Andy Lee’s piece in 2018 titled You are a shining light in a dark world, fittingly describes the person of the Most Rev. Dr. Felix Alaba Job, Emeritus Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan. A shining light figuratively speaking is someone ‘who is excellent or inspirational’ (See English-Spanish Dictionary via http://www.wordreference.com). As Lee rightly observes, ‘light represents goodness, purity, and life while darkness represents sin and disobedience’. His Grace Alaba Job has lived an outstanding and admirable spiritual life that inspired and still continues to inspire generations of Christians in and around the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan. This has in essence been the defining and distinguishing hallmark of his pastoral activities.
The Most Rev. Alaba Job has unmistakably been an extra-ordinary and inspiring servant of the Almighty God and a purveyor of His light since his ordination as a catholic priest in 1966. Since he received the power from God (the Ultimate Light) to serve humanity under the guidance of His beloved Son Jesus Christ (the Light of the world), the young priest Rev. Fr. Felix Alaba Job undoubtedly kept the light shining through thick and thin in the midst of this dark world up to his present graceful and enviable age of 83 years this year.
On 7 July, 2021, I received a mail from a news outlet CEOAFRICA into my email box and one very delightful news item reported by Abara Blessing Oluchi caught my attention. The title reads ‘Emeritus Archbishop Felix Alaba Job celebrates 50th Episcopal Ordination anniversary in grand style’ (See https://ceoafrica.com). Although the report did not carry detailed narrative (since it was more of Photo News), the tears narrative in the report was enough to inspire me to do this write-up.
As we recall from the news report, Emeritus Archbishop Job’s 50th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop started with a Holy Mass celebrated on Saturday, 3rd July, 2021 at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, Oke Padi, Ibadan. The reception took place at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel, University of Ibadan. Many dignitaries including archbishops, bishops, priests and the Executive Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, were in attendance.
We also recall that Emeritus Archbishop Alaba Job was born on June 24, 1938 and was ordained a Catholic priest on December 24, 1966. On June 24, 2018 he celebrated his 80th birthday (a very remarkable milestone). Although he turned 83 years old this year (2021), what was celebrated in grand style was his 50th anniversary as a bishop. All the milestones (age and episcopal anniversary) are therefore worthy of such grand celebration. On one hand, with respect to age, he is a perfect embodiment of God’s blessings to His ‘strong’ children, because as the Scripture says, 80 years are meant for those who are strong (Psalm 90:10, Good News Bible).
And on the other hand, with respect to episcopal anniversary, he was ordained a Bishop in July 1971 (five years after his priestly ordination) at a young age of 33 years. A close look at his stewardship (as contained in the farewell address during the installation of his successor, Most Rev. Gabriel Leke Abegunrin in January 2014 and titled: Feeding the Flock of God – The Journey of My Life), will reveal that His Grace recorded remarkable achievements during his bishopric tenure. According to him:
Today, as I look back, I remember with nostalgia taking over with just two diocesan priests and now leaving behind 87, apart from the five who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We have tried to keep pace with the physical expansion of Ibadan, so that from about 15 parishes, the archdiocese now has 43 parishes, countless outstations with numerous religious houses offering our Catholics opportunities to attend mass regularly (BusinessDay, June 24, 2018).
Although this piece was inspired by the news item from the CEOAFRICA, our encounters with the Most Rev. Felix Alaba Job when we were students at the University of Ibadan (1978 – 1981), is a good demonstration of the immeasurable quality of the shining light of this great servant of God. As a brief background, let me start by saying that many of us during our time benefitted immensely from the spiritual formation we had at the University of Ibadan through the unforgettable tutelage of late Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Louis J. Munoz (MFR) a splendid Spanish priest of the Opus Dei Prelature who lived in Nigeria for 47 years. As the Chaplain of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel, University of Ibadan (UI), Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Munoz is best remembered (by many of UI Catholic students) for his personalized spiritual counseling of students. Fr. Munoz did this very faithfully every week for those he fixed appointments with, in spite his numerous and pressing academic and other pastoral activities.
