Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, former Archbishop of Lagos and first president of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in this interview with MICHAEL UCHEBUAKU speaks about the politicisation of CAN, involvement of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor in the $9.3 million cash-for-arm deal, among other issues.
How is life in retirement and what is a typical day like for you now that you are retired?
Well, it is still the same life, except that we do not engage ourselves in too much pastoral work as we used to do when on active duty. On a typical day, I wake up in the morning like any other person. I say my prayers, go for my Mass, then do some exercises and go for a walk because of my leg. Then I take my breakfast and after that I sit down and people start coming to see me. And I will be there sitting in my office until 2 or 3pm listening and answering people’s questions. That is what a typical day looks like.
What are your most memorable moments as Archbishop of Lagos?
Doing my duties gave me the greatest joy. Anytime I am with people, each time I am officiating I know I’m doing what God wants me to do, I derive the greatest joy. But now, it’s not that I’m not doing what God wants me to do, but the concentration is more now on my spiritual life. That time was different from now. That time, even sometimes when I would be saying my prayers, I would feel so tired, then I would say, God I know you understand, I would be trying to justify being tired while saying my prayers. I don’t know how I can justify such a thing before God.
But now, I can fully concentrate on my spiritual life without distractions. I became an Archbishop on the 17th of June 1973. I spent 39 years as Archbishop of Lagos. Looking back, I never even imagined that I would become a bishop, not to talk of an archbishop. My entire mind when I was in the seminary was to become a priest. Pure and simple! But when that work comes, what can you do? Since it was the will of God that I become a bishop, no way, I can’t run away. So that’s how it is.
What were your saddest moments as Archbishop of Lagos?
Well, there are a few things that really demoralised me. For example, when you talk to people and you advise them, they don’t take your advice. Then in later years they regret and say, ah, ‘this man said it and I should have done it.’ But it pains me. It pains me in the sense that they think you are a liar. I tried to make them understand this is the way I feel.
I haven’t got the monopoly of wisdom, no, I am only telling you I try to address issues the way I see it, the way the good Lord wants me to say it. And I believe that when I open my mouth to talk, it is God that gives me the inspiration. For example, look at what is happening in the country today. When the Head of State (Goodluck Jonathan) was still the deputy, I have said it several times.
Before he became the Head of State I had an audience with him. We were four in the room. I don’t want to give you the names of the other two people who were there besides me and Jonathan. So after the audience, Jonathan said to me, “Bishop, can you pray for me?” And I said, “Sorry, Your Excellency, what do you want, what do you want me to pray for?” He was shocked and said to me, “What? You’re the first pastor that has asked me this kind of question. All the other pastors, when I ask them for prayer they tell me to bow my head and bow my head and they pray.
How can you ask me what do I want from God?” So I said, “Sorry o, your Excellency, don’t be annoyed, but this is the right way to pray. I want to be able to concentrate on what you are asking for; to let God open his hand and give this man this particular thing that he is asking for. I can say any kind of prayer for you, but to me, that is not enough.” So he said, “That is okay. Don’t you know I will be going in for the election?” And I said to him, “You have won, that is no problem, but you will not rule.” He said, “What? What do you mean that I will not rule?” And I said, “Yes sir, others will rule. Those around you will rule. They are the ones that will rule in your place.” What is happening now? This is the kind of thing that pains me.
If you consider the example I have given you now, that is how my life is. I don’t want to tell anybody lies. I don’t want to fool anybody. Shakespeare said “flattery is the food of fools”. That is what is going on now with many of our religious leaders. They flatter people because they want money. They want to be in the Head of State’s good book. That is what is happening today. One with God is always a majority even if they are going to kill me tomorrow.
When I was in the war front, I didn’t die, not a scratch on my body. It’s a pity Benjamin Adekunle is dead now. God bless his soul. He was my boss. The other one was Godwin Ali. We were all under him. They were real soldiers. I wasn’t a combatant officer, I was only a chaplain, and I did the little that God wanted me to do and came out without problem.
As a former and founding president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), you fought against several perceived attempts to Islamise Nigeria, especially through membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC); how do you view Boko Haram and the threat it poses to the country?
We sensed these things coming, especially during the OIC period. Those of us on the Christian side, that was one of the reasons we opposed it. Even though Babangida and all the others, and even some Catholics on the panel saw nothing wrong with it. I still remember telling (Jubril) Aminu and others to be careful, that this will not augur well for the nation.
They said to me, “What do you mean?” Now, look at what we are having. It is not just a question of the Islamisation of Nigeria we are talking of? We are talking of the future of Nigeria. With these things we are bringing up, what will it lead us to in future? Politicians and so-called intellectuals get up and make statements that can destroy the nation. And what does the government do? Nothing.
