WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT…

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This is a new month. Every day is a new beginning. Try to be positive about life. Speak to someone about your fears. Don’t die in silence. Never be afraid to face life as it comes. Good or bad; we are in it together. As it ever crossed your mind that since the days of old, the world is filled with the rich and the poor; the good and the bad; the righteous and the wicked;  the contented and the greedy; the wise and the fool; the happy and the sad. These are the stark realities of our everyday life. While we continuously work for an egalitarian society bear in mind that even humanity is unequal; we have male and female; the strong and the weak; the healthy and the sick. While some are born others are dying; while some are in the prime of their days, others are singing the nunc dimittis…

It’s a new month try to encourage your friends; speak comforting words; give away the smile it could brighten someone’s day; make excuses for others attitude; never crucify before you listen. Many people are burning deep within they only need to be listened to. Unfortunately, we are all in a rush and seem to have no time to listen to those who just want to share some moments with us. Listen to your friends old and new. Listen to the young and the old. Listening to them can reinvigorate them and give them some reasons to smile. Don’t be too far away from those that care. After a hard day’s labour, we always go back home. Make peace at home. Do not make your home a war zone: if there is no peace at home then there may be none elsewhere in this present life…

Above all radiate joy! Take pictures of you: you won’t take them again when you are gone. Go to places: it is part of education and self-development. Take a walk: it helps burn out some calories and makes you smart. Visit friends: it makes them feel loved. Don’t mind those who snob you. Appreciate those who have time for you. Care is reciprocal. There are things money cannot buy. A terminally sick patient who has been told when he will die can relate this… Eat healthy food: if you don’t eat your food as medicine you will soon eat medicine as food. Dress decently. There are enough pornographic images already scattered everywhere don’t make yourself one of such collections. There is a difference between wealth and riches. Be conscious of the source of your income: Never eat fat on someone´s else sorrows. Integrity is earned. Respect the difference in opinion of others. Think before you speak. Speak words that build and unite not destroy or divide.  

You are a champion already. Nobody can be you. You are unique. Stop comparisons. Work on your potentials. Envy kills faster than malaria. It corrupts self-perception. We are all gifted differently. We are precious in God’s eyes. Because you have it all today doesn’t mean you look down on others. Tomorrow is pregnant with a million possibilities. No one stays on top or in power forever. Ambition devoid of morality is catastrophic. Hard work pays but grace is real as well.

Let me conclude with the Pauline words of admonition: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble (honourable), whatever is right (just), whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious (admirable), if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4: 8-9). 

Stay safe…

Valentine Umoh
Universidad de Navarra
02.06.2019

My diocese, my pride. My faith, my heritage

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ST ANNE CATHEDRAL

Yes, my diocese is my pride; my faith, my heritage! So, which is my Diocese and what is my Faith? Well, my Diocese is Ikot Ekpene and my Faith is the Christian and Catholic Faith. So, what makes these my pride and heritage? To answer this, dear friends, I welcome you to this historical tour and expository journey to the diocese called IKOT EKPENE.

Ikot Ekpene Diocese, located in the South Southern part of Nigeria, Africa, was created in 1963 by Pope John XXIII. Precisely, located in Akwa Ibom State, the diocese is one of the suffragan dioceses of the Ecclesiastical Province of Calabar since 1993. The diocese covers an area of 2, 263 square kilometres with a population of about 1,030,896 inhabitants (as at the 2006 census) of which about 80% are Christians and about 10% are Catholics, that is, about 117,609. The Cathedral Church named Saint Anne Cathedral is located along Cardinal Ekandem Avenue in Ikot Ekpene metropolis. The current Bishop, its third, Most Rev. Camillus Raymond Umoh was consecrated and took possession on October 9, 2010.

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A CROSS SECTION OF PRIESTS ON ANNUAL RETREAT

The earliest date for the foundation of any mission Church in Ikot Ekpene was in 1914 by the missionary fathers at Anua, St Anne Station, Ifuho, which is now the Cathedral. It was established in 1918 with Rev. Fathers Paul Biéchy, CSSP, and James Moynagh, SPS, as the first resident priests in 1920 and 1930, respectively, under Bishop Joseph Shanahan – the pioneer Holy Ghost Bishop of Southern Nigeria with his headquarters at Onitsha.

Ikot Ekpene has always been associated with Calabar Mission, which was established when Fr. James Moynagh, SPS, was appointed the Prefect Apostolic on July 9, 1934. When the Prefecture was raised to the status of Vicariate Apostolic on June 13, 1947, the Pastoral Care of the entire territory was entrusted to Bishop James Moynagh who became the Bishop of Calabar Diocese on April 18, 1950.

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BISHOP CAMILLUS RAYMOND UMOH

With the appointment of Bishop Moynagh, SPS, the Holy Ghost Fathers were replaced by the St. Patrick Fathers, who thenceforth have been indeed the Founding Fathers of Evangelization in Calabar, Ogoja, Ikot Ekpene, Port Harcourt and Uyo Dioceses.

The first indigenous Bishop of Ikot Ekpene was the Most Rev. Bishop Dominic I. Ekandem. He was ordained a priest on December 7, 1947, in Ifuho. He was consecrated an Auxiliary Bishop on February 7, 1954, by Bishop Moynagh as the consecrating prelate and Bishops Peter Rogan MHM of Buéa and Paul Biéchy of Brazzaville as co-consecrators. On March 1, 1963, following the creation of the diocese, the Most Rev. Bishop Dominic I. Ekandem was appointed the first resident Bishop of Ikot Ekpene Diocese with the then Civil Provinces of Abak and Ikot Ekpene and all of the Annang ethnic extraction under it.

