Rt. Rev. Dr. Monsignor
John Aniagwu is the Parish Priest of St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Ikeja, Lagos.
He is also the Vicar General, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos Episcopal Vicar,
Ikeja Region. He clocked 75 penultimate Friday, and to mark the event, a
committee of friends of Father John, as he is fondly called, organised a press
briefing and public lecture. Aniagwu, who spoke to journalists on his journey
to priesthood, called on President MuhammaduBuhari to change the Nigerian
Constitution, which he said favours the political class more than ordinary
Nigerians, among other issues.
How do you feel at 75; how has the priesthood journey been so far?
I became a priest in 1971, which is over 47 years. Then, the society was more
God-fearing. People still reckoned with values and principles. I’ll give you an
example. There was this gentleman I knew, who was in the police. It was
discovered that he took a bribe of 10 shillings. Then, the police had an arm
called Esquad, set up to counter corruption within the police force. The Esquad
arrested and prosecuted that man. He was jailed for six months, and was
thereafter dismissed from the force. Today, we have police officers taking
millions of naira and nothing happens to them. That is in terms of morals.
discipline then. Now, I think our problem is lawlessness. The laws are there,
but they are not being obeyed. And the worst lawbreakers are those enacting the
laws and those who are supposed to enforce them. When makers of the law and
enforcers are breaking the law, what do you expect the ordinary citizens to do?
Court issues an order, and the Executive ignores the orders. Everybody laughs
off the courts as if they are irrelevant.
Nigeria, the way to know a big man is that the person can break the law and get
away with it. This is what has caused the breakdown of law and order. There is
rampant lawlessness everywhere. Wherever you turn, Nigerians are breaking the
law every minute. The late Justice Anthony Aniagolu of the Supreme Court once
said in order to reform Nigeria, only two institutions need to be reformed. He
mentioned the police and the judiciary, and I asked why? He said a reformed
police will apprehend all offenders and prosecute them, and a reformed
judiciary will jail them.
Now that you’ve clocked 75, are you going to retire? What will you be
doing in retirement?
In the Catholic Church, you retire at 75 as a bishop. This means you stop being
in charge of the diocese. For instance, my brother in Abuja, Cardinal Onaiyekan
was 75 on January 29, 2019. The law is that once you are 75, you must tender
your resignation. But that doesn’t mean they will accept it immediately. They
can tell you to hold on until they find a successor. However, this applies only
to Bishops. With priests, there is no such law. As long as you are still
healthy mentally and physically, you can carry on with your assignment. In our
church, you retire when you are no longer able to function effectively. For
instance, some of our priests that are not yet 75 have retired because of
In your days, young people were willing to join priesthood. Is that
still the case?
They are more willing. We have more people in the seminaries than we can
accommodate. In fact, they are plenty.
Who influenced your going into priesthood?
As a child, I came into contact with missionary journey early in life. I went
to a parish school, Holy Cross School, Lagos, and from the age of seven, I
started interacting with priests. I was an altar server until I grew up. I grew
up admiring what they were doing and so, it was just natural that I wanted to
be like the priests; to do the kind of things they were doing, serve God and
humanity. That was the reason.
So, what are the challenges you encountered on your way?
I must confess that I haven’t experienced any real challenge. I’ve had some
personal tragedies in my life. I’ve lost a number of people, relations at a
rather young age. For instance, I barely knew my father. I was two years old
when he died. My mother died at the age of 60. My only brother was 57 when he
died. Those were personal tragedies, but aside that, there are no others.
Things were not always rosy. My mother had to raise my elder brother and I as a
single parent. There was a time it was difficult paying school fees and eating,
but my mother had to shoulder all that. And God so kind, I was doing very well
in school. I was not born with a silver spoon. We struggled, but there was a
lot of social support. I never had challenges with my superiors or in the
Before government took over missionary schools, fees were affordable and
ordinary Nigerians could afford to send their children to school. Today, only a
few people can send their children to missionary schools and those owned by
churches. Why is it so?
The government helped us in terms of infrastructure, when they returned our
schools. We had to build our schools, which cost money. We are to meet certain
standards and employ qualified teachers. If you don’t pay them adequately, they
leave. For instance, we have the Augustine University. If a department is to be
accredited, there must be a certain number of professors, lecturers and the
library must meet certain standard. The government also tells us the kind of
building we must have. All this costs money and government doesn’t give us
money, so we depend on the fees.
instance, at Augustine University, the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos had to
cough out the sum of N20m every month to support the institution, as fees
cannot cover everything. We can’t ask government to support private
universities so we can bring down the fees, when government is not even funding
public schools. Education costs money. Like someone said, ‘if you think
education is expensive try ignorance.’ If we don’t have the required number of
professors, they will withdraw our licence.
Catholic schools, be it nursery, primary,
secondary or university, charge the lowest fees among decent private schools.
Augustine University charges between N500, 000 and N800, 000 per annumincluding
accommodation. Some schools charge much higher.
… With over 90,000 Catholics displaced from Gwoza, Pulka and Madagala axis …About 5,000 Catholics killed, lost about 22 rectories where the priests live … Lost dioceses especially in the northern part of Adamawa where the campaign is every intense and northern Borno … Lost about 17 schools, 4 clinics, and three convents
Photo: Fr John Bakeni, the secretary of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri and the Humanitarian Director of Internally Displaced Catholics in Maiduguri.
The Catholic Church in Northeast Nigeria has been facing wanton persecution and suffering in the face of the Boko Haram insurgency. Thousands of Catholics have been killed; many priests and religious have been displaced, including hundreds of local parishes, convent, rectories, dioceses and seminary schools destroyed. Recently, Nigerian Catholic Reporter’s ace writer, Festus Iyorah met with Fr John Bakeni, the secretary of the Maiduguri Catholic Diocese and the Humanitarian Director of Internally Displaced Catholics in Maiduguri. FrBakeni discussed the depth of Catholics faith despite persecution and how the universalchurch, Catholic agencies, and diocesess across Nigeria have been assisting the Diocese of Maiduguri.
How has the diocese of Maiduguri been affected by the conflict?
The Catholic diocese of Maiduguri has had its own share of the destruction of the whole campaign of the Boko Haram. Let me take you back a bit—theChristians are a minority in Borno State, more so northern Nigeria. There are challenges Christians have been living with before the coming of this insurgency. These are some challenges Christians have learnt to live with. The campaign of the insurgents accelerated and gave a pronounced level of destruction and suffering the diocese have been facing. The Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri comprises of the whole of Borno State, Yobe and some part of Adamawa. It is the largest in terms of land mass. But in terms of population we have about 300,000 Catholics. Now, we cannot keep the record. At some point we have over 90,000 Catholics who were displaced from Gwoza, Pulka and Madagala axis including some parts of catholic diocese. We have been affected in terms of physical destruction. We have lost quite a number of churches and people. We lost about 5,000 Catholics, about 22 rectories where the priests live. We lost over 200 dioceses especially in the northern part of Adamawa where the campaign is every intense and northern Borno. We lost about 17 schools, 4 clinics, three convents. These are some of the records we have.
Is this why you call the victims lost to the attack Maiduguri Martyrs?
Yes, it’s deliberate because the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri is a suffering church. It’s a persecuted church. Given what we have been going through a lot of Christians have been killed, they are about 5,000 Catholics killed; some of them died in the bush in the process of running and nobody can account for them. These are some of the experiences we have and people try to place a historical timeline that it started in 2009 but before 2009 we’ve been having experiences of churches being burnt. For instance, in February 2006 one of us, Rev FrMicheal was murdered in cold blood by some Muslims hoodlums. In fact they were coordinated attacks that same day. Many churches were burnt. We had another incident where the Bishop’s house was even burnt too. Before this whole crisis came to limelight all these were going on but people have not been able to classify them.
How is the diocese of Maiduguri reacting to the conflict?
Some internally displaced persons lives in official IDP camps of about 1.8 million and but 70 per cent of these IDPs live in host communities; they are not in official government camps. And that was the situation of our Catholics too. So we established a new camp for Catholics displaced by the crisis. They’re just in our new secretariat which is located in a town in Maiduguri with about 500 families living in the camp. At some point here in the cathedral at the beginning of the crisis we were distributing food to IDPs irrespective of their religious affiliations. So far we have about 70,000 Catholics displaced in our care. Incidentally most of the Christians find it difficult to live in the Muslim camps because of discrimination so they stay in our camp instead.
What is the Catholic Church doing to see to their welfare?
