Dr. Anthony J.V. Obinna,
Prof. Chinua Achebe
Archbishop AJV Obinna
Prof. Chinua Achebe
Archbishop AJV Obinna
A former lecturer in the Religious Studies Department of the Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri,
Archbishop Obinna is the current Chair of the Education Committee of the Catholic Bishopís Conference of Nigeria
(CBCN). He was ordained a Bishop on
In this interview with UGOCHUKWU EJINKEONYE, Archbishop Obinna canvasses an attitudinal change, which he hopes will help steer Nigeria out of its present political, moral, and economic descent, and reroute it to the path of progress and lasting development.
About Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye is
a Columnist and Member, Editorial Board, Independent Newspapers,
Morality, Religion And The State
Q. Your Grace, do you
think we can in all honesty say that we have freedom of worship in
A. Well, constitutionally there is freedom of worship. So, to some extent, it is possible to say:
Given the pluralistic nature of our society, we cannot force everybody to become either Christian or Moslem. So, what this calls for is openness of mind, accommodation and tolerance so that people are free to worship as they wish. Of course, freedom of religion cannot be interpreted in an anti-human way. If a religion teaches people to kill either members of the same religion or non-members, the laws of the land that forbids murder must be respected. To kill in the name of God is outrageous murder; whether a person kills in the name of Christ or in the name of Mohammed, or even in the name of the Pope, it must be clear that any killing of a human being is outrageous in the sight of God. You cannot steal in the name of God or Allah. Our freedom of worship does not give us the leeway to do what we like in the name of religion. Religion has to be practiced with responsibility. It ought, also, to be accountable; in theory, it may claim to be peaceful, but in practice the record can be bloody and terrible.
Q. What should be the relationship between religion and the state?
A. Religion, with its structures,
Archbishop AJV Obinna of Oweri during the interview
Archbishop AJV Obinna of Oweri during the interview
There is absolutely no need for the state and religion to merge. If the governor or commissioner is a Christian or Moslem, heís not expected to turn his office into a mosque or church. The state is a public apparatus. What one is expected to do is to infuse the passion for truth, justice and fair play imbibed from oneís religion into governance. Whether he is at the Legislative or Executive arm of government, such a person should ensure that what is legislated or executed are right and just. The same thing applies to those at the Judiciary.
But trouble ensues when a governor or president goes ahead to plant his or her religious leader at the seat of power, and state apparatus suddenly assumes the nature of a religious system. Sometimes, religion can be politicized and manipulated. And so you get palace clergymen who only pray according to the intentions of the leader. And this may create incidences of conflict for the state and religion, especially in a situation where a particular priest, pastor or bishop in a state may become too friendly with the governor or the president as to now subject his religious work to government authority. One way or the other, the religious leader can capitulate, become a tool and slave to government. But if the religious leader is the prophetic type, his calling will even compel him to periodically critique the government so as to rouse the conscience of public officers to the expectation of the people towards them.
What is required is for religion and the state to complement each other. We need religious people to pray and maintain the banner of righteousness. We also need the government to use the resources of the nation in an upstanding way. So, if God is the owner of both religion and government, He would expect that uprightness should reign in both very vital segments of the society.
Q. In his widely quoted pre-conclave homily, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict VXI (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger), came down hard on what he called the ďdictatorship of relativism.Ē Were you worried by the harsh reactions of the Western press to that sermon?
A. No, I wasnít surprised at all, because Iím very familiar with the Western world, having lived in
But there is also the other side of Western culture; built up from the religious side, particularly from Israel -- Moses to Christ-- down to the apostles that gave birth to Christianity. So, in the Western world, we have these two forces; the religious force on the one hand, and the naturalist and rational forces on the other hand. Those who have immersed themselves in pure naturalism and rationalism perceive everything as relative. But those who cling to the Christian tradition respect the human being and creation as gifts of God. They want to bring divine principles to rule human life.
So, if you understand this background, you can then appreciate the reaction of the Western Press -- which is largely secularistic, atheistic, anti-Christ, anti-God. And anybody trying to remind them of God is often attacked. For them, the Pope is touching on what has become a sensitive point. So, Iím not surprised. You can even see that in the Anglican community, there is now a split between the African Anglicans and the Western or American Anglicans, because a number of the Anglicans have followed the way of naturalism, homosexuality, lesbianism and anything goes.