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A CROSS SECTION OF THE LAITY AT EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION

Bishop Dominic Ekandem was the Bishop from 1963 to 1989. On October 31, 1971, Most Rev. Bishop Ephraim S. Obot, who later became the Bishop of Idah Diocese in Kogi State (1971-2010), was appointed Auxiliary to Bishop Dominic Ekandem. Under Bishop Dominic Ekandem, Ikot Ekpene Diocese witnessed a tremendous growth in the ordination of indigenous priests. Creation of parishes, establishment of schools and hospitals. He was a Cardinal on April 27, 1976, and his creation in the Consistory as the first Cardinal in Nigeria on May 24, 1976, by Pope Paul VI.

On the appointment of His Eminence Dominic Cardinal Ekandem to the See of Abuja Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria (FCT) in 1989, Most Bishop Camillus A. Etokudoh who was consecrated the Auxiliary Bishop of Ikot Ekpene Diocese on May 14, 1988 became its second Bishop. He was appointed to the See on September 1, 1989 and installed as its second Bishop on February 3, 1990. Following the appointment of Most Rev. Camillus A. Etokudoh as the Catholic Bishop of Port Harcourt Diocese on May 4, 2009, Msgr. Camillus Raymond Umoh was appointed as the Catholic Bishop of Ikot Ekpene on July 16, 2010, to replace Most Rev. Bishop C. A. Etokudoh. He was ordained on October 9, 2010, as the third Bishop of the diocese.

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A CROSS SECTION OF RELIGIOUS AND SEMINARIANS

Over the years, the clergy and lay faithful of the diocese work together for the evangelization of the people of the area. As such there has been a widespread of lay apostolates and evangelism that have seen many converted to the Catholic Faith. In Ikot Ekpene, there is a true, gradual and fruitful inculturation of the Christian Faith into the culture of the people. A diocese created almost along the line of geographic-ethno-politics of the state is predominantly made up of the Annang. The Annang culture is generally a culture of respect, hospitality and creativity. Its people are lively and happy people who are contented with the good gifts nature and God has bestowed on them. They love and appreciate arts, dance, music and foreigners. The Annang is a home for good African delicacies, the palm wine and locally made gin.

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REGINA PACIS AUDITORIUM

Vocation to the catholic priesthood and the religious life has increased over the years. With her catholic schools and the seminaries, there is a well-thought-out formation plan to embrace vocation even from an early age. Still a young diocese with only 56 years of existence she has so much prospects for the future.  The collaboration that exists between its clergy and its laity is a beauty to behold and has facilitated its missionary growth over the years.

As a Spiritual hub of the area, Ikot Ekpene Diocese has a Pastoral Centre named Cardinal Ekandem Pastoral Centre where visitors can find solace and comfort. The Diocese is currently embarking on a Retreat Centre Project which promises to be a Pilgrimage Centre open for all in need of a Spiritual tourism, Spiritual refreshment and rekindling. You can as well be a part of that project by contacting the Project coordinators through the Diocesan Website.

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PRIESTLY ORDINATION

Ikot Ekpene Metropolis is not only home to the Cathedral Church of Saint Anne but there are up to four other Catholic Churches (parishes) within the city to include: St. Vincent de Paul Church (Located along Umuahia Road), St Anne Catholic Church (Located along Essien Road), St Dominic Catholic Church, (Located along Cardinal Ekandem Avenue) and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (Located Off Uyo Road). These Faith communities are always very welcoming and will be delighted to have you join them in worship and prayers. The Diocesan Secretariat complex is located within the Cathedral Church premises.   

Growing up within the local Church and faith community, attending the various catechism classes and subsequently receiving my baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation as well as working in various capacities in the Diocese as a Seminarian, Deacon and now as a Priest, I have come to appreciate my diocese as my pride, my Catholic Faith as my heritage. In Ikot Ekpene Diocese Faith not only becomes action but faith comes alive. For more information please visit the Diocesan Website @ www.ikotekpenediocese.org

Ikot Ekpene Diocese is a community of Faith and LIFE

Valentine Umoh
Priest of the Diocese
Ordained 2014.

 

DO NOT BE AFRAID, NEVER BE DISCOURAGED: IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER!

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Yes, times are hard! “I am not getting younger.” “I have finished secondary school, admission for higher education has become an uphill task.” After NYSC there is no work. There is no money for feeding. “I am the first child, everyone depends on me, while I have nothing substantial doing to meet these cumbersome budgets.” “My Father is well advanced and not working and my Mother is a petty trader with little or no income.” “Those who would have helped me are making demands that I cannot meet: I should join their secret cult (swear an oath of allegiance) or I should be their sex slave before they could help me.” “My uncle or aunt is excessively wealthy (all their children study abroad) but wouldn’t help me nor any of his brother´s or sister´s children.” “I was the best in my high school.” “Those I was better off (at least academically) are making it far in life. Here am I with little or no hope that things will change tomorrow.” “I am getting tired of this life.” God is unjust. The world is wicked.

These are some of the groanings from young promising talents that I have been opportune to have meet by virtue of my life and ministry as a priest. Times are hard, and the society makes it harder. A typical Nigerian youth is intelligent, hardworking and wants to succeed like his peers. He wants to explore. There is an inner zeal in him or her to live his or her dreams. Most Nigerian Youths are very virtuous and as such will not want to succeed via “Get rich quick” means that are easily and readily available. They are knowledgeable enough to know the aftermath of those evil means. In a society where you struggle for everything: food, housing, education, healthcare, a society where there is no social security, the youths feel the impact the most and they find life so hard. Indeed, in Nigeria, life is a real struggle!

In the last two or three months, I have read of so many cases of suicide. 70 % of these cases are youths in their mid-30s. While, I cannot defend nor support this attitude in any way, they are clear expressions of the state of hopelessness and desperation. A society where nothing seems working forces some of her youths to consider suicide as an option. God forbid, we always say but unless you put yourselves in their shoes, you will never understand why anyone will want to take his own life. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to own a house, have a car, eat well at least daily, have the luxury of a good wardrobe, have a comfortable bank account, have a promising career job, get married, have lovely kids, etc? Desperation sets in when these yearnings are far beyond reach and there is no convincing hope that things would change soon. Things gets worse, when you look around and see some of your mates who have started living their dreams. Despair and a sense of worthlessness or ill-luck sets in. If you have found yourself in these situations and these descriptions suits you, it is precisely because of you that I put this up: “Do not be afraid, never be discouraged, it can only get better!”

There is a story I heard of a man with three kids and a lovely wife who met a travelling agent in Lagos to ask him to find any country for him where he can move in with his family. They man said: “ANY COUNTRY OTHER THAN NIGERIA.” He wants to get out, he wants to move away. He is ready to sell the few things he has. He is ready to seek asylum in a country as poor as Gabon. He is ready to abandon his fatherland just to see if he can meet earns meet and secure a better life for his three kids. For him, any country other than Nigeria will be better. Why?

Yes, any country where the basic need of education from primary, secondary and even up to university level is free or at least affordable; any country where healthcare is guaranteed; any country where government know their work; any country where electricity is not a luxury; Any country where a “common” cleaner or gardener is guaranteed the established minimum wage and respect; Any country where the police know their work and do not harass innocent citizens, Any country which allows a man to fulfill his potentials and express himself; Any country where the needs of the poor and common man determines government policies; Any country where traffic rules are observed to the letter; Any country where youths are not condemned to hang around politicians for their daily bread; Any country where human life is valued and respected; Any country which does not become a GIANT in GDP, on economic tabloids and in IMF rating but with the greatest poverty and unemployment rate; Any country where jobs are advertised and employments are based on merit and not on “Who do you know? Or who is your father?” Any country where government workers due for retirement are not afraid to retire because of a never-ending tradition of owing gratuities and pensions; These countries will always be a better country than Nigeria.

Sometimes, it is sad to realize that almost all the countries that fought the second world war, where able to put behind them the ravages of the war to build a strong and solid economic and political structure for the years that followed; these countries have the strongest economies today. Unfortunately, in Nigeria the same issues that led to the civil war had never been overcome to date. The poor masses and the youths become exposed to a high rate of vulnerability and there is a mad rush out of the country to just anywhere better and safer.   

Wait a minute! Do not be afraid, never be discouraged, it can only get better! All hope is not yet lost because there is life. Take life easy and be easy on yourself. You can only do what you can. You are not a magician. Believe in yourself and avoid unnecessary comparisons. The pain of being human is the uncertainties that we must combat with every day. Sometimes we try so hard to predict, pierce or glance into tomorrow (the future) only to find out that we were wrong after all. Take and deep breath and for once congratulate yourself for being where you are at the moment: it can only get better. A flashback at yesterday could encourage you to keep moving for no matter how dark the clouds are there will always be a silver lining in the end. Be filled with more thanksgivings and gratefulness than regrets. Many people you see smiling and taking mouth-watering pictures of themselves and of places they have visited suffer so much pain behind the smiles and the beauty of those pictures you see. What kills people easily today is depression. Depression comes when you put so much pressure on yourself. So, my dear, cheer up, give a smile and keep moving: it can only get better. There is no better encouragement than self-encouragement; there is no better determination than self-determination.

That you tried and fail doesn’t mean you cannot try again. There is no harm in continuous trial. Build yourself, develop yourself, build your self-confidence. Learn from the mistakes of others, never wait until you make them yourself. Read wide and always be updated. We are in the age of social media. So many useful information is now closer to your door steps than before: make a good use of them. I am a strong advocate of a new and better society called Nigeria, but we must stay alive to see this come to reality. Never allow your vulnerability to be exploited by political pundits, aim to build your personal career. Forgive those who have wronged you and live joyfully because tomorrow promises to be a better time.

Valentine Umoh

17.01.2019
Pamplona

…WHAT MY GRANDPARENTS TAUGHT ME!

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Sometimes I doubt if I do have as much Faith as half the portion of my grandparents now gone before us marked with the indelible sign of faith. I may not be alone in this thinking. Theirs was not a sophisticated age as ours; there was little or no electricity, there were no mobile phones nor internet connections; there were little or no grand church edifices, no magnificent rectories and parish halls, there were no sophisticated sound systems or musical instruments, yet they had a strong and indelible Faith. I mean they had FAITH.

They were faithful in their pious practice of the Catholic Faith, they did not miss their daily morning prayers at the station Church, they did not miss their daily rosary, nor their divine mercy 3´O clock prayer, they never ate their food without the grace before meal and they never failed to give thanks afterwards. Staying away from Sunday Mass or Service as the case may be, was unthinkable. They took up leadership roles in the various Church levels; station and parochial as well as in their various Church organizations and pious societies. Theirs was a spirituality based on service. I mean total service and dedication and not what they will stand to gain from the Church. They sacrifice their resources to aid the Church and they treated everyone with equal respect and dignity. After a life well-lived they died at their appointed time in peace and now enjoying perfect rest with God.

Faith is a very important ingredient that many Christians are gradually missing in their life. Without faith, life becomes emptiness and nothingness. By Faith I do not mean those who flock around prayer houses seeking a miracle; I do not mean those who come to Church for the sake of economic and financial breakthrough; Faith is deeper than that. Today the prayer houses are filled to the brim and those who run them make a lot of money; this is due to just one reason – the failure of government and the economic system. Should there be a social security system that covers both health insurance and job security many prayer houses today will be empty. Should the hospitals be optimal in their services, the prayer houses will not be the last hope of the poor and the vulnerable. The Faith I am talking about is not that which seeks miracles, but it is Faith that lives in the ordinary circumstances of life in fidelity to God and the Church. It is a Faith that reaches out to others. It is a Faith that is convinced. It is a Faith that is the result of the freewill and human option.

My grandparents had such a strong and unique Faith and they were serious in handing on that same Faith to their children and the succeeding generations. Faith must be transmitted. A Faith that is not transmitted on to others was never a solid faith. Now we are beneficiaries of the ardent and strong Faith of our grandparents, how prepared are we to hand this Faith over to the next generation?

