Place of Birth
Nigeria is a West African nation. It is made up of three major tribes; the Ibos in the East, the Hausas in the North, and the Yorubas in the West. Eugene Ugonna Igboaja is an Ibo. He was born on July 31, 1944 in a town called Abia. Abia is situated within the chain of hills called the Udi hills. It is very close to Enugu, the capital city of Ibo land.
A very prominent Igbo man from Abia town, Ifekwe Chime, was one of those who received the British Colonizers and the Irish Missionaries in Nigeria. Due to the outstandingt role he played in the locality, the British Colonial Government made him a warrant chief. As he ruled the people, he discovered the complexity of the human person.
Any action he took in governance met with severe criticism. Whether he turned right or turned left, there were people who were fault finders and negative critics. Consequently when he wanted to take a title, according to the tradition of his people, he took the name ‘Igboajamma’. The literal meaning of this name is that humans do not appreciate beauty while its proverbial meaning is that whatever you may be, people must criticise you. With this traditional title, Chief Ifekwe Chime became popularly known in the town and beyond as Chief Igboajamma.
Chief Igboajamma had three children; two males and one female. Chief Igboajamma decided to play it wise. He retained Jideofo his first child and first male within the African traditional religion and properly initiated him into it. He advised Jideofo that if in future the traditionalists want to persecute and eliminate the white missionaries and all who adhere to their religion, he should protect his younger brother Michael. Michael is the third child and second son of Chief Igboajamma. His Igbo name is Aniagolu.
Chief Igboajamma sent this his second son to school to learn the Western Education and, as a consequence, also the Christian Religion. He as well advised Michael to protect his elder brother Jideofo, should the white men decide to persecute and clear all those who refuse to follow them and their education and religion. This was how Chief Igboajamma wisely shared his children between the two great religions and cultures.
The cruel history, which he anticipated, did not happen. Neither group persecuted the other. Jideofo held to the traditional culture and religion for the rest of his life Michael held to the Western Education and Christian Religion till death.
When Aniagolu went for baptism, he was given the name Michael. It was at this time that a little problem occurred. When the white missionary was to register Michael’s name in the baptismal register, he could not pronounce Igboajamma. When Michael told him this longish name, as his surname, the white man could neither pronounce it nor write it. He only succeeded in pronouncing and writing, Igboaja. That was how the official document of Michael became Igboaja and not Igboajamma.
As a result, all the children of Michael took Igboaja as their surname. Today, only the very aged in Abia town still call the members of that family with the original name of their grand father which is Igboajamma. The rest call them the white man’s version which is Igboaja.
Michael was one of the earliest people in Abia town who was exposed to Western Education. This was why the Colonial Masters did not hesitate to transfer the chieftaincy of his father to him at the death of Chief Igboajamma. Being well groomed in the English language and Western Education, he communed better with the white man than his father Chief Igboajamma. He was also the councillor who represented his town Abia in the Agbaja and Ngwo County Council. Chief Michael Igboaja was a very staunch Catholic Christian.
It was Chief Michael Aniagolu Igboaja who brought the Catholic Church to Abia. He trekked to Eke town where the Irish missionaries were based and requested that Abia town be made an out-station of the Catholic church. By implication, this meant that both church and school came to Abia since for the missionaries these two go hand in hand.
History has it that the first Catholic school and the first place to be used as church centre in Abia town was the compound of Chief Michael Igboaja. Michael married and wedded in the Catholic Church. God blessed him with seven children; three boys and four girls. The second of the boys is the third child, his name is Ugonna. His father Michael gave him this name at birth. During Christian baptism Ugonna was given the name Eugene.
"Ugo" means Eagle while "Nna" means father. Literary therefore Ugonna means the eagle of the father or the glory of the father. This was the name Michael chose to give his third child and second male as his traditional Igbo name before Christian baptism. This was how the names Eugene Ugonna Igboaja came to become the names of the personality we are describing.
Abia town is traditionally divided into five villages, namely; Ofeke, Igbochi, Enugu, Ameti and Umuma. Chief Michael Igboaja is from Enugu Abia village. Notwithstanding his role as the chief and councillor of Abia town, he was a professional carpenter. He married from Umuma village in the same Abia town. He married Aniefi Nwaowo, the first daughter of Mr. Aneke Nwaowo.