So, this dictatorship of relativism is what the Western media is trying to spread across the world. But the Pope, even though he comes from the Western world, has imbibed a different kind of orientation, and now propagates a healthier tradition, the tradition of God. And to that tradition I belong, even though I am very familiar with the Western secular world.
Q. Are you worried by the growing culture of indecent and even weird dressing among many Nigerians, especially, the youth? Men are even perforating their ears, noses and all that? What do you think accounts for this penchant to copy only the worst, and the most horrible, from the Western world?
A. Well, we havenít
quite fully recovered from the old indoctrination that everything from
The lecture series are conducted in my Igbo language; that every one in the village can understand. And I have discovered that it gives my people a great sense of joy, because I am helping them rediscover their identity, and to know that Igbo language is as good as English, French or any other, and never a mark of stupidity if you speak only Igbo. That there are very brilliant people who speak only Igbo because, after all, it was through the natural talents of farmers, fishermen and traders who never went to school, and what they cultivated, that their children were able to become trained as engineers and scientists. Indeed, many children of farmers, wine-tappers and wrestlers, have turned out to be excellent role models, because it is the practical knowledge of our people that laid the foundation for further intellectual or mental development of the later generation.
So, until we become re-orientated with and appreciative of the things around us, we shall always run after the white man. Now, although the white man has accomplished a great many good things, his society is far from perfect. Much of the present preoccupations of Western society do not seem to give its people joy. So, they end up being confused, and unhappy, and that is what some our people are running after.
So, I think itís a matter of mis-education and misguidance by people who donít have real values. They are living by what we call popular values; popular culture. Cars, dresses, shoes and what they can wear on their eyes and noses are more important to them. At a time, our children didnít wear clothes until a certain age; yet it did not create any moral confusion. Now, people are exhibiting thighs and breasts when decency demands that they should cover them up.
I used to tell my students when I was lecturing at Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri that instead of retouching their brain, all they do is retouch their hair! So, we are no longer touching up the brain for higher things. It is unfortunate. We have shifted emphasis to less-inspiring and unedifying habits.
Q. Harmful practices like prostitution, cultism, robbery and violence are on the rise, especially among young people, and it does seem that efforts to combat this are progressively sabotaged by television. How do we come out of this?
Well, this is an area where the government of our country with their policies have proved unhelpful, and shown that they donít understand the psychology of the young. They are unaware that young peopleís minds can be destroyed and distorted as early as the age of ten. Because some of our leaders have also bought into these superficial, artificial values, they have no understanding of the need for screening, and instead allow the airing of unsuitable television content at periods of the day when children can watch them. And these unscrupulous adults may not even be around to combat the fallout of these experiences when the children are now tempted to practice what they picked up from the videos they watch.
So, it requires a leadership that understands the sensitivity and importance of forming children with important values, even before they are ten and twelve years. Because, at that point, children are immensely impressionable. We had to make a public statement last week about the introduction of Sex Education in schools, which I personally believe is corrupting to the children. These people are just importing Western values, and so, our women, thanks be to God, have risen. They have gone to the Federal Ministry of Education to protest against this corrupting influence. But the way to effectively fight it is to provide alternative programmes, especially on television, that will give more positive orientation to our children, and I think licenses should be given to responsible religious bodies to do this.
You know the government has been very reluctant to give out licenses to religious bodies. Of course, it is true that some of the religious bodies have proved to be part of the destroyers of the society, but government could exercise the right to restrict, and not completely ban religious bodies like ours. I, for one, wouldnít want to present a programme that will distort the minds of the people. I am an educationist, a religionist and social leader. And I am concerned about the future of the children. So, if government would open up the channels to allow more responsible television programming by religious bodies with excellent educational track records, we can turn the tide.
When I switch on the television today, what do I see? Murder, bloodshed, violence, immoralityÖhey! So, an alternative to this is a more positive, healthy approach that does not promote violence, immorality, and seduction. Thatís the only way.
Q. You donít think that government should introduce some form of censorship, as in the past, and even extend it to the pornographic magazines that fill our newsstands these days?
A. As I said earlier, if we have leaders who are concerned about the future of this nation, a lot of things will be done right. It is my observation that the Western world is in a state of confusion. And because we have also inherited aspects of Western culture, we have also inherited the confusion that comes with it. But if we had a more spiritual, moral, serious and sensitive leadership in this country, it would address these issues. And the people will share that sense of responsibility, you know, to restrict the kind of things that they read and watch, in order to promote a more positive culture. Indeed, there is a need for censorship of what we take in, and the earlier the relevant authorities and bodies respond adequately to this challenge, the better for our society.