I am not against building sophisticated Cathedrals, Parish houses, Parish halls etc. However, experience shows that when Faith is not well-founded, built and made to grow and flourish sooner or later the Faith will perish and the Cathedrals, Parish houses and Parish halls will become mere monuments and converted to tourist attractions. The experience of Europe should teach us. It is becoming a thing of concern when every priest or pastor who is sent to a parish or any other place of apostolate feels that his first and important task is to build, and erect magnificent edifices or infrastructures and he is viewed as a failure if he never succeeds in building any. No one asks him, how faithful he was to his pastoral to the sick, to the aged, to the catechumens, to the youths, to the stranded, to broken marriages and families. No one ask him how he was able to grow the young Christian communities, the pious societies but everyone wants to see him build a grand edifice and so write his name in the signs of times. This is dangerous to the Faith.

If sincere Faith does not build the cathedrals and the parish structures, these structures will outlive Faith, but if Faith builds structures, Faith will stand even when these structures collapse. There is need to go back to the drawing board, to the teaching of the Faith, to the practice of the Faith, to the living of the Faith. My grandparents taught me so many things, but the most important was that they taught me the value and irreplaceable role of Faith in the Christian life. From faith comes hope and love. A love that does not grow from faith is a mere cosmetic but a love that is the result of faith will stand firm. Little wonder the Holy Scripture says: “without FAITH one cannot please God.” (Cf. Heb 11: 6). 

For all they taught me in words and deeds, I remain grateful and in this month in which we remember the dead, I pray that their souls continue to find rest in God. I ask for the grace to live by this same Faith and to pass it on to others.

CONTINUE TO REST ON MY HEROES IN THE FAITH!

Raymond Umoidem Etor – died 1995

Grace Norbert Okon – died 2010

Agnes Raymond Umoh – died 2012

Norbert Etim Okon – died 2013

May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

 

Valentine UMOH

16.11.2018

BEFORE OCTOBER ENDS – SOME WEIRD DREAMS

 

Even though there is no perfect society nor country nor continent; I seem unfortunate to be born in a country and continent full of paradoxes. When I wake up to see some smaller countries that cannot even stand the economic and natural/human resource weight of my country, I am tempted to conclude with my friend that “something is wrong with the black man.” From Libya to South Africa, from Senegal to Somalia, the same problems, the same unanswered questions. Children crying and suffering, the poor masses dying of curable diseases, the minority suffering oppression from the majority tribes; Politicians exploiting their own people and exporting the resources of the nation to countries that do not need them, leaving their own people in abject poverty; school systems are dysfunctional, the elites train their children abroad and these will return and continue from where their fathers stopped; the medical systems are not working; when the rich are sick they are flown out for medical treatment. And I asked: How many foreigners are admitted in our hospitals or how many of them study in our own schools? How many of them shift money from their countries to keep safe in our banks?

I am in the prime of my years, after about three decades I am yet to see any significant changes. The same story lines greet us every day. Country men buying guns to kill their fellow countrymen. People establishing prayer houses everyday just to make ends meet and they call it Christianity. Many who cannot stand the frustration are rushing out in their numbers to anywhere other than Nigeria, anywhere outside Africa just to be sure they have not wasted their lives all together. Young people who are fortunate to get into universities graduate in their numbers every year and there is no harmonized system to get them engaged in the industries. Those who work in government establishments swear never to retire; every year they are growing younger instead of older because retirement is no longer honourable. Declaring of age through affidavit has replaced Birth Certificate; WAEC certificate is gradually losing value because even many of those who govern never went to school. Appointments and employments are based on “who you know” and not “what you know.” Education is not oriented to any developmental goals, people just go to school to get “paper certificate” without being “certified” and that is why someone who studied history can comfortably work in the Banks and those who studied accounting work as journalists in the media houses. The easiest and fastest business is to open your own “church”, “miracle centers” or “ritual centers.” This now becomes the industries and the hospitals for the poor man.

The situation can be very annoying and appalling when you see small countries who are not equal to the smallest state in Nigeria fulfilling and satisfying the basic needs of its citizens: Security, Electricity, Education, Health care, Housing and Food security. Where did we go wrong and how did we get here? Is there still hope?  The hope there is seems only a dream.

Elections are here again, people are buying guns from other developed countries (countries who only manufacture guns they cannot use against their fellows) to use to kill their fellow countrymen. Ballot boxes will be hijacked as usual; INEC will count votes incorrectly and announce result that do not represent the will of the people. Many lawyers (supposedly learned men) will be hired to defend election inconsistencies in the court and everything will be settled, and we return to the same zero level waiting for the next four years. No accountability, no transparency. Trillions of dollars are announced as annual budgets, but the poor does not see them. The politicians sign contracts to their own companies and take the commission as well. Children yet unborn have accounts opened for them, yet the living cries for a basic daily bread to feed on. For a nation with a population of about 200 million people this is so sad and pathetic and makes people to ridicule us as the “BIG FAT FOOL.” A country with almost all the mineral resources not given to many countries, with an arable land, and one of the worlds´ best weather cannot be this irresponsible. There is something wrong somewhere! I am tempted to conclude with my friend that “Something is wrong with the black man.” But I don’t want to run into such a pessimism because I the writer I am a black man and there are so many reasonable Africans and Nigerians out there.

A man who has seen three decades is no longer a kid. If he lives to see another four to five decades that is the highest anyone can expect giving the tensed condition of life in my country. So what hope is there that there can be a significant turnaround? After over 50 years, the country is yet to find its compass and blueprint, and many will still blame that on colonialism and military dictatorship? We need a leader not a President! Any one can be a President, very few have been able to show themselves leaders in a country´s moment of crisis.

