On Thursday June 16, 2011, the lay faithful, clergy, religious, friends and well-wishers shall roll out their drums in joyful celebration of their Chief Shepherd-the Metropolitan Archbishop of Lagos and highest ranking Catholic clergy in Nigeria; His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie who clocks 75 years on earth.
Masses shall be celebrated and intercessory prayers said at the various parishes in the Archdioceses, to be rounded-up with a con-celebrated High Mass at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos. Afterwards, members of the Knights of St. Mulumba, in company with other Papal Knights, Medalists, priests and distinguished Catholics from all walks of life shall converge at the Holy Cross Church Hall for a reception in honour of the man of the moment, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie.
For those conversant with the affairs of the Catholic Church in Lagos, the birthday of His Eminence, is an annual bash that has come to stay not only because of its significance in the life of the celebrant, but also owing to its relevance in the socio-economic and political scheme of its. It is not all about merriment. It also serves as a period of sober reflection for us as citizens of Nigeria. Cardinal Okogie uses the occasion to bare his mind on current issues affecting the growth and development of our society. For a man who has remained relevance in the nation’s scheme of things since the past four decades, this is not unexpected.
The revered man of God thus have so much to thank God about, especially for sound health, body and mind and the grace to serve in His sacred vineyard. But these aside, this year’s celebration is one with a difference; a sort of tripartite in nature. Aside clocking 75, the year 2011 marks the 45th year anniversary of his ordination as a priest and 40 years anniversary of his consecration as Bishop. He was consecrated the Bishop of the Oyo diocese on August 29th, 1971.
For millions of catholic faithful and indeed Nigerians as a whole, Okogie is a phenomenon of sort. He is a thorough-bred and outstanding clergy who over the years has remained vibrant and committed to the advancement of not only God’s kingdom, but also the emancipation of the masses who have never enjoyed any fair deal from those at the helm of affairs. Okogie has helped to redefine the role and relevance of the clergy in the quest for an egalitarian society. No stranger to controversy, this Edo born Prince has severally stood out against the suffering masses; to lash out at harsh governmental policies and to speak out against injustices of any kind. His not satisfied with hiding behind the cloak of his sacred office. Though this often brought him into head-on-collusion with the powers-that-be, he is not scarred or intimidated.
As a former Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, under the regime of the former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Okogie was a torn in the fresh of the government, check-mating their excessive and ensuring that the Nigerians had a say on issues relating to their collective well-being. Even under the maximum ruler, late Sanni Abacha, Okogie rose to the demands of the moment, refusing to be silenced or intimidated by the gun-trotting khakhi men. During his reign as President of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, Okogie stood out like a colossus to ensure that the interest of the Church and indeed all Christians in Nigeria were protected.
In the area of educational development his role in fighting against the retrogressive government move of taking-over all a missionary schools after the civil war cannot be over-emphasized. Indeed, Okogie fought like a wounded lion. By pricking the conscience of successive government, through numerous press interviews, write-ups and meetings, and getting them to understand the injustices behind its action and its attendant negative effect on the nation’s educational sector, Okogie was able to raise a heightened and renewed social consciousness that brought together the collective effort of all stakeholders in the educational sector who stood up for justice. Today, most of the missionary schools have been returned and they are performing excellently well. No wonder then that this outstanding prelate has remained a reference point till date.
In his priestly duties, Cardinal Okogie has been most exemplary. A sticker to excellence and hard work, he believes that nothing but the best is good enough for God. He condoles no frivolity amongst his flocks, including fellow priests. It is difficult to catch him off-guard in his pastoral and administrative duties and never wavers in the midst of challenges. Even at the age of 75, His Eminence is still very strong and alert, paying attention to every detail that needs his attention. Some may perceive him as a saint and others as being too strict, but one thing you cannot take away from him is that he is a man of vision who knows what he wants and how to get there. Since his enthronement as Archbishop, the Archdiocese has witnessed remarkable growth in all aspects- be it pastorally, liturgically, infrastructural and all-round spiritual development. This can be attested to by the quantum leap in the number of priests, over 85 parishes, numerous quasi parishes and mass centres spread across the nook and crannies of the state.
Because of the growing number of the faithful and parishes, the Lagos Archdiocese can also boast of a large number of missionary, diocesan priests and religious from other climes who readily join hands to ensure that the work of God continues to grow from strength to strength. And despite the high proliferation of Pentecostal churches in the state, the number of practicing Catholics are in the increase. Recent statistics shows that there are over 2.5 million catholic faithful in the Archdiocese of Lagos. Not a mean feat!
Okogie has also focused much in the area of infrastructural development as is evident in the erection of modern edifices in the various parishes. The on-going Augustine University, Epe, is a clear testimony of his foresight and determination to ensure that the Church remain relevant to its social responsibilities, even as it attends to the spiritual needs of the faithful. There is the on-going construction of a world class Catholic Hospital at Ijede, amongst others.
In recognition of his outstanding attributes and commitment to his calling the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XIII, on October 21, 2003, elevated him among the revered Prince’ of the Church when he created him a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. This made him the highest ranking Catholic Priest in Nigeria. By this too, he became the third Nigerians to ever rise to this enviable position. The first was Dominic Cardinal Ekandem of Blessed memory and Francis Cardinal Arinze (retired)
Anthony Cardinal Okogie was born