Ika Heroes Diary
Mosignor Dennis Arimokwu
Born on the 22nd of March, 1941 into a well known and highly distinguished family of Mr. and Mrs. Arimoku Okoh as “Ten Thousand Dennis” Etuokwu was the fourth child among six siblings. He grew up tall and strong. His birth ushered in much joy in the family. Dark complexioned and bulky, his survival caused no concern for his parent and siblings. He was loved by all. He found joy and friendship in his nuclear community and he grew up in the warm cuddling of parents and elder siblings. He grew up in the presence of disciplined and hard working parents who provided the needs of the children as they where large. That was his world and he got all he craved for. In no time he began to exhibit uncommon skill and his memory was “photo magnetic”. In no time he began to mimic his elder siblings who were already in school and began to read right from home front. He was a lovely boy and occupying the fourth position In the family he became the connecting link and relaying point of the group.
His advent into the academic world began 1950; he had to separate from the tender warmth of the mother. It was a separation that brought him pain and good. He was happy to be in school; at the unset he found the separation a hard one but, with the site of his siblings and the joy of meeting new friends, he loved it in Government School, Agbor where he was enrolled for his elementary education. Though tender and fragile frame, he manifested great potentials. He was a restless lad with an insatiable appetite for productivity and search for discovery with an installed capacity for multitasking. He enjoyed his infantile technology in the order of clay buildings, vehicular constructions and kites fabrications. In all his escapades, he remained top of his game. He was a highly competitive person and he did so in his academics, sports, including bicycle rides, athletics and skills. Even at his development, he abhorred indolence, injustice and failure. He scored so many pluses in his school as he gathered and swept so many awards in class performance, punctuality, neatness and hygiene. He ended this stage of his academics in good grade in 1956.
As the next stage of his life beckoned, his part was clearly marked out. It is academic all the way. His parents were in total agreement, he must go school. Thus the L.A Modern School, Agbor, was the destination and in 1957, he became a pupil of L.A Modern Abgor. Dennis had already been identified as spectacular, intelligent and exception child. He had no alternative to continuing in this God given potentials. He continued to shine like the bright morning star and indeed a lone night star that cannot be hidden. He was young, smart and bright. His age was not commensurate to his maturity. His classmates looked up to him as their second teacher and indeed want him for private lessons and looked up to him for solutions in Arithmetic and other subjects. His teachers on the other hand, saw a matured boy who can be saddled with authority and responsibility and indeed he performed. The name Dennis Arimoku in no time became a household name in Agbor and people wondered what he would turn out to be. He challenged the literary skills of his teachers and proved his mettle. Dennis was highly endowed. This rubbed off in all his activities and it was evident to all and sundry that he was a special young man who loved to do things and see things work and improve. He abhorred ineptitude indolence and saw idleness as a waste. He was a genius and in 1959, he was offered a teaching appointment in his school.
The inroad to his later life of disciple and control became manifest at this early stage of his life.
The inroad to his later life of discipline and control became manifest at this early stage of his life. As a young teacher, he taught with style, passion and vigour. He was highly disciplined not minding his age and mapped out the line for the ladies and girls in his class. He didn’t spare the cane for anybody or sex. He didn’t allow praise and stalking to rule him. To acquire the right certification for the teaching profession, he proceeded to the prestigious St. Thomas’ Teacher training College Ibusa in 1962. Upon graduation from the Teachers Training School and having obtained his Teachers Grade 2 Certificate in 1964, he took up a teaching appointment with the Catholic Mission and was posted to St Mark’s Catholic School, Alisimie, where he taught for one year. It was realized that Dennis would be more profitable in the township than in the village environment as a result of his intelligence and prowess; he was therefore moved to Catholic Modern School, Agbor in 1966 till when he was cornered by God in late 1967. Several people encountered God in manifold ways. The Apostles had their meeting by the sea, tax office, during Jesus’ teaching ministry, on the road etc. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart, and I appointed you a prophet to the nations. Jer.1:5.