Well, I can tell you because I have been involved personally. The Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri has spent a lot on displaced persons. As I speak to you now, within the last three years we have spent over aN150million on displaced persons. Incidentally when distributing relief materials we do not discriminate. We pay for medical bills. Every month we also pay for medical bills. We supplied them food and other relief items. We also have a very large group of displaced persons in Yola and thanks to the Catholic Bishop of Yolawho really did very well in providing for them. As I speak to you in terms of aid or relief materials we receive very little or nothing from the government or even from the internationalagencies involved. So all this spending is from the diocese coffers. And thanks to some church agencies that assisted us and then some because at some stage the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri was declared an emergency diocese by the Catholic conference Bishops of Nigeria. So, that necessarily meant that dioceses were obliged to contribute towards this diocese. Many of them did and most of those resources went into catering for the displaced persons. So we are trying to take care of the displaced persons not just Catholics. It may surprise you that the Catholic Church was the first agency to take relief materials to Muslim camps when these Muslims were displaced, so we have tried to do what we can do within the limits of our resource.
What can you say about the level of faith Catholics here have exhibited despite the fact that they’ve been hit by the crisis and persecution?
What we have seen in our Catholics which I think it’s the only gift we have to the universal church is the resilience and the depth of their faith in the midst of this crisis. I have testimonies of many who were fortunate to have escaped from the camps under the threat of conversion but refused to convert. In fact this whole experience has purified the faith of our people. We have about 11 Catholic parishes within Maiduguri. If you go there they are always filled to the brim with parishioners in every mass. Even when there is a bomb explosion you will find Catholics going to the church; they are never deterred from even coming for church activities. So that is the kind of resilience and faith that people have really put up—theywere never discouraged. In fact all I can say is that their faith has been tested and proven. What we are going through here is for the purification of the mother church. It is in such moment that the church is defined.
Photo: Internally displaced catholics praying rosary at proposed catholic secretariat turned IDP camp for displaced catholics in Maiduguri
What is the universal church, Nigerian dioceses and Catholic agencies doing to support the church in Maiduguri?
With every sense of gratitude, agencies like Missio, German based Catholic charity, Aidto the Church in Need,Misserio, Caritas and Catholic relief service have done a lot but our backbone have been Aid the church in need and Missio. Thanks to the Nigerian bishops, we have also received support from the dioceses across Nigeria, especially Lagos Archdiocese and Enugu diocese.
IN THIS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, THE FIRST PARISH PRIEST OF OUR LADY OF THE HOLY ROSARY CATHOLIC CHURCH ARIDA, THE FOUNDER OF ADORATION FAMILY LAGOS, MULTI TALENTED REV. FR. DR. LAWRENCE EZE, SPEAKS HOW IT ALL STARTED … HIS EXPERIENCES. EXCERPTS:
Dear Fr. We know you as Rev. Fr. Dr. Lawrence Eze, but for the benefit of our numerous readers who may not know you, can we know you more, your family background,etc.?
This could also mean, a kind of biography … Okay, my name, you already know, Rev. Fr. Dr. Lawrence Eze. Born 5th September, 1973 of fore most educationists: Remy Eze and Lucy Eze (nee Obilor), Ordained a priest 2003 by His Lordship, Most Rev. Dr. A.E. Ilonu of Okigwe Diocese. Hails from Ehime Mbano L.G.A, Imo State. The schools I attended are: Isiorie Primary School Umuezeala Owerre Ehime, Boys Secondary School Umualumaku Umuihim Ehime Mbano, St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary Ihitte, St. Peter’s Seminary Okigwe, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary Ehime, Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary Owerri and concluded with three Bachelor Degrees, in Philosophy (B.Phil), Theology (B.D) from Pontifical Urban University Rome and Bachelors Degree in Religious Studies (BA), Imo State University Owerri. Others are: Masters of Arts Degree (M.A) Religious Ethics, and Ph.D, Religious Ethics in-view, Imo State University Owerri. Award of Doctor of Divinity (D.D) by Abundant Grace University of Theology Austin Texas U.S.A, L.L.B. LAW (Hons.) Civil Law, from the National Open University of Nigeria, P.G.D. Education NTI, Kaduna. Fellow EWTN USA. And has authored so many books and so manyvideo productions. The Spiritual Director Adoration Family, Victorious Family Okigwe Diocese. While on academic research, presently, the Parish Priest of St. Charles Catholic Church Umunumo, Ehime Mbano L.G.A.
