Happy Birthday Ubani Nwoko Oma

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WITTY, pithy, earthy, Tony Ubani is the final evidence that good things come in small packages. I knew him as a young boy, who wanted to be a reverend father, unlike me, who wanted good education. Let us quick the pretence. How could I have been a Reverend Father? There is no supporting theory for such indulgence.

Then, there was no such nonsense about you being called. You first imagined that you were called, and the Almighty in His infinite mercies decided what to do with you. I think that the lingo about being “called, calling, anointing” has grown with advances in telecommunications, which mercifully were absent, in today’s manners.

One of Tony’s favourite tales, to stake a claim to knowing me, early in the past century, yes the 20th Century, is that he had memories of the knocks I gave him in the seminary. At Immaculate Conception Seminary, ICS, Umuahia, in those days, a senior giving you a knock was a celebrated recognition of your existence. It was a small school, in numbers, and for you to be so chosen was a cherished memory. Tony thought otherwise. He had that grudge against for more than a decade.

You can imagine how scandalised I was that a favour I did to Tony had turned in an undeclared war. Not one to dwell on low quality rumours (apologies to Dedem Eddie Okechukwu Iroh) I waved the matter aside. I thought Tony was too small, all puns intended, to command a large part of my attention.

When the tales persistently came to my notice – Tony was busy spreading it at the National Stadium, he was at the Daily Times then, adding that he never knew that I smiled – I was tempted to give him an adult knock. I advised myself that I could be taken in for assault, affray, two fighting, constituting public nuisance, behaving in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace, perambulating, malingering, wandering or acting in a manner like to occasion harm to self and others (still at large).

The police station at the National Stadium handles few cases, except on match days, which at a time became so unpredictable that the only reason for its existence could be that predictably, a fight was a possibility with the high number of inebriating locations within it.

I knew that in the absence of a decent charge against me, the police could haul me in for sundry offences or attempted murder, considering that Tony was not sizeable enough for us to engage in a fight.

My strategy was to make peace with my Maker for seminary favours that had become offences. I pulled Tony aside, I missed his ears, too low to grab, as I must have missed giving him knocks in Umuahia, unless he was standing on a table. What is this rumour of indeterminate quality he was spreading about me?

To his credit he told the truth. He said he was scared when he saw me at the National Stadium, smiling. He was concerned that those people didn’t know me, the real me. In Umuahia, he said, he thought I was incapable of a smile. I smiled for his benefit.

Unknown to him, those of us who were determined to leave the seminary wanted to throw some knocks around. If I didn’t become a Reverend Father, I could have the bragging right that some of those who fell under my anointed knocks became Bishops. Tony disappointed me on that score.

Years after I discovered that Onochie Anibeze was at Fisher High School (better known as Government College, Umuahia), a few kilometres from ICS, from where he remarkably sneaked in to appropriate blessings, at mass, that were meant for those aspiring for the priesthood. He struck a strange friendship with Tony.

One day Tony landed in Vanguard, made his mistakes, had a few professional knocks hammered into his head, prospered, and is today one of sports most famous faces. Then he married my sister, an Ngwa girl who loves him the way only Ngwa women can. He has never been the same again. He searches for opportunities to insert “my wife” into speeches.

He owes sports a lot of gratitude. On a table tennis assignment in Nnewi he found his love, his new life and his wife. She was a medical student at Nnamdi Azikiwe University.

These days he begs me to give him knocks, but I cannot be giving knocks from century to century. To a young man who became an elder early in life, who is about the most famous Ubani today, who his admirers call Nwoko Oma, happy birthday.

I am glad I know you.