WHO IS YOUR GUARANTOR?

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< yet another thanks to ONOYIMA >

As provincial president, I didn’t quite think of myself as “President of Presidents” until Amechi Martha started calling me by that title – even went on to popularize it. That was what I was at the time, the President of the presidents and secretaries of the 44 chapters comprising my privince, Onitsha. As it were, the Provincial Executive Council, PEC, was made up of my crew and I (the Provincial Executive Committee), and then the presidents and secretaries of all those chapters.

One of the items on our meetings’ agenda, usually the penultimate one, is what was called “Account of Stewardship” – a sacred ritual in which we all jointly scrutinized the activities of an out-going administration of any chapter, with the admittance of the succeeding administration to the council premised on the approval of the said account. Of course, I get to call the final shot; I get to send one back to redo the entire thing, secure a chaplain’s signature, clarify stuff, effect important corrections, etc. I could guess, at the time, that rendering an account of stewardship must have felt like being on trial for some of them, as some of the questions that get to be asked were characteristically savage.

Until it was my turn. How it works is that I get to be answerable to a higher council, the National Executive Council, NEC, where the secretary and I were only members. November 13, 2013 was the date, Tansian University the place, and I was standing before the council to report what I’d done with and for my province over a period of 27 months. Naturally, I’d have made mistakes here and there, and then was a good day to be messed up by whomever had scores to settle with me. Being star boy of the house and biggest donor at the time, I was prep for possible surprises.

Guess what? The very first response came from the provincial chaplain of Calabar that year, Fr. Ebong, who had seen nothing on his copy of my report but Onoyima’s signature. Interestingly, he happens to have been Onoyima’s student during his seminary days, and got to spending a great deal of minutes convincing everyone that a report signed by Onoyima must be flawless. He goes on and on to painting a picture of the man as epitome of thoroughness and excellence. And the National Chaplain continued from where Fr. Ebong stopped – in praise of Onoyima. Funnily, I got to spending the entire time receiving encomiums for a job well-done, and having to be asked such exotic questions as how we were able to have done so well with so little resources at our disposal.

The referees on your CV, the guarantors on your forms, who are they? That day, I learned that it can make all the difference.

Your No. fan,
Cornel

PS. Did you notice how I was able to make a big deal out of a pen that ran out? You should sign up for my training to learn some more: bit.ly/writingexpo2ad

THE DAY I KNEW I COULD WRITE WELL

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< I’m grateful to Msgr. ONOYIMA >

Indeed, undergrad was game-changing. It was everything good. There, I’d met some of the most important people in my life today. There, I had the opportunity to try my hands at things that turned out to be of continual significance. There, I met Msgr. Onoyima, and nothing has remained the same ever since.

Back in the days, you didn’t need to be Catholic to know Onoyima; his name was simply all over the place. For Catholics, staff and students alike, the fear of the man was sacramental. The rules at St. Peters were simple but firm, and nobody was exempt. The man simply came at you raw; indecent dressing and various forms of indiscipline gave him the most cause for concern. It mattered little that he was presiding over the Mass; he gets to put things on hold to attend to your case. If just walking past, he stops by to treat your case – on the spot! He was that sort of man: hard.

Being provincial president meant that he was my immediate boss. Yes, I’d spent my penultimate and final years at UNN serving as Onitsha Provincial President of Catholic Students, overseeing, as it were, 44 higher institutions across 7 Catholic dioceses of South-East Nigeria. And the over two years I spent reporting to, and taking instructions from him, were the longest years of my life. With him, you’re never sure of yourself. Confidence before the man is a luxury I don’t think anyone can afford. He just had a heaven-made way of humbling anyone’s pride, as even the Vice Chancellor fears for himself.

