* Speaks on the house Yar’Adua gave him, life in retirement
ANTHONY Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie was born on June 16, 1936 to the royal family of Uromi in Edo State. His father was Esan and his mother Yoruba. Okogie was ordained as a Catholic priest on December 11, 1966. He was drafted into the Nigerian Army, and served there as a chaplain during the civil war. In 1971, he was ordained titular Bishop of Mascula and Auxiliary of Oyo, and, in 1973, named Archbishop.
From 1994 to 2000, Okogie headed the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and was the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN. He was proclaimed a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II on October 21, 2003. He was one of the cardinal electors in the 2005 papal conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI and in the 2013 papal conclave which elected Pope Francis.
His resignation from the pastoral governance of the See of Lagos after the attainment of the age limit of 75 years was accepted on May 25, 2012. Religious affairs correspondents visited him at his Archbishop’s Court, Ikoyi, Lagos to speak on the state of the nation. Our Sam Eyoboka was there. Excerpts of the interview:
Many Nigerians will like to know how life has been for you in retirement
There’s a very slight difference between when I was in office and now because people still come to consult me; I still help people do things. Life has been very pleasant. If I say nothing much has changed, the APC will ‘hold’ me because they talk about change!. Some thing has changed. I’m no more in office. I have my own schedule, and I can answer you if I like or don’t.
Why did Cardinal Okogie retire? Were you really tired?
I’m not tired. In the Roman Catholic priestly life, there’s a law that once you are 75, you have to inform the authorities in Rome, meaning you have to retire. So that’s what happened. And I think 75 is generous enough; it is not easy. Look at our lifespan in Nigeria today, some don’t reach 70 years, some don’t even reach 50. And if you look after yourself well, you can’t be tired. I can still go another round if I’m allowed, but no. I’m not Mr. Know All. I’m not Power Uti. I think it’s quite good.
But the Pontiff does not retire. Why should priests do?
It’s like asking me the question children usually ask, ‘daddy, why do you always say you are tired when mummy is not tired?’ You know the boss is always there to keep an eye on everyone and what is going on. And that is our own rule anyway. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was not tired. His death was like an exchange of power. Remember when you married your wife, its till death do you part. So we are married to the church so to say. So he is the one that gets this place running. Somebody must get to ring the bell. Look at Benedict XVI for example, when he felt it was getting too heavy for him, he called it quits and someone else took over. But of course it has to be according to the law.
What do you miss from your active service years now that you are in retirement?
I miss moving around with people; not that I don’t move around now, but it’s curtailed. I always go round the schools to make sure that things are in order, and then at times I visit some departments. I miss saying masses; praying for the youths. I don’t want to step on the toes of my boss (Archbishop); he’s my boss now. So anything I know will offend him, I avoid. If I want to travel, I tell him, not that I can’t travel without telling him, but that respect should be there.
You call your successor your boss; we were told that you were the one who recommended him….
Well I recommended three and Rome was free to take from anywhere, not the one you recommended.
The speculation out then was that you were the one who anointed Archbishop Adewale Martins…
I think they are carrying it too far. It’s like Obasanjo and Jonathan, they say Obasanjo put Yar’Adua there, and then they said he put Jonathan there, how many people will he put there? I don’t think that is true. The Pope has the last say. You are free to say you want this or that one, but he has the last say. He has to go through the CV and all of that. It’s not an easy thing to be made a bishop in the Catholic Church.
But do you still say masses once in a while?
In my house. I have my chapel downstairs, not quite large. And my parish is in Falomo. So, at times, when they need me, they call me. And when I feel like, I tell them I’m coming. That’s the beauty of the Catholic Church. You don’t hold on to anything. We are the Levites of the New Testament. The good Lord is their inheritance; nothing is given to them except what people give to them. But our own is a step higher than that. Things are given to you to be used for the good of the people. This house is not mine. The name I put there ‘Cardinal’s Court’, my boss can tell me tomorrow to change it to something else and I will. I own nothing.
People think it’s a retirement gift or benefit…
No. You have to have a place to stay. When I retired, I had no place to stay, no house of my own.
How many years in service?
Thirty nine years as Archbishop of Lagos, that doesn’t include my honour of priesthood, it doesn’t include the 14 months I spent in Oyo.
