Most Rev. Dr. Michael Nnachi Okoro – the resident Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki - was born on November 1, 1940 at Adiabo Odukpani, Calabar, into the family of Pa Alphonsus and Charlotte Okoro (both of Blessed memory) - natives of Unwana in the present day Afikpo North L. G. A of Ebonyi State. He is third son and the last child in a line of eight kids. His Dad, Mr. Alphonsus Okoro had at the time grown to prominence and later rose to the position of a manager in the Palm Oil Plantation, Calabar. Little Michael Nnachi began his primary school at St Mary’s Adiabo, Calabar in 1946.
But following his father’s retirement and subsequent return to Unwana, he left St Mary’s, Adiabo, in 1952 to continue his primary education at Afikpo. At home, he would in three years attend three schools as he had to join his sister who was a school mistress in whatever
After completing his primary education Michael returned school she was transferred to. Consequently, he attended St Mary’s Afikpo in 1952, St Patrick’s Ndibe (1953) and St Brigid’s Ozizza (1954).o Calabar and began his secondary education at St. Patrick’s College, SPC, Calabar, where he stayed between 1955 and 1956. By then young Michael had started nursing the idea of becoming a priest and had told his parents. While already at school, he lost his Dad who died on Dec. 24, 1955. The condolence visit of Bishop McGettrick to the family was both consoling and providential. During the visit, Michael’s mother, Charlotte, told the Bishop of Michael’s desire to become a priest. On return, Bishop McGettrick in 1956 had gone to see the Principal of St Patrick’s College, Fr. William Mullaly, and intimated him on Michael’s dream. He directed Fr Mullaly to ensure that Michael’s desire to priesthood was sustained.
To make the dream a reality, Fr Mullaly had contacted an indigenous priest, Fr Emmanuel Afangide who was ordained in 1954 and was teaching at SPC to think out the best way of nurturing Michael’s vocation. Fr Afangide would later meet Michael on two several occasions reminding Michael there was “something in your mind which you are hiding”. He would from there convince Michael of the need to change school and go where he would meet people of like minds.
Following this, Michael transferred to Queen of Apostles Junior Seminary, Afaha Obong, Akwa Ibom State where he stayed from 1957 till 1959. He did his West Africa Senior Secondary School Examination in 1958. In clarification of his call in the major Seminary, Michael proceeded to the Prestigious Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu in January 1960 where he studied Philosophy from January 1960- September 1962. In October 1962, Michael travelled to Rome where he studied Theology at Pontifical Urbaniana University Rome between October 1962 and May 1966. At Rome he bagged Bachelors in Theology (B.TH) in June 1964 and later Licentiate in June 1966. Before licentiate Michael was ordained Deacon on August 15, 1965, and on December 19, 1965, he was raised to the Order of Priesthood by Bishop McGettrick in a historic ordination held at Afikpo.
On October 9, 1966, at the heat of Nigerian/Biafra war, he returned from Rome to work with Rev. Fr. J. Boylan from 1966-69 at Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Ndiaboishiagu Sharon-Izzi. During the horrible period of war, he was fully committed to visiting all parts of Izzi land saying Masses and reciting Rosary in all the stations of Izzi North and Izzi South as it was called then. Ndumbam which is a community sharing boundary with Benue; Ndiamadi, Ndinwagbanga and Otam areas were all under Iziogo Zone. He would continue his tour from Iziogo zone to Nwofe zone, Iboko zone comprising Ominyi, Ndingele, Waka, Osoebi, Opeffia and Igbuhuotum behind Iboko square. Then he would go back to Parish House at Ndiaboishiagu for weekend confessions and Holy Mass on Sunday. On the next Monday he would set out to cover Izzi South comprising Onunwakpu, Odariko, Okumenyi, Ndiakparata, Ndubia, Nwezenyi-Igbeagu, Akpe-Amachi, Onuebonyi and Okpuitumo before returning for the general mass at Our Lady Fatima, Sharon. By this wide reach, one who knows the areas very well will understand that the Bishop had got so accustomed with the terrains of Izzi such that one can call him an apostle of Izzi land.
On February 19, 1969, Fr Boylan left him and the then Fr Okoro remained the only priestly figure around the area till September 22, 1970 when he went back to Rome to complete a doctorate programme, bagging his PhD in Systematic Theology on 23rd April 1971. Then he quickly returned to Nigeria in December of the same year.
Although the Nigeria/Biafra war had ended, the issues it generated continued to be invisible hands of destiny for then Fr Michael Okoro. After 30 months (2½ years) of conflict, the Nigeria/Biafra Civil war came to an end on January 16, 1970. After the war, the Nigerian government who had grown hostile towards the expatriate missionaries ordered for their repatriation alleging that they supported the Biafrans against Nigerians. This was not a matter of little consequence as the mass exodus of missionaries out of the country created a big gap that needed to be urgently filled such as providing staff for the only major seminary in the then Eastern Nigeria (or today’s South-East and South South) - The Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu. The Bishops went in search of capable hands and after thorough search could only recruit 17 members of staff, to keep the seminary functional, until more hands became available. This had meant that then Fr Michael Nnachi Okoro, being a young doctorate degree holder who had returned against the wishes of his lecturers who wanted to retain him as a member of staff in his alma mater in Italy, would move in as a member of staff at Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu. At the seminary, he had served as a bursar and sat on the chair of Theology.
On coming back to the Diocese in 1974, the distancing that the sojourn in Bigard had provided, made him see the Diocese a bit more differently. What caught his attention immediately, a reality that did not strike him before, was the vastness of St. Theresa’s Cathedral Parish. This led him to become aware of how much more enormous some other Parishes were, the work involved and the small member of the work force: 18 expatriate priests and 8 indigenous ones, catering for 12 parishes that spanned an area of 6,423 square kilometers. The most critical and greatest challenge was the paucity of priests. This situation and the awareness of it drove him irresistibly to pray and work daily for priestly and religious vocations, asking the Lord to send labourers to his vineyard.
Providentially in March 1977, then Fr Michael Okoro was elected Bishop and on November 27, 1977, was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Abakaliki. For the next six years he worked as an Auxiliary to Bishop Thomas McGettrick and was the Administrator of the Cathedral Parish. Then, two things were uppermost in his mind: First, there was the need to take good care of the Cathedral, keeping the inside of it and the surroundings orderly and neat as befits a place of worship; looking after the spiritual welfare of the worshipping community by having definite and convenient times for the administration of the sacraments; formulating clear directives to guide the Cathedral Council, different societies and sodalities in the Cathedral Parish.
Secondly, he was dedicated to assisting Bishop McGettrick in the areas he needed his help. For instance; he was the Chairman of the Diocesan Medical Board, Judicial Vicar for several years, looked after the welfare of the priests, represented and deputized for him in several functions; ordained priests of the Diocese, did most of the confirmation tours, wrote a big number of official letters he had to sign.
When he eventually took from him on May 6, 1983, the only thought in his mind was to continue playing the same roles he had already played for long assisting Bishop Thomas McGettrick. Many innovations that came later were not foreseen; they came as time rolled on and circumstances revealed not only their usefulness but also their appropriateness. That was how the thankless work of building a ten year old diocese fell on a young man who had presided over the missionary affairs of the area in the past 17 years.
He has served both the church and state at different levels. He held the job of Secretary to the Episcopal Conference of the Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province for thirteen years (1977-1990). He was the Assistant Secretary Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) from 1988-1994; and served as the substantive secretary from 1994-2000. In recognition of his contribution to nation building, he was conferred with the National merit award Officer of the Order of Niger (OON) by the Administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001.