Though, as a Priest where you work is not a matter of choice. A Priest must be ready to work within the geographical jurisdiction of his incardination. As Priests we submit to the directives of the Bishop who knows best where our services are needed most within the Church. Inconveniencing as it was, to tidy up to move as a young missionary Priest to the Archdioceseof Lagos, immediately after my ordination, I had no objections but to obey my Bishop, Most Rev. Dr. Anthony Ilonu of blessed memory. Remember Obedience is the greatest of the three Evangelical Vows, others being Poverty and Chastity. And thanks to His Eminence Anthony Cardinal Okogie, who welcomed us with all the fatherly care and Christian love. I worked firstly as the Assistant Priest of S.S. Joachim and Anna Marian, later as the Parish Priest of the following Parishes: St. Michael’s Parish Lafiaji Lagos Island, the Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Ogba Ikeja, and next was the newly created parish which has the same name with Ogba Parish – Holy Rosary Arida, not very much known earlier by us and too many people. Now let us begin the story!
How did you feel when you were posted to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church as the First Parish Priest, coming from a bigger Parish?
Firstly, I don’t believe in anything like bigger parish, because the anointing makes a place big and great. If you are anointed in the Spirit, every opportunity is to make a place, or people great. Moreover, I like facing challenges forcefully and frontally too. My success in life is attributed to God’s grace and sheer will-power to face challenges. I was so delighted to start from scratch, and my joy was in the love of Mother Mary and her maternal care, the newly created Parish has the same name “Our Lady of the Holy Rosary” from Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Ogba Ikeja to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Arida. I don’t want to rule out the fact that every new beginning has its problems and challenges, thanks to God’s words that says “I will be with you … as I was with Moses…”
During your stay in the Parish can you share your experiences with us.
Empowered through the intercession of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and in partnership with the Holy Spirit, we began an explosive Adoration Ministry. Thus, an adoration ground was opened which laid the spiritual foundation of this great parish, thanks to the members of the Adoration family and the good members of the C.C.R.N of our Parish. Suddenly, Holy Rosary became a spiritual pilgrimage centre for all. We made a lot of conversions and so, Holy Rosary Arida became so spirit filled that made many members of other religious sets and other Christian denominations to return to the Catholic faith. We started with a very few worshipers (members) in an ugly batcher, but in a couple of months we started counting and recording thousands of worshipers.A very unprecedented growth, both spiritually and physically was recorded. And so, my experiences are tripod experiences namely: Spiritual, Pastoral and Developmental experiences.
Spiritually, we discovered some spiritual infestations of demonic forces in various manifestations; we victoriously over powered them in Christ Jesus, through prayers of Adoration and the Mercy of God. Thus Holy Rosary Arida became a Parish built on a strong Christian Faith and Prayer.
The evidence of the Spiritual Foundation of Holy Rosary Arida is visible in its rapid structural development and the number of worshipers who joined us every day at the Mass and other Spiritual activities.
Developmentally, as you already know very well, within a space of one year plus, we not only completed the Reverend Father’s House, donated a set of Lister generator, but also finished the newly acquired uncompleted school building, where we presently have the Maryhome Schools, started one of the biggest and finest Church (complex) buildings in the Lagos Archdiocese, which was rapidly moving towards its decking completion, before I was recalled to my home Diocese for greater assignments, in and outside the Diocese. Thanks to the present Archbishop of Lagos who refused and rejected my request for incardination here in Lagos.
I like to say pastorally, Holy Rosary though a very young Parish was so exemplary to many neighbouring Parishes and their Priests. You will also recall that I always devote a greater part of my Pastoral work to helping those who fall victim to the devil through deliverance prayers. Among other things, helping the younger ones to find their vocations in life, especially those who wish to become Priests and helping the less privileged who came knocking at our Church doors every day for help,were too many … I believe not only in Structural Development, but also in the Integral Development of the Human Person.
Fr., as the first Parish Priest that started the foundation of the Church Holy Rosary Arida, how do you feel about its dedication today?
As the first Parish Priest of Holy Rosary Arida, and the one who started the Foundation of the Church Holy Rosary Arida, I am very happy about its Church Dedication because it takes a visionary leader to start this gigantic church edifice; it is my mission, my vision, and my dream! Besides,who would not be happy that the good seed he/she planted has now grown into a mighty tree, like the mustard seed of the Bible? I am happy that I started a Parish just like the early Irish Priests and Missionaries that came to Nigeria. This Church structure in its gigantic nature, is a legacy of selfless service to God and to the Church.