The call to discipline ship of young Dennis took place in a “death ground”. He encountered God in the valley of the shadow of death and subsequently, followed him to wherever He led him.
It was during the Nigerian civil war. The Nigerian Civil War broke out in July 1967 and the federal troops came to Agbor in the night of September 30, 1967. On the first day of October 1967, Dennis had ignored the rumours making rounds about the activities of the Nigerian soldiers because he felt the urgent need to visit the family home in Agbor-Obi. When he got to Uromi junction (now College junction) , the Nigerian Soldiers took him and led him alongside other men to the back of the council building (High Court Premises today) to be executed. But while they were emptying his pockets preparatory to the execution, they found a Rosary. The sight of the Rosary in the Soldier’s palm brought the activities of the soldier to an abrupt end. He looked into the good- natured face of Dennis as his re-assessed the situation. The Soldier then handed back his personal effects to him, set him free and asked him to leave immediately. By the end of 1967, Dennis Arimokwu had decided that the best way to thank God for saving his life was to serve him as a Catholic priest.
He applied to the Catholic Diocese of Benin–City for training as a priest. Consequently, in January 1968, he was admitted into the Major Seminary of Saints Peter and Paul, Bodija, Ibadan for training for the Catholic priesthood. His Joy at this knew no bound. It was a fulfillment of hope, a wish realized, a dream come through, a prayer answered. He met his diocesan brothers and they showed him love and the way to do things. Brother Dennis soon began to show the stuff he was made off. He began to shine. He was astute, elegant, industrious young man whose penchant for success was contagious. He could not be hidden for his height, complexion, energy, docility, forthrightness, literary abilities, skills and prowess. He was a highly organized and matured individual and the authority saw in him not just a student but an asset for the seminary and the Mother Church. He was superlatively intelligent and being an altruistic young man and a teacher, he began to organize tutorials for his academically less endowed brothers. He was their colleagues but for some others, he was an adjunct lecturer. He carried this task cheerfully and together with other series of responsibilities the Seminary authority laid on his shoulders, he succeeded in his duties and none of his responsibilities suffered or were left unattended to. To harness and utilize his potentials, the Seminary authority, made him the school prefect and with his colleagues in the office, he guided the school profitably to the good of all. Success was his key and watch word. Indeed failure has no place in his dictionary. He was a well organized person and did nothing without preparation. He hated taken people for granted and thus, punctuality was the centre of all his activities.
The round of his Seminary formation came to berth on the 29 of December, 1974 when he was raised to the order of the priesthood of Christ by his Lordship, Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji at St. Paul’s Cathedral on the feast of Holy Family. It was a gift that he was very grateful to God for and he greatly cherished. Having been raised to the glory of the Priesthood, he began to make his Mark’s felt in the diocese and beyond. He was an erudite scholar, indeed he loves the books. He loves the Blessed Virgin Mary whose devotion in the first place, saved him from death in the hands of the soldiers and paved the way for him to the Seminary and guided him throughout the course of his formation. He kept great devotion to the Virgin Mother of God whose maternal protection he enjoyed all through his life. His devotion to the Holy Rosary was unalloyed.
The ordination to the priesthood of Rev. Dennis Arimokwu, signaled the end of a long spiritual search and the beginning of another life in a new world of priestly office and ministry. This after his ordination, the range of his pastoral ministry began. He was ordained at the infancy of the Catholic Diocese of Issele-Uku with about 8 parishes and 8 Priests to minister to the people of God. Together with his Nigerian brothers in the Diocese, he worked with the white missionaries in the running of the Diocese. As it was expected of young Priests, he underwent his “Practicum studies” in the pastoral field and shortly afterwards he was made a pastor. He combined dutifully the duties of a pastor with other Diocesan engagements. He was made the Diocesan Secretary and he assisted Most Rev. A.O. Gbuji in administering the young Diocese. In this, Fr. Arimokwu brought his intelligence and expertise to bear in administration. Though a young priest, he exercised and exhibited a maturity far greater than his age and experience. He was a problem solver. It is recalled that once there was a fracas at Umunede engineered by a priest in Benin, it was Fr. Arimokwu that Bishop Gbuji sent to quell the problem and restore normalcy.
He had a deep seated love for books and for this, he was sent for further studies. Thus, in July 1979, he left for Urban University, Rome where he obtained his master’s and Doctorate Degrees in Dogmatic Theology. However, his love for the teaching profession compelled him to take up admission in London University for a Diploma in Education till he returned home in 1984. His later pastoral mission commenced upon his return from studies. He was posted to St. John De Baptist Catholic Church, Agbor and for about 14 years, he shepherded the people of God in this community. Under his pastoral guide, St. Dominic and St. Joseph’s churches were created. He was a teacher par excellence. His homilies were “classroom lectures”. He taught at the Emmaus School of Evangelization, Issele-Uku. He was a lecturer at All Saints Majority Seminary, Uhiele, Ekpoma. He exercised his duties with humility, diligence and precision.
Fr. Dennis manifested stability, order and perfection. Bishop Gbuji tapped into these talents and made him Vicar General of the Diocese. He was a man of nobility and forthrightness. He sought for the truth and defended it with vigour. Indeed he was quick to pardon erring young stars who owned up to their faults instead of denials. He was not afraid to speak the truth and stand by it no matter whose ox is gored. He did all these with fraternal charity, respect and responsibility. Fr. Arimokwu was a respecter of human dignity.
A zealous pastor, a moulder and builder of human block, a tireless teacher, a resolute personality, a researcher, a formator of the young, a lover of the Church, a father of Seminarians and young people, a brother of Priests, a bridge for all, a friend of the laity, a confident, a pastor with a difference who knew the names and families of his parishioners despite their number and size, he was a member of every family and indeed was a household name. At the time he held sway in Agbor, his name and shepherding style rang the bell everywhere in the city. He was a priest anywhere and anytime. He loved the priesthood and maintained its dignity and carried the aural of the priestly office everywhere. His cassock was “glued” to his body. He was a signing example and a light that beamed to show way and directions for the young (Priests and laity).
In acknowledgement of his dedication to service of the Mother Church, he was honoured with Papal Chamberlain in 1999. The installation took place on the 19th of December, 1999. To whom much is given, much would be expected. This was not lost to Msgr. Arimokwu, in fact it spurred him on to greater fatherly role among Priest and laity. He continued to diligently guide the flock entrusted to his care. He was an altruistic and selfless man, a lover of the needy and down trodden. Like his master, he went to “seek that which was lost”. He facilitated the ways and kept many in his pay roll
Many Priests own their vocation to his intervention and guide. He was a dedicated pastor who left his footprints in the sands of time, particularly in the parishes where he was sent to pastor. The dedication, pastoral zeal and the love with which he tended his flock while in Agbor, Ogwashi-Uku, Umunede, Illah and all the other parishes were exceedingly remarkable. He was a father and a pastor to the core. In acknowledgement of his services, his late Bishop, Most Rev. Emmanuel Otteh sent him on sabbatical leave in England where he lived with SMA priests.
Msgr., Was a formidable man. He was a giant of a figure, a Colossus, an astute administrator, a humane gentleman of God whose commitment to God and man were unparalleled. He was a man of tolerance. He could tolerate anyone, even when those under his care and authority were not always charitable, loyal and submissive. Msgr. Arimokwu was a simple man. True to his name “Arimokwu”, he hated troubles and avoided it. His simplicity was inadvertently contagious as many were unwittingly drawn and inspired by his simple lifestyle. It is only a very simple man that could use one vehicle for 26 years. Monsignor almost couldn’t let go of his 504 Peugeot saloon car even when a brand new Kia Rio was bought for him at his 70th birthday. He loved and maintained friendship and would do whatever was needed to preserve it. He had different days of visiting his friends from all towns and villages in the state.