Q. The rate at which HIV/AIDS is spreading is alarming. But some of us are seriously questioning the intentions behind campaigns deployed to combat it that seem, in actual fact, to aid in the erosion of the moral foundation of our society. When hopefully a vaccine is found and the scourge is over, how will the moral reclamation of society begin?
A. Well, I have spoken to various audiences in the church and outside about this matter of promiscuity, immorality and diseases. Of course, there is human weakness all over the world, and when people indulge their weaknesses, they are vulnerable to contracting diseases one way or the other. As you rightly pointed out, the manner the situation is being handled cannot lead to the discipline that should have been established in the first place. Rather when you say: well people are bound to have sex, so make it easy for them, give them condoms, give them contraceptives, human beings being what they are would sometimes not want the condoms, the contraceptives, or even worse, these things may fail. Indeed, it has to be clear that those bringing in contraceptives and condoms might just want to promote promiscuity simply to provide a market for these products.
But I also want everyone
to note that Western societies have a low birth rate, and there is the fear that Africans might continue to multiply,
and prove to be a global force to contend with like
Thanks be to God that the Moslems, as well, joined in the visit to the Federal Ministry of Education to protest against the promotion of immorality. Imagine exposing children of nine and ten years to ideas about homosexuality, masturbation, lesbianism and how to enjoy sex. Instead of raising their ideals they fill them with pernicious knowledge which would awake in them emotions they are incapable of handling.
So, it requires courage to go against the current. We have to teach people that it is possible to be chaste. It is possible to be self-controlled. If you can be self-controlled for one day, you can as well be for one month. If you can be controlled for a month, you can as well do it for one year or two years. This is important, so we can get healthy marriages, that will not produce contaminated, sick children, and those that will be weak specimens. So, our mission is to promote chastity, to call also to conversion those who have made mistakes.
God doesnít want the loss of anyone. He says Heís not interested in the death of the sinner but that the sinner should repent and live. But the trouble comes when we begin to declare by words or actions that there is no more sin. No, we must take the necessary precautions ourselves so that we donít make the situation worse. It is because we recognize our weakness as human beings that we cling to Christ and the Word of God. My help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. The nearer I am to God, the stronger I am. But if a person becomes careless and lives only with people who are promiscuous, who are immoral, even if he was strong, he may begin to decay and degenerate.
Corruption and Political Ineptitude
Not too long ago, the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) awarded
A. Well, I donít really give too much attention
to the placement of
In fact some years ago, while I was in
There are, however,
people who are working to make things worse for us in
Q. Do you think the present government is helping to bring about the desired change?
A. Well, this present government is a kind of conundrum. It is not a straightforward arrow. It is mixed music, with several tunes. We are still looking forward. The rhetoric is good, the language is correct; but the action is dubious. Nothing is transparent, beginning with the elections. We had hoped that, after late Gen. Sani Abacha and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, we would have been able to begin on a clean slate; but, how the country ended up under a military man, I still canít explain. Indeed, I believe that this is part of the problem we are still facing. However, certain credit was given to the present leadership, initially. And this is because, we had believed that under a President who had experienced imprisonment, there would have been a revolutionary change. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Under this current leadership, the same problems have continued to emerge. The expectation had been that a realistic action-plan would have been put in place, which would, much more than EFCC, ICPC and other agencies, help us track the porous ways through which Nigeria is losing its money.
So, although the leadership has spoken a very good language, we still seem to be where we were. I think it was Marx who said: ďwell the philosophers have interpreted the situation correctly, but the important thing is to change itÖĒ
Q. Is there something about the Nigerian environment that provides incentive for cutting corners? The same Nigerian who endeavours to keep rules in other countries would be quick to try and beat the system here?
A. Yes, here, we have what is called the ďbig man syndrome.Ē Some people consider themselves ten or even hundred times more important than the rest. But I know that in spite of my being a Bishop, Iím just a commoner, my blood is as common as any other blood. There is nothing like royal blood. Itís the same ordinary blood that flows in me that flows in the president or governor or traditional ruler. So, there is an illusion about our personalities that makes some of us unable to accept ourselves as ordinary people; maybe, because of the titles we have or the position we occupy in society. And some people now define themselves more in terms of their titles, qualifications or ranks, wanting to bulldoze their way through society, and encourage others to do so as well.