To God be the Glory! on this note, I want to thank God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for making me His Priest and for using me this far. And to congratulate the present Parish Priest Fr. Usman, for completing this wonderful edifice. I will not forget the support of Barr. Emeka Maduabuchi (KSM); who was the first Vice Chairman of this church, and Chief Emma Ibegbu, the first C.M.O Chairman and the leader of C.M.O. for their great support at those difficult times. Special thanks to Chief Dr. (Lord Mayor) O.C. Godson, who spent a lot of his time and resources in the building of this Church. With him are men and women of good will. Thanks to Okey Emeribe for really doing the workings. May God bless all the members of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Arida, the Adoration Family, Victorious Family.
Fr. what words of advice do you have for your beloved Parishioners?
My words of advice are words of Faith, Love and Holiness of life as you begin to use this dedicated Church. In the words of the Psalmist: “who has the right to go up the Lord’s hills? Who may enter His Holy temple? Who are pure in heart and thought, who do not worship idols or make false promises. The Lord will bless them and save them. God will declare them innocent. Such are the people who come to God. Who come into the presence of the God of Jacob” (Psalm 24:3-6).
It means we must be sincere Christians, sincere with Our God and sincere with our neighbours. We must aspire everyday as we use this Church to be holy onto God. And to all I say: Stop Hating People! Learn to love and appreciate others who are not from your own tribe. We must as good human begins appreciate people who help or helped us in any way in life. Appreciate the good things others do, it attracts blessings. You must thank people when they have done well. The culture of appreciation, not “the use and dump” culture…
Take note: whatever we are doing as Children of God, we must try and make Heaven at last. May we not reduce our Christian faith and our universalistic philosophy of our Christian brotherhood, taught by the Word of God and our Catholic Doctrine, into ethnic content, tribal content, leading us (Church leaders and followers) to loss of Christian spirituality and a gain of hell fire. Note: these sentiments tribalor ethnic are dangerously affecting the Nigerian Church today, and may prevent us from asking the right questions, so as to get the right answers. This can never produce the best or give excellence and merit a chance; rather they become factors that breed mediocrity and divisions, a good chance for the mediocre to be a leader.
My dear Parishioners, no man grows by destroying others or the good works of his fellow man and no Christian will succeed without the love of his or her neighbor. Learn to forgive others.
Hatred for others because of anything at all, does not make you a Child of God. And the idea of using others as a means to an end will only provoke God’s anger. Try to see the good qualities in others and encourage them. Help, not hinder. “Do unto others as you wish to be done unto you” the precepts of fairness and equity will override the wickedness in the world today especially in Nigeria, where the Christians are killed every moment by “unknown gun men”, in a country we have security men, security system and a government. As a good Parishioner, be your brother’s keeper, protect your Catholic/Christian faith, through regular Daily Masses. Keep all the Christian doctrines that we know. There is nothing new that has not been said so far. But then, we try to do these things well now. That is it.
Speaking strictly as a Catholic Priest, we encourage the people of God to support their parish and the Church, using their time, treasure and talents. See 2nd Corinthians 8 and 9.
The faithful have a primary responsibility to support the local Catholic community to which the Lord has called them. Such donations (like tithes) are used to support the priests, pay workers salaries, construct relevant structures and embark on charity and missionary activities, within and outside their immediate dioceses. However, that does not mean that a Catholic is forbidden from donating to other worthy courses outside of the Church where expedient. It is a matter of one’s conscience and not a matter of compulsion.
The Roman Catholic Church, being the Mother Church, does not discriminate. Her doors of mercy and compassion are open to all of God’s children. This is why she operates the highest number of charity based-endeavors across the world.
Can men of God be trusted with confidential issues?
Again, I will only respond as a Catholic Priest. By virtue of our training and calling as Priests, we are disposed to hearing all forms of confidential issues and confessions from the faithful. Confessions, for instance, is a very private affair. It is therefore forbidden for a priest to disclose information — under any circumstances — obtained in the form of religious confession. It is called “the sacred seal of confession.” Any priest who breaks such seal would attract the wrath of the Church’s hierarchy. It is even more sacred than the relationship between a Doctor and his patient or a Lawyer and a client.http://catholicherald.com.ng.
The stories of sexual assault and harassment that emerged last year seemed to touch every industry — Hollywood, hotels, restaurants, politics and news organizations, including this one. Many of those stories focused on what happened, but most didn’t or couldn’t get to the question of why: Why do some people, mainly men, sexually harass their colleagues?
Psychologist John Pryor has been thinking about this for more than three decades, and he has created a test in an effort to measure a person’s tendency to harass someone. It’s called the “Likelihood to Sexually Harass Scale.”
Pryor, who is a professor at Illinois State University, created the scale in the 1980s, a time when many researchers were looking at rape.
“There was a scale that was developed then to measure the likelihood that people would rape if they thought they could get away with it,” he says. “So that inspired me to think about sexual harassment.”
Pryor spoke with NPR’s Michel Martin about his research and his thoughts on the national conversation about harassment and the #MeToo movement.
On what the scale looks at and how he created it
Now, the “Likelihood to Sexually Harass Scale” focuses only on one kind of sexual harassment, something that researchers used to call sexual coercion – a quid pro quo situation where someone is offering a bribe or maybe threatening a punishment for sexual cooperation. So I designed the “Likelihood to Sexually Harass Scale” using some common stereotypes about men in power situations. So I asked college men to imagine that they had such a job, and one of the things that let me know I was on to something when I first started working on this was that there was a high level of consistency. Men who would say that they would perform this act in one situation were highly likely to say they would do it in another situation.
On his reaction to the #MeToo moment
I’m not surprised at all that many women across all different kinds of walks of life are coming forth to say this has happened to them, because we know that the majority of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Admitting that you are a target or a victim of sexual harassment is somewhat of a stigma, but when you start to see people coming forth in public, one of the things you start to do is remove some of the stigma. When women hear other women say, “Oh this happened to me,” they think, “Yeah, it happened to me” and they’re less likely to think that they’re going to be treated negatively for coming forth and saying it happened to them.
On if there are specific characteristics harassers share
There are a series of beliefs that people have about sexual harassment that represent kind of a psychological underpinning — basically justifications for the behavior. So beliefs like women asking for it or women making false complaints. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve been interviewed by who ask me,”What about the false complaints?” Well, there are not many false complaints. There are not many complaints period. We can reduce the willingness of men to engage in sexual coercive sexual harassment by inducing them to think long and hard about perspectives of women.
NPR’s Isabel Dobrin produced this story for the Web. Adhiti Bandlamudi, NPR Kroc Fellow, produced for it for radio.www.npr.org
Rev. sister Josephine olagunju, SHCJ is a nun with a difference. Like Mother Anjelica of EWTN who had a vision of assuring the gospel is brought to every home via technology, she is very passionate about the media, in this interview, she takes us back to her humble beginning, her journey to the convent and living each day for Christ.
Some 63 years ago, I was born into the family of Prince Michael Bolarinwa Olagunju of Offa Kwara State and Princess Maria Arinola Olagunju (nee Oladejo of the royal families of Ire and Oyo). My early days were spent in Mushin, Lagos, until I left for Jos after my Ordinary National Diploma studies.
What was it like growing up?
Growing up in Mushin was an interesting experience that I recall with gratitude to God. I had a loving father who was always with us, regaling us with moonlight stories that usually make a child’s eyes open wide sometimes with wonder, other times with awe or fear. We lived on Aiyetoro Road, seven minutes walk from Igbobi area of Ikorodu Road, in a typical Yoruba compound with face-me-I-face-you buildings. Interestingly enough we were the only Christian and Catholic with six Muslim families. Those were the days when religion was sacred to the holder, with no discrimination whatsoever. I guess we shared a common destiny of limited resources and depended on one another for support – the solidarity of the poor!
Outstanding for me were the joys of going to school, playing table tennis with other kids (mainly boys, I guess because I have four brothers – my sister Christy was still small and my brother Peter was yet to be added to the number of siblings). I also remember vividly the neighbourhood search for scarce water where those with wells made pretty pennies from selling to those without. But of course I cannot forget my going to daily masses, the distance to which was the duration of five decades of the rosary. The Church in those days was the centre of our lives, more so for me as I joined the Legion of Mary, going for Legion duties such as Saturday polishing of holy vessels before graduating to house-to-house visitations. The rest of the time was occupied with evening lessons to learn typing and shorthand and/or to read books I procured from my school library (I enjoyed being the school librarian and winning Shakespeare’s Complete Works for my relatively good English!