It was the close working relationship between Fr. Munoz and the then Bishop Felix Alaba Job that gave us the rare privilege of coming in contact with his Lordship who attended without failing the activities of the Nigerian Federation of Catholic Students (NFCS) especially during the reception of new catholic students in addition to other pastoral visits. As a shining light, he understood the strategic importance of students’ apostolate which helps to lay good and solid foundation for their future family and career lives. Particularly his visits offered me the rare opportunity of coming in contact with him as one of the selected undergraduate Mass servants (Altar Boys). And in addition to being a Mass servant during such visits, I had the additional privilege of holding part of his official regalia during the Mass he celebrated. This was a great privilege and blessing which I have long cherished, and now feel greatly joyous to recount here.
Now back to the main story: In preparation for the then Bishop Job’s visits to UI in the first quarter of 1981 for the reception of new students, the Executive Committee of the NFCS in which I served as Secretary held a planning meeting. In that meeting, our then president Mr. Edward Nwosu (now retired staff of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Abuja) suggested that we should request Bishop Job in our welcome address to invite the then Pope John Paul 11 (now Saint John Paul 11) to UI during his proposed visit to Nigeria scheduled for February 1982. We laughed over this suggestion regarding it as a huge joke. In any case, majority of us in the Executive Committee would have graduated and left UI by July 1981 and then be serving in different states under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Scheme when the Pope’s proposed visit would take place. But we did not know that Mr. Edward Nwosu was a strategic thinker. Nevertheless, the suggestion was included in the welcome address which I read before our visiting Bishop Job. Hearing the request, the audience also went into a roaring laughter (perhaps either jokingly or approvingly). But the Bishop himself (a man of great vision and a much more strategic thinker) in reply to our address promised that he would take our request to the Pope. The audience then laughed appreciatively.
Emeritus Archbishop Felix Alaba Job (centre), Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Louis Munoz (3rd from right) with members of the Executive Committee of the NFCS (UI, 80/81) with its President Mr. Edward Nwosu (second from left) and its Secretary Mr. Isaac Obasi (standing from right) during the visit of the then Bishop Job to UI.
As it came to pass, His Holiness late Pope John Paul 11 included a visit to UI as part of his crowded activities in Nigeria in February 1982. It was in UI that the Pope addressed a cross-section of the Nigerian intelligentsia. For us therefore, our request through His Lordship then made the Pope’s visit to UI possible, as no information came to the contrary. The reality of the Pope’s visit to UI was a huge spiritual booster in our lives. From his NYSC base in Benin City, Edo State, Mr. Edward Nwosu travelled to UI to be part of that history making event, while I travelled from Plateau State (where I was a young NYSC lecturer in a College of Education) to Kaduna where the Pope also visited and ordained many as priests. Looking back now, it was an unforgettable spiritual experience for members of the NFCS Executive that made the request. But the instructive lesson is that the ability and willingness of Bishop Job to be on the same thinking page then with the dreaming and imaginative spirits of young (and perhaps exuberant) university undergraduate students, demonstrate clearly that he is a Light-Bearer with great foresight which his bishopric stewardship says as much. What is left for me to say now is that it is an honour and great privilege to join Catholics in and around the Ibadan Archdiocese to celebrate His Grace and to say big congratulations for a fulfilled life in the service of God and humanity.
Finally, I pay great tribute to late Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Munoz whose effective spiritual network offered us (catholic students then) rare opportunities to meet and interact with some spiritual and intellectual giants of our time. For instance, the then Rector of SS Peter and Paul Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan, now Emeritus Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, who participated in our Chaplaincy’s Lenten Lecture series was one of then who made significant influence on our spiritual and intellectual lives. Looking back now, we can understand why some of us chose the academic profession as the most fulfilling career path of life, for we were well exposed to such inspiring spiritual and intellectual role models during our formative years.
Prof. Isaac N. Obasi who teaches Public Administration at the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Abuja, Email: email@example.com.