The state of hopelessness in Nigeria has led certain sections of the clergy to contemplate giving their backing those calling for a revolution in Nigeria. In an interview with the Vanguard, Alfred Adewale Martins, Catholic Archbishop of Lagos said the Church may throw its support behind a civil revolution if need be.
How has the journey been
Well, there is nothing that is completely without its challenges, as long as we are human beings living in the world in which we find ourselves. But I believe that there have been more ups than downs in the one year that I have been here. I have in many ways, on many occasions, and in many circumstances enjoyed the cooperation and collaboration of the people of the Archdiocese—clergy and laity. In very many ways, there have been opportunities to express our unity of purpose and our unity of focus.
Everyone recognizes the fact that we have a mission given to us by Christ, that each one must play his or her own part. But in the midst of these, there have been the usual human challenges that you go through; but that is nothing compared to the ups that God has given us.
You must have set out some goals and targets at inception. What are some of such goals and how well would you say you have succeeded in achieving them?
My attitude has always been that whatever task that one is given by God or by the Church is an opportunity to carry on the ministry of Christ; the ministry of salvation; the ministry of contributing to the welfare of God’s people; the ministry of ensuring that worship of God is done in spirit and in truth; and that purity of worship is also part of what one considers as one’s task. Of course these include the administration of the goods and properties of the Church; and the administration of God’s people.
These are the main tasks that naturally one has the responsibility of carrying out. We try to ensure, in practical terms, that there is unity in the management of God’s people; to ensure that there is a common focus and common goals and that the goods of the Church are managed in the best possible ways, and that, basically, the mission of Christ in the Church is advanced.
What will you say has been the main thrust of your one year in office?
First of all, my idea is to get to know where I am working and the people with whom I am working; to be familiar with the strain of thoughts and the flow of people; to be able to know… to feel the people that I work with. That is the first thing that was upper most in my mind. And then of course to sell the idea or rather continue to build upon the idea that every single individual in the Archdiocese has a role to play.
Virtually the administrative structure left behind by your predecessor is still intact. Why is that so? Is it part of the studying process?
The fact of the matter is that there is the general wisdom; that is, the native wisdom, that when you enter a new place, the chicken stands on one foot and observes its environment. And, in any case, the fact of the matter is that a good number of these people who are taking responsibilities in these areas have been there over the years; they have the experience and, therefore, it is good to see how they carry on their work, and then of course observe others who are also able, who are also growing within the system, such that there will be minimal disruption and maximum results.
So, do we expect a change of focus in your second year in office?
Well, the focus remains to build the kingdom of God in the Archdiocese. If by change of focus you mean administrative; you see, there are certain circumstances in which certain people are doing some work that need not be interrupted in order that it be brought to a good conclusion. You don’t just change for the sake of change. You change for the sake of bringing greater growth to the life of the institution. That is not to say that there is no need for change, or there won’t be change.
Lagos Archdiocese is cosmopolitan in nature. What is your perception of the level of inter-relationship among the flock in the Archdiocese?
My perception of it is that there is a good working relationship among the different groups that are there in the Archdiocese. And I believe that, that is the way it ought to be, considering the fact that Christ is not divided. We were all baptized with the same baptism and it is the blood of Christ that binds us together. So, one expects that there should be collaboration amongst the people. But then, of course, we are human beings who may have differences of opinion and step on one another’s toes. But those are not so fundamental to the life of the Church. Our Church is over 2,000 years old. There is nothing that is new. Whatever happens has happened before and you only need to look at them with the eye of the present moment in order to deal with them.
The Church is one and universal. Let’s therefore look the situations in the Owerri and Benin Provinces where there have been internal rifts among some priests, religious and laity in Ahiara and Benin Dioceses over the choice of bishops. Is it permissible for a group of people to openly reject their bishop?
Obviously, it is an aberration. It is a conflict that should not have happened. And it should not have gone to the extent to which it did. I believe that the Church has a procedure by which it does its things; such procedures have been established over the years. There should therefore be no need for such rifts. That is not to say that people should not express themselves. But I think people ought to be able to see matters from the point of view of faith. I believe the Church, as old as she is, will continue to make itself relevant and act appropriately in every given circumstance.
Does the refusal of the priests to accept bishops posted to them by the Mother Church mean that the vow of poverty, chastity and obedience no more hold water?
No! The vow of obedience, poverty and chastity remains very fundamental to the priesthood. But as we have seen in these circumstances, people, out of various kinds of weaknesses or failures, may stray. The vows are as strong and effective as they ought to be. Majority of priests are faithful to their vows of obedience, both in this nation and all over the world. The problem is not with the vow of obedience itself! And the Church knows how to deal with this situation and I am sure they are studying it and the Mother Church, the Church universal, will take appropriate action.
Pope Francis has shown exceptional love for the poor; forsaking personal comfort and calling on the world to embrace charity. What’s the import of this on the Church?
I am one person who believe very strongly that nothing happens by chance. God has a purpose for whatever it is that happens. God has a purpose for giving us Pope Francis at this time. He has a purpose for helping to refocus our attention on areas we need to work on. And I think that, that is the purpose that he is fulfilling in our Church today. His emphasis is on the need to love the poor; the principle of caring for the down trodden, and the principle of ensuring that those who are disadvantaged are taken care of. That principle has been there and it continues to remain valid. But, obviously, as I said, with time, we tend to slow down on some of these important things.
The Pope recently declared his intention to canonize Pope John Paul II later this year. Some Nigerians are already asking questions as to why our own Blessed Tansi is yet to be canonized, several years after his beatification. What is your take on this?
I think we should realize that there is a process for beatification and then canonization. It depends on how quickly the process is concluded. I know that the body that is responsible for facilitating the canonization of Blessed Iwene Tansi has been working very hard. I know for sure that they have not relented in their efforts to ensure that the canonization of Blessed Michael Iwene Tansi takes place as soon as possible. And indeed we have been constantly encouraging people to also pray for it. Because it is not just a result of all our effort, but rather, through our prayer and the will of God; all of these are essential. Remember that right from the death of John Paul II, people have been clamouring for his canonization but it doesn’t just come that way. It is not how popular you are that determines it, but rather due process must be observed.
Not too long ago, there was this report of a reverend sister who experiences stigmata. There have also been reported cases in recent times of apparitions of Jesus and Mary in some churches in Benin City. What do these incidents portend for the Church?
In the first instance, apparitions, stigmata and all extraordinary religious experiences are personal to those who have them. And, therefore, it is important that the Church as an institution with its own understanding, with its own principles founded upon the scriptures and traditions, looks at these religious experiences, evaluates them properly and be able to give appropriate direction or appropriate pronouncements on them. However, the fact that they come up at all is an indication of the fact that people have faith. People are very disposed to experience God and His action. And, therefore, for that reason, it’s a good thing that such things happen.
But we must guide against fraudulent religious experiences. We live in a country in which people are sometimes carried away or susceptible to gullibility. And that is why we have all kinds of false miracles and charlatans at work. So when those experiences come, the Church will not dismiss them outrightly but will evaluate them properly, using scriptures, using the traditions, using the teachings of the Church in giving directions as to what people should make of those experiences.
Your predecessor was very critical of the Pentecostal movement in Nigeria and other excesses in the Church. But there are some gifted priests in the Catholic Church. How do you ensure there is decorum in the use of such powers or gifts?
I think what we should look at is: what does the scripture say? What does the Church say? What does the Holy Church in Nigeria say about these things? The scripture says to us that we have a variety of gifts and people have a variety of ways of explaining and making God present. And so, we cannot dismiss it outrightly, that these gifts are there. But at the same time, you have to put the gifts to test… so to say.
If an individual says he has the gift of healing but he does not have the gift of obedience in terms of being ready to submit that gift to the relevant authorities, then you wonder; is such gift from God or from somewhere else? It is important to be able to put the gifts to test, to know their authenticity. No gift that anybody gives will contradict that which the Church and God stand for. And there are practices within the Church with regards to liturgy.
For example, if a person is exercising the so-called gifts in a way that goes contrary to the rules and regulations of liturgy, then naturally that person has gone beyond his bonds. And so, if there are such individuals or such persons that are found, naturally you would correct them, call them to order and help them to recognize the fact that whatever it is that they call their gifts are supposed to be exercised within the boundaries of the Church; otherwise, if you want to take your gifts outside, that is another story entirely.
So, basically, we must recognize the fact that gifts are given by God for the good of God’s people. Even St. Paul said that if you have the gifts of tongues, the gifts of healing, etc, but you don’t have love, your gifts are useless; you are just like an empty gong. Every gift needs to be tested for its authenticity and the exercise of it also needs to be seen to be in tune with the institution to which you belong.