Primary school days were spent at St. Michael’s, Mushin which I left after Pry 5 in my hurry to go to Secondary school at Pope Pius XII, Ilasamaja, also in Mushin though some 40 minutes walk from home. I went on to Yaba College of Technology for my Ordinary National Diploma in Secretarial Studies. The next stage was after I became a Reverend Sister. I was sent to the Pontifical Institute Regina Mundi – affiliated to the Gregorian University for philosophical and theological studies. I finished up in Nigeria at the University of Ilorin where I did a Ph.D. in Peace and Development Studies.
formative years as a catholic
I was born and grew up in a Catholic family. Baptized at age two weeks, first holy communion followed at about age seven and confirmation at about age 12. (You can see that dates were not as important as the memory of these joyful experiences!) Every sacrament was preceded by thorough preparations. The only missing preparation was to tell me I should show my confirmation name to the officiating Archbishop, not my baptismal name. The result was to be confirmed with Josephine instead of Cecilia! Important was going to Mass regularly, being among the Children of Mary and throwing shredded leaves before the blessed sacrament during processions, hanging above all around the Church. We just drank in the faith, albeit in Latin, the sense of mystery and holiness carrying us along on the wings of awe. I further had the opportunity to deepen my faith when I offered voluntary typing services to the St. Michael’s (now Regina Mundi) parish. So I not only typed the bulletins; I was blessed by having a priest who got me to write the reflection for some of the Sundays! That of course deepened my faith enormously as I got engaged earlier on to search for the deeper meaning behind the biblical words. I am grateful to the then Fr. Alapini for his faith in me. His and Msgr. Aniagwu’s ordinations strengthened my faith further. Of course, these ecclesial occasions were the cream over that sense of belonging with a godmother whose brother was late Msgr. Julius Oni! Of course my maternal grandparents (founding pillars of Christ the King Church, Odo-Ona, Ibadan) were exemplary models of Catholic faith; I drank deeply from my faith-rich parents and grandmother.
Reasons for becoming a Nun
Becoming a nun came upon me like a thief in the night because I was not prepared when I was first asked by Fr. Martin Costello, SMA what I really wanted to do with my life! The answer just popped out of my mouth like “Of course, a Sister!” it was only with hindsight that I recalled Sr. Miriam Patrick, IHM who was my class teacher for a year, (with Sr. Coronata Ilechukwu, IHM as principal). The seed was sown as love. At that time, Sr. Miriam Patrick used the library for office. As school librarian I regularly went in there. My discretion at not disturbing her did not stop her from sharing her meal with me. Though the Sisters left a year later because of the outbreak of the civil war, I believe her love and gentleness struck a deep cord that the Lord used to tie my heart to Himself. Even when there were family concerns nudging at me, the Lord still won. Of course He allowed me to fulfill what I had considered my obligation – to ensure my brothers whom I had hoped might make it to the priesthood were financially covered at the Minor Seminary, Oke-Are, Ibadan. Of course they had their own minds!
I was blessed with parents who gave no opposition whatever. In the words of my mother, “All of my (seven) children are free to become priests and sisters.” So it was support all the way. I am grateful to them even though it meant I was not there to assist them financially.
Initial Challenges at the Convent
I was first led to join an international congregation – the Daughters of St. Paul; unfortunately they had to leave Nigeria at a time when foreigners didn’t find it easy getting visas. Two and a half years later, I finally joined the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, another international congregation founded in England by an American, Venerable Cornelia Connelly. So the first challenge was to believe I had a vocation when the Pauline Sisters left Nigeria in 1973. As the youngest of the aspirants, I was shaken by the experience. However God stepped in at the appropriate time to confirm my vocation. My second challenge was adjusting to a multi-cultural living. From happily eating my food on my lap to sitting at table with others, to having to strain my ears to understand what the American and European Sisters were saying (I didn’t ask them if I made sense as I spoke English with my Yoruba accent!) I think my greatest challenge was to do with my free spirit – how be obedient and have to take permission for whatever I am doing or carry out the dictates of another! Of course, grace comes with doing. I was further helped by the Yoruba respect for the elders; it saved me in spite of myself!
Feelings on profession day
I don’t recall any particular feelings. I only knew the Lord wanted me to belong all to Him. Having been privileged to do a thirty-day retreat as a novice, I was just ready to “cast the net into the deep” (Lk. 5:4) with my providential God.