Be that as it may I still have a dream that someday, one day, may be before I am gone or afterwards, that the confidence in the Nigerian Educational system will be restored. I have a dream of a trustworthy judicial system that will stand independent of political affiliation and whose personnel will be true “priests” in the temple of justice. I have a dream that the electoral process will be restored to what it should be and that citizens can elect their leaders without political intimidation. I have a dream that my country men and women will only travel to foreign countries not to secure the basic needs of life but only for an enriched cultural interaction. I have a dream that merits will determine employments and a culture of true excellence enthroned. I have a dream when politicians will not be able to move a kobo out of public fund for their private use talk less of laundering these funds abroad for a haven. I have a dream that where you come from and what language you speak nor where you worship will not deny the citizens their authentic rights of association. I have a dream that a time will come when education will be a basic need guaranteed by the government to every citizen; a time when medical care will be part of the social security scheme for every citizen; a time when every type of honourable work will be able to provide for a man´s basic needs. I have a dream of a time when a brother will not buy gun or bullets to kill a fellow brother because of election; a time when youths will be gainfully employed and stop following politicians about like housemaids. I have a dream of a time where financial loans will be accessible to those who want to expand their business investment; a time when the country will not depend on imported goods. I have a dream of a time when people from other countries and races will come to receive education through scholarship in Nigeria; a time when visa to Nigeria will be prized like to USA or UK.  A time when a happy retirement will be every workers goal. A time when the economy and politics of Nigeria will be driven by people of high moral and intellectual acumen. A time when there will be a high influx of visitors for the summer break. This is my dream. It may not be realized in my time but one day my children´s children will testify that this dream did come to past.

Before October ends, Nigeria, my country, Africa, my continent, think like a mother, think about your many suffering children who pride themselves in you and wish they could live happily in thee and fulfill their aspirations! The sufferings and wailings of your children out of your shores should remind you that you have not lived up to expectation as a mother. Arise O Africa, Arise O Nigeria be the true mother of your children. Expunge from thee all those evil politicians and policy makers who continue to trade the destiny of your children for their selfish interest. Let them know that Africa is larger than any group of persons and that the destiny of Nigeria far exceeds the greed of few corrupt individuals. Before October ends, Mother Mary, Queen and Patroness of Nigeria, Mother of Africa guard and protect your innocent children as a mother protects her children under your protective arms!

Before October ends… think Nigeria, think Africa!

Valentine Umoh
21.10.2018

…AS YOU GRADUATE

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(Dedicated to all the 2018 graduates of Queen of Apostles Seminary Afaha Obong, Notre Dame Girls Secondary School, Urua Edet Obo, Loreto Girls Juniorate, Eriam, Holy Family College, Oku Abak, Holy Child Girls Secondary School, Ifuho, St. Columbanus Secondary School, Ikwen, Stella Maris Girls College, Ikot Etim & all other graduates of the schools that promote the Catholic Educational values)

My dear 2018 graduating students,

Good day! How are you doing? I hope all is well. As you graduate, I considered it fitting to write down a few lines to you from some far distant isles. At least the new media have permitted me to do so. Indeed, though far away, I am very near to you and my love for you will go on. I know for many years you have been tutored, you have been formed, you have been mentored and taught the right conduct and the ability to make right and correct choices, please do not depart from this learning.

As I always say, the first 20 years of your life is like laying a bed on which you will lie on for the rest of your years. Of this first 20 years, the ones I consider very crucial for character and intellectual formation are the six years spent in the secondary school. These years are so crucial and important. That is why your parents had to spend their hard-earned resources to make sure you are given this crucial foundation. Please my dear graduating students value these years and make them count.

Among all the millions of schools, your parents or guardian sent you to a school that promote the values of Catholic Education not minding the cost because they know that indeed the school offers more than the cost per se. Someone once said, if education is so costly try ignorance. And I know that if you are true to yourself, they were right. Please do not make them feel disappointed by your actual output.

While in school the rules were rigorously set out for you: you wake up every morning and the first point of call was always a Thanksgiving to God in your magnificent Chapel, then the Morning functions, the Breakfast, The Assembly, Classes, Midday prayers, Lunch, Siesta, Afternoon prep, Games or Labour, the Vespers/Evening Rosary, Supper, Night prep and then the last point of call again was the Chapel for the Night prayers. And then the lights out. As you see dear friend, the activities were so structured in such a way to seek God´s assistance in all moments and activities of the day as well as to make God the beginning and end of all you do.  Never graduate without assimilating this most important lesson. The difference you will now see after school is that while these regulations remain in your subconsciousness, there will no longer be any Rector or principal, nor auxiliaries nor compound Master, nor prefects, nor regulator to enforce these rules. You will now be your own Rector and Principal, Prefect and Regulator. Indeed, a sense of freedom at last sets in. Watch it my dear friend this is where many got it wrong.

While in school, you did not just learn in the class room (Intellectual), learning took many other forms: you were made to belong to one school club or the other, the school choir, the band, the cultural group, the football and other sports team (basketball, volleyball, athletics etc), the press club, debating club, mathematics club, you can name them yourselves. Please my dear student, try to put into efficient use, the good talents that you discovered while in school, keep developing and harnessing them, they could really be of great help in the rainy days.

While in school, you were assigned to a responsibility role: some of you were school senior prefects, Masters of Ceremony, Sacristans, Refectory prefects, Labour prefects, Toilet prefects, Sanitary prefects, Dormitory prefects, Study hall prefects, you can name the rest. These were meant to form you in leadership roles and to inculcate in you the human virtues of accountability and responsibility. My dear student, if there is anything wrong with your Nigeria and my Nigeria, it is that these human and social virtues have been undermined by the country´s successive leadership. It is left for you and me to correct these in our own days. Be responsible and accountable with any position of leadership that will be entrusted to you in the days that lies ahead.

Yes, indeed, you deserve to be congratulated for having completed this phase of your life. Accept my heartfelt felicitations but let your actions speak volumes for you. You were taught to be a civilized and educated human being: a gentleman and a lady, please be good ambassadors.