So, itís a kind of psychic disease akin to pomposity, which I call pomposis. You may not find it in the dictionary but it has to do with excessive obsession with pomp and pageantry. Such a person comes across as an inflated balloon. Every other person has to give way when a ďbig manĒ is passing. And if you delay, his men could push you into the gutter.
Q. But why do Nigerians
manifest such behaviour only when they are in
A. No, they cannot, because the people there
have deflated themselves. Even in
Q. Even governors, in some countries, use the same buses as regular people as they go to work in the morning.
A. Well, in
Q. What is your message to Nigerians on corruption?
A. I cannot give any message to Nigerians in general. I can only give a message to the leaders, because the people are either good or bad followers depending, to a large extent, on who is leading them. So, my message is not for the poor man who has reached a point of frustration ĖI can only sympathize with him, and tell him to be patient, that things will certainly get better.
My message is more for the leaders, and I am telling them to deflate themselves, and realize that they are ordinary mortals like every other person. The poor people they despise today may be the ones to carry their corpses tomorrow; so, I am pleading with them, and praying that the Lord touches their minds and hearts. Our elites must realize that until they destroy this sense of elitism, and tell themselves that even Christ Himself came into this life to identify with the lowliest human being, nothing can change for the better.
So, my challenge is to the leaders is this: Let us commit class suicide. I am ready to commit class suicide any time. I am trying everyday, to ensure I donít feel that I am more important than others, because I happen to be an Archbishop. Itís just a service that I am rendering; I know that somebody else can as well do it, even better than I can. Why then should I hold on to the illusion that I am the most important man in the land?
Q. Would you mind naming a particular phenomenon that greatly tasks your faith in the Nigerian system?
A. Well, itís like coming back to the same
issue of leadership and its dislocation of the entire social system; there is disarray in the system. Anytime you
ply our roads -- whether it is the
We tend to do things haphazardly. There is no longer a sense of thoroughness and excellence. Yet, the country is considered to be very rich, and this is a problem. What you see is a symptom of bad leadership. It creates decay and disorganization. There is little expectation that things will happen the way they ought to happen.
Q. There is the suspicion
A. Well, every nation was born with certain,
inherent, contradictions. All that is required is bracing up, working hard, getting a common vision, and deciding
to put the vision into effect. But what happens in
We are not yet one
people. The concept of one
Take a person like
Nelson Mandela, for instance. For 25 years, he fought and remained committed to a cause; he suffered and was imprisoned.
But from all this he emerged the president of Advertise here
The case of Mahatma Gandhi comes to mind here. He had trained as a lawyer in
He did this to give
a boost to production of textile material in
And because of this,
the Indians can look back today and say: Oh! Thanks be to God for a man like Gandhi. He gave them the fighting spirit, the spirit to excel; today, even
in science and technology,
Q. Okay, but it appears
we lack a somewhat perennial capacity to get it right. In
A. Well, someone just came back from
When President John
Kufour visited us -- that is, the Catholic Bishops of West Africa -- where we were meeting in the Volta Region,
it was a very simple visit. We didnít see any army and police escorts shouting at or intimidating and harassing
anybody. That was the first thing that struck us there. So,
Q. Industries are relocating
A. Well, you are telling me. For the past
seven or eight years now, Ghanaians have been working hard. When I was in
Iíve not been to
Q: There is an alarming state of insecurity in the land. Nigerians have never felt so unsafe, whether on the highways or at home. Even the churches have not been spared. Only recently, a number of Roman Catholic parishes and even a nunnery were invaded by hoodlums. In one particular case, a priest was killed; what are your thoughts on this?
the simple reason is greed; the
Archbishop AJV Obinna of Oweri during the interview
Archbishop AJV Obinna of Oweri during the interview
So, those who have no patience now say: well, we also have to survive; how can all these people be millionaires and billionaires while we remain Ďnothingnairesí? So, this is what has caused the problem. But if we had a more equitable society, we would not be having all these problems. People, you know, become more relaxed when there is merited wealth; however, when there are people visibly stinking with riches and others stinking with wretchedness, then we can expect these things.
I am not surprised that the church is also being visited by marauders, because, on the one hand, the church by nature is a vulnerable institution. We are not guarded by the army or police. Anybody can visit me. Some years back, I was visited by armed robbers, right in my bedroom. I lost two cars to them. This experience made me realize that our people are really suffering. If it could happen to the Bishop, priests and the church, then we have to know that the matter is really serious. It shows the amount of violence being visited on our people everyday. It helps the church to realize that our people are really suffering, and that the suffering has now overflowed into the Bishopís house, into the priestís house.
