The iconic figure of the Roman Catholic Mission in Nigeria, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie retired from the pastoral governance of the see of Lagos having reached the age limit of 75 years May 25, 2012.
I’m not a Catholic, but Cardinal Okogie’s outspokenness against military dictators and tyranny of a democratic government almost persuaded me to become a Catholic.
Cardinal Okogie was born on June 16, 1936 in Lagos to a royal family of Uromi in Edo State. His father was Esan and his mother was Yoruba. He holds a licentiate in sacred theology and was ordained as a priest December 1, 1996. In 1973, he became the Archbishop of Lagos. From 1994 to 2000, he headed the Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria.
Archbishop Okogie is the ultimate friend and companion of the voiceless, the marginalized, the helpless, and the poor. He’s the people’s priest.
In my opinion, Cardinal Okogie possesses the most revolting pen in the history of clergy in Nigeria. He’s a thorn on politicians and those of the clergy and other appendages who branded with reprobate scandals. He detests their pomp, their pride, and their luxuriousness.
Over the years, Cardinal Okogie has mystified both his critics and admirers of the courage that sustained his heart, and the peace that filled his soul, were reflected upon his countenance and struck the beholders.
He once volunteered to die in place of a Muslim woman who had been condemned to death by stoning by an Islamic court for adultery.
A man of super intellect. A man who never hide his belief in an infallible Bible and the consequences of that belief in his conforming behavior to Biblical precepts.
Cardinal Okogie is a solid excellent Christian, a rare gem among his fellow clergy men both at home and abroad. A man of great power with great piety. He was one of the few cardinal electors in the 2005 papal conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI.
With a cheerful countenance and more than stoical constancy, he confronts head on the workers of iniquities that continue to annihilate the very people they sworn to serve and protect.
In June 2005 when the police acting on the orders of the federal government, laid siege on 1004 Estate, Victoria Island, Lagos; Bishop Okogie condemned the action saying “If a soul is lost there (1004 Estate), I will not hesitate to call for civil disobedience and beckon the international community against this government.”
The estate has been a subject of dispute between the federal government who had one time sold the property to the highest bidder and consequently asked its occupants who are mostly civil servants to vacate the building.
Like other helpless Nigerians, the Bishop felt like a prisoner in an outworn, obsolete political and theological system. Worried that religious politics would tear Nigeria apart, the revered Bishop warned that no country could remain one when “adherents of a particular religion are being singled out for persecution and denial of their fundamental rights as citizens of this country.”
Addressing newly ordained priests August 2005, the Cardinal said many priests had failed in their responsibility because of their inability to match their belief with actions.
Those who hated him and continued to hate him because they hate truth and his faithfulness.
In 2006 speaking on the spate of assassinations in the country, the eminent Bishop had this to say: “The assassination of the former justice minister Bola Ige, Dikibo Marshall, Funso Williams and now Ayo Daramola portends a very great danger for our country, because the killers have not been found and prosecuted to deter others…”
On safety and security, he warned that “A nation without security is not a nation… Such a nation slides gradually into jungle justice, barbarism, anarchy and chaos.” “I am no prophet,” continued the Cardinal, “but if care is not taken, the way we are going, there will be many more assassinations before the 2007 elections.” Events that followed however, proved him to be a prophet!
A champion of public education, Cardinal Okogie berated the federal government when seven private universities were approved. He accused government of promoting private education at the expense of public education.
“They are (government) subtly killing education in this country and making same costly for parents,” said the Cardinal.
Never recoil from torments of enemies of progress and accusers of the brethren, Cardinal Okogie never missed the opportunity to condemn the extravagant riches of secular and church office.
In June 2007 in Abuja at the Ordination of Seven Missionaries of Society of St. Paul (MSP), the Bishop took a swipe at priests who enriched themselves in God’s name. With biting sarcasm he lashed out at their hypocrisy:
“We need good Priests to carry out the work of God and lead Nigerians to Christ,” he said. “Now you see men of God involving themselves in negative attitude, bad practices such as enriching themselves with material things under the pretence of working in the Lord’s vineyard. Priests of God should bear good fruits that last,” he warned.
He challenged Nigerians to hold their priests accountable. “You must correct the man of God when they are not getting it right. They’re not saints, they are humans… Do not hesitate to call them back when they go astray.”
No doubt, Cardinal Okogie has left a sting in the hearts and a gnawing worm in the consciences of the enemies of the people.
The lesson from the Cardinal’s life is clear: A godly life is the best advertisement for Christianity.
We wish the people’s priest a retirement full of happiness and fun.