I told Jonathan He'll be President But May Not Rule- Okogie

THISDAY Newspaper


Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie is a delight to interview as he seldom equivocates but frankly bares his mind on all issues. After putting in 41 years as an ordained priest, much of those years as archbishop of Lagos, he is retiring having turned 75 (he is actually 76). Okogie speaks with Roland Ogbonnaya, Yemi Adebowale and Ahamefula Ogbu on his motivation in becoming a priest, the challenges facing the church and the surge of violence across the country

What motivated you to go into priesthood?

Like every other endeavour one wants to pursue in life, you watch those that you think can be a role model. When we were young we used to watch priests when they say mass and I was an altar server. Then gradually we saw how they prayed, how they led the service and finally when I grew up, went to Holy Cross School, St. Gregory's College and these people were still doing the same thing, so I said alright, since these men of God can teach and do anything and even better than the lay person, why not try and to see if I can be one of them. So that is all - Good example.

What do you consider the high points and your low points as Archbishop of Lagos?

When you talk of high and low points in one's ministry, you leave everything to God. Most of the things I did, I think I was motivated by God himself. If you listen to the voice of God, He speaks to us. Like this interview you are having with me, I am sure somebody put it in your minds, let's go and interview this person. So that is it. When you talk about low point in one's life, it is not easy to pinpoint and say this is the low point.

Probably my low point was when maybe I was still trying to make ends meet in the priesthood, still doubting if I am in the right place or not until finally you find your feet and say 'yes, this is indeed the right place for me'. The climax as you want to know, maybe again I don't know. Those who judge know what I am doing and because in our own ministry, they follow you as you rise from cradle to the cross, they try to assess you, to know how fine you are doing, how you preach and your accessibility to people; these are the kind of things they do .

The highest point is where I am now because I am now a cardinal. I don't know how I became a cardinal, but like I said, those who see you know you better than yourself, they can assess you. Let's say I give myself one million per cent but they say sorry you are not even worth 10 per cent and then you open your eyes and say 'ah, what of all these things I have been doing?' So, all priests are assessed unknown to them and that is how the church moves. So, if they are not satisfied with what you are doing, they will tell you through your bishop that you have to buckle up. So, I think that is what I can consider my highest point.

What would you be doing in retirement?

I will be taking a short rest. I love reading and it has been a long time since I read, so the number one thing is that I am going to bury myself in reading.

What would you be reading - the Bible?

No, no, no, not the Bible (laughs). Well, definitely the Bible is going to be one of them. I have many books so I can sit down and be picking them one by one and be reading. Then after that probably conducting retreats and counselling. Most people come in here and ask a lot of questions either about their private lives or anything, so that is the kind of thing I hope and pray I will do.

Do priests actually retire?

Well, no because they preach forever according to the order of Melchizedek, if you want it on the broad sense; but in the strict sense, yes because there is a church law that says once you are 75 you inform the Pope on the section I referred to - that is your retiring age in the physical world. But you are not; you still work, still say your mass and they can call you for anything. But officially they regard you as retired.

At 76 you still look quite young; what is the secret?

The secret? I thank God that many people don't know my age unless i tell them. I try to be as close to my God as possible, and one with God is majority. No matter how difficult the job is, I smile over it even though I know I am not doing the correct thing. Anyone that annoys me, for example, I show it and within a moment it is gone. And always before going to bed I ask myself 'how have I spent the day?' If the day is not well spent, I say 'God forgive me; this maybe my last day here on earth'. That's all. Another thing is that I am not afraid of death. I remember when I was in the war front, Third Marine Commando under the Black Scorpion (Gen Benjamin Adekunle). There was nothing that they did that I didn't do except to shoot and kill people.

That is the joy in the priesthood. The main fact that you are a priest does not mean that you simply read your Bible and say mass and all that. No, you must be accessible to people and be ready for any eventually, and in doing it, of course, you must put God before you and smile over it. I remember the first time I was asked to go to the war front, I nearly died. I said 'what for?' And my bishop then, Archbishop Aggrey (God rest his soul) said 'yes, you think you were made a priest to come and sit down and be talking to people? Come on go and do what you are told'. He too felt it, but like a meek man he didn't show it, but I could see that this man was not too happy with this kind of assignment. But I just had to go; so that is one of the joys of priesthood.

You were ministering to those on the federal side?

Yes, of course.

And not to the other side?

I think it was during a Christmas Eve when there was a truce for three hours, so those on the other side came down and then we did too. But unfortunately those who came down from the other side were actually looking for food not for prayers and as soon as they heard the beagle they rushed back. Of course, they didn't have to wait; they had to go for dear lives.

You have been in the priesthood for long ...

(interjects) For over 41 years.

What are the modifications that you would advocate for the priesthood now in order to align it to the contemporary world?

Well, by modification, anything they do, they should not do it in excess minus breaking the commandment of God anyway. It is said that too much of anything is bad. Some priests drink but they don't drink excessively; some priests smoke but they don't do so excessively - just moderation.

Would you with the benefit of hindsight and the scandals that are happening in the church say that priests should get married and...

(Cuts in sharply) No way, even before you finish your question. No way, because that would not even change the situation. The fact that one man is a thief in a community would you say others are? Because he stole and he became a millionaire like you are seeing in Nigeria today and are allowed to go scot free?

All these abuses we hear priests indulge in abroad are they also common in Nigeria?

They are not common but they are in Nigeria. They are not common as it is in Europe but remember we are all humans, we are not angels. We are not even holy. All these three things I mentioned they belong to God and it is only God that can keep you aright because if you are not a man of prayer you cannot now and again examine your conscience and try to sleep. See, if a priest runs foul of the law then you know. Let's say they are priests today that do things outside the law that is a sign that this one will not go far. Personally I visit people everywhere I go. I just visited one, coming from Mcpherson I said let's see if Asiwaju (Bola Tinubu) is in. I am not sent to see Asiwaju and if anything bad happens there, it is not church business. I just asked if he is there and they said he is in and they cleared the road for me to see him. I didn't go there for money or anything. It's like I was doing in the time of Abacha that everybody seemed to fear. I tell him the way you are going is bad. He then said bishop you will not understand, if I did it the way you want me to do it they will kill me. Why must you be afraid of death?

Are you still advising government that way?

Well, only once I had an audience with President Jonathan long before his election. We were four in the room I remember and after the audience he asked for prayer. I said 'Your Excellency, what do you want from God; what is your intention? He told me 'you are the first clergy man that will ask me for that; others will just say bow your head'. God has all the gifts in this world, they all belong to him, just mention one, is it women, just mention. He said 'well, as you know it I am going in for the election'. So I said, 'Your Excellency, for the election you have won, no problem; but you may not rule'. He shouted 'what?' What do you mean by that? So what is the use of winning the election?' I said, 'sir, you have so many sycophants around you and these people will rule through you'. It is happening now, so this is it. You see, God speaks through us, God doesn't want us to make mistakes but because of human nature, human frailty, we make.

Before you do anything, before coming out, give yourself to God, he is the owner of life, you are not the owner of your life. But some people don't believe it. 'Oh, I must go, I must be here by 3.00 o'clock'. He is the owner of the life. This is one of the reasons I don't care about death; death can come any moment provided you just have to examine your conscience. Death may hit you at the wrong side and in most cases something they like may be what will kill them. That is what happens. Look at some of our Nigerians in the Olympics that said 'I am coming back with gold or at least bronze'. What have they got? This is it, you must put yourself before God; this is how it is.

When Jonathan called for prayer...

Na only blessing I blessed him. I am just telling you because that was how it ended. It was not prayer, it only ended in blessing.

Did God not reveal to you what he has to do to be able to rule?

Excuse me, what other solution do you need? What do you want? You want God to tell you what? You cannot take a horse to the stream and force it to drink, no way. God has already told you that you will win the election; that is what you are looking for? Secondly, that you may not rule; thirdly, that there is much sycophancy around you. So what do you want? What do you want me to do? To ask God to show me the sycophants? No way. All he had to do was to clear the vision. I too receive people that say 'oh, you must say this, you must say that'. But I have to use my head.

Are you in anyway challenged by the growth of Pentecostal churches? Obviously, traditional churches are losing members

Sorry, sorry. I am happy you are smiling. It seems they are losing members because they are like the seed that fell on the wrong path. Most of these people you saw are coming back to the church and they become even stronger than those that didn't even go out. This is what you people don't see.

But the impression is that members are looking elsewhere because there are no miracles in the Catholic Church.

Who said there are no miracles? We work miracles every day. Take your Bible and read, every day. If I pray for you and it happens, what is that? I may not see it, you don't even have to see it, you don't even have to say that I worked miracle for this man. Anybody that tells you I can do this, I can do that is a charlatan. A man of God cannot tell you he works miracles. If I am praying for you, you may not even know that I am praying for you. When I am praying I put in my intention; 'that gentleman that was here, do this for him'. Okay, I may just bless you and you go your way and that is all, but it has some meaning. You just see the signals; see the hand moving. What is my intention? Is that blessing I am blessing you in the name of the trinity, is it really for you? Is my intention pure? Yours may be pure because you are looking for it, but if your intention is not pure, then there is nothing we can do.

Are you not worried that it doesn't seem evil is being affected by the number of churches springing up?

A good number of people today because of economic hardship and because they can read the bible would say 'yes, I am called' and they use it to make money. This is what is happening in the society today because the moment they see you asking for prayer they know this man has no faith. God is the father of everybody, so if you don't develop your own faith, your own faith is weak, then they pounce on you, and this is what is happening. You see two people, a husband and a wife starting church somewhere, church in inverted coma and start ringing bell here and dancing. Before you know it there are five people, they may get six or seven overnight. Of course, all of them claim they work miracles; what kind of miracles are they doing. And they are the ones that say they work miracles. Why are they all falling out gradually today?

These are things we always try to prove to people, trust in God, please give him your life. What I can do you can do it if you have faith. Look at that thing there (pointing): Prayer Changes Things. That has been with me since 1971 and I carry it everywhere. When you come to me and say this and that, I say 'my friend look at that, do you pray?

What is your view on same sex marriage?

My view is like every other sensible person's view. In the scripture, they say that when God made man, he made them male and female and then he said increase and multiply. If I am married to you can you produce issue? Let's take it from that angle. And watch one thing, those same sex people when they find out that you have another person, let's say a girl, they can kill you; they are quite vicious. The moment they find out that you are in love, or you are moving away from him to another person, you are in trouble. The same thing with women; unfortunately you don't publish this type of thing because they are many in Europe. The good Lord that has made this law or created the world and made his law to rule the world know what He is doing and we human beings we now try to destroy. You can't destroy God's creation. You end up by destroying yourself. Look at those committing abortion, they are now looking for children because they have finished all the ones God wanted to give them. They don't care what happens to that child. Why do we have motherless babies' homes? Why do we have orphanages? These are the things and whether they like it or not, they must be punished for it. Our God is a God of vengeance, He is also a God of love and everything you can think of but before you leave this world, you will suffer it.

Boko Haram attacks seem to have taken a greater toll on the Catholic Church than other denominations. What do you think is responsible for that and are you satisfied with the measures being taken by government on security?

Let me start from the last part, no one is satisfied at all, not even a blind man is satisfied. Security in Nigeria is nil. As for Boko Haram, I don't think you are right to say the Catholic Church suffered most. Look at what is happening today. They are turning against Muslims, they don't even care. What is the root, why? Just because of the laxity of the law. They catch ABC today tomorrow, they say because they know this one they release him. That is what is happening. If you say the Catholic Church suffered most, what will you say of those Pentecostals and churches that were burnt down where you have hundreds dying? All those who perpetrate evil, they are not the champions, the champion is God himself and unfortunately for them the more Catholics that lost their lives, the more you have them increasing elsewhere.

There was a time they said Boko Haram said all Christians, they didn't even say Catholics, should vacate the north within 48 hours otherwise this and that will happen. Did they succeed? What happens to Muslims married to Christians and they have issues? What do they want to do with that? They just open their mouths to talk, they are not God. Someone comes in here like when I was in the war front and points the gun at me and say 'I will kill you'. I will say 'if you want to kill, go ahead, there is no problem but you too will die. That is one thing you have to know'. A man came in here and was telling me about armed robbers who came to him to shoot him and he said, 'shoot, if you want property, take them and you will see what will happen to you'. The only thing was they left him alone and carried the property away. This is life; that is not the end of life. Do you know what happens to such people who are killing their neighbours? You don't know, they don't announce it. They just shoot you and throw you somewhere.

What do you consider the way out?

The very first thing is dialogue with anyone of them. If you wait to catch the big fish, you won't really go anywhere. There are some of these little ones that are caught and are jailed, you can talk to them, let them know that what they are doing is bad; probably there is something wrong with their senses. Let them know and when one or two are converted, they will now tell their brethren, 'look what you are doing is not good'. Look at armed robbers in a group of five or six, when one is jailed and he comes back to tell his brothers, 'don't try it again, it is not good, I suffered in jail'. That is how we change. You don't say because that one is carrying hemp or hard drugs and made money he should go again. No, that is not the way. You must be charitable and from there after dialogue and you think dialogue is not good enough then of course, the government should try and do something.

I don't believe in saying an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; that is for the Old Testament. That was what the church was doing, but churches are now changing their style and saying 'well, try and defend yourself'. Defend yourself can mean anything and so those who are bombing, they too will be afraid, what do I gain? So it is not an easy job. It is a pity we have not got strong government, it is a pity. Just like some of our politicians, look at what is happening, why do many people rush for elections, why do they go into politics? The answer is Money. They are not out to rule to correct the nation. No, just money. When I get there I will make money; some even sold their houses at the last election and since they lost the election what became of them? When will you stop borrowing?

What are your thoughts on corruption and the way forward?

Again like I said earlier on, example is the best teacher: don't give and don't take. But unfortunately in this country of ours they call Nigeria they believe that if you don't give anything you will not achieve anything. But it's wrong. The rule is don't give. Look at the example (Lagos State Governor) Fashola gave on the army officer. That is the kind of example we are saying. He was led by God and by the spirit of God. That army officer was doing something wrong and the other cars had started following him. God gave him that courage to stop the man. If he had not done that they will still continue. Now they are going to make a strong law about traffic offence that even if you drive one way you will be jailed. So we learn everyday.

If other states can emulate Lagos - I am not saying this is the best because I have not seen others - a lot of good things will come back. Why did people vote for Oshiomhole for example? That is because action speaks louder than words. Even he said it himself before the election that even if I do not campaign, my work will speak for me. How many governors can say that today? If they have to, they will say it on pages of newspapers to make wave, but go there and see what is done. He may not have done much within the short time he was there but at least he has done something. Look at a man like Fashola, the amount of money that Lagos State government is owing; but he is using it and others will come and say 'ah, ah, how is he doing it' until Lagos becomes another London.

You don't need to bribe to get your way or things done, no. Just know that one with God is majority. Look at me today, look at where I started. But if you are sincere with yourself and sincere with your God you will never fail. Don't go to any charlatan and say you want prayer, you want this. Unfortunately, somebody came here once and after prayer he said is there anything I can give him and I sent him out of my office.

Do you have personal property like house anywhere in this country?

I have no property. A new bishop has been appointed and I am going on retirement. Jesus Christ said it, when he sent his disciples, don't take this, don't take that because God is going to take care of you. Besides, have no wife, I have no children.

Where are you going to retire to? Will you retire to Edo State?

Edo? What am I going to do in Edo? Someone just called me something, was it expatriate Edo or something (laughs).

What bothers you about Nigeria?

There are many things that bother me but the one that bothers me most about Nigeria is this corruption. Without that, I think there will be jobs for everybody. What are they doing with this money? This (former speaker of the House) Bankole, what has become of the story? Very soon you won't hear anything about it and that is Nigeria for you. What of Otedola and Farouk Lawan? That will also be swept under the carpet. This bothers me. Why can't we stand up and be counted? And these people, even the EFCC, how good are they? The men who are running it, how good are they? It bothers me, are we still thinking of the last end. If they think of their last end they won't behave like that; last end means when they are dead, what happens to you? People die, their children come they sell them off because they want quick money, because it is not the result of their labour. If it were the sweat of their labour, they will not do it. They will reflect on if their parents or grand parents left them poor, they will not do it.

What do you think is the solution to the deteriorating educational standards in the country?

It boils down to the same thing: bribery and corruption, that's all. They give licence to people that cannot even build but because there is money in education, they run there and then they start telling your parents our own is international just because they have one Ghanaian there. And then, again, the teachers are not well paid, they are not well looked after. These are the things. In those days you look out for moral, spiritual and intellectual standing, those three things. But these days they don't care. Look at King's College, for example. Those days, if your child is in King's College they will give you kudos that that boy must be very intelligent; but today who cares?

Is it today you have people that will even give you the answers and say just mark the right one, so they give you the answers and say just shade it. What kind of nonsense is that and we complain we do not have quality education. We are not serious.

Throughout your career in priesthood, were you ever tempted?

Of course. Am I an angel? I told you before that I am not an angel, I am not a holy man and I am not a saint. If you are not tempted you will not overcome and you will not go near God. Everybody must be tempted.

What kind of temptation, financial, women or..?

It depends, it can come either way. For example, looking at you and I say these glasses are so good how I wish I can have this. That is temptation, it can come from anyway, any angle.

But did such temptation come in the way of testing your oath of celibacy, through women?

Many. They were there but this is where you show God that you love him by saying no to temptation like the Pentecostals say: saying yes to God and no to Satan. So your mind tells you don't do this, like before you came in I was looking for my cell phone and immediately my mind said 'oh, they have stolen it'. Then I rang the gentleman there and he said 'no, I didn't see it and I didn't take it; I don't think you left your phone' and I asked him, 'are you sure?' Temptation; trying to accuse him of stealing the phone. Then another one said 'let me dial the number'. And when he did it rang and I found it here. This is temptation, to accuse my neighbour wrongly.


Your comment






News Archive