I donít go about with soldiers or policemen. This helps me realize that my life is just in Godís hands. And anybody can shoot me any time. So, I donít worry about security; rather, I share the vulnerability of my people. It is those who are hiding from the people, who have stolen wealth, that build barricades around themselves. I have no big barricade. I can be captured any day.
Q. The problem is even more complex. It is like those who are able to escape armed robbers still face the grave danger posed by flying police bullets.
A. Well, it all goes back to the issue of
leadership. If we are blessed with a leadership that identifies with the frustrations of the people, leaves itself
vulnerable, a leadership that is made to account for its deeds, then things will definitely change. If people see
that the commissioners, governors, House members, etc., are not living above their earnings, and showing off illicitly
acquired cars and mansions, or flying out of the country to put away stolen money in foreign banks, when they see
that their leaders live close to them, instead of hiding in fortresses or expensive hotels to squander the nationís
resources, the frustrations that give rise to these problems will abate. Peace and safety will take the place of
violence. So, our problem is basically that of leadership. Achebe said it, long ago, that the trouble with
Elections and the Electorate
Q. Now, you have witnessed
several elections in
A. Yes, indeed. This is a matter that I have
been closely involved with. Having lived during colonialism, witnessed the period of the crisis in Nigeria in the
1960s, experienced the Nigerian-Biafra War, survived detention in a Nigerian military camp, and the war itself,
and by Godís grace, joined the rest of surviving Nigerians or Biafrans, at the time, to say -- Well, thanks be
to God, we are still alive -- I had looked forward to better days, especially, under the slogan, ďNo Victor, No
Vanquished.Ē We believed that
So, there were indeed,
the ďvictorsĒ and the ďvanquished.Ē Then during the 1979 elections, there seemed to have been some semblance of
equity. Though, as had happened in the 50s and the 60s, there were still cases of violence. But somehow
So, I was monitoring the political and economic developments in
In 1999, we thought that, finally, we were exiting the military era; but what happened in 2003, before my very eyes, was most unexpected. The situation was such that, after casting my vote here in Owerri, the INEC official there said to me: Look, Archbishop, I know you have voted, but you have to stand here and guard this ballot box. Because once you leave, it will be stolen and taken away from here. I said waoh! Has it really come to this -- an official of the electoral commission deploying me to guard the ballot box? I said to him: well, you people can do whatever you want, but the consequences will surely come. And just as he said, an hour later, as I heard, the ballot boxes were indeed stolen by thugs of the party on ground. Up until now, those results have not been released. So, if any ďresultsĒ were released, we donít know where they have come from.
This clearly shows that we do not yet have the spirit of love for our people, and for the development of our country. It demonstrates that there is massive greed and selfishness surrounding our electoral process. And until this massive greed, individual or corporate, is removed, we shall not succeed with elections. Our democracy and the development of the people will continue to stagnate. Sadly, thereís no sign yet that things will improve in this regard. Perhaps, the elections in 2007 will give us the final verdict? Either we get it right this time around, or we simply forget about it.
Q. How, in your view, should INEC be constituted and funded to rise above the manipulations of the government and influential people in the polity?
A. Well, the first thing would be to create an understanding, the awareness that any money used in servicing public institutions is public money. It belongs neither to the president nor the governor. I think that this is the first thing that must be clearly emphasized to those in positions of leadership; they must resist the temptation of claiming ownership of public funds. One example would be instances where a governor takes credit for any donation of state funds. The money does not belong to him; the donation is on behalf of the state that he serves! And until that spiritual, moral exercise is successfully accomplished, it will be difficult to talk about the independence of INEC.
So, when the people in public office purge themselves of the delusion that public funds belong to them, simply because they are the ones disbursing it, when there is an accompanying passion to have free and fair elections by all stakeholders, everything will be in place to make the INEC chairman truly independent. And I think Iíve heard it mentioned often that we need to adopt a policy whereby, about three months to elections, the president and governors would vacate their offices and hand over to the chief judge or whosoever the law prescribes. We have discovered from experience the unworkablity of allowing leaders at different levels to retain powers they may use to influence elections in which they are participating. The independence of INEC would be truly ensured when this is done. At least, we would now know who to actually hold responsible when elections are mismanaged; but right now, there is so much confusion. Are we really going to hold the INEC chairman, the governor or president responsible? Who really is calling the shots during elections? Thatís the problem.