Does anything preclude you from having a personal house?
What do you want it for? When I had none, they provided one for me at No 1, MacPherson. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua gave me this place for example. He bought it. And when we wanted to build on it, Lagos State government charged us. They said the land belonged to them; we could take our properties and get out. So we must obey the law. So we had to pay or we couldn’t stay there.
Yar’Adua gave you the place…
Even the present Head of State was there, he was the Vice President then, he was there when this place was allotted to me.
Just wondering that President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, didn’t give you a place. It was a Muslim president that gave you a place…
This is the problem everybody has; you always like to bring in religion. We are all children of God. Must I only be ministering to Catholics or to Christians? Then I’m not a priest and I’m not doing what God wants me to do. And this is what is killing us in Nigeria. It’s not fair. I think if we really want to make Nigeria one as it should be, we should see one another as brothers and sisters. That’s the correct thing to do.
How many years did it take you to plan for your retirement?
I didn’t plan. Once it’s 75, you should know. It’s there in the law. No time to plan, what do I want to plan?
Are you considering writing your memoirs?
Since I went to the warfront and came back, I started keeping a diary. As soon as the 31st of December comes, I throw it away. Now that you have brought it up, I will start looking for them.
You mean you were not considering it?
For how many years have you been keeping diary?
Since during the civil war.
You fought in the civil war?
I didn’t fight. I was a chaplain.
You were part of the people who contributed one or two things to the civil war. Is the present Nigeria the Nigeria of your dream?
No. To keep Nigeria one is a task…. We are not keeping this nation as one. Look at soldiers who risked their lives, where are they today? How many people remember them? It’s painful. Brigadier-General Benjamin Adekunle featured very well, he was my boss. He died; and how many people cried about him? Even if he was the worst soldier on earth, is that how to treat someone? It’s painful.
Look at Boko Haram, how many of those sitting down there now are ready to go to sympathize with the parents of the abducted children? I feel bad. And now you are telling me APC and PDP, for what? Is that how to keep Nigeria together? Look at the papers for example, instead of addressing issues; the campaign is nothing but abuses, the candidates disgracing themselves.
When you look at it realistically, those who think they are disgracing the other party, they are indirectly campaigning for that person. You say he has no certificate, somebody says he has certificate, now another one came up that he forged his certificate, what about the issues on ground? How are you going to address education, unemployment and so on? Nothing. How many manifestos have you seen around? And we are preparing for elections.
Are you nursing fears over the elections?
What are your fears?
Bloodshed; and it’s already happening. I’m praying seriously and begging God that He should abort it. Every day I pray for the abortion of blood. You can see the atmosphere is tensed. Look at what is happening in Ekiti for example, how somebody will come and be doing whatever he likes and nobody to check him just because he belongs to a party. Do you think I could have done that in the Catholic Church?
But that’s the man the people want…
No, point of correction, when he came in, what was he saying? Stomach infrastructure. Why is he changing now? Nigeria belongs to us all. There’s no other nation we can call ours. The good Lord that brought us together under one umbrella and called us Nigeria knows what He’s doing. The Americans have been in this country since November, saying they wanted to help to rescue the Chibok girls. Put two and two together, what are they here for? Fulfilment of their promise that Nigeria will split or what? They came in and saw all the places they wanted to see and left. But thank God Nigeria is changing, the youths are coming up. Sometime ago I mentioned it that there’s already a revolution going on in this country.
Will that revolution you are talking about lead to the change that some people are talking about?
Oh definitely. There’s a silent revolution going on. They are watching. Since the babas don’t want to go, they watch quietly as we kick them out. That was the kind of thing that Ojukwu wanted to do but unfortunately he was too ambitious. Our Heavenly Father knows what He is doing with each and every one of us. He knows when to apply the brakes. You can’t out do things because you are nothing.
You said Ojukwu was ambitious; you were in the civil war, will you really say Ojukwu was ambitious or he was pushed to do what he did?
What else do you think he could have done. What other name will you call that? Peaceful ambition? When you look at the way this nation is going, some people must be checked. And if they don’t listen, they should be behind the bars. But they are not. I was watching the EFCC, they kept quiet. Now they are coming out gradually because of politics. For how long are we going to do this? Let’s be frank.
