rev. Fr. James George maintained that the late Ojukwu was a passionate and committed Priest. Laity Council Chairman of the church, Mr. Godwin Iluobe said the late priest was “deep in knowledge and left behind true practicing Christians.” On her part, President of Catholic Women Organisation at the parish, Mrs. Monica Keku, added that Ojukwu “taught us the importance of our role as women.” For Mr. Coleman Ubah, leader of the Catholic Men Organisation (CMO), Ojukwu “preached charity always as the foundation of Christianity.”
Ojukwu was born on 12th October, 1945 in Agulu, Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State to Mr. Peter Ojukwu and Mrs. Theresa Ojukwu (nee Nmadujafor).
He attended St John’s Primary School, Odakpu, Onitsha; St. Patrick’s Primary School, Agulu, Anambra State. He also attended Holy Ghost College, Umuahia, Abia State from 1963 to 1967. He schooled at St. Paul’s University, Ottawa, Canada and University of Ottawa, Canada bagging a degree in Linguistic and Philosophy. He also had a PhD in Theology from the American Catholic University, Washington D.C, United States of America (USA).
At 71, he was looking forward to his retirement in a couple of years ahead. The setting up of MSK was seen in that light. Rather, after his last official function on the 18th September, 2016 during the cultural festival, he fought hard with his health but inwardly knew that the hour was close. Surprisingly, from abroad where he had gone for medical attention, he headed to Ijebu-Ode Monastery where his journey to the great beyond commenced. Knowingly, he will double it with a Viaticum, where his soul and body will be bath in the Agulu sunshine. There, the colossus will crack his jokes and put up his comic posture and rest well with his creator and ancestors.