CATHOLIC Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos Archdiocese, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, belongs to the generation of old biblical prophets who fearlessly and persistently admonished kings and the people of Israel to repent from their profane and sinful behaviours, which were at variance with the commandments of God. From military to civilian leaders, Okogie, even long before he became a Prince of the Catholic Church, did not hide his disdain for misconduct of political leaders, criticising them, sometimes at great risk to his personal life.
His fearless and courageous disposition which stands him out from the crowd continues to earn him admiration even in retirement.
Every successive government in Nigeria has received the full brunt of Okogie’s assault. Like a diligent watchman, he ceaseslessly guards the poor masses by admonishing the “Ogas at the top” of the impending danger of divine judgment but, regrettably, majority of his sermons go unheeded.
Even under the maximum ruler the late Gen. Sani Abacha, Okogie rose to the demands of the moment, refusing to be intimidated by the dreadful gun-trotting killer squad of that regime.
During his administration as President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, Okogie stood like a colossus to ensure that the interests of the Church and indeed all Christians in Nigeria were protected.
As an accomplished advocate of the oppressed masses, his once volunteered to die in place of a Muslim woman who had been condemned to death by stoning by an Islamic court for adultery.
Okogie was born on June 16, 1936, to the family of Prince Michael Okogie of Uromi, in Esan North Local Government Area of today’s Edo State, and Lucy Adunni Okogie (nee Afolabi), a Yoruba. His childhood ambition was not to become a priest as his father wanted him to be something ‘higher’: either a medical doctor or a mechanical engineer. He attended St. Gregory’s College, Obalende, Lagos between 1951 and 1953 when he pulled out in class three to proceed to the seminary.
Throughout his years of active service as the Local Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Lagos, His Eminence was very passionate about planting new parishes.
He is a workaholic and often visited parishes unannounced to have an unencumbered situation report of affairs. This also enabled him become so familiar with virtually all the priests and nuns working in the Archdiocese and was always conversant with trends. It is therefore not surprising that on his enthronement as Archbishop there were only 15 parishes; but at his retirement, the parishes under his watch had risen to about 100.
In the area of liturgy, he always stressed the fact that the Catholic way of worship must not be diluted or compromised. And so, he made it a duty to caution priests and the faithful on the need to adhere strictly to the liturgy in conformity with the Catholic faith. There must not be any form of dilution like trying to infuse Pentecostal mode of worship into the liturgy.
His Eminence is also a great social crusader. During the military era, he was very vocal in his condemnation of government’s excesses to the extent that he became a torn in the flesh of successive administrations. Okogie is a friend and companion of the voiceless, the marginalized, the helpless, and the poor.
As the President of CAN in the mid eighties, Okogie fought vehemently against the seizure of mission schools by government and other forms of anti-people policies. He repeated similar feats as President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) from 1994-2000.
Okogie is an infectious and charming personality with strict drive for perfection and zero-tolerance for mediocrity.
His Eminence is a good media personality and has always enjoyed cordial relationship with journalists. His informed views on national and contemporary issues stand him out at all times. He never shies away from using the media to his advantage by highlighting deficiencies in the system and giving impactful advice to those in authority.
He left St. Gregory’s College in 1953 for the St. Theresa Minor Seminary, Oke-Are, Ibadan. In 1963, he was sent off to the Urban University in Rome, to continue his studies. In 1966, he returned to Lagos, having obtained a Bachelor of Divinity Degree in Rome and was ordained a priest on Sunday, December 11, 1966.
His first posting was to the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos, where he served for a short time as pastoral assistant. But in 1967, as the civil war was raging, newly ordained Rev. Fr. Anthony Okogie was drafted to the war front in Port Harcourt as Army Chaplain.
His Eminence served again at the Cathedral and was appointed as Catholic religious instructor and chaplain in King’s College, a State Secondary School. On August 19, 1971, he was consecrated titular Bishop of Mascula at 35, barely five years after his ordination as a priest.
Before the dust raised by this appointment could settle, another announcement came from Rome that Bishop Anthony Okogie was to proceed to Oyo as Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese. He was barely one year as Auxiliary Bishop of Oyo Diocese, the Pope had again announced Anthony Olubunmi Okogie as the third Archbishop of the Holy See of the Cosmopolitan City of Lagos on April 13, 1973, to succeed Archbishop John Kwao Aggey, who was the first African Archbishop of Lagos.
Archbishop Anthony Okogie served in that capacity for 39 years — the longest serving before yet another unexpected elevation as a prince of the Church as a cardinal on October 21, 2003. He was proclaimed Cardinal by Pope John Paul II in the consistory of October 21, 2003, and holds the title of Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria del Monte Carmelo a Mostacciano (or in English, Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel of Mostacciano).
His resignation from the pastoral governance of the See of Lagos having reached the age limit of 75 years was accepted on May 25, 2012.
His standing as a crusader for the common good even in retirement makes him an irresistible choice for Vanguard’s Lifetime Achievement Award 2016.