Q. But what part, Your Grace, does poverty actually play in electoral process in this country? There is the belief that if the majority of Nigerians can at least afford their daily meals, they would not be easily manipulated by politicians during elections.
A. Well, poverty by itself is not a vice. There are many poor people who remain honest even when they know that others have much more materially than they do. So, itís not poverty that is the problem. The issue is that we have people from poor backgrounds who also happen to be greedy. Indeed, not every person has the same level of resistance towards bribes, and that is why there are people who would be willing to accept inducements to vote for the wrong people. Unfortunately, these people may not even be aware that by these actions they are mortgaging their own future.
The politicians, therefore, go all out to exploit these greedy, naïve poor. Not too long ago, during the 2003 elections, as politicians brought food items to win the hearts of the electorate, a poor old woman was able to stand up in the market place and declare: look, it is this stockfish, rice and soft drinks these people are bringing that will spoil this election! The voice of this woman was able to dissuade some people with conscience from collecting those items, while the greedy ones still went ahead to collect. So, poverty, by itself, is not our problem, but rather the greedy politicians who come to find the greedy poor and use them to introduce confusion.
Q. Any message to the electorate?
A. Well, I have composed a prayer for upright voting and honest counting in view of the 2007 elections. I hope to launch this prayer on the 27th of November, which will be the beginning of the new church year for us in the Catholic Church. I am hoping that the chairman of INEC will be at that mass. It will be a way of helping him and challenging our people to take this election seriously and move towards upright voting and the honest counting of our votes. These are the two key issues. Let the process be transparent and honest. Whatever votes any candidate or party gets should be credited to him. If the process of voting is made free and fair, then weíll have upright voting. And if the votes are counted honestly, then weíll get honest results. Whoever is going to occupy a position will know that he truly has the peopleís mandate, not a stolen one.
The Collapse of the Educational Sector
Q: When was the last time you revisited your old primary and secondary schools? Has anything changed in terms of the quality of infrastructure and staff? Do you think todayís public schools or even the so-called private schools, are capable of producing someone of your calibre?
A: Well, I started off in a primary school in Umuahia, continued in Enyiogugu, Mbaise, and then in Ikeduru. I have revisited some of them, and in fact they made me sad. The fields, the grounds, and the farms we had in those days -- because we had an all round type of formation in the primary schools -- everything that was capable of developing a person, intellectually, spiritually, morally, physically, has changed. One of the schools I see quite often has become an eyesore compared to what it was in those days.
In some places, the
government has done one thing or the other, but mainly tokenisms; not the real revolutionary change that these
schools require and yearn for. So, when I compare some of the primary schools that I see in
So, that is why I feel very sad. But, thanks be to God; we still have a few places, mainly private or mission schools and even a few government schools, federal or state government-owned, that we can say are measuring up. Indeed, for us as a church, fulfillment comes from the completeness of every part; environment, classrooms, dormitories, kitchen, toilets, etc. Every part is essential for the proper education of a human being.
Q: So what is the way out?
A: Well, the Saint Christopherís Group in
Q: So, all hopes should now be focused on the private sector?
A: It does appear so; but hope has to be focused on both the public and private, because we need to complement each other. We cannot have everybody attending only church schools or private schools. We need government schools of excellent quality. Of course, in the past, we had more mission schools than government schools. And the products of these schools excelled in all fields. In any proper society, you need the services of both parties, and it makes for healthy competition.
Unfortunately, the monopolization syndrome has ensured that we donít get any subsidies or grants. Because education should really be a corporate enterprise, those of us who are not earning salaries need the support of the government and foundations to help us build quality schools. Iím really, as it were, using my teeth, as the Igbo people would say, to string out, you know, money to build these schools. But youíll be impressed with what weíve accomplished, because our children now have access to a healthy environment that allows them to optimize their learning. So there is hope; itís coming, but itís going to take some time. After long years of devastation, to heal is a very slow process. It is easier to destroy than to build up. And the military and their political cohorts destroyed so much.
The Odenigbo Lecture Series, Literature and saving the Igbo Language
Q: The 2005 Odenigbo Lectures has taken place. What do you aim to achieve by these lectures?
