BY IZUNNA OKAFOR
All great things have small beginnings, says Peter Senge.
Put differently, every man was once a baby. And, so was also the case with this biographee, M.S.C. Anikwenwa.
On Friday (Nkwọ Market Day), the 22nd day of November, 1940, a cry of a baby was heard in the family of Mr. Ezekwesili Anikwenwa of Ozzu Village, and Mrs. Ifeoma Anikwenwa of Umuori Village, all in Awkuzu, Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria.
The identity, the destiny and the personality of the child remained unknown to the mere mortal, until the fullest of time, when they were made manifest by the Creator above.
The child who would later become an ecclesiastical colossus, arrived with a boundless stock of grace, and generational anointing stored right inside of him.
At the ripe of time, a name was pronounced on him — Maxwell Samuel Chukwunweike Anikwenwa.
MSC Anikwenwa, as he was fondly called, was the second of the four born to his parents.
Henry Ward Beecher’s age-old maxim that “There is no friendship, no love like that of the parent for the child” was manifest in the life of the young Anikwenwa, as his father, a herdsman in an Agricultural farm at Nkwelle-Ezunanka; and his mother, a petty trader, played great and remarkable roles in moulding him on the right path at the tender age like yam tendril, as well as shaping his future from cradle.
Howbeit, life was not that rosy and cozy for the young Anikwenwa at the earliest stage, as he became motherless at the age of four, thereby having his much-cherished motherly care truncated quite early enough. This notwithstanding, his vision and grace were never truncated.
As a result of his mother’s death, the nature of his father’s job made him send him to live with one teacher after another. Providentially, however, all these eventually formed the pages of his success stories.
By the year 1954, the young Anikwenwa had become a proud product of the Emmanuel School, Nkwelle-Ezunaka, and St. James School, Awkuzu, where he started and completed his primary school respectively. It was his father who saw him through his basic studies between 1947 till he obtained his First School Leaving Certificate in 1954.
As head-swelling as it may be then to be a primary school graduate at that time, Anikwenwa remained a Teacher’s Boy, even after he gained admission into the prestigious Dennis Memorial Grammar School (D.M.G.S.), Onitsha, that same year at the age of fourteen.
There, at the D.M.G.S., his humility still subsisted. Although Anikwenwa was never ‘humble’ in his academic performance. He manifested a consummate development in both the cognitive domain, affective domain, and psychomotor domain, which did not only stand him out in the school, but also endeared him to Bishop C.J. Patterson and the then D.G.M.S. principal, Mr. S.J.C. Cookey. He and his close friends, Benjamin Ofoma and Ephraim Idem were then regarded as the Patterson’s Boys. He also later became a Chapel Perfect in the School.
Fast-forward to 1959, Anikwenwa obtained his School Certificate from the D.M.G.S. While rounding up his studies at there, he passed examination for entering the School of Agriculture, Umudike, and that St. Mark’s Teachers’ Training College, Nibo/Nise. Hence, he was confronted with two contending choices. What he saw at the Agric farm where his father was working made him wish to be an Agric Assistant like his father; and that was the reason behind his application for the School of Agriculture, Umudike.
As he was contemplating between the two choices, the hand of God swayed him from his love for Agric Assistant to God’s preparation for a robust and exemplary ministry, thereby influencing his choice between the two admissions offered to him by the two different schools, as he ended up choosing the Teacher’s Training College.
Shortly after taking the decision, by 1960, the next place Anikwenwa was seen was at St. Mark’s Teachers’ Training College, Nibo-Nise, from where he also graduated in 1961 after obtaining the Grade Two Teachers’ Certificate and qualifying as a pivotal teacher. On another scene that followed, Maxwell was seen in the classroom of Oraukwu Grammar School, where he had become a school teacher.
Because every action is a product of another, it is worthy, at this juncture, to hint that Anikwenwa’s becoming a teacher was a product of an encounter and a part fulfilment of a prophecy upon his life. It was a product of his encounter with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Geoffrey Francis Fisher, who accosted and engaged him in a discussion during the C.M.S. Centenary celebration at the All Saints’ Cathedral, Onitsha, and asked him what he wanted to be.