In the university, the 3rd phase of your educational career, there are many challenges that lies ahead. Your secondary school education has given you all you need to surmount those challenges. However, let me not fail to admonish you: strive to do the right things at the right times and stay safe. Try to avoid going to the wrong places. Avoid the company of those that cannot add value to your life. Dress properly as you have been taught to avoid being embarrassed. A university post reads: “As you dress, so shall you be addressed.” A good dressing gives you confidence and dignity. If your right hand, eye, or leg as the Bible says causes you to sin cut it off. If you notice that you are with the wrong friend and in the wrong company, make a conscious resolution to cut off the relationship. Avoid anything and the company of persons associated with cultism, lesbianism and homosexuality, they are not only moral sins but societal crimes. Avoid smoking and excessive alcoholism, it doesn’t add any value to you, it only exposes you to innumerable heart and related diseases.

As you go into the larger society, keep the fire burning, keep the flag flying, keep the star in you shinning, wake up the Einstein (creative ingenuity) in you and keep soaring like an eagle…the Lord is your strength! Beware of bad company, it corrupts good character. Don’t forget God, it is in Him we live, move and have our being…Respect your elders, it is a guarantee that you will someday be an elder; keep the rules of life, it keeps you going; live and let others live…it is the basic rule of co-existence. On the overall, be good, be nice to all you will ever meet…you do not know what tomorrow holds…

Someone once said, if you can read and write, then thank your teachers. Always be grateful to your teachers and formators. You can never thank them enough. A little courtesy, a wave, a “hi” or “hello”, a good morning, when you see them in the bus station or in your locality gives them some encouragement. Try to keep the companionship of the good friends you have made in school, among your classmates, even your younger ones, you can never tell what tomorrow holds. Many successful people today were helped by the friends they made in secondary school.

Before I conclude, learn to be creative and proactive. While you are expecting your admission processes into the universities to get through and even while undergoing your university education, you can also pick interest in learning something new or developing some naturally endowed talents. For instance, you can learn fashion designing, cake-making, decoration or web page developing and management (not just computer school to learn how to type), public speaking, musical instruments like Guitar, violin, or keyboard, music composition, music recording, video making and photography or photo editing etc. My dear, experiences have shown that many people who ventured into these areas of life also became successful. Your talents and any vocational training you undergo can also add to your income in the future, they can save you in the rainy days especially in these moments our dear country´s economy is experiencing high rate of unemployment.

Above all, in all you do, and whatever you will be tomorrow, make God your number one refuge and stronghold. The many spiritual activities in school were meant to emphasize this very crucial point.

As St Paul will say when addressing his letters to his audience, I am not writing to you as a stranger, rather as one who by a special mandate and grace of God journeyed with you for some years, as one who had been privileged to teach some of you in class, pray with you and for you in the Chapel, play with you in the football field, relax and recreate with you at social events and dine with you in the refectory, but not fail to reprimand and correct you as well when you fell into error. Therefore, I implore you as you graduate, to consider seriously these things and I know that your future is brighter, better and greater.

May the God of peace be with you all!

Once again, congratulations!

Best wishes from your friend and animator,

Fr. Valentine Umoh

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A LETTER TO MY FRIEND: “GOSSIPING IS COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE”

Dear Friend,

I write you this letter to encourage you because I know that life can be tough, and when the going gets tough one can easily get distracted, discouraged and could even miss the mark. Among other things that tries to pull down promising young talents on the way to achieving their goals and dreams like you, are gossips, rumours and calumny. A saying has it that “strong minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events and weak minds discuss people.” This saying seems to be correct and has stood the test of time. The weak minds here perfectly describe the category of gossipers. Never get distracted by gossips dear friend. Yes, it is true that a man´s enemy is always within, so those who gossip about you aren’t far from you, they could be your kinsmen, friends and folks. Yet, never get discouraged.

What is gossip? Wikipedia defines gossip as “an idle talk or rumour, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.” Cambridge defines it as “conversation or reports about other people’s private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true.” So, a gossip also called gossipmonger is “someone who enjoys talking about other people and their private lives.” The underlining words here are “personal or private affairs (lives) of others.” The Old and New Testament of the Christian Bible condemns gossip strongly.

Gossip is that thing you cannot say to the person, or persons face-to-face because they are false premonitions or the creations of your own fantasies. They are lies and prejudices aimed at discrediting the integrity of the other. They are used to score cheap points by those who are interested in listening.

Those who discuss about people at their back are either afraid of them or have an inferiority complex. I encourage you dear friend, never be taken aback by gossips, they are just gossips. The objective of gossips is to slow your pace, to weaken you and to discourage you. Never give in to them. And never join their company as well.

In case you are still uncertain or in doubt of what gossip is, look at this assessment: Does the chat or discussion rejoice in the misfortune of others? Does it have a negative emotional charge or seem to perpetuate conflict or negativity? Does it hurt or damage the one being spoken of? Would you say it in front of this person´s face? Is it an unsubstantiated rumour about another´s situation? If so, then have no more doubts, these are gossips.

When they gossip about you, it means that you are ahead of them. They feel surpassed by the heights you have reached. Never react, when you do, you are sending signals that they have succeeded. They are happy to see you feel bad or saddened. Gossips and rumours belong to the same family and the have the main objective. Only the unfocussed fall into their prey, the determine and firm heart, hear the gossips and is emboldened.

The developers of most of the apps we are using today in the cyberspace for instance, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, WhatsApp and other infotech apps never sat down discussing nor discrediting the inventors or creators of the earlier apps rather they analyzed ideas and the principles and sought ways of creating other apps to meet contemporary needs. Great minds compete on the level of ideas, creativity, productivity and efficiency. So why sit down and gossip about those who are making genuine efforts, why seek to discredit the other instead of seeking ideas to advance and improve yours. Man is a bundle of possibilities, intelligence and potentialities. Lack of focus is a cankerworm. Gossips belong to the group of individuals with a missed priority.

A gossip is like a bad defender in the game of football who attempts to pull down or impedes the progress of an attacker approaching the goal. In such cases, the defender usually gets penalized with a yellow card or red card and a freekick or penalty awarded to the opponents depending on the gravity of the pulling and the proximity to the goal line. Like the work of that bad defender, gossip can kill morale and disrupt productivity. When this happens, the gossipmonger has achieved his or her aim.

