Anthony Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie
Catholic Archbishop of
Additional questions by the committee of Intellectuals
Anthony Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie
Anthony Cardinal Okogie
Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie
Prof. Chinua Achebe
Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie
Prof. Chinua Achebe
Born on June 16, 1936 in Lagos, Nigeria, Okogie was ordained as a priest on December 11, 1966. He holds a licentiate in sacred theology; his plans to study in Rome were set aside when he was called to Nigeria as a pastoral assistant at the Holy Cross Cathedral. He was later drafted into the Nigerian army where he was a chaplain. After a subsequent period of service at the Holy Cross Cathedral, he became an instructor at King's College.
In 1971, he was ordained titular Bishop of Mascula and Auxiliary of Oyo, and in 1973 named Archbishop. Okogie became the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, and, from 1994 to 2000, headed the Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria.
He was proclaimed Cardinal by Pope John Paul II in the concistory of 21 October 2003, and holds the title of Cardinal Priest of Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel of Mostacciano. During his cardinalate, Okogie, as cardinal electors, participated in the 2005 papal conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI
(From the Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardinal_Anthony_Okogie)
Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye has published articles as well as poems and short stories on various social, literary and political topics, which have appeared in several newspapers, magazines, journals and internet sites in Nigeria and abroad. The most recent, Jennifer’s Handbag was featured in Confluences, an anthology of short stories published and launched recently (July 2005) by the Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos branch. Educated at the Universities of Port Harcourt and Ilorin, Ejinkeonye is currently on the Editorial Board of the Independent, a national newspaper published in Lagos, Nigeria, where he writes a well-read column every Wednesday.
Thank you, Your Eminence, for taking part in the Chinua Achebe Foundation interview project. Let me begin with this question:
Do you think it is possible to find any one person in government who might wake up in the morning concerned for the good of this country?
Thank you very much, my dear brother; you are welcome to my little place.
Well, I am not God. All I can tell you
is that we need to focus on any rays of hope.
Why is it that with all the human and
natural resources that
does this say about the quality of leadership
There has been a leadership crisis in
this country for a long time. Look at other countries -
The other day, a library project was launched with N6 billion! And the people of that community? Granted
that a library is an important thing, but what is more important to the languishing people? We are told that
You see, all there is are
empty boasts, unnecessary projects… as if we will never die. We cannot think that it is easy to immortalize one’s
name; the next person or generation may not believe in your significance and will demolish whatever you have put
up. For instance, there was a stadium built somewhere around
here. They named it after someone, but as soon as the man was out of power, the next man renamed it. So that is
what happens…there is decay everywhere. Look at City Hall (in
We have had six years of democracy; do we have any reason to celebrate?
If you are celebrating to thank God for the gift of life, yes. But if we are celebrating achievements, I don’t see what we have achieved that is worth celebrating. That’s what I will tell you. People claim that they have not yet seen the dividends of democracy, so go round the country, and ask the question you just asked me. They will tell you all sorts of stories!
We are being told that the price of petrol
will go up yet again -- in a petroleum producing country! In
What can you say about the culture of lawlessness reigning in the country now?
It all boils down to what we have just
discussed. In addition, there is a great lack of education, and comparisons are very obvious. Remember the late
General Tunde Idiagbon and General Muhammadu Buhari? When they were in power, there was law and order in the country,
because they introduced the War Against Indiscipline. When General Idiagbon was ousted, all those good values went with him. So, what it means is that Nigerians can be successful
at whatever they wish, but there seems to be a need for the enforcement of certain rules. It appears that someone
has to direct the country constructively; that’s it. If we lack the appropriate leadership…you see… in
The government is now harping on bribery and corruption. But the people in power are corrupt themselves. Now, to show us leadership, it is not enough to single out one, two or three people as scapegoats; those who know better are simply waiting for the day you will default, and they will proclaim it. Read the papers go on the internet, to Nigerian websites, to see what is going on.
I would like to take you back to your youth…to recall your days as a primary school boy growing up in Lagos; was the youth of your time more motivated than today’s youths?
During my youth, I will say that things were by far, I think, better than what subsists today. There was respect for elders. The education we had was quite different. We had teachers who taught us with love. It is true we were tele-guided, as it were, but it was for a definite, good purpose; to build us up. We were not simply left on our own like what obtains these days. We saw our elders as models. If you did anything wrong, they were there to correct you; and when you behaved correctly, they would commend you.
In those days, the teachers were regarded as second parents. Although, there was no undue familiarity, they tried to treat their pupils as their own children. They made the children trust in them. But all that is gone now. In those days, teachers did not work simply to receive salaries, but felt they had a role to play in moulding the children in their care and by extension, the rest of society.
Now, the other day, I saw one of my former teachers; I bowed down to greet him, even though he was kneeling down himself – you know, the Catholic way of greeting bishops… But, I told him: “no, stand up! He refused and said: “No! no! I have to do it, because of what you are now. You see? That will not happen today.
