By Chikezie Ogbonna
Like a divine being who already has his destiny determined, sealed and played like a script, John Cross Anyogu was born 11th March 1898 and died 5th July 1967. He was the first Bishop of Enugu Diocese leaving behind tremendous legacy that has blossomed into unimaginable height over the years.
He became the first Igbo man to be consecrated a Roman Catholic Bishop on 9th June 1957and was also the first Igbo man to be ordained a priest in 1930. He is also the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Enugu which was created in 1963, the year of his installation.
Through his efforts, Enugu became a very important Catholic mission centre overseeing several thousand Christians in and around the town.
He was born on 11 March 1898 in Onitsha, near an early mission settlement on the bank of the River Niger some 96 kilometers from Enugu.
His parents, Jacob and Ama Fatima Anyogu, were prominent worshippers at the Onitsha mission where their contribution to its growth, both as a base for European missionaries arriving in Nigeria as well as training ground for prospective priests, was well known.
Their offspring John was not slow in noticing this dedication for by 1912, when he was only 14, he too had resolved to serve God. “As my new year’s resolution,” he wrote to his father on 1 January 1912, “I want to serve God all my life. I want to be a priest.” His father took the matter up with the European priests at the mission asking whether an African could become a priest. The positive response led to John and his brother Luke being sent to England in March 1913 for training.
John had attended the Holy Trinity School, Onitsha for his elementary education. In 1912 he passed what was then Standard VI as well as the Junior Civil Entrance Examinations, which showed his exemplary brilliance.
In Britain, he studied at the Junior Seminary of St. Mary’s in Grange-over-Sands in the industrial Lancashire belt. Five years later, he went to Ireland to read philosophy in Dublin and graduated with distinction.
He returned to Nigeria in 1919 to continue his studies for the priesthood at Onitsha; he was among the first crop of priests to graduate from the Igbariam Seminary.
In addition to his studies there, John Anyogu taught Latin to junior seminarians, using his own quarters as a makeshift classroom. Also during this period, in 1922, he was sent to Ogoja, some 320 kilometres from Onitsha—a distance he did on foot to spread the gospel. Then on 8 December 1930 he was ordained at Onitsha by Bishop Shanahan. At the age of 32, becoming the first priest from Eastern Nigeria.
Father Anyogu was first assigned to the Adazi parish as a curate. He served there for five years before being relocated to take charge of Nnewi parish. In 1940 he went to Idah, a town in the southern part of northern Nigeria, from whence he was posted to Oguta in 1948. The following year Anyogu was transferred to Nteje where, in addition to other mission duties, he taught the Igbo language to Irish priests.
In 1956 he was honoured by the British queen, Elizabeth II, with the Order of the British Empire (OBE). A year later, on 9 June 1957, Father Anyogu was consecrated Bishop.
Subsequently, he was installed Bishop of Enugu on 15 January 1963, the first Bishop of the new diocese. Before his death on 5 July 1967, the diocese of Enugu had become an important Catholic centre, not only for the eastern region for which it was the administrative headquarters, but also for Nigeria as a whole.
A personality well venerated and celebrated
Bishop Anyogu is believed to have led a life adjudged by many who met him as positootly. He was an aficionado. When taking into cognizance his epithet, one will appreciate an innocuous but incorrigible in his principles and beliefs in life, as a human, Priest and a father Bishop.
Describing him, Rev. Fr. Dr. Edward Kanife who was a junior seminarian at the time said; “He spoke impeccable queen’s English, with a clam and deep baritonic voice. As a matter of fact, Anyogu as a young Priest of St. Patrick’s coal camp Enugu used to travel to Iwollo to shoot kites (egbe) at the trees (akpu) in Ugwu n’eteghina, behind Ogbugbuagi Iwollo, and was always accompanied by Emmanuel Kanife. He was the first Priest Hunter we knew.” (This is an excerpt from the Fr. Kanife’s account on the development of Enugu Diocese in the book Our Journey – Jubliee reflections on Enugu Diocese 1962-2012) published in 2012).