Where did we get it wrong and how can we retrace our steps?
We started getting it wrong from political godfathers. And they are gradually dying out. I think probably Obasanjo is in the last group. Then we will have what is called refined Nigerians or, if you like, refined godfathers. The refined ones will not ask for all the power. They will just tell you this is what ‘you have to do and this is what we want, and if you don’t do it, we will wait for you’. It’s a silent revolution. It’s already on.
Some people are saying that even the forthcoming generation might even be worse. In 2011, people said we’ve never had a younger person and a Ph.D holder as president…
Why is Obasanjo and Jonathan fighting? Why was Obasanjo and Yar’adua at loggerheads towards the end? Politics is a very dangerous game; if you don’t know how to handle it, you’ll die before your time. Didn’t one of our politicians say if you are not a good liar, you can’t be a politician? He said all politicians are liars. And not a single person challenged him. What kind of politicians have we today? Liars. All the politicians there now to me are all liars including those who said you have certificate or you don’t have certificate or we have done this or we have done that. Because none of them came out to say keep quiet because they are not liars.
I still recall your days as the CAN president. You were always coming hard on government and to some extent that kept them on track. There was one reverend father Mbaka in Enugu, who was criticizing Jonathan. I read an interview in which you condemned the man and said you will close down the place if you were his boss. When you look at that man compared to when you were hard on government, what do you see wrong compared to what he did?
In the first place, he was not a leader of CAN. Where I think I went a little bit different from him was when he was talking about the Spirit. Some people claimed that not long ago he prayed for the First Lady and how come now he is saying all those things against the same government. And then he attributed it to the Spirit. St Paul told us that you have to test every spirit before you start talking about it.
Why didn’t he test the spirit before he spoke? And even if he said he did test the spirit, he has to know when to say things and when not to say things. On two occasions, I ate my words. The Spirit of God guides everyone, not only the clergy. We have something inside us that when you want to go wrong, that spirit inside you will tell you to stop.
But when you are stubborn and do it, then whatever you get is your own business. I cannot condemn him but from what has been happening in that Adoration Ground… former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani had it tough with them, Chime too had it tough with them. Now these ones again. Then I started asking myself, what kind of prayers are they saying there? I’m not God. What is the purpose of the Adoration Ground? He may have large followers, no problem. He is a leader and he must try to lead them rightly.
A good number of people have already swallowed what he said, they condemned what John Cardinal Onaiyekan said, they condemned what Okogie said. Okogie doesn’t care and I’m sure my brother Cardinal Onaiyekan will not care. The truth is bitter. And if he too slept over it, which I believe he must have done, he will see that he went a little bit too far. You know the devil is too powerful.
You know about the battle there in heaven, when archangel Michael and archangel Lucifer fought because the latter refused to obey and serve God, God sent him down. The power belonging to good angels, which he had then, were not taken away from him; that is what he’s now using recklessly. He still has all the powers and he can do anything. Mbaka is a man that people appreciate. I like him but when a man is wrong, he’s wrong. That’s my own.
How do you assess the CAN of your days and now?
The difference is clear. How often did you hear during our own period that we went to beg a governor for a favour? You call a spade a spade. Thank God I have a very good Secretary, a Methodist, C.O Williams. He’s a very good man and I can never forget him. May his soul rest in peace. We had only one CAN and we knew the President was the President. Whether you were from North East or South East or South West, if you had any problem, you bring it to the president. If he could not solve it, we will call a general congress and address the issue. Then we always asked for advice. But this one, I don’t know. God says judge not that you may not be judged.
You did say Yar’Adua, a Muslim leader, gave this land to you, and Bishop David Oyedepo recently expressed his support for Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. Are we then saying that religion is a yardstick for political office in the country?
Capital no! I’ve just said it that if you want to be a good leader, you must be a father to the world. If you can’t do that, then you are not a good leader. You don’t bring religion into politics. These people that are hungry, how do I feed them? That’s the duty of a father. That’s what you should do. You don’t wait for people to come and tell you to do this or do that. If you wait too long, delay is dangerous.