This happened at the time Anikwenwa was rounding up his studies at the D.M.G.S., Onitsha. Archbishop Fisher was visiting Onitsha then because the then Archbishop of West Africa, Archbishop Cecil John Patterson, was living in Onitsha. And Anikwenwa, alongside one of his co-students at the D.G.M.S. went to serve. It was during the service that his ardency endeared him to Archbishop Fisher, which made him engage him in a discussion.
Anikwenwa, in his response then said he wanted to be an Agric Assistant; but Archbishop Fisher immediately replied him “No, you must be a teacher and a pastor.”
Recounting the implication of that decades-old encounter with Archbishop Fisher in one of his recent interviews Anikwenwa said, “I didn’t take him seriously then; though he was a man with a lot of grey hair; an Archbishop and jovial man with long lashes. That was the beginning of the journey inside me, but not outside.”
This prophecy was partly fulfilled when Anikwenwa became a teacher at the Oraukwu Grammar School. Its consummate fulfilment came when he moved from being just a classroom teacher to becoming a teacher in the house of the Lord, as was seen in what followed later in his life. There, at the Oraukwu Grammar School, he taught from 1962 to 1963.
After two productive years of the classroom teaching, he resigned to fully pursue his ministerial calling and ripen the fulfillment of the other side of the Archbishop Fisher’s prophecy on his life. Consequent upon this, by 1964, Anikwenwa was already at the Trinity College, Umuahia, taking his training for the sacred ministry.
At the Trinity College, he retained his quintessence as a celebrated scholar and sportsman full of vigour and Holy Spirit. He remained shinny and exemplary in his academic performance, sports and spiritual life, without allowing any cause a decay to another, even despite his involvement in school politics and leadership, up to the point of becoming the President of the Students’ Union Government (SUG) at the Trinity College then.
In 1966, Anikwenwa was awarded a Diploma in Theology, after which he was ordained a deacon on 18th December that same year by Archbishop Cecil John Patterson, who also posted him to serve at the All Saints’ Cathedral, Onitsha. Shortly after that, he was priested at the same Cathedral in 1967. Due to his devotion, he served as Chaplain of the Cathedral, and later, Chaplain of the Archbishop of West Africa, between 1966 to 1969.
It’s also worthy to note that during the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War, the young priest, Anikwenwa served in the Military Chaplaincy, thereby rising to the rank of Captain.
ANIKWENWA DEPARTS NIGERIA (jakpa):
In line with the popular Igbo adage that says “A nọghị otu ebe ekiri mmanwụ” (meaning: One does not stand one place to watch masquerades); in 1969, Maxwell left the shores of Nigeria to further his studies. He first landed in Sierra Leone where he settled for his Degree program at the Fourah-Bay College, Sierra Leone. His abroad studies over there was bankrolled through the sponsorship of the World Council of Churches, which was secured for him by the Niger Diocese, a diocese that did not only note his ardency, but also foresaw the great tasks that lied ahead of him and the need to better prepare and buckle him ahead for same.
While there in Sierra Leone, Anikwenwa became an Assistant Priest in 1969 at the All Saints Church, Kissy Road, Philip’s Patten Street, Freerown, while also still pursuing his studies, till he bagged a Bachelor’s Degree in Religion and Philosophy three years after, in 1972. Aside graduating with excellent result, Anikwenwa also made another notable mark while in the school, as he won the Solomon Caulker Prize as the Best Student in Philosophy in that institution in 1970. He was also among the few students selected to attend the World Students Christian Federation, in Lusaka, Zambia, in 1971.
Despite the knowledge and certificates he had so far acquired as at then, he was still ravenous for more knowledge; hence, he immediately enrolled for his post-graduate studies. He started with a Post-Graduate Diploma in Ecumenism (PGD Ecumenism), which he pursued at the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. During his studies there in the school, he also won an award as the Best Course Student in 1973. And, upon completion of his program there in Switzerland, he proceeded to the Ripon Hall of the Oxford University, England, where he earned Master of Theology (M.Th.) in 1974. While there, he was also among the few selected to attend the All African Conferences of Churches, Lusaka Zambia in 1974.