In describing him further, Rev. Fr. Prof. Akubue was at the time a Mass Server with limited access to him, but, however, had a keen observation of him at the time.
Speaking about Bishop Anyogu, Fr. Akubue said the following;
“He’s executive in his ways. He has a deep voice, and while talking he has a commanding authority.
“I think he was a man of courage and somebody that is resilient to absorb shocks. He had a lot of shocks. I would imagine that the white men insulted him, but he didn’t mind all those things.
“The white men related with him more than he related with us. He’s a Bishop who would like to defend his priest, stand by his priest in public, but privately he can now tell you the truth about what he knows on the issue. One classical example, there was one ordination, I can still remember that. The people had written a petition to him that the priest must go. Probably, the priest was not doing well. And I could remember him vividly. He said to people, ‘you people say that he must go, must go where? Where do you want him to go to?’ That is typical Bishop Anyogu. And he has a congruent voice; there hasn’t been a Bishop with that kind of voice. His voice is very heavy and executive.
“He went through thick and thin under the white men. That’s why I said he was a courageous person. It’s only a man of courage that can exist with the white men as at then. He was patient with them. He wasn’t quarreling with them, he wasn’t fighting them. So you can also say that he was a man of diplomacy, to have navigated through those troubling times without rocking the boat. And they (Expatriate Missionaries) ended up appointing him as a Bishop. If he did anything queer to protect his race or whatever, you know he would be the last person they would appoint as a bishop.
“If the white men weren’t comfortable with his person they couldn’t have nominated him because it was basically their decision, their choice that time.”
A man who stood for Peace
At the wake of the Nigerian/ Biafran tension, Fr. Akubue recalled the major effort Bishop Anyogu took to avert an all-out war by inviting the Biafra leader, Gen. Ojukwu to dialogue with him and dissuade him from embarking on a violent confrontation with the Nigerian side.
According to Fr. Akubue, Bishop Anyogu stood for peace and dialogue, he was purely a man of peace.
“When the tension was mounting which eventually snowballed into the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War, the bishop had to invite the then governor of the Eastern Region Col. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu to dissuade him from making the declaration of the sovereign state of Biafra which he was sure would result in war. “He urged him to explore every other means of resolving the conflict. Col Ojukwu while acknowledging the concern of His Lordship however told him that all the alternative means of resolving the conflict through dialogue have been explored, the last of which was the accord that was had at Aburi, Ghana. “He told him that secession was the last resort since the federal military government of Yakubu Gowon ended up refusing to honour the accord.
“The bishop was said to have felt so bad about the decision because war was the last thing he ever desired.
“His death at the wake of the civil war seems to me like a way God wanted to take him away from that catastrophe which he never wanted to see and prayed so earnestly against”, said Prof. Akubue.
According to information on Wikipedia, other notable siblings of Bishop Anyogu are: Mother Mary Bernadette Anyogu – founder member of The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ Mother Mary Benedette Anyogu- was the youngest sister of Bishop John Cross Anyogu. First professed sister of the congregation of the Immaculate Heart. of Mary IHM) she made her first solemn vow in 1946 and later became the first mother general of her congregation. She died in 1988.
Marcellina Otigba (née Anyogu) and Grand Matriarch of the Otigba Dynasty. The legacy of the investitures and prestigious OBE award continues in her direct descendants notably : James Otigba (deceased), Felicia Iworah (née Otigba)(deceased), Gregory Otigba (deceased), Brig. Gen (Dr) George Longinus Otigbah rtd.(deceased), Anthony Otigba (deceased), Sebastian Iweka Otigba (deceased), Odilia Nworah (née Otigba)Sunday Henry Otigba, Victor Otigba. grand children Valentine Emeka Otigba and great grand children to date.
Appolonia Nwabuzor (née Anyogu).