These are some of the setbacks that are easily visible. Look at the Chibok girls. Look at the statement somebody made in the last elections that if he doesn’t win, this is going to happen. And they kept quiet. If I were the head of state I will call him to come and explain what he means. Nigeria belongs to us all. Why must we be afraid? When you look at the way things are going, how do you think Obama runs America? They consult. But they have their own veto power that they take just to make sure that things move on well. But unfortunately, here in Nigeria, we are too much afraid of people.
I want you to take a look at the security situation in this country; it has grown so big that it looks like we cannot tame it any more. It started on a small scale. Today, several local governments have fallen to Boko Haram insurgents. How did it start and how can we get out of it?
Whose fault? It’s the fault of government. When Obasanjo came to power, Theophilus Danjuma was the one in charge of the military. You saw what happened. All the giants in the army were sent packing. That was the beginning. Not long after that, Obasanjo came on and said no more coup. When you have axed the big ones, what can the rest do? When he came out and said no more coup, I said so this is where you people are going. And did he not fall out with Danjuma after all? Obasanjo is a very crafty person. He knows when to blow the whistle and when not to. Things are happening under our nose. Not until they begin to arrest these people and apportion blames where necessary, there will be no security.
Do you support any of the presidential candidates in this year’s elections?
What should I support anyone of them? They are all my children. My problem is I want somebody who will look after the downtrodden. Look at what the churches are doing. Just open your eyes and you can see where the truth lies. It’s not when you come out and say this is what you are going to do. When are you going to do what you are going to do?
What should be the role of the church in this? Should the church endorse a candidate or a party because there’s this rumour all over town now that some religious leaders are taking sides and endorsing?
I don’t think that is right, except they know that this candidate is somebody who can deliver the goods and they have every assurance. But how are you going to have 100 percent assurance? They get there and then bloody fool you. That’s it.
What is your candid advice to Nigerians as we go into another elections?
Number one, we have to pray. We have to be deep in prayer because the atmosphere is tense. And I think only God can help us. Number two, there must be spirit of self sacrifice, love and to be our neighbour’s keeper. I think that is lacking. We don’t care about what is going. We need a selfless leader, a leader who will see everybody as his own. And of course joining with prayer, there must be the fear of God.
The fear of God they say is the beginning of wisdom. You can’t rule out God in our nation today. And that is one of the things that is killing us. We think we know better. Whether you say the pledge or sing the national anthem, it’s very clear we don’t mean it. Who’s going to enforce it? I remember when I was President of CAN, we were sent to meet Obasanjo as the Head of State then.
We sat down and debated on the pledge, we were not asking for change in the substance as such but just in arrangement. Instead of saying I pledge to you my country, can’t we change it and pledge to God first? He looked at me and said ‘is that all?’ Then he pointed his finger to my face and said if you have not learned it, go and learn it now, we are not changing anything’.
Look at what is happening today. I remember when the current President was the Vice President to Yar’Adua, we were preparing for elections then. He said I should pray for him. So I asked an innocent question that, ‘Sir, what’s your intention?’ He screamed, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Sir, I just want to know so I’d be able to concentrate on what you are asking for’. He said, ‘You mean you are not going to pray for me?’ I said I didn’t say I would not pray for you, just your intention.
Then he said ‘don’t you know I’ll be going in for the election?’ I said don’t worry about the election, you have won but you will not rule. He screamed ‘what? Why did you say that?’ I said sir; all these people around you are the ones that will rule in your place. He said okay bless me. So I blessed him and left. Look at what is happening.
That was Jonathan?
That was Jonathan Ebele Goodluck, when he was Vice President. It has been published several times. The truth is bitter but it must be spoken. Let those who are running the affairs of this nation fear God.
Going by this prediction of yours that he will win but he will not rule, being that it has come to be, do you think he deserves a second chance?
I don’t know. Walls have ears. Not that he is 100 percent bad, he has some credits to himself but when you put it on scale, that’s where the problem is. So I don’t really know but we all have to pray for Nigeria. Money is not everything. Then you must remember that God is justice personified. What I always tell people is He’s a God of vengeance. The devil is very clever, so he won’t show you that side. I remember in my young days, they used to use thugs, and then they tell you where to hide when there’s problem. Those are what the politicians are doing.