THOMAS NWOKOLO OKAFOR

pa-thumb photoA BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF MAZI THOMAS OKAFOR  (Red at his funeral by Professor
                                                                             Charles Okafor
in 1987)

Mazi Thomas Nwokolo Okafor, popularly known as Papa, hails from Amuvi village of Arochukwu in Abia State. He was   born  in 1910. He lost his father when he was still very young and was brought up by his mother, Udeaku Ugomma, who died in 1960 at the age of one hundred and five (105) years. Papa was baptized by Rev. Fr. Vincent Devey on the 22nd of December, 1922. On the 2nd of March, 1924, he received his first holy communion. On the 29th of June, 1924, he was confirmed by Bishop Joseph Shanahan at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Eke, in Enugu State.

Mazi was a veteran educationist who started his career as a teacher in 1926 in remote villages in Enugu area of the then Eastern Nigeria. He often said that it was harsh living in isolated school compounds often build in ajo-ofia  (evil bushes) given to Catholic Missions by the villagers, but that he was very happy to be a teacher “opening young minds” and serving the community in various capacities as preacher, marriage councilor, and consultant on issues of modernity and tradition. With his wife, Agnes, he served as a teacher and headmaster in various parts of Enugu State. A summary of his teaching career is as follows:

                        Iwollo Oghe        -              3/9/26 to 8/7/27                    Pa-suit

Umaga                -              9/7/27 to 31/12/28

Eke                     -              1/1/29 to 31/12/33

Akama Oghe      -              1/1/34 to 21/12/36

Eke                     -              1/137 to 31/12/41

Abor                   -              1/1/47 to 31/12/47

Okpatu                -              1/1/42 to 31/12/49

Egede                  -              1/1/48 to 31/12/51   Headmaster

Isigwu-Umana     -              1/1/52 to 31/12/56   Headmaster

Akpakwume        -              1/1/57 to 31/12/57  Headmaster

Ukana                  -              1/1/58 to 31/12/60  Headmaster

Eke                      -              1/1/61 to 31/12/72  Headmaster

Obelagu-Umana   -              1/173 to 8/9/75       Headmaster

Aguobu-Owa       -              9/9/75 to 31/3/77    Headmaster

On the whole, this pioneer educationist served as a teacher for fifty one years out of which twenty one years were spent in Eke. No wonder the people regarded him as a bona fide indigene of Eke and mourn him like their won.

Mazi was very healthy and strong even in his old age. As a young man, his hobbies included soccer, cycling, and gardening. From 1930 to 1940, he was the captain and center forward player (modern no 10) in the very popular ‘Eke Danger’ Football Team that dominated the world of sports not only in Enugu area but also in Onitsha and up to Makurdi areas of Benue of Nigeria.

AgnesHe got married to Agnes Nwangbo Illo of the same Amuvi village of Arochukwu in November 12, 1933. God blessed this marriage with nine biological children. Their life’s journey in the villages brought other children into their care as wards and adopted children.  Not having much, the couple believed in sharing with people. Papa was happiest when the house was full and vibrant, even though he occasionally went to his room for quiet time. This happy couple celebrated the golden jubilee anniversary of their wedding precisely on the 12th of November, 1983, that was exactly fifty years from their wedding day. This devoted Christian husband instructed his children in his Will to “Honour your mother and never forget what she suffered for you.” As a good and loving parent, Papa strived and trained all his children not only educationally but spiritually. He usually called his children and grandchildren for family prayer-meetings in which he shared with them the words of the bible, stressing the importance of Christian life, especially good neighborliness.

Mazi was a disciplined and conscientious man, and sought to inculcate these same qualities in other people who came in close contact with him.  He was modest and  graceful. He associated himself with noble ideals and with people of goodwill. He lived a simple, honest and God-fearing life and always admired his people. As pioneer and foundation member of the Catholic faith in the then Eastern Nigeria, he and his wife have sponsored hundreds of people in Baptism and the Sacrament of Matrimony. Their mission station house was a kind of “pre-marriage Training Home.”

Significantly enough, Papa was one with God from his childhood up until his old age and death. Hi life-long friendship with His Lordship, Rt. Rev. Dr. Michael Eneja, the Catholic Bishop of Enugu, started from the latter’s primary school days. Even at that young age, the bishop was a wonderful inspiration to Papa and to our entire family. While Papa was alive, he had expressed several times to us that he would be very happy to have bishop Eneja around him in his last time on earth. This request or wish was literally granted by God for Papa was in fact anointed by the bishop on that fateful day of the accident that sent him to his Maker.

When he traveled to Europe in 1979, he was so thrilled by the Christian fellowship in Rome and his meeting with the Pope that when he returned to Nigeria, like Simeon, he sang the Nunc Dimittis saying: Dunebe odibo gin a ndokwa, O Chineke, maka na anya mu ahuna onye nzoputa mu (Send home your servant in peace, O Lord, for my eyes have seen the Redeemer). (Luke II: 29-32).

This servant of God was a Christian leader who identified himself very much with the Catholic faith and practice, and worked like leaven in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. He was the mentor and guardian of many brilliant but poor pupils. In spite of his meager financial resources, he trained such brains even up to the Secondary School and Training College levels, and this, often at great inconvenience to himself and his family. Papa was the patron of Zone Nine Catholic community, Emene-Enugu. He belonged to many Christian Pious Associations such as the Purgatorian society, Christian Fathers, and the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was on his way to the Sacred Heart of Jesus’ prayer meeting that the good Lord called him through the unfortunate motor accident that led to his untimely death.

Papa lived as a soldier of Christ, that is, he lived a courageous life in the service of God and humanity. The Good Lord has been very kind to him, guarding him in his service and duties to his children, grandchildren and all who knew him. We fondly remember this great man for his uprightness, kindness, humility and wisdom. These are partly expressed in his letters of advice carefully written and preserved for us in a book-form so that we would not be in any doubt as to his wishes when he joined the Lord. For these and many more blessings, we mourn this great man and wear white during his funeral as a symbol of his purity.

Our dear Papa, all of us: your wife, eight (remaining) and twenty-two grandchildren, relations, in-laws and friends bid you goodbye as you join our Lord who you served diligently during your seventy-seven years here in this world.

“Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let the perpetual Light shine upon him.”

May his Soul Rest in Perfect Peace.  Amen.     

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