By Emmanuel Edukugho
Getting to SS. Joachim and Anne Catholic Church, Meiran Parish, Lagos, in a low lying uneven, rough terrain with undulating natural features, on the outskirts of Lagos metropolis was nerve–racking.
The Very Reverend Monsignor Livinus Ukah had been in the Lord’s vineyard for some long time when he was working in the Justice Department and Peace Commission of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) at the time His Eminence, retired Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okogie was the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN). While there, in the Archdiocese of Lagos, he was conducting masses, helping parish priests in different churches due to acute shortage of priests until he was posted as a parish priest of St. Kizito Catholic Church, Iju, Lagos.
A builder and mobiliser, he transformed the relatively obscure St. Kizito Church into an ultra-modern, magnificent church complex which drew several people to begin to worship there.
Impressed by his development drive, Okogie again sent him to SS. Joachim and Anne, Meiran to open up the place which presently has two out-stations under his parish. These are: St. Anthony Catholic Church, Agbelekale and St. Livinus Catholic Church, Rimax Estate.
Ukah had his university education in Ottawa, Canada, a consummate writer and author of several books, was ordained about 30 years ago and has travelled both locally and globally.
He has penchant for helping the poor and the marginalised citizenry who are bearing the brunt of economic subjugation by the ruling elite and the capitalist class.
In this encounter Ukah bares his mind on what he termed as “power of poverty”.
The location of this church seems remote and accessing it, given the bad and erosion-ravaged roads is a difficult experience for a visitor. What is being done in this respect?
We thank God, Governor Babatunde Fashola is constructing a road from Meiran to the hinterland. Very soon , the people, with the completion of the new road, would be infested with urbanisation and city values as infrastructure, street lights, schools, recreational facilities, hotels are likely to spring up. Already we have two out stations of this church.
I want to thank His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, in discovering the kind of person I am and putting me in challenging places to touch the lives of the poor.
Poverty is so intimidating in Nigeria as the level of poverty is very high, no wonder many people cut corners to overcome poverty, engaging in corrupt practices. The poor have become part of injustice when paw-paw, banana, oranges are made to ripe prematurely and sold to consumers, while cups (olodo) used by traders to sell rice or beans are manipulated and tinkered with to cheat unsuspecting customers.
Who are to be blamed for corruption?
I think politicians are to be blamed for corruption. Every person wants to own a car at the expense of spiritual growth. Young people don’t want to work hard to earn their living legitimately.
The negative impact of technology on youths is enormous. Now we have cyber crimes as people can do business and cheat people overseas. Technology that made white people rich is the same technology that is creating problem for us – black people. We are just mere consumers of western technology, acting as sales managers for foreign made products. Hence we (black people) can explain more the technology we didn’t create and not indigenous to us more than the white people.
How can we tackle the problem of poverty in this country?
There are three suggestions which I think can drastically reduce poverty in Nigeria.
(1)An equal distribution of the national wealth can help to alleviate poverty.
(2)Curbing/checking unnecessary accumulation of wealth which tends to create poverty.
(3)Rich people should make proper use of their wealth to create industries and businesses for employment of the masses.
The poor who are sick need good treatment. Our health facilities are grossly inadequate, while there should be good environment and cheap food for all.
As regards housing, shelter is important for human beings and when people are driven away from where they are living before, making them to wander from place to place. A family of five displaced creates confusion in the family – scattered all over, children going to different places which has become common in Nigeria today.
People have complained about their shelter destroyed by governments, street hawking prohibited and petty traders displaced from their small shops – all these are adding to the high level of poverty among the ordinary citizens.
It is impossible for our cities to be like those in European countries and US without sufficient public-private investments and the authorities helping the poor, making them to survive. We cannot uproot the poor to make way for mega city. We can build a conducive abode in this transient world.
On technology and Western culture
In the West, children can rise to success through technology, but also technological stress can kill people. Many people are using drugs, playing rock music that bypassed the conscience. They are talking about gay marriage. The Western world has something to learn from us and also we have something to learn from them, example, our own spirituality and way of solving problems by dialogue, not by guns.
The Church is the hope of the poor, not to be a mirage however. With election of the new Pope, having a simple life style with wealth of pastoral experience, he may ask citizens of the world to adopt a new life style of simplicity taking cognizance of the poor.
How do you see loneliness in relation to poverty?
I see what loneliness can do in a community where there are no factories, where people have no jobs, when one gets N1,000 a day, he praises God. I see growing pain and anger hurts and woundedness caused by poverty. I see people who cannot pay house rents. I see the cries and pains of children looking straight to their parents – a sign that they are hungry. Imagine the helpless parents without skill to find a job and even if they find anyhow, do they bear the greedy employers who have no fear of God to understand the situation of the employees? I also see the agony of helplessness in the face of terrifying evil.
When people come for offertory, I watch them dancing almost grudgingly, seduced by the music and songs from the choir managing to put on some smiles and dropping their widow’s mite and then returning to their seats without hope of getting something tomorrow. And I ask myself, how can I receive when they are not sure of tomorrow? All they give are given back to the poor and the less privileged who need the money most as they throng the church later because they see the Church as their last hope. There is poverty in the land.
We know we are not destined to be poor but it is the system and the social arrangement that caused it.