After meeting with him, you either went back to your room feeling stupid, crying, or even doing a first draft of your resignation letter. He came at you with everything he’s got, including threats to relieve you of your duties. “Without discussion,” he’d always add. Being a typical Catholic authority, he doesn’t shy from letting you know how much power he has over you. There are a few times you get to make it to his good books, although never forgetting that no name stays long in that book. The man can mysteriously move from all laughter to all frowning and scolding.

And there was the writing part…

Onoyima would never sign anything he hasn’t read through and through. It is not possible. Before he signs your requisition, Onoyima scrutinizes every item on the list. Since it is his signature as provincial chaplain that validates my signature as provincial president, it is safe to say that Onoyima read every official correspondence I composed over a span of two years. He’s sent me back for want of a comma, wouldn’t sign if I missed a word, took the liberty to over-write my sentences with his. And he was never in a hurry when doing those. There was that day when I rewrote a letter thrice, and when I finally came to get his signature, as if he orgasms from correcting people, he still put a comma somewhere before appending his signature.

Then came that fateful day when I was billed to write Archbishop Valerian, to inform him of a certain ugly development. As usual, I’d have to patch my final draft through Onoyima to have him vet and sign – and, as usual, begin our merry-go-round. To the surprise of my life, and I couldn’t believe my ears, he looked me in the eyes and uttered four words I’d never forget: “THIS IS WELL WRITTEN.” How did I feel? I felt like ordering Angel Gabriel to come and shake hands with me, like I was already in heaven.

And after that, I noticed a pattern of him not reading through my correspondences much. Sometimes, as if he wants me to see he already trusted me, he’d immediately hurry off to his signature spot, drop off the signature, pack up my file, and then spend the rest of the time gisting me how his day went.

Perhaps his boy had become his friend – but I don’t think so. He tells us he’s in the business of chiselling leaders. And I guess that was his way of telling me I was now finished product. The man even stopped vetting my requisitions; he just signs everything straight up.

We all need people like Onoyima in our lives. People who chisel us. People who transform us from raw materials into finished products. And I’m proud to have met the man himself. And Writing Expo 2.0 could be your opportunity to buy an Onoyima for yourself. Check it out here: https://bit.ly/writingexpo2ad

Your No.1 fan,
Cornel

BEAUTIFUL, USELESS STUFF

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< more than looks, be continually useful >

Since my stock-in-trade is writing, you can imagine that I’m never in short supply of pen and paper. Per time, I have one on my bed, another on my desk, and more and more lying all around the place. And, of course, a pack of it in the wardrobe – with jotters and scraps of paper standing by. The way it works, you just never know when the big ideas come calling, and woe betide you if you’re caught unprepared (to pen them down). That sort of Rule No. 1 for slay queens: Never be caught unfresh.

But some of the pens in my collection are not normal. There is one from Cambridge University Press, a gift from the British Council. Funnily, you just get to feel like the Duke of Cambridge writing with it. There is another one from Sterling Bank, a 2018 souvenir that feels fantastic to write with. There are a few others like them, that leaves you wondering whether there is anything about them beyond the pen that they’re supposed to be.

And then it happened last night! One of those exotic ones ran out while I was in high spirits putting thoughts to paper. I mean, I was so inspired that all I could think of was how to get the job done. You just wouldn’t believe how I flung the pen into the waste bin, as I rushed for the one on the bed. It no longer mattered how beautiful it was; it just mattered that it wasn’t serving my writing need no more. And we were done!

It took me until now to realize what had transpired last night. On going to empty the waste bin, I chanced on the ‘pen’ again. But it isn’t pen anymore; it’s now waste. In spite of its beauty. And I’ve simply moved on to the next pen.

I do not mean you should use people and dump them when you’re done with them. That’d be evil. I’m saying that you should make yourself more useful than your looks. It is your responsibility to be useful for the long haul. Because… when the chips are down, looks will be very secondary. And that’s just the way it is.

Your No. fan,
Cornel

PS. Did you notice how I was able to make a big deal out of a pen that ran out? You should sign up for my training to learn some more: bit.ly/writingexpo2ad