As though his hunger for knowledge was not yet quenched, Anikwenwa also went for Master’s Degree in Ecumenism, which he completed in 1975 at the Oxford University.
MAN RETURNS HOME
In line with the popular “Ọbịara ije ga-ala” Igbo adage (contextually meaning: What goes up must surely come down), Anikwenwa, in 1975, came down to his fatherland, Nigeria, having tapped a measurable keg of palm wine from the palm tree he climbed since 1969. By the time came back, smoke of knowledge was already reverberating on his head. He was fully loaded, that he became a cognoscente in his field, as well as a dream of every diocese.
He resumed his priestly work at the Niger Diocesan Lay Training Centre, Nnewi, and later at the St. Andrew’s Church, Onitsha. While there, the then newly-elected Bishop on the Niger, The Rt. Rev. Johnathan Arinzechukwu Onyemelukwe appointed him the Synod Secretary of the Diocese, a post he held till February 1987. In 1976, he was elevated to the reverential position of a Canon by Bishop Onyemelukwe. There, he served as Vicar from 1976 to February 1987 as well as an Urban Missioner from 1978 to February 1987.
Barely 21 years after Anikwenwa’s historic ordination, the world gathered again to celebrate him, as he was meritoriously and colorfully elevated to a new echelon as the Bishop of the (then) newly-created Anglican Diocese of Awka.
He was consecrated on March 8, 1987, by His Grace, The Most Reverend T.O. Olufosoye, assisted by many other Bishops from different parts of the country and beyond. The consecration service held at the All Saints’ Cathedral, Onitsha; while on March 9, 1987, he was enthroned at the St. Faith Pro-Cathedral, Awka. This enthronement relocated Anikwenwa from the All Saints Cathedral, Onitsha where he had been since his return to Nigeria in 1975, to Awka.
The consecration and enthronement of Anikwenwa as the pioneer Bishop of the new Diocese was a typical demonstration of fixing a square peg on a square hole —a new bishop born to a new diocese. Recall that he was barely 47 years at the time of his consecration as a Bishop. Hence, it was also a case of a young bishop born to a young diocese.
Undoubtedly, Anikwenwa’s bishopric ushered-in a new dimension in the pastoral service he had been involved in for the past twenty years. The future looked somewhat challenging for him as a young Bishop. However, he remained undaunted in the face of the yet unexplored episcopal field, confident that the Good Lord who had supported him in the past was still his God and could be relied upon. With this humble confidence and trust as the source of his inner strength, he opened a new chapter in his devotion and service to God and humanity, in which he eventually succeeded as a top-rated ecclesiastical colossus.
Barely one year after his consecration as a Bishop, Anikwenwa became the Secretary of the College of Bishops’ Meeting, Eastern Zone of Nigeria, in 1988.
In his ecclesiastical vision and efforts to make the Awka Diocese stand out, he rolled out and implemented a chain of transformational initiatives in the Diocese, the evidences of which are cynosural and abound in the Diocese, as are seen today.
Anikwenwa’s purview of ecclesiastical onus was expanded in 2000, when he was elected and presented as the Archbishop of Province Two, with twenty-three dioceses under his watch. He succeeded the Emeritus Archbishop Johnathan Onyemelukwe who earlier occupied the position between 1998 and 2000.
Anikwenwa held this revered position till 2002, when he became the first Archbishop of the Province of the Niger, following the division of the Province Two into three Provinces, one of which is the Province of the Niger in 2002.
That same year, 2002, he emerged the Dean, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). And shortly after that, in that same year, he was also elected the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Anambra State Chapter.
Historically speaking, Anikwenwa was the only Anglican prelate living or death who had simultaneously held such four prominent positions in Nigeria. In 2007, he was re-elected the Archbishop of the Province of the Niger.
While he occupied the position of CAN Chairman in Anambra till 2008, he occupied the position of the Dean of the Church of Nigeria till 2010, making him the longest-serving Dean in the history of the Church of Nigeria.
Anikwenwa also served as the Chairman of the Joint Provincial Council, East of the Niger. It was during the period that he ensured the full licensing and certification of the Paul University, Awka, by the Federal Government of Nigeria, with the support and assistance of his brother bishops, East of the Niger.
During that period, he also recovered the Trinity College, Umuahia to the Anglican Communion, East of the Niger, following the abandonment of their responsibilities by the partners. He also consolidated the reforms that made the Superannuation Fund to thrive and become a solace to retired and ailing priests, while also serving as a vehicle for investment for the church.
Indeed, during his tenure as Bishop and Archbishop, Anikwenwa’s transformational initiatives resulted in milestone achievements for the Diocese and the Province at large, both in areas of education, youth empowerment, capacity building, ecumenical relationships, moral growth and spirituality, among others.
ANIKWENWA STEPS DOWN:
Having given his best in active and faithful service to God and humanity for over four and half decades, Anikwenwa, on 22nd November 2010, honourably stepped down as the Bishop of Awka Diocese and Archbishop, Ecclesiastical Province of the Niger, having attained the age of 70. He was the the third Archbishop of the Province Two (succeeding Archbishop J. A. Onyemelukwe). He was also the first Bishop of Awka Diocese, and the first Archbishop of the Niger Province. While the incumbent, (formerly Bishop) Alexander Ibezim succeeded him as the Bishop of Awka Diocese; the then Bishop of the Aguata Diocese, Christian Efobi succeeded him as the Archbishop, Ecclesiastical Province of the Niger. Most Rev. Efobi also retired in 2019, after which the current Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Ibezim succeeded him as the Archbishop of the Niger Province.
In one of his interviews shortly after stepping down as Archbishop, the Emeritus Archbishop Anikwenwa said he was a priest forever and would never “retire from or be tired of doing God’s work.”
He said: “I’m not retired. Certainly not. I’m in my uniform, so I’m an archbishop, putting on my attire. If Obasanjo puts on his uniform as a general, he will be arrested.
If he puts on the uniform and tries to perform certain functions, he will be arrested. If a retired IGP puts on an IGP’s uniform and starts to perform duties as IGP, he will be arrested. But here am I, still an archbishop, doing what an archbishop can do, a priest forever.
“I’m not retired. I withdrew, I stepped down. You can see the difference. There is nothing an archbishop can do that I cannot do. There is nothing a bishop can do that I cannot do. I am not retired. I can baptise; during ordination of priests, I lay my hands; during dedication, I lay my hands. I stepped aside, I am not de-robed.”
Bearing these in his mind, Anikwenwa never relented in his services to God, or stopped attending religious functions. Even while in his old age, he was always present and punctual at many church and religious activities whenever invited. He was also lending his voice and highly valued opinion on both local, national, and international issues and affairs. Indeed, he, as a person; his presence in church activities, and the words of wisdom that always oozed out from his mouth were as a source of inspiration to many, both the young and the old alike. This burning ardency and passion remained alive, mánifest and unquenched, till he received a call from the other side, and journeyed to the great…
ANIKWENWA ANSWERS THE LAST CALL:
It was Haruki Murakami, who said that “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”
To seal the other side of the deal with his Creator, Anikwenwa, on 13th day of March, 2023, answered the last call of his Maker, whom it pleased to call him home to the great beyond, after 83 years as a mortal.
Not only did his death throw the entire Christiandon into mourning; it also created a huge vacuum in the hearts of many who encountered him, whether facially or virtually.
Anikwenwa spent a total of 30,061 and half days in his entire life, with laudable achievements and legacies from which humanity and the society at large bountifully tap till date.
Until his death, he was known as an icon of hope, integrity, fairness, transparency and honesty. He was a consummate missionary statesman, a distinguished, self-effacing servant leader, a quintessential educationist and a master builder of persons and institutions.
