Cardinal Okogie at 70: Those who license churches aid criminals
Jun 12, 2006
Recently, His Eminence, Olubunmi Anthony Cardinal Okogie turned 70. The occasion of his birthday was that of sober reflection in the events of his life, his calling and his country.
(vanguardngr.com, June 10, 2006) Known for his frank views and fearless disposition to national issues, Cardinal Okogie takes you down the memory lane of his 1966 ordination as a priest, his regrets for Nigeria, persisting crises in the Niger-Delta region, clamour for the 2007 presidency and how things should be done to pull the country away from the precipice. It is vintage Okogie. Enjoy it.
Congrats on your 70th birthday. How has it been with you?
Well, everyday that I live, I take it as my own new year and I try as much as possible to spend it as if God is going to call me up. I don’t see much difference in the way things have been going.
Would you say you have achieved all your aspirations in life?
I achieved my aspiration in life on the 4th of December 1966 when I became a priest. I thank God for it. Perhaps, what I did not achieve was my father’s aspiration for me. He wanted me to become an engineer. But my mother who was very prayerful encouraged my priesthood aspirations. I thank God.
What were the other things you could have loved to do which you did not do?
Well, as an archbishop, there are other things I would have loved to do to change this nation especially our youths. When I was younger, things were better for the youths. The elderly ones took care of us. They showed us good examples. They were friendlier, more charitable but as time went on, the elderly ones became more selfish. Everybody is running after money.
I would have loved to see our elderly ones improving on what we are handing over to the youths but unfortunately, it is not so. Everybody is running after money and money has become the god of so many. I would have loved to see a Nigeria that is so blessed with natural and human resources. But things are not the way they should be.
Politics, tribalism, dichotomy, back-biting have taken over. The whole nation is now corrupt. Now, who is going to bail us out? The fault is not just on government but on the people. What kind of example are we giving to the people? The other day, I read about a religious leader who is now becoming a super businessman. Another one is trying to become a super politician. So, where do we now draw the line? Are we really serious in this nation? There are churches in every corner of the country but it doesn’t portray us as religious. All shops and warehouses have overnight been converted to churches. What is our government doing about it?
You don’t really blame the people who are going into it but the government has to checkmate them. The government caused it by starting to license churches. It’s wrong. It only portrays to the government that these churches are business centres. In any civilized nation, they don’t do that. That is why these people cannot be controlled. When they began to license churches, they had given room to all kinds of things. Church is not a business enterprise. So, all these people who are licensing churches are aiding and abetting criminals. Unless government sits back to give Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, there will be no sanity in this nation.
So, should these licensed churches be made to pay tax?
It’s not right. It’s now coming to tell you that these are not churches. They are business centres. If you now want churches to pay tax, why not the NGOs too? And very soon, it would come to that. A good number of NGOs have become business centres. Look at all those that are becoming first ladies; all these NGOs they own are money-making machines and they die as soon as the first lady is removed from office. Who is going to bring sanity to this nation?
Now, the debate for third term in office for governors and the president has been lost, what do you see ahead? How do we move ahead?
As far as I’m concerned, I was one of those who rejoiced. Honestly, I thank my Heavenly Father for giving those people courage to debate aright. Only God knows the future of this nation. Ninety-nine per cent of all those in the National Assembly should begin to examine their conscience. They should begin to project the interest of the people who put them there. Some refused to take bribe. Others did. I read one of them in the papers saying that some got their fifty million naira. How can a taxi driver elope with 30 million cash as published in the papers? Where did he get 30 million from? Where was the owner of the thirty million going to with the money?
INEC has published the election time-table and the Catholic Church seems uncomfortable with it because it falls within the period of Easter...
As far as I’m concerned, this nation is supposed to be a nation that is placed under God. We started getting our priorities wrong with the composition of our national pledge which says “I pledge to Nigeria my country...” As the (then) president of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, I went to the then Head of State at Dodan Barracks to kick against the wordings of the pledge; that it’s too American.
You don’t pledge to your country, you pledge to your God. Americans pledge to their country, they are all having fun. The idea of God is innate in Africa. It is born with us. We fear God. Once anything involves God, we are afraid. Our mission to Dodan Barracks was simple; place the nation under God. The man at Dodan Barracks just looked at me and said: ‘If you have not learnt it, go and learn it.’ And he got up and began to walk around, reciting ‘I pledge to Nigeria my country...’ He asked if I had any other thing. I said no and he asked me to leave.
Look at what is happening in Nigeria today: No respect for God, nothing. But nobody can cheat God. If they like, let them put the elections on Easter Sunday. God is going to have His way. You cannot cheat God.
Look at our law courts, we swear with the Bible and the Quran and we lie under oath. But give that person a piece of iron and tell him to kiss it, he will not. But no one can make foolery or mockery of God. You can’t mock God. For how long can you do that? Things are going wrong in this country. Because of the under-current, people do things their own way. For how long will that go on?
How do you see our democracy and those in power seven years after?
As far as I am concerned, it is wrong to say that the President (Obasanjo) has not done much. He has done a lot. But most of the things that were done were all sugar-coated. What is democracy? Are we having democracy in Nigeria? The quashing of third term is the very first time we experienced something like democracy because the people refused. Why the attempt to shut down AIT?
Because they were showing the truth and tomorrow, they would say they have free press. Are we serious? You can’t cheat God. One day, God will speak His Own. Whatever we think we are, God would always have the last say. You cannot deceive God. Our body is a composite thing made up of spirit and matter. Your spirit judges your action. And God is the ultimate judge.
For sometime now, the Niger-Delta region has been restive. It’s been one kidnap after another of foreign oil workers. How do we restore peace in that region?
Let me tell you one thing, you and I are still saying the same thing. Nigerians don’t fear God anymore. They think money is the ultimate thing and don’t give a damn how they get it. The essence of all these kidnaps is the ransom being paid to rescue them. It is about money. There is so much happening in the Niger-Delta region. Oil spillage, vandalisation, poverty. Why is the government keeping quiet?
These militants are simply telling government that it is not doing its job. How can you come to my own place and say you cannot respect me because you are somebody above and then you want to control me? Then, I will look for a way to tell you that I own the place. All these are happening because law and order have broken down in the country. We should not deceive ourselves. And they will continue to give Nigeria a bad name as long as they are getting money by foul means. We are exporting our best human resources abroad. That is not good for us.
The other day, they showed Nigerians making fake drugs in India. They are frustrating (Prof. Dora) Akunyili’s office. Nigerians are funny. If you get them in one way, they find another way of perpetrating evil. We should be serious.
The 2007 general elections are approaching. There is heated debate between the North and South for the presidency. Factions are emerging in different political parties. Now, how do we handle the polls to make sure that we have credible elections?
Unless Nigeria gets serious with democracy, things will remain as they’ve been. And that means, they must allow Nigerians to choose their leaders, not parties choosing the leaders or godfathers sending the persons they want. These are the things that destroy our country and if they are not stopped, then the problems would continue. Look at what is happening in Oyo State and what happened in Anambra State. If these were not properly checked, other states would take cue and the problem deepens. We get worse. This nation needs prayers but again, God helps those who help themselves. We should help ourselves.