After performing the traditional rites that would guarantee Michael to marry Aniefi, Michael sent her to a domestic school which by then meant being sent to another family where a staunch Catholic woman would teach her catechism and all the things she needed to know in order to be a Catholic house wife. In Igbo language, they used to call it "ozuzu" which literary means training. Aniefi was lucky because the woman that gave her training (ozuzu) also taught her tailoring which was then an elevated profession.
At baptism, Aniefi was given the name Marcellina. At wedding Michael gave a sewing machine to his beloved wife Marcellina. By so doing, he launched her into a viable profession that would enable her to contribute her domestic quota in the life of the family.
Michael died on September 4,1960, few days to the 1st of October when Nigeria got her independence. Michael as a Chief and councillor under the colonial masters had, like every other committed Nigerian, painstakingly worked for and looked forward to the nation's independence. At death he left Marcellina a widow with the challenge of financing the training of their seven siblings, the last of which was born on March 23, 1960 barely six months before the death of Michael.
Marcellina, on her own part, laboured and toiled as a widow for thirty-two years during which she trained all the seven children up to graduate levels in the universities. She lived to see six of them married and one of them ordained a Reverend Father. She died on February 28, 1992.
The coincidence of names of Michael Aniagolu Igboaja and Marcellina Aniefi Igboaja normally abbreviated as Chief M. A. Igboaja and Mrs M. A. Igboaja is still a joyful coincidence which the children always happily point out to friends. Marcellina was not only a mother to her particular family but also a mother to all mothers in Abia town. She was a convinced Christian mother.
Consequently, notwithstanding her being a widow for thirty-two years, her home was the centre or school for the domestic training (ozuzu) of many future Christian mothers in the town. She was the president of the Christian Women Association Abia town for many years before she retired and became their Mother General and adviser till death.
When the little child, Eugene Ugonna Igboaja, was about two years, something very significant took place. It was reported that one morning, a Rev. Father from Eke visited Abia town, an outstation of Eke Parish. When he was inside the church celebrating Mass, the little Ugonna slipped off the mother’s notice and went outside the church and started helping himself with the banana which the catholic women kept there as one of the food items for the visiting missionary priest.
After the Mass, Ugonna’s mother, as the president of the Christian mothers, gathered the women and they called the priest to come with them for the presentation of the food items. When they arrived at the spot, they caught the little Ugonna red-handed quietly and innocently still celebrating his own Mass with the banana. The embarrassed mother, Marcellina, rushed to the boy and snatched off from him the banana he had almost half eaten. Ugonna wept.
The white Irish missionary in turn snatched the banana from Marcellina and gave it back to Ugonna with the following words addressed to Marcellina and the rest of the crowd that were now gathered there “leave him alone, he is also a priest”.
With that there was a wide uproar from the people as they shouted Fada. Nwa-Igboaja. From that day onwards even until he became a priest, he was known and called by the town's people; "Nwa-Igboaja" meaning, "Rev. Father, son of Igboaja". As he grew up, some of his peer groups used to call him fada. Banana. Whether this childhood incident played a major or minor role or no role at all in his becoming a priest is a matter for further discussion. The historic reality is that he became a priest and so continues to answer that name fada. Nwa-Igboaja.
Primary School Education
Eugene Ugonna Igboaja did his infant education at St. Mark’s School, Abia. In those days, infant school was preparatory to primary school; it was done for two years during which one will do infant one and infant two. After the infant school education, he initiated his primary school education at the same school, St Mark’s School, Abia.
In those days, primary school education lasted for six years. They were counted as standards 1 – 6. He did his standards one to three at St Mark’s School, Abia, standard four at St Mark’s School, Obinofia Imezi, and standard five and six at St. Thomas, School, Udi from where he obtained his First School Leaving Certificate in 1958.
Home Basic Training
After Eugene had obtained his First School Leaving Certificate in 1958, his father Chief Michael Aniagolu Igboaja purposely retained him at home in order to give him basic training on the traditional culture and usage of his people before allowing him to continue with Western Education. It was a year of jam-packed crash programme of training in all the spheres of experiences that will prepare one for mature living within one’s birth place, culture and custom.
During this period, Ugonna learnt how to tap palm wine, learnt Igbo proverbs and wise sayings and he learnt the Igbo language as it was spoken in his birthplace. More importantly, this very year brought him very close to his father. To use the modern slang, for that year, he was his father’s handbag.