Surely, my dear friend, I know you are not a gossip yourself, but if you are, I advise that instead of wasting time gossiping about others, me bethinks that it will do you good to convert that time and energy into something productive to yourself and fix up your future. Gossiping doesn’t subtract anything from the supposed-victims, it only shows that you are lazy, destructive and have bad will. Live your life and let others be.

I will conclude this reflection dear friend with a story. Once upon a time, an old man spread rumours that his neighbour was a thief. As a result, the young man was arrested. Days later he was proven innocent. After being released, he sued the old man for wrongly accusing him. In the court the old man told the judge, “They were just comments, they didn´t harm anyone.” The judge, before passing sentence on the case, told the old man, “write all the things you said about him on a piece of paper.” “Cut it up into little pieces and on the way home, throw the pieces of paper out of your car window. Tomorrow, come back to hear the sentence.” The next day, the judge told the old man, “Before receiving the sentence, I want you to go out and gather up all the pieces of paper that you threw out of your car window yesterday.” The old man said, “I can´t do that! The wind spread them all over the place and won´t know where to find them.” Then the judge replied, “The same way, simple words and comments may destroy the honour of a person to such an extent that a person will not be able to fix it. If you can´t speak well of someone, don´t say anything at all. Let´s all be masters of our mouths, so that we won´t be slaves of our words.”

Now the lesson dear friend: “Gossips are worse than thieves because they steal another person´s dignity, honour, reputation and credibility which are impossible to restore. So, remember this: when your feet slip, you can always recover your balance but when your tongue slips, you can never recover your words!”

My Fatherly advice dear friend: If you are a gossipmonger, you can covert that time and energy to something productive; if you are or have ever been a victim of gossip, never lose your confidence, be strong and keep moving.

From whichever angle you look at it from you will see it, my dear friend, that gossip is counter-productive. Concentrate on your goals and strive into becoming the person of your dreams!

With love,

26.06.2018
Valentine Umoh

I cry for Nigeria, my country!

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Barely few months ago, The Catholic Church in Nigeria protested the killings currently going on in various parts of the country. That same day, some persons were lynched on their return from the mass burial in Benue. Up till today, we are yet to hear or see that some arrests had been made not to mention their prosecution and conviction. Up till date, the President is yet to officially react to that protest neither by words nor body language nor actions. The killings are still on and blood is still flowing unchallenged.

I sat down last night watching Channels TV (News at 10, 23.06.2018) and it was again in the news that several persons were again killed, several other injured and driven away from their homes by the same set of faceless Fulani killer herdsmen. Unfortunately, it happened in the same state were a Chief Judge had earlier sentenced five Christian youths to death for defending themselves and in the process killed some of the herdsmen as they embarked on their routine attacks. Earlier, I had read the pleas for mercy on those five youths by CAN and some concerned citizens notably the Archbishop of Lagos. All these happenstances have not stop putting me at a point of reflection on what is really happening with Nigeria my country.

Blood, blood, and blood everywhere!!! Many are left homeless in their own country. Many children have been left orphans and with little or no future. Many women have seen the slaughtering of their husbands and children in cold blood. No one seems to be interested about the sanctity of human life not to mention the emotional and psychological trauma of those bereaved. Yet the powers that be seems not to be interested. Many are even enriching themselves with the so-called fight against terrorism because large sum of money is signed in every year´s budget for that purpose and those in-charge of the IDPs camps have their own share of the loots. This is Nigeria, my country!  Or is that another way of creating employment?

Blood is sacred! Blood is sacred! And I repeat again blood is sacred! Why do we keep playing politics with everything in this country to the extent of playing politics with human blood? The general conditions of living are very poor, and the life expectancy is reducing everyday yet the few who are trying to survive cannot be assured of their life in peace. A country where human life is threatened everyday has ceased to be a just country. Something is wrong somewhere! My beloved and hitherto peaceful and joyful country has been raped and those who are involved in this blood-sucking conspiracy will not escape the wrath of natural law.

What I cannot understand is what has bewitched the leadership of my country. After the polls my country´s leaders seem to loss focus. Instead of sit-down and strategize on how to address the problems of over 180 million people, they begin campaigning for the next polls which will come in the next four years. In the end, the same people who elected them suffer the consequences of negligence. Lives and properties are lost everyday with no real intention on the part of the leaders to put an end to such menace. There is a general lack of political will. There is no rule of law. In Nigeria, “Might is Right.” Few untouchables become “wolves” to other citizens. So, are you telling me that some citizens have ´more´ right to citizenship than others?  We talked about ´Restructuring´ but the powers that be is not interested because it will not be in the interest of the few untouchables.

For how long my people shall we continue like this? If you criticize them, you are silenced. If you protest, you are called names. If you join them, you are compensated and rewarded. How shall the young remain sinless in this sinful, murderous and adulterous generation? This is no time to sleep; we all must be awake and say NO to the perpetuation of evil in this country. Injustice to one means injustice to all! Unfortunately, I only have one country to call my own. I will not allow blood-suckers to hijack my once beautiful and peaceful country. I must keep fighting for my rights to a happy living in my fatherland! Join me and say NO to bad governance and leadership! Nigeria must be better… Nigeria must be great again!

24.06.2018
Valentine Umoh

THERE IS SOMETHING IN A NAME. BE PROUD OF YOUR NAME!

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If there is any important event for the parents of a new born baby, it is the naming ceremony. At such important ceremony, the father of the child (or whoever is responsible for naming the child) gives the name for which the child is to be known and addressed. Apart from the circumstances of the birth of the child, religion and culture influences the name given to every child at birth. As such, a mere glance at a person´s name, it is easier to determine his or her religion and cultural heritage.

In the Ancient Near East (Israel, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia), names were thought to be extremely powerful and act, in some ways, as a separate manifestation of a person or deity. For them, names had metaphysical signification. Right into the Old Testament, the names of individuals are meaningful (every name has a meaning and significance) and a change of name indicated a change of status. Every biblical name had a meaning and biblical characters were given names at birth that reflect something of significance or describe the course of their lives. Varied examples abound.

In the Christian dispensation, new names are given to Christians at Baptism (also at confirmation) to reflect their new Christian status.  With the advent of modern civilization there was a systematization of names. Now at least a person´s official name must contain two names: his own personal name and surname. Both names now consist a person´s identity. The number of names may vary from one culture to another. In all of these, there is nothing as valuable to a person as his name. For instance: “My name is Valentine Umoh.” The first is my baptismal name which have become my first name, personal name and perhaps the most common. The second is my Surname, what is now referred to as Family name. The culture I come from allow us to use our Father´s first name as middle name. In that case my official name becomes: Valentine Anthony Umoh. That is my name and I value it.

I am writing this because I want you to know or to remind you that “there is something in a name; there is beauty in a name.” Be proud of your name! If there is anything we cannot control, it is birth. Birth is a given because life is a given. You do not decide where to be born, or to which culture to be born into, neither to what family nor to which parents. Those are the givens of life. You need to be proud of your religion, family and culture. These are perfectly reflected and engraved in your name.

Yes, there might as well be a case, where a child grows up and feels uncomfortable with the name he or she was given at birth and decides to change it. Well and good! But to whatever name you change into be proud about and live with it. There is something in a name.

I find the current trend of people twisting the spellings of their names or preferring some school nicknames to their real names quite unfortunate. For me, it shows the lack of understanding of the metaphysical undertones behind the giving of names. You can find this readily on Facebook and other social media. It is a trend that needs to be checked, if not we will lose something as valuable as personal identity which in this case is represented by names.

Your name is the most important aspect of your self-identity, self-image and self-esteem. I am tempted to suppose that those who twist or change their names on Social Media like Facebook are either Fraudsters, scammers or they have a false sense of identity, low-self esteem or inferiority complex. So, are you ashamed to let people know that your surname is ASUQUO, ETIM, OKON, UKOHA, UMEH or ABUBAKAR? What are you ashamed of? Your religion, your family, your language or ethnicity or culture? That is too bad. You know what? You can´t really change that, so you got to live with it. Attempting to change that by twisting the spelling of your name or preferring your nickname is like living a false life. Be proud of your name. Let the world know that is your name. Or are you afraid of the world? Then you better not be born at all.

Changing your name to: Psquare, TuFace, Shakira, Beyonce, Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez, Baby, Sugar, Noble, Princess, Buhari, Saraki etc doesn’t really change your metaphysical composition neither does it change your true identity as that Oron girl, Annang boy, Igbo girl, Tiv girl, Hausa boy, etc. It only reflects that you are suffering from a false sense of selfhood and personhood! Those models have made their names and written their names on the signs of times. They didn’t borrow your name, they used theirs. Try to also use your name and make it known (popular if you like). If you are not proud of your name, no one will! If you don’t make it known, no one will! Don’t forget that your name is your identity.

One last note. The last time I checked English adjectives do not qualify as proper names of persons (Anthroponym), they are always Proper nouns. This is a reminder to those who add: sweet, hot, sexy, noble, etc to their names. These are adjectives which also could be used as complements and not as names of persons. Again! What name is there in your international passport, voters card, National ID, WAEC certificate and Baptism Card? Those are your true identity in case you have forgotten. Let those names reflect on your social media platforms and be proud of your name. There is something in a name, do not change or twist the spelling of your name for nothing, nor trade your true identity for what is trending. What is trending doesn’t last: Your true identity is your identity. Learn to value what you have. Value your name and make it known.  

“A person who can´t be proud of his or her name and age is living a false life!”

14.06.2018
Valentine Umoh

BE FAIR TO YOURSELF… DO NOT LET WHAT YOU CANNOT DO DETER YOU FROM DOING THAT WHICH YOU CAN!

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As far as the reality of life is concern, all human beings have their respective goodness and badness. We all have our various points of strengths and points of weaknesses. Every human being has an innate goodness and virtue in him. And there is no one that is so perfect to the point of excluding all possibilities of defects. The abundance and varieties of unique individual talents already makes this point clear enough. For instance, to one is given the natural talent of the art of public speaking, to the other of writing, to the other of singing and composition, artistic and aesthetic appreciation etc. One student is extraordinarily gifted in the sciences, the other in the literary subjects, the other in calculations etc.

Yes, you can! They will tell you it is all about determination, confidence and believing in yourself! While this is true that “you can”, in some and certain instances, you must also be courageous enough to accept that which “you can´t”. So, rather than focusing your energy on that which you can´t, your energy should be channeled to those things you can. We spend so much time talking about things we can´t (things we are not able to do) to the point of neglecting those which we can (things we are able to do).

Be fair to yourself. The journey of life is the journey of self-discovery. The Ancient Socratic saying “Man know thyself” captures this very fact succinctly. The educational process is a learning process that is aimed at helping you discover yourself. Part of this self-discovery is the discovery of “what I can do.” The other parts will consist of “Who am I”, “Where am I” and Where am I going” etc. The question: “What can I do?” also embodies the negative question “What can´t I do?” Trying to do everything is an attempt to be ´a jack of all trades´ which only leads to mediocrity instead of excellence and proficiency.

The Nigerian Educational process modelled according to the Western education, exposes every individual child to all the possibilities in the primary and secondary schools. In the last years of the secondary education, a child already identifies his or her strong points and will wish to channel his or her time, efforts and resources to that which he or she can do better. In the university, obviously, there is a certain level of specialization based on that which one can do best. There are also others who feel they can embark on something more practical, away from the so much theories of the university system. Persons like this are advised to pick up vocational training after their secondary schools. This is also a valid educational process. This educational process already tells us that we as unique individuals cannot do everything and that we are not all the same. We are all unique in our own way!

Be fair to yourself! There is no need to sit down and wish you were this other person or that other person. Within you lies a unique beauty, goodness, capacity and ability. Discover yourself and maximize the time you have and perfect your strong points. Do not let what you cannot do deter you from doing that which you can do!

09.06.2018
Valentine Umoh