I grew up to know the likes of (Herbert) Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mbonu Ojike and the others. They behaved exceptionally. Their’s was not a politics of bitterness. You could see that they all had a similar goal-- to bring our nation up to the standard of developed nations. But today, such is no longer the case.
some of those who have ruled
In every generation, you have capable,
qualified individuals, and those that are not as gifted in this area. A nation can only be successful if the most
qualified individuals run the affairs of the country. When I was growing up it
was clear what kind of individuals we wanted to run things. Today in
What, in your opinion, are the fundamental characteristics of great leaders?
Well, a strong moral and spiritual center [belief in and followership of GOD], good character [incorruptibility], integrity, honesty and fairness are some. Once you have the first, the others follow in most cases. These people are few but they are there, ask the average Nigerian and they will tell you who they are…
You know one’s up bringing also has something to do with it. You see, some of these people [corrupt and inept leaders] could not have benefited from a proper upbringing. If you want to make a leader … for instance in the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church -- I, for example, was shocked when at my tender age, I was made a Bishop -- I had not spent five years in the ministry as a priest! But they were definite moral and spiritual qualities they were looking for.
When the leader is not up to the task,
his subjects will kick against him, because
I must say -- there are some governors who seem up to the task -- I am not naming anyone -- but you just open your eyes, and you shall see what I am referring to. Some are capable, while some are not. For some others, the moment they get hold of public money, they turn their heads away.
But a few work very hard to give good governance. The majority of the time, when it is time to appoint ministers or commissioners, the government just looks for names that ring a bell. Oh! This man is a doctor, the other one is a professor, this one is this or that, and that’s all. And there are some appointees who are not being employed in their fields of expertise. When, say, an engineer is placed to head the Ministry of Education, one has to ask; what is he going to do there? An engineer in the health sector; what is he going to achieve there, when there are other areas where he can excel?
What would you say is to blame for
the collapse of the educational system in
The education I enjoyed was designed after the model established by the missionaries. The missionaries set a very good standard, a solid foundation. And as people began to set up schools, they tried to model them after those of the missionaries, and even tried to make theirs better. So, there was healthy competition at the time.
Today, however, nobody seems to care. Even parents seem not to care any longer. But, you see; one can’t blame it all on government; I must be frank with you. Parents and the government and society all must play a part in this. But unfortunately, the government insisted it could do it all alone. And that marked the beginning of a major decline in that sector. Indeed, money is not all it takes to properly educate children. It is just not possible.
With the oil boom, it appears that parents abandoned their responsibilities towards the family in their bid to make quick money. Bribery and corruption became commonplace, because the law had become less effective. There were virtually no suitable norms to guide the society. Everyone seemed to be running after money and power, and so on. Well, the collapse of the morality of the nation set in. Now, people in high office, who are supposed to be models in the society, misbehave with their own staff, or even with children; what then is to be expected?
Unfortunately, things are getting increasingly
worse. Take our universities, for example. New ones keep springing up, because there appears to be no clear cut
yardstick for establishing academic institutions. And who are the products of such universities? A man with a PhD
do these developments portend for
The future of
Now there is talk about our debt relief
being written off. Now, how is
And some of these youths now are already
gathering themselves. They are not fools. They are collecting themselves, trying to form small groups. For example,
in the Catholic Church, or what about here, in
Your Eminence, you are aware that when leaders of other countries fail to perform, the electorate is able to remove them by vote. In this country, however, there seems to be a continued erosion of the powers of the electorate? It seems that the people no longer have the power to choose their leaders…
This is what I am telling you. We are still saying the same thing.
Our votes no longer count?
Vote! How can they? The
people in power feel they know everything; they are in
BNW Advocates' Island
BNW Advocates' Island
Once they find themselves in power—a problem
possibly peculiar to
Is there a correlation between poverty and electoral malpractices; because if people have enough to eat, maybe, they would not easily succumb to the manipulations of politicians?
That’s what I am telling you, brother. You see, food is rotting on the farms, because there is no transportation. Those who try to bring the food out are over-tasked. They are either waylaid by armed-robbers, or delayed at police stops or by whatever, whoever. They are so many, many obstacles. They pay, say, ten naira here, move a short distance to be asked by yet another group for fifty naira or more in bribes; by the time they get to their destination, some of the foodstuff has become rotten, because of undue delays. Then, of course, the price escalates.
What message do you have for the general electorate?
Well, all I can tell them is that even a hundred years is not forever. We must continue to pray to God to help and assist us. We must pray for good governance, and the end of election rigging. Even then, people should vote only for people who truly deserve their votes.
Is the war on corruption winnable?
Yes, it’s winnable…it is winnable, if there is the will. There have been attempts to curb bribery and corruption, which seem to be working. We have cases where people have been caught and arrested; that shows you that, sooner than later, things will improve. And we are beginning to see for ourselves, one by one, those who are corrupt, and those who are not.
On behalf of the Chinua Achebe Foundation, I thank Your Eminence.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.
Founder and Chairman, Board of Directors of the Chinua Achebe Foundation
Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Anthony Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie in Conversation with Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye