Reviewed by Kate Azuka Omenugha
“In His Days, the Legacy of Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo” is a 222 paged book that explores the life trajectories of an Umuchu born teacher, evangelist, Catechist and social crusader Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo.
As the title suggests, these trajectories are legacies which only a book of this nature can capture as often people like Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo who gave their all, making and creating impact within the Christian world remains largely unsung.
The book written by the duo of Samuel Ezekwo (the son of Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo) and Ejiofo Umegbogu (a veteran investigative journalist) seeks to change the narrative and to portray Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo as an “unsung hero.”
He was a man who by 1929 had successfully completed his teachers’ training programme and became a certified church teacher and catechist (p. 73).
He acquired what could be described as “double honours” as a Grade III teacher and third-class catechist from the teachers’ higher elementary certificate examination he took in 1929 and became the “first indigene of Umuchu to receive that level of education at the time” (Pp. 73-74).
Here was a man whose career in teaching and evangelization which took him and his household to many communities in the former Eastern Nigeria span over 50 years.
The authors capture this fact thus: His giant strides in the education system of the CMS of Nigeria, diocese on the Niger are still visible, many years after his transition to the great beyond.
He traversed the length and breadth of the old Eastern Nigeria like a Colossus, planting churches, evangelizing to people, establishing schools, teaching children and gathering men and women for the development of their towns, as well as lighting up many rural communities with his torch of liberty, which is the freedom (from primordialism) that comes with education and enlightenment (P.74)
Samuel Ezekwo and Ejiofo Umegbogu can be considered neophytes in biography writings, yet they have approached this book with a touch of mastery of the subject.
It is not surprising as the book is a product of deep research and painstaking study seen in the eyes for details within the book and the re-writing of history.
The authors admit that “it took about two years of spine-breaking research to really retrace the footsteps and chronicle the legacies of Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo from the areas he served”. (p. 50).
This research has paid off in the production of a book that is not just a biography, but history, religion, culture, anthropology and sociology all rolled into one.
In tracing the life of Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo the authors equally bring to bare the rich cultural heritage of the lgbo community -the rites, festivals, the ceremonies and their spiritual implication.
What I find interesting is the audacity with which the authors take a swipe at modern-day pastors and ministers who covet wealth and eulogizes the likes of Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo of the early days for their selflessness, commitment to duty as they took the gospel of Jesus Christ to the remotest parts of the land.
The book is packaged in a manner that makes it easy to read and understand. The Foreword written by the Anglican Bishop of Diocese of Enugu North Rt Rev. Sosthenes I.
Eze sees the book as a “historical record (that) is full of inspiration that one can draw from to create a more impactful ministry in our time” (P.19) This sets the tone for the book and gives it a stamp of authority.The book has six chapters each with its title.
Chapter one “The Man and His Environment”‘, explores the times and environment in which Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo was born and lived. Here the authors, give the genealogy and historical antecedents of Umuchu exploring their cultural heritage.
This chapter is an asset for those who study anthropology and sociology. It is of course a must-read for every Umuchu person -male or female.
Chapter 2- “In Search of Golden Fleece” explores the growing up of Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo amidst the challenges of being an orphan early in life. It traces his various adventures into Christianity and education and how he utilizes the various opportunities that present themselves for both educational and spiritual upliftment.
Chapter three “Ready to work in the God’s vineyard” shows clearly the inter-relatedness between education and evangelical work as Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo is prepared to be “armed with the torch of liberty that is elementary education and the Apostles’ battleaxe, which is the Christian Bible” to evangelize.
The great strength and virtues of the early evangelizers are clearly shown in this chapter, their zeal, their commitment to duty (even when unrewarded or unappreciated) and their enthusiasm to bring converts to Christ. These are virtues that are worthy of emulation by the modern-day church.
Chapter four – “Retracing his Giant Footsteps” showcases the legacies of Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo; his indelible footsteps as he traversed the landscape of old Eastern Nigeria, preaching the gospel to heathens and educating those that believed.
In the historical archives, he is mentioned in some places and unmentioned in others. But what came out clearly in this chapter is that Yes, Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo was an itinerant evangelist/teacher.
This chapter is liberally spread with pictures, recorded letters, etc. that give credence to the life and times of Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo, as amidst the challenges of family life, he won souls for Christ.
With the archival records, no one can doubt the authenticity of the legacies of Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo as recorded by the authors in the book.
In chapter five “Harvest of Legacies”, the authors recount the testimonies of various people about the prowess of Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo.
Account in details is many of his exploits in the church building, creating community harmony and union as well as community development. His escapades at fostering development, unity, progress and peace for all humanity earned him the name “a holy man of peace”.
In all these, he was simple and humble, eschewing flamboyance of any kind. With similar humility, he reluctantly accepted the title “lde 1”, bestowed on him by the Igwe -in -council, Isiobi-in- council, Umuchu Improvement Union (UIU) (home and abroad) together with the leadership of all existing age grades in Umuchu.
This chapter is equally liberally spiced with pictures showing Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo in his hay days as a husband, father, grandfather, and traditional titleholder.
One’s legacy is equally the family he leaves behind. This chapter also showcases Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo’s greatest legacy -leaving behind a family that is prosperous, closely knit and further immortalizing his name through Ide Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo Memorial Foundation.
Chapter six “Anglican Evangelism in the Twenty-first Century” compares the present church with the olden ones of Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo.
There appears to be a romanticisation of the “old ways”, yet ends on a hopeful note that despite the huge challenges of the “new church especially the increasing rate of moral decadence “the Christian foundation is still intact”. (P. 186).
This is one of the greatest strengths of the book that, in X-raying the life and times of Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo, there is a lot to be learnt that have much relevance today.
The appendices are like the icing on the cake especially the memoir written by one of Pa Ezekwo’s daughter- Mrs Ozioma Ezeakunne.
She gives a personal account of the habits of her father from the eyes of a loving daughter.
This book is written in a very enchanting language with wise sayings spread sporadically across the text.
This technique makes the book a pleasure to read. It is recommended for everyone interested in history, religion, anthropology, sociology and community development.
In writing this book the authors have proved as true the old long saying that “when there is a will, there is a way” while interrogating the one that says that “history does not remember the soldiers who fought in the battlefield, but kings who ruled in the palaces”.
Pa Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo was a soldier of Christ who fought many battles and today posterity has remembered him in singing his songs of conquests as captured in the book In His Days – The Legacy of late Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo.
The book is a must-read. Please go for it!
Reviewer: Mrs Kate Azuka Omenugha,is a Professor of Mass Communication and the Commissioner for Basic Education, Anambra State.
Name of Book: In His Days – The Legacy of Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo
Authors: Samuel Ezekwo & Ejiofo Umegbogu
Year of Publication: 2020
Publishers: SilverWood Books Ltd (United Kingdom)