Whether he was executing his profession as a carpenter, his role as a traditional chief or his function as a councillor in the county council, including his very prominent role as the pioneer Catholic in the town and the trusted parish priest’s representative in Abia town in all matters concerning the Catholic church, Chief Michael always kept the young Eugene very close to him and so fatherly exposed him to mature and maturing experiences.
In 1960, with the help and approval of his father Michael, Eugene who has been expressing his genuine intention to become a Reverend Father, entered the junior seminary. His junior seminary career lasted from 1960 to 1965 at All Hallows Seminary Onitsha. At the end of his junior seminary career, he got his Ordinary and Advanced Level Certificates in GCE London.
It is the character of the ecclesiastical authorities to send seminarians for one year probation before admitting them into the senior seminary. The young, junior seminarian, Eugene did his own at Corpus Christi College (CCC) Achi in the academic year 1965/66. It was a period that he has not forgotten till date. It exposed him to a different world experience outside the tight walls of the seminary. His decision to continue with the seminary training after that one year of exposure coupled with the positive recommendation by the principal of that school who was then an Irish, Missionary Priest, were fortifiers and intensifiers for his onward transition into the senior seminary.
Eugene Ugonna Igboaja initiated his senior seminary training when he entered the Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, in the academic year 1966/67. His philosophical studies were disrupted by the then Biafra/Nigeria war. While the war lingered, the ecclesiastical authorities sent him to Urban University Rome to continue his philosophical studies. After obtaining his Bachelors Degree in Philosophy in 1968 and Licentiate in Philosophy in 1970 both at the Urban University Rome, he switched over to the Gregorian University, Rome where, in 1972, he got his Doctorate degree in Philosophy. The young Eugene came back to Nigeria for his priestly ordination which took place on January 27, 1974.
Immediately after his ordination, Fr. Eugene Ugonna Igboaja was sent to St Mary’s Parish, Iva valley, Enugu as an Assistant Parish Priest or Parish Vicar. From there he was transferred to Sacred Heart Parish, Uwani Enugu as a Parish Priest. After his pastoral exposure at Sacred Heart Parish, Uwani , he was subsequently transferred to St. John’s Parish, Agbani as a Parish Priest and for the first time in his priestly career, he was privileged to have an assistant or parish vicar.
His next pastoral posting, as a parish priest, was to St Joseph’s Parish, Emene near Enugu, from where he was transferred to Holy Family Parish, Okpatu still as a Parish Priest. After some years of interruption, during which he was exposed to other pastoral assignments, he later became the Parish Priest of St Anthony’s Parish, Ogui New Layout, Enugu. At the time of this write-up (the year 2012), he is the parish priest of St Theresa’s Parish, Blessed Abakpa-nike near Enugu.
Diocesan Pastoral Centre, Ugwu di Nso, Eke
Within the span of years, between the end of his assignment as a parish priest at Holy Family Parish Okpatu and his re-assignment as a parish priest at St Anthony’s Parish Ogui, New Layout, Fr. Ugonna was assigned as the Director of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre, Ugwudinso Eke. He spent many years there. The place offered him a golden opportunity for a sincere pastoral service to the people of God in the diocese. He became popularly known as Fr. Ugwudinso a name that has followed him even many years after he had left the centre.
University Chaplain University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus
After his diocesan exposure as the diocesan director of the pastoral centre, he was made the chaplain of St Mulumba’s Chaplaincy, University of Nigeria Enugu Campus. It was during that period that he successfully organised, at the national level, all the Catholic Chaplains of all the tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The association is today flourishing as a formidable arm in the apostolate of the staff and students in our tertiary institutions.
Fr. Eugene Ugonna Igboaja started his educational career as a classroom teacher at Christ the King College Abor from where he became the pioneer principal of Community Secondary School, Umulumgbe. Later, he was appointed a Supervisor Special Duties in charge of Catholic Education in all the government schools in the Enugu Educational Zone in the then Anambra State Schools System. He later rose to the rank of a Director in the Civics, Culture and Morals Department of the Enugu State Post Primary Schools Management Board (PPSMB) Enugu. He retired as a government worker at the statatory age of sixty.
He was given a Papal Award as a Monsignor on June 29th, 2009. He was invested as a Monsignor on November 29th, 2009 at Holy Ghost Cathedral Ogui, Enugu.
At the moment of this write up, Eugene Ugonna Igboaja has written twenty eight (28) books. By the right side, you will see the titles of the books he has published. The titles are linked to the prefaces/forewards of these books. They will serve as summaries of the topics that motivated him to embark on each of them.