The government do nothing to them. They allow them to go scot-free. In a civilised nation, they will be called to answer for it. Once you make any careless statement, you must pay for it. You will be called to question. What must a Head of State, the father of the nation be afraid of? If he cannot die for the nation, why is he a Head of State? For example, if I cannot die for my faith, why am I an Archbishop? Why am I a Cardinal? These soldiers calling themselves Boko Haram are doing what they are doing because they believe in it. But it is there in the Quran and in the Bible that you shouldn’t shed blood.
I read it in the paper that somebody said if I don’t win this election, it will be too hot for somebody. And those who are of that opinion are still around, and they are there laughing. So who is at fault? Who is the fool? And we are calling on God, when God gave us a peaceful nation. We want to destroy it. I just pray that sooner or later things will be settled. 2015 is coming. That is another one. So when you are talking of Boko Haram, and the threat it poses to this nation, we caused We caused it. Some years back, during the time of Maitatsine, it took us time before we stopped it.
This is how it is. You don’t play with your armed forces anyhow. You don’t swing your sword anyhow, because it can cut you and cut your enemies. This is what is happening. Look at the number of people that are being killed. Now, if these Boko Haram people even succeeded, what would be the condition of the people in those areas in the north? Will Boko Haram be able to feed them or educate them? Now, look at the education.
Everything is going down daily in the north. Tomorrow now, they would say the south is cheating the north. Can’t they open their eyes to see the future? Can’t they see? So this is the problem. This is what we were fighting for then, when I was president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). While I was president of CAN, I was the leader of the Christian team to the so-called conference.
(Babagana) Kingibe was the intermediary then, begging the Christians and telling us that the Head of State (IBB) is worried. Then when he was knocking on our doors begging and saying the Head of State (IBB) is worried, I asked him, “Who caused it?” Remember that all of us have consciences. We all have a conscience and we are going to answer for it before God.
Do you think the government should consider negotiating with Boko Haram?
My own opinion is this: When you talk of Boko Haram, who are they? How can you say you are going to negotiate with a nebulous group? They have not declared their identity. Are you going to be talking to the air? The people you want to negotiate with, who are they? Have they even given you their own terms? You can’t know or see them because they are nebulous people.
And if you’re bold enough they will come and kill you. And you yourself, you need to know what you are negotiating for? Did you offend them? You are just sitting down and somebody tells you to quit. Look at all the innocent people they have killed, and taken innocent people (Chibok girls) hostage, and there is supposed to be a governor in that place. What was the governor doing, if he has no hand in it? If I were the Head of State, he would be the first person I would arrest.
Where do they (Boko Haram) get their arms from? How did they enter? There are many questions to be answered. And then you are now talking of negotiation. For what? What if they say for negotiation the Head of State should quit? Will he be ready to quit? Or what if they say government should give them so and so people in exchange for the Chibok girls, what kind of negotiation is that? To me, I don’t buy it at all.
Do you think the current leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is actually acting like an arm of the federal government or an appendage of the PDP as some critics say?
My brother, I must tell you this; CAN leadership today is zero. CAN has no leader. Thank God you are talking to one of the founders of CAN, and I was there as their leader for eight years. Then, the whole country knew that CAN had a leader, not by my own might, but by God. Because what we were doing then, we had only one voice. But the problem we have now is that people are struggling for power in unrighteous way.
And because he is struggling for power, he can do little or nothing. Power doesn’t come like that. Look at David in the Scriptures. Look at Solomon. Even look at Herbert Macaulay and other early nationalists. You don’t force yourself to power. This is what is happening. Somebody is telling you that if you don’t allow him to rule, you will not rule well. So the person struggling for power is not going to do better. Now, election is coming in 2015 and some people are already saying they must be there. They will not allow the electorate to decide.
They are ready with their moneybags. Where did they get the money from? Where did they get the $9.3m that has been seized by South Africa from? They said it was to buy arms. We have to be very careful in this nation. What is the man (Oritsejafor) looking for? If you call yourself a man of God, then you should rely on God. Why should he be jumping up and down? But because he was not elected, not chosen by God, that is what is happening. Today, he wants to build a university, tomorrow he wants to be something else, next tomorrow he wants to be like other people.
Then why is he there as CAN president? In our day and time, election was done by the groups and we know how we go about it. I think I ruled for two terms, eight years. If there was any trouble anywhere in the country, they would come to the centre. And it wouldn’t take time. We would just come to the centre and solve it and I will speak out and the whole nation would listen. Sometimes, you would hear people say, “Has Okogie spoken?” “What did Okogie say?” There was unity, because that’s what we are looking for.
