True to the tradition of the Catholics, the newly built Church of the Immaculate Conception located in the serene Tombia Street Extension in GRA, Port Harcourt was already filled to capacity at 8 o'clock in the morning of Sunday, September 15, 2019. Catholics, by the way are said to be very religious with time keeping and no one wants to miss a second of the morning mass!
Hundreds of guests and worshipers, amongst them, local parishioners assembled at the church for a special Birthday Mass in honour of Sir (Barr) Celestine Ngozichim Omehia, former Governor of Rivers State, who clocked 60 on Sunday, prompting an influx of dignitaries who cut across spheres of life. The list includes the former Governor's wife, Dr. (Mrs.) Celestina Omehia; the Director-General of Wike Solidarity Movement (WSM), Prince Sudor Wiiyor, Pidomson, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to State PDP Chairman, Pastor Jerry Needam and Dr. Ken Obiora.
Others are Mr. Barth Emedene; elder statesman, Ken Eziwho; Eze Ali and Paramount Ruler of Ancient Erema Kingdom, Eze Azubuike Georgewill III; Mr. Kings Wali; Hon. Dennis Amadi; Hon Austin Wali and Godspower Ike Onu amongst others.
They came to rejoice and celebrate with a gentleman who, despite his short stint as Governor of Rivers State, has positively touched them one way or the other. They all came to celebrate a great beneficiary of God's abundant grace as succinctly captured by the Assistant Parish Priest of All Saints Catholic Church, Agip-Rumueme, Rev. Fr. Celestine Iroegbu who officiated at the Mass.
In his sermon which he captioned 'The Merciful Father' with text taken from Luke 15:1-32, the priest variously described a sinner as lost sheep, lost coin and lost son (prodigal son), stressing that the parables revolved around God's quest to receive any sinner who retraced his or her step to seek him.
“If applied on the ambit of human reasoning and logic, it cannot be rationalized to abandon ninety-nine sheep in search of one; nor should it make sense for the father to receive a prodigal son and still gave him a lion share of his estate”, said Fr. Iroegbu.
He said it was for this reason God lavished his grace on humanity, hoping that man would take advantage of that grace to seek and find him; and become his son and daughter.
“The parable should not be seen in the perspective of a prodigal son, lost sheep or lost coin but should be seen in the perspective of a merciful father. Like the prodigal son came to his senses, God expects us to do self-examination by looking inwards and moving towards Him.
“We should learn from the prodigal son that things of the world (money) do not last forever; that's why the prodigal son lavished everything within a short time. We should not be in a hurry because our attitude towards God will determine our blessings from him”, he said.
Rev. Fr. Iroegbu also condemned what he called self righteous attitude of some Christians as shown by the dispositions of the 'senior son' in the parable of the prodigal son.
He said: “You noticed that the senior son who never saw how his younger brother spent his money but apparently relied on hearsay that accused the prodigal son of using his share of money for harlots. He also lacked humility and respect for his father. That is why he pointed at his younger brother as 'this your son'”.
Addressing the birthday celebrant, Sir (Barr) Celestine Omehia, the priest described him as a brother and role model who has demonstrated the virtue of true ambassador of the church and prayed God to bless his new age.
As the highly reflective sermon put the congregation into a pensive mood amidst a near grave-yard silence, the priest chipped in a joker.
“His Excellency should understand these three truths: When you are happy, don't make promises. When you are sad, don't take decisions; and when you are angry, don't reply.
“When Herod celebrated his birthday, John the Baptist lost his head. So, now that you are celebrating your birthday, mind the promises you make!” he joked as the congregation erupted in spontaneous laughter.
Speaking exclusively to National Network shortly after the church service, Sir (Barr) Celestine Omehia expressed gratitude to God for what he described as a fulfilled 60 years on earth.
“When I look at what I was and where I am today, I feel much fulfilled. I feel God has done a lot in my life. If I look backwards to my days at primary school in my village, Ubima, I remain grateful to God.
“God has elevated me, not only by age but by all standards in life. And so, I'm particularly grateful to Him for what he has done in my life and in the life of my family, and also giving me the opportunity to have many people as friends; to work with me and for me. They are friends I will never forget and that will never forget me in a hurry.
“What I will be tomorrow is again by his own grace. So having reached where I am today, I pray that God Almighty should continue to lead me to higher glory. Even though he has led me to 60, he should continue to take absolute charge of my life and the life and care of my friends and relatives so that we will all grow together to see our children's children and become grandparents in our life time”, he declared.
Sir Omehia who attended County Grammar School, Ikwerre Etche and passed out in 1978, said he proceeded oversees where he studied law at first and second degrees, came back home for Law School and did all that he was required to do, adding that in that chain, it was God's hand in his life.
“I feel fulfilled because God has been so gracious and merciful and gracious to me. I have some friends whom I have done better than and others who have done better than me. I am satisfied with where God has led me and to that extent I feel fulfilled because it's not by my power but by the grace of God”, he said.
When asked to comment on what had been his saddest day so far, the handsome lawyer-turned-politician flashed his characteristic smile.
“I won't say I have had what I would call saddest day. I have always had moments of joy in my life. All that came to me was by the power of God. Whatever I get was by the power of God.
“I know that when you ask this kind of question, you will be expecting me to say it's the day I left office as Governor of Rivers State. No, it was the will of God and I wholeheartedly accepted the will of God in my life. I didn't need to kill myself by committing suicide. If it wasn't the will of God, I wouldn't have left office”, he affirmed.
Sir Omehia took time to applaud Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike who is marking one hundred days of his second term in office, saying he has already left indelible footprints on the marble.
His words: “So far, so good in his administration. Before the end of his first term, some people insinuated that he had nothing more to offer due to the many projects he executed and commissioned. But he has come up again in his first one hundred days in office to show that he is still building Rivers State in different dimensions”.
The former governor said he was particularly pleased with the Governor's inroads in human capacity development in areas of sports and education.
“I tell you one reason people call him the Pillar of Sports in Africa is because of his penchant for human capacity development. Look at what he did in building the Real Madrid Academy in the State and sent some Rivers children abroad. It is a seed he has planted that will germinate in Rivers State, Nigeria and Africa.
“Those children are going to be developed physically and mentally and help to develop the game of football in Nigeria and Africa. Unfortunately, many people do not see it in that light. Seeing it now, they are looking at it as ordinary football. No, football is ruling the world economically and physically.
“Is President George Weah of Liberia not a former international footballer? You know as a footballer, he used his trade to bail his country from economic quagmire. Two of the highest tax payers in the world today are arguably, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. This is how footballers add economic value to their families, States and countries. Football is money and unless we start investing in it like Nyesom Wike has done, we won't reap it at the long run”.
He also gave kudos to the Governor on the strides recorded in educational development with building and renovation of schools across the state. He said such investment was futuristic, adding that only a man of good wisdom would think about the future and urged him to keep up the tempo.