Child marriage has generated much debate lately. What is your take?
We must go back to the fact that this whole discussion started from, whether Section 29, 4b of the Constitution should be expunged or not. That’s where it all began from, and so if, indeed, it has been expunged, that in itself is an indication that there is a willingness to deal with the problem of early marriage. However, whether there will now be a deliberate insertion of a Section or Sub-section or whatever it is, into the Constitution is another story entirely. And I think that is what majority of the people have been advocating since this whole issue started and I believe that the Senate ought to listen to the people. Otherwise they give us the impression that all their traveling around the country, pretending to be listening to the views of people was just a waste of money and time.
Nigerians are said to be among the most religious people on earth. Ironically, there is so much crime and corruption in our land. What do you think is responsible for this disconnect?
I think to be religious is one thing. To be religious in terms of carrying out one’s religious obligation is another thing. To be truly a friend of God; one who surrenders himself to the will of God and does the will of God is a separate thing entirely; and I think that, that is where the problem lies. You see people carrying out external religious activities, showing piety and acts of piety but, right in the depth of their hearts, they are not making efforts to follow the dictates of Christ and the dictates of the scripture. That is where the problem lies. We need to constantly remind ourselves on the need to rise above our human weaknesses that tend to make us run contrary to the will of God. Mere religious practices and religious activities without love is useless.
People have consistently called for a drastic cut in the cost of governance, especially in the salaries and emoluments of political office holders, as a way of bridging the disparity between the leadership and followership. Is this realizable?
It is important that those who lead us are, as it were, conscious of what the people are going through and how they are living and put that into consideration in any decision that they make. I was listening to news recently, and it was said that political office holders in Africa earn by far higher than others in the rest of the world; and that Nigeria has the highest paid political officers in the whole of Africa. It is therefore imperative for our legislators, the executive; and all those who occupy political positions to recognize the fact that, if they continue to award themselves huge salaries and emoluments, they are by so doing setting the people further apart from them. And people look at them as if they are not the same stuff as the rest of the nation.
Therefore it is important for them to ensure that funds are not diverted into payment of huge emoluments and salaries; but rather into development of infrastructure and social structures within the nation. These are what impact on the lives of the people.
What can you see on the unity of Nigeria beyond 2015?
The unity of Nigerian is obviously something in my own estimation that is not negotiable. I think we need Nigeria to be one united country and focused. We need a Nigeria in which everyone feels a sense of belonging as part and parcel of the nation. But the system of government we now run does not take care of these. And that is why we cannot but continue to talk about the fact that federal character should be brought back into the forefront of our national life. Federal character has been rubbished, as it were, now because everybody has to go to the centre to be able to do anything or make anything.
If this nation were allowed to flow according to the pace of the different geographical zones now, then I believe that we’ll be better off and development would be more rapid; there would be more accountability and the leaders would feel more responsible to the people. So, while the unity of the nation is beyond negotiation, we need to put in place the structures that will make that happen.
Can you lead a revolution?
Obviously my job is to be a priest. My job is just to be a priest. The point is, the Church has a responsibility to empower its people. The Church has a responsibility to speak to the minds and the hearts of the lay faithful. And it is their own role to ensure that these things that we are talking about happen. Of course the Church will give a backing but I don’t believe that it is the responsibility of the Church to say, ‘okay, let us go into the streets’. We know of priests that have led revolutions.
That is true, but we also know the challenges that have come with taking that kind of responsibility. We saw the problem in Haiti and in other parts of the world.
We saw what happened. Even in our nation, people who think that they are priests and, therefore, can be governors, you saw how they were rubbished. And that is why we say that the important thing is to ensure that we create an atmosphere by which our people would be thoroughly imbibed with the spirit that is necessary. And, therefore, do the work.
Some Christians in Lagos State have been clamoring for a Christian governor. What is your take on this?
I have heard about the need to have a higher Christian presence at the helm of affairs in Lagos State. We generally have looked at governance from the point of view that the most efficient and capable should take the position. But, of course, the time comes when you also ask: Are there not also others, like Christians, who are equally qualified to be in positions of leadership? I think it is important for the political office holders and those who exercise political power within the state to also ask themselves that question such that we don’t find a situation in which there is a wide disenchantment. Our political leaders need to pay attention to this clamour and do something about it.