Profession and Postings
My apostolic experiences varied. After my First Profession in September 1977, I was posted to Bauchi and allowed by my superiors to work in the newly started Bauchi Broadcasting Station. Though I worked as secretary to the Controller, I also had the opportunities to pursue my first love – pastoral communication – by preparing and presenting radio and television programmes.
My next work was in Jos upon my return from studies in 1977 when I was sent to the Centre for Renewal where I had been a pioneer student of the pilot one-year formation programme. I worked there first as the Deputy Director under the Director Sr. Berne Okure, SHCJ. I was at the same time assistant Chaplain at the University of Jos, as well as working with the UNDA-OCIC Jos branch, especially for the production of the magazine The Communicator. I became the substantive Director of the Centre in 1987, a post I held for five years before I was sent on mission to N’Djamena, Chad. There I found myself running a radio and television production Centre for the Archdiocese of N’Djamena and then working as the National Coordinator of Pastoral Communication for the Episcopal Conference of Bishops in Chad. The next ministry there was the launch of a Media Education project, to provide a Catholic alternative to the violence in video club films.
From Chad, I found myself elected to the Society Leadership Team of my congregation – the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. We were popularly known as Holy Child Sisters. I carried out this work for six years before returning to Nigeria after a sabbatical year, and to the Centre for Renewal as a team member for another four years before embarking on my doctoral programme in the Unversity of Ilorin.
I returned to Lagos (which I had left in 1973), to work on the Province Leadership Team of my congregation, and at the same time work at Lumen Christi Television Network.
In every ministry, I found that the saying of our foundress rang true, “God alone”.
A difficult question! I can only respond that each ministry I was involved in these past 40 years have had their joys and challenges. In every situation I come out with a sense of gratitude for God’s abiding presence. I can only remember each place and many people with fondness, joy and good memories of the support I enjoyed. Of course there were situations of power tussle where individuals might feel more capable than myself! There were occasions of unfairness towards me. Happily, I am blessed with the gift of seeing beyond the individual misdemeanors to the good they have shared with me. This awareness continues to dissipate the challenging moments which though not denied, I gladly accept as pathways to divine grace. God does know how to turn unpleasant experiences to His divine glory because I do hold on tightly to His grace.
Perhaps I can cite my times on the Society Leadership Team (1998-2004), and on the African Province Leadership Team (2014-2017) as special assignments as no one sets out to become a leader in her congregation. We were called upon by election and by appointment to be available for internal service. These were times we on the team were taken from among so many qualified others to serve the congregation in these leadership positions. They provided the opportunity to get to know my fellow Sisters in religion and to serve them in an administrative way. It was indeed a privilege and a joy for which I am grateful. As a body, we also can have other responsibilities such as being responsible to promote vocations to our congregation, or working as a formator preparing future members. I hadn’t these privileges except as a contact person for some young women in the eighties some of whom joined us in Jos and are Sisters today. For that occasion, I was glad I had some training in formation.
Love for the Media
The media have always been the love of my life, spurred on by my desire to proclaim Christ, especially through radio broadcasting. As I am first and foremost a religious, I cannot determine what I do at any time; my religious leaders mission me to wherever they think I can be of service. I hasten to say that I began with the parish bulletin. Then my sojourn with the Pauline Sisters exposed me further to the print medium. However, the major inspiration came after my religious formation as a Holy Child Sister: a thirty-day long retreat galvanised the desire to proclaim Christ, even if I did nothing else. My superiors saw this and fulfilled my desire first by sending me to England where I studied at the Catholic Media Centre, then to Rome to do philosophical and theological studies. However, changes in leadership as well as the need to have someone assisting at the Centre for Renewal, Jos led to a return there in 1986. Of course you can bet that I seized every opportunity to produce radio and television programmes for the local stations. It was also the time I introduced Communication Workshop at the Centre; it was meant for those still in religious formation both in the male and female religious orders. This workshop continues till today, as well as the training in Spiritual Direction and retreat giving that was launched in late 1987. These two workshops continue to this day, empowering people in the art of communication and of spiritual growth. Upon completion of my mission on the general leadership, I returned to the same Centre to continue in these and other ministries, always working with other Sisters as a team. I fear I cannot talk about one without talking about the other; both are the two prongs of my religious underpinning expressed in Mark 3:13-14: sitting at the feet of Jesus and being sent by Him.