A: Well, the lecture is part of a larger mission
I have in the Church,
And the 2005 version was particularly significant, since it was given by an environmental
engineer, Professor Victor Okereke, who focused on what we can do through agriculture, to get food on peopleís
tables, and really get back the original steam of fantastic agricultural development that we had in the days of
M.I. Okpara and Akanu Ibiam (former premier and governor of the defunct Eastern Region). It is interesting that
this young man himself got involved in agriculture as a young schoolboy, and God has blessed him with fantastic
scientific knowledge, to enable us get back to the creativity that made
Q. You must be aware of the serious threat to the Igbo language. Readership for materials written in Igbo has dropped to almost zero. As a promoter of this language, do you have any programmes to help recover the situation?
A. Well, yes... Since I started the Odenigbo Lecture Series, there has been a certain revival of interest, definitely, in the Igbo language. Just before last yearís Odenigbo Lecture, I went live on radio, on the FRCN, in Igbo language. It was a phone-in programme, and I was fascinated by the encouraging calls and conversations that took place in Igbo. Some of the callers, in fact, said that since the commencement of the Odenigbo Lectures, they have learned to speak, read, and write Igbo. It gave me great joy to hear this. So, through the Odenigbo Lectures and the Ozisa newspaper that we are still running -- even though it is a quarterly publication that comes out four times a year -- people are able to read Igbo the more. I felt that it wasnít enough simply to have the annual Odenigbo Lecture Series, that it would be nice also to have a newspaper. It may not be that popular, but people know that it exists.
And there has been
encouraging responses to it. We have also, from the Seat of Wisdom Seminary, a journal that comes out in Igbo,
a lovely publication, the Onoi
Journal. So, I see the possibility of further
growth of the Igbo language. There are new books being published, and some people have sent me copies. And there
is also a group in L-R: The CEO of Igbo Heritage Foundation, Engr. Odo Akaji, Most Rev. A.J.V. Obinna, and
Enugu Deputy Gov. Okechukwu Itanyi at the 2004 Odenigbo Lecture Ceremony in Owere, Igboland (September 4, 2004)
L-R: The CEO of Igbo Heritage Foundation, Engr. Odo Akaji, Most Rev. A.J.V. Obinna, and Enugu Deputy Gov. Okechukwu Itanyi at the 2004 Odenigbo Lecture Ceremony in Owere, Igboland (September 4, 2004)
I was in
Iím hoping somewhat
that we will create a learning centre for Ndiigbo who really want to pick up the Igbo language. And I discovered
that since I dove into Igbo -- because I didnít study it in the School Certificate or G.C.E -- my English has improved.
I have found that I think in Igbo and also in English, and sometimes translate ideas from Igbo to English. But
some expressions are more powerful in the Igbo language. So, I now move from the Igbo language into the English
language. However, my efforts will require the encouragement of other people too. The government sends delegations
once in a while, and we can see that even in
The influence of Odenigbo in
I canít be as creative as the English are with their language. And whatever I create in English is only a small addition to their repertoire. But when I dig into the Igbo language and produce new concepts and new words, I enrich myself and the entire Igbo world.
Q: I was wondering whether you are a poet, as well, because, recently, I listened to you, on the Carolina Catholic Electronic Media, relive what you referred to as your ďannunciation experienceĒ which occurred in 1988; there was so much poetry in your style of rendition.
I am not a poet by profession; but, now and again, God gives me messages that come across poetically. I am essentially a theologian; a scholar in the field of religion, education and the social sciences. But I like to combine these various dynamics, because I believe that God fulfils Himself in so many ways. Through religion, poetry, literature, and science, God fulfils Himself.
Q: Who are your favourite authors?
A: Well, at this point in time, I have a lot of books. Itís just that any book that comes across my way, I will read it, and if I enjoy it, I may keep going back to it. Well, of course, you might wish to know that Achebe is one of my favorite authors.
Q: He once delivered the Odenigbo Lecture.
A: Yes, but even before then Ö because, for my doctoral dissertation, I studied Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God very intensively. I used them, in fact, as background material for the kind of work I was doing as an educationist and theologian. And I continuously refer back to Achebe, because I see Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God as the Old and New Testaments of Igbo culture. Each time I want to understand the dynamics of Igbo culture, of the African world in its primal situation, I go to Achebe.
course, beyond Achebe, having been exposed to the East and West, there are authors that I have also enjoyed reading;
they are too many to mention, but I cannot fail to mention, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer. There are two books he wrote, little nuggets, you know; each
time I go back to them, I find them very illuminating. There was a letter he wrote to Soviet leaders in 1973, for
which he was suddenly removed. He had told them: Look, forget about all this Marxism, and Communism, because, it
is only God in Christ that can redeem
I also enjoy reading the French-American writer, Rene Girard, who was a
professor of comparative literature, at the
Q: Are you worried
about the extremely poor reading culture in
A: Well, I think we are in a transition from what you might call the book culture to the video culture; the new world of CDs and everything that comes through the internet. But, there is still a lot of reading taking place, although not so much through books, as through the internet. Indeed, you can almost go to the internet and read up anything. I can read the New York Times right here in my room. So, the book culture hasnít died. Itís just that it is now coming in a new package.
Q: In Nigeria, today, it is practically impossible for anyone to make a living from a writing career. In several other nations, people rush into bookshops to grab new publications on the shelves. Enthusiasm towards reading seems to be totally lacking in this country. What do you think accounts for this?
A: Well, this is part of the devastation
of the intellectual culture by the military in our country. You know, in the past, to become a soldier was like:
well what else can I do if I canít go to school? So,
BNW Advocates' Island
BNW Advocates' Island
Unfortunately, some of our great intellectuals capitulated to the intimidation and power wielded by these riffraff. That is why people like Ofia Nwali and Ukpabi Asika, operating under the aegis of the military, helped to devastate our schools, a situation we are yet to recover from. As you might recall, at some point, due to the commander-in-chief syndrome introduced by the army, young people even began to imitate the-commanders-in-chief. On the campuses, they were no longer interested in acquiring knowledge that came from reading books. Lecturers began to relax; incidents of cultism increased. And the head of the cult became more important than the head of the department or even the vice-chancellor. People were intimidated, because one cannot fight people wielding guns and knives. You canít fight them with ideas they canít understand.
So, this is what happened; the projection of the roughshod military as a model for Nigerians caused a great erosion, a real hemorrhage, in our value system. Instead of reading books, for instance, people preferred to count money, even if ill gotten, wield guns about, purchase cars and flashy gadgets. Even ď419Ē fraudsters have members of the military guarding them. This is to show that they indeed Ďhave arrived.í So, intellectualism began to be considered as something that needed to be done away with.
Q. How would you describe Archbishop Obinna?
A. Archbishop Obinna is just an ordinary human being, created in the image and likeness of God, like you and the rest of mankind, who has been given this privilege of coming to be in a position of service to God and humanity. So, Iím just a servant of God, seeking by Godís grace and the help of my brothers and sisters to do my little bit to fulfill the will of God and make my world, the place where I live and work, a better place for all of us, as much as lies in my power. There are no illusions about who I am. I am just a servant who is asking the Lord constantly to help me to live up to expectation and not be a disappointment, so that others can find encouragement from my service to also do the will of God and help the world to be a better place.
Q. What are your hobbies?
A. My hobbies? Well reading, reading and reading!!! Now and again I take a walk because to keep alive is also part of my hobby; to take a walk around my surroundings, look up to the skies and admire the beauty of creation, listen to the birds. I no longer have enough time now, but there was a time I used to listen to the birds sing, and from that, I would pick up the melody and turn it into words. I just love Godís creation. So, itís part of my joy. Thinking is both a serious preoccupation and hobby for me. You know, jotting a few things down, now and again. But it has suffered too. I used to play soccer and tennis. My table tennis board is equally suffering. Each time, I am sure it laments the lack of my regular company any more. I just love the world, everything around me. So, my hobby is to be appreciative of the universe and people; to do whatever I can to make people happy and relaxed, and to share life with people.
On The Interview Series
Q. Thank you very much, Your Grace. I am sure you would want to share with us your feeling about the Chinua Achebe Foundation interview project.
Well, Iím excited about it and Achebe being the Iroko of a man that he is, a man who responded to my call to give the Odenigbo Lecture in 1999, Iíve been very much delighted that he continues to push ideas and to sustain this elevation of the mind beyond the decay around us. So, he is a man to whom the Igbo world, the African world, and, in fact, humanity at large owe so much to, so, I believe in these causes that Achebe continues to pilot and espouse. So, Achebe continues to fly. And I pray the Lord to bless him, so that he would continue to soar and attract the best minds, hoping that this gingering of Nigerian minds will lead to eventual transformation, because that has always been his desire -- the writer as a reformer, thinker and moral persuader. So, I pray the Lord to bless him and bless the Series. I must say that I am delighted to be part of it. I donít know what credentials enabled me to be part of it, but in any case, it is an honour for me to be part of this Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series. And God bless you for coming.
Q. Thank you very much, Your Grace; I highly appreciate the time you gave us.
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: Archbishop AJV Obinna in Conversation with Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye