Tinubu opens up at Okogie’s birthday: Return of mission schools was the hardest decision I ever took
Jul 03, 2006
THE 70th birthday celebration of the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, may have come and gone but the memory will linger for a little while, especially because the forum provided an opportunity for the chairman at the dinner party, Chief Anthony Ani, who grew up with the cardinal at Lafiaji area of Lagos, to speak on some secrets on Okogie. The cardinal turned 70, June 16.
(vanguardngr.com, July 02, 2006) The celebration kicked off May 29, with the celebration of Children’s Day with the cardinal at the Church of Ascension, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, and various other programmes with the youths, school children, priests and the underprivileged at Ketu and Majidun in Ikorodu area of Lagos. Knights of St. Mulumba hosted the cardinal’s world press conference where he cut an anniversary cake to mark the birthday and last Sunday at the Expo Centre of the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, the Birthday Anniversary Committee treated the cardinal to a dinner where a book entitled, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie: A voice crying in the wilderness, was presented to the public.
The event was attended by creme de la creme of the society including the first couple of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his wife; a presidential aspirant, Professor Pat Utomi; Ani; two bank chief executives, Chief Bassey Ebong of Union Bank Plc, and Chief Pascal Dozie of Diamond Bank Plc; Senator Anthony Adefuye; Chief Mike Inegbese; immediate past police commissioner of Lagos State, Mr Young Arabemen; Chief Sunny Aku of Novena Majesty Limited and the younger sister of the cardinal, Mrs. Dawodu. From the cardinal’s primary constituency came the likes of Monsignor Bernard Okoduwa, Gabriel Osu, Rev. Father George Ehusani, who reviewed the book which was written by the cardinal’s cousin, Victor Ayeni Olarenwaju, and a host of others.
Provoked by the compere, Mr. Soni Irabor, the governor of Lagos State, Tinubu showered encomiums on a senior fellow “Lafiaji Boy’, who he described as “the great cardinal,” adding “if patriotism is described by the dictionary as commitment to national greatness, individual development, human rights, courage and determination for the development of humanity for the betterment of a society, Cardinal Okogie has demonstrated that he is truly a leader and the conscience of our society.”
The governor told the capacity crowd that the archbishop was undaunted when he lost his official quarters in Ikoyi in 1997 after the then Federal Government wanted him to retract his critical views on some of their policies. “They called you to then Dodan Barracks in Ikoyi to reprove and retract your position and mortgage your conscience but you said no. You stood by the society and you called for the correction of the ills of the society,” Tinubu said, adding: “As a result of that, you lost your house at Ikoyi and quickly moved to the Catholic Mission House where you have remained ever since then.”
On education, Tinubu described his decision to return mission schools as one of three most critical decisions he had taken in the last seven years as the chief executive of Lagos State, pointing out that he had no regrets whatsoever taking the decision. “If I have to write my autobiography and experience while in office, it (the decision to return mission schools) will rank among the three most crucial decisions that I had to take. But that is all what leadership is about and learning that consistency from you, I took that decision,” he said.
The governor explained that many critics had come up to him then that the pupils of the schools would be exploited as the schools would be out of the reach of the poor and the decision would at best only create a situation where some schools would create a privileged society. “Then Cardinal Okogie assured me that he would turn the schools around and would not do any such thing,” Tinubu stated and turning to the cardinal, he said: “I want to say to you tonight, thank you, sir, for all you have been able to achieve with those schools.”
Tinubu had through the then commissioner for education, Dr. Idowu Sobowale, on August 7, 2001 announced the return of 48 public secondary schools to their former mission owners in fulfilment of his campaign pledge. The returned schools fell into three categories 15 private proprietors having 17 schools; one Muslim mission owning 10 schools, while 21 schools were handed over to seven Christian missions.In addition to the return, the government assured that students of the affected schools would not pay fees throughout the next five years when they were expected to complete their studies.
Responding to the show of love, the cardinal praised the governor and his wife for their steadfast and dogged determination to alleviate the suffering of the Nigerian people. “I commend your leadership qualities, outspokenness, forthrightness, and as everyone can see, you are indeed a dogged fighter. May the good Lord continue to be with you, guide and protect you all the days of your life,” he said, adding “this is the reason why our heavenly Father had deemed it fit to protect you and your dear wife, the first lady of Lagos State from all your seen and unseen enemies.”
Turning to Ani, the chairman of the occasion, Okogie said: “I thank you very much indeed, for going down memory lane. There were some points I thought you would have left out because of our present positions. It is true we grew up in Lafiaji and we are very very proud of it. Indeed, a lot of people who had gathered here this evening had known part of my secrets, all because of you.
“If it were not the kind of profession that I find myself in, I would have considered suing you. But all the same we thank you very much indeed. May God continue to bless you”. The cardinal who said he was visibly surprised at the magnitude of the anniversary month-long celebration, thanked Ani, the authors of the book, the reviewer and all that had contributed to the success of the entire programme.
On the book itself, Okogie said Nigerians do not read books, therefore anyone setting out to publish a book on any subject is taking a great risk, at least in Nigeria. “In the case of these young men, led by Victor Ayeni, they took even a greater risk because there are already four books written on us in circulation. I wonder what new things they could have said about us but each author seemed to have taken one side of us and then developed it. Thank God their efforts had not been in vain. May God bless them,” he concluded.
About N10 million was realised at the book launch.