He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Blessing Anikwenwa (Nnedịọgọ), and three children — Venerable Uchechukwu Anikwenwa, Barrister Mrs. Ebelechukwu Dan-Okeke, and Mrs Ogochukwu Obiakor; as well as many relatives and in-laws.
May his faithful and honest soul find eternal rest in the bosom of the Almighty, Amen.
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace :
according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen :
Which thou hast prepared :
before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles :
and to be the glory of thy people Israel
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son :
and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be :
world without end
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT MAXWELL ANIKWENWA:
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Before leaving for Sierra Leone to further his studies in 1969, Anikwenwa wedded his heartthrob, Blessing Chidiogo Anikwenwa (Nee Aṅanti) of Oba, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State.
An outstanding teacher by profession, his wife is a product of the Anglican Girls’ Primary School, Kaduna; Archdeacon Crowther Memorial Girls’ Secondary School, Elelenwa; Millton Margai Teachers’ College, Freetown, Sierra Leone; and the University of Hull, United Kingdom. She holds NCE from Sierra Leone, as well as BA (Philosophy) and MA (Philosophy) from the Hull University, UK.
The family is blessed with three exceptional children, viz: Ven. Uchechukwu Anikwenwa (their first child and only son), who is currently an archdeacon; Barr. Mrs. Ebelechukwu Dan-Okeke and Mrs Ogochukwu Obiakor (their second child); and Mrs. Ogochukwu Obiakor (their third and youngest child).
Both through the coordination of women activities by his wife and other means, Anikwenwa’s family was indeed a great source of inspiration and support to him, and significantly contributed in great measure, to his success and excellence in his service as a servant in the vineyard of God.
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES ATTENDED:
World Students Christian Federation, Lusaka, Zambia (1971); All African Conferences of Churches, Lusaka, Zambia (1974); Conferences of Urban Missioners West Africa, Darkar, Senegal (1977); Mission Issues Strategy and Advisor Group of Anglican Consulate Council, London (1987); Anglican Consulate Council, Nairobi, Kenya (1989); Anglican Consulate Council, Florida, USA (1990); Anglican Consulate Council, Kota Kinabalu, South Africa (1992); Conference of Anglican Provinces in Africa, Kenya (1988); Conference of Anglican Provinces in Africa, Zimbabwe (1991); Lambent Conference, England (1988); Anglican Consultative Council, South Africa (1993); South-south Encounter (Anglican Province in the Third World), Limuru, Kenya (1993); Lambent Conference, England (1998); All Anglican African Conference of Bishops, AAACB Lagos, Nigeria (2005); among others.
PRIZES, HONOURS AND AWARDS AND RECEIVED:
Solomon Caulker Memorial Prize in Philosophy, University of Sierra Leone (1971);
Best Course Student, Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies, Geneva, Switzerland (1973);
Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (2008);
Order of Saint Mellitus (OSM) by Bishop Richard John Charles of London (2010); Ph.D (Honourary Causas) of Paul University, Awka;
Maxwell Anikwenwa Annual Public Lecture;
Archbishop Maxwell Anikwenwa Sec School, Awkuzu, among many others.
Anikwenwa recorded a plethora of significant, remarkable and far-reaching achievements and contributions in his service in the vineyard of God, from priesthood to Archbishophood, few of which are highlighted below:
As a Canon, he effected the infrastructural development of St. Andrew’s Church, Onitsha, one of the biggest urban churches in the Niger Diocese;
He inaugurated the Bible Society, Onitsha Auxiliary, to protect the Anglican interest;
He introduced the “Office System” which meant that a clergyman must have a functional office instead of his residence as his administrative base for effective and co-ordinated operation;
He introduced the “Banking System” whereby the church pays all its money into the bank instead of leaving the money in the custody of individuals;
Through the support of the then Diocesan, Right Rev. J.A. Onyemelukwe, he retrieved the lost Page 1 Church Staff Quarters for the church at Aniowu Street, Onitsha, from the man who had confiscated and used it as his personal property;
He acquired a parcel of land at Woliwo where St. Monica’s Church now stands;
As the Synod Secretary, and with the approval of the Diocesan, he helped to secure yet another parcel of land for the Anglican Mission at Awada, Onitsha, where the present St. the James’ Anglican Church now stands;
He facilitated the establishment of a Health Centre at Aguleri-Out, in Ayamelum Local Government Area, with the Onitsha Archdeaconry and the Diocese on the Niger.
As a Bishop, he Initiated a major administrative re-organization by creating new Archdeaconries in Awka Diocese from the previous two (Awka and Aguata Archdeaconries).
When he was enthroned as the Bishop of Awka Diocese on 9th March, 1987, the Diocese had just two Archdeaconries — Awka Archdeaconry (which had 15 Districts), and Aguata Archdeaconry (which had 20 Districts). Today, Awka Diocese has 20 Archdeaconries and over 100 Parishes/Districts, to his credit and to the glory of God.
With the support of other dioceses East of the Niger, he retrieved the “Sacred Shrine of the Anglican Mission, St. Paul’s College Compound, Awka”, which, for years, had been occupied as a temporary site by the Anambra State College of Education, Awka. The compound has since been renamed St. Paul’s Church Centre, Awka.
He facilitated the establishment of St. Paul’s College in 1992, which later became Paul University, Awka, and which is the only University jointly owned by the Anglican Communion, East of the Niger;
Accomplished the licensing of Paul University, Awka by the Nigerian University Commission (NUC).
He also recovered Trinity Theological College, Umuahia from Union to the Anglican Communion East of the Niger, following the decampment of their partners; recovered St. Mark’s TTC Nibo/Nise to the Anglican Mission.
He established educational institutions for manpower development and evangelism in the Diocese, which include the Mary Summer Vocational Institute, Awka; St. Mary the Virgin Convent, Ufuma (Ama Nwaanyị); St. Catherine’s Commercial School, Nanka; St Paul’s Secondary School, Nibo-Nise, among others.
Upon inheriting Bishop Crowther Junior Seminary, Awka (now Bishop Crowther Seminary, Awka) in 1987, he transformed it to a national standard School.
He encouraged churches to establish Secondary schools, which gave rise to establishment of Christ the King’s Secondary School, Igboukwu; Model Secondary School, Enugwu-Ukwu; Bishop Otubelu Memorial School, Ukpo, among many others.
He established Christian literatures and publications to inform, instruct, educate and entertain, thereby ensuring the mental, moral and spiritual health and growth of the Diocese. The publications include The Awka Diocesan Newsletter —Together; A Daily Bible Reading Guide —Daily Life under God; and The Christian Family magazine of the Mothers’ Union and Women’s Guild. The circulation of these publications has extended to other sister dioceses. The Daily Life under God has been accepted by the Dioceses East of the Niger as an alternative Bible Reading Guide.
He conceived and adopted a symbol of identity for Awka Diocesan Women in the form of uniforms for the members of the Women’s Guild and Mothers’ Union respectively, among others.
He accomplished the recovery of the massive land of Village of Faith (housing the Emmaus House, Our Saviour’s Parish and current Archbishop’s Lodge, Awka) to the Diocese of Awka.
He facilitated the joint ownership of the Paul University, Awka, by the nine dioceses in the Niger Province. According to him, the reason for that was not because Awka Diocese alone cannot own or fund it; but because the land where the University is situated belongs to the East of the Niger, coupled with the fact that he was the type of person who loved collegiality and togetherness.
There are also many other unforgettable achievements recorded by Archbishop Anikwenwa as a servant of God and in the various positions he occupied in his lifetime. However, these cannot all be listed here, for the want of space.
What else do we say then, if not to pray that his faithful soul continue to rest peacefully in the Bosom of the Almighty, till we meet to part no more.
Goodnight Pa M.S.C. Anikwenwa.
About the Author:
Izunna Okafor is a Nigerian writer, journalist, essayist and editor. He writes both in Igbo and English languages, and has published widely in both languages.
He is also the Editor-in-chief of the Chinua Achebe Poetry/Essay Anthology, as well as the initiator of the Chinua Achebe Literary Festival.
He has won 35 national and international awards in journalism and creative writing.