And we didn’t buy the position. But this time around, because they are rushing to be in power, nobody obeys them. And look at how they are making mockery of themselves and making mockery of “religion”. Is that religion? Today, they are with the federal government. We saw the writing on the wall when we left. The very first person that took over started romancing with Obasanjo. Then one or two CAN presidents tried their best before it got to this present CAN president, Oritsejafor. This is not right. Look at how Oritsejafor has fallen, from grace to grass.
And he is not going down alone, he is also staining the name of the Head of State. Of course, why not? If you eat with those with dirty hands, then you must be dirty. And this is the man that they are saying should come and rule the nation for a second term. They think people are stupid. They have not even answered about this $9.3m, and when the matter got to the House of Reps, they said they should throw it out. Can you imagine? Are they not the ones making laws on money laundering? And this is a case of real money laundering. These are lawmakers.
And they say throw it out, we will not entertain any discussion on this $9.3m matter. Can you imagine! You can imagine that these are the kind of people we have in the National Assembly. And then of course, the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa is strained. Look at the T.B. Joshua building collapse affair, and they think all South Africans are stupid. Just watch and see what comes out of these two affairs. These are bad signs. Tomorrow now, they will say Nigeria is the giant of Africa and the economy of Nigeria is booming, with mouth. The Head of State is a PDP man and he (Oritsejafor) is linked with this rubbish. So what other proof do you want that CAN has now become an appendage of the PDP?
So do you feel now that President Jonathan and Oritsejafor have a case of money laundering to answer?
Of course, they have. In fact, if I have a lawyer, I would sue them. And I am telling you that I will win. If you can tell me that if I carry huge sums of money without declaring it, that you will arrest me for money laundering, then what is this one. They were carrying all that money and it was not declared. It is a clear case of money laundering. Yet, they are the ones making laws against money laundering.
The report that the aircraft which flew some Nigerians and an Israeli to South Africa allegedly to purchase arms belongs to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor has once again revived the debate about the propriety of ministers of God owning private jets. What is your view about this episode?
As far as I am concerned, why are they men of God? I asked one so-called religious leader, and you know what he told me? He said, “My God is a rich God. So if yours is a poor God, that’s your business.” Imagine! So you can even see that this one can’t be called a man of God. And these are the people that tell you they can work miracles, that they have a direct telephone line to God.
They say they can do this, they can do that, and God is watching all of us. If it were to be in the Old Testament, they would all have been struck down by God. But God is a patient God. We have to be praying for this kind of people, for them to have a change of heart. What are they looking for with jet? Another one said, “Jesus said go into the whole world and evangelise, so how can I go into the whole world, with what? I need a plane to be able to go to the whole world.”
Even the devil can quote scripture. But did Jesus Christ say you should go and steal to go and buy plane? But now they are claiming that they were given the jets as gifts. But why can’t they spend that money on the poor? There are many Nigerians who are begging that they have nothing to eat, and yet you say you’re preaching. Preaching for what? Are there no pastors where they are going? May God not punish us according to our sins.
Do you see indications that there is now a sufficient will to tackle corruption, or that corruption is no longer as pervasive as it was?
Corruption is in every nation but Nigeria’s own is number one. I am telling you. And if we are not careful, this nation will go down the drain. Now, people can’t help you to bring something from that corner without asking for remuneration. Look at so many children and youths who have no school to go to, or no money to pay school fees, and there are rich men who parade themselves up and down the place as rich people. For what? They seem to have forgotten that this life is not the end. Nobody chose his parents, and nobody came into the world with a gold or silver spoon.
So even if you have a gold or silver spoon, you are going to go empty handed. A wise man lives life in a simple way. That is how I am. Even Fela told them the truth, even though they said he was mad and called him all sorts of names. Naked you came into this world, and naked you will go back. These are people that are supposed to rule and govern this nation. What is happening? Money is exchanging hands.
Now, they are asking the nation and the national assembly to approve so and so huge sum of money for them to borrow. They think people are stupid. Whatever you do as the Head of State without the permission of the people, you will pay for it. Those who were ministers and Heads of State before, some of them are in Abuja today begging for job, because if you get ill-gotten wealth, you will spend it anyhow. It is an ill wind that blows no one any good.
With the next election just a few months away, what would you say of the president’s ambition to seek re-election?
You can deduce that from what I have said before. You can even see from all that is going on, that some people have been saying that he even signed for one term. You see, if I were in his shoes, I would hide my head. I am not a prophet, just like I told him that day, but that is what my mind is telling me. And nobody knows what is going to happen. Even, nobody knows who is going to be alive to see 2015. So, one has to be very careful.
Talking about election, what kind of election are we even going to have in Nigeria? Is it going to be free and fair and just? Tell me what election we have had in Nigeria that is free and fair? Is it not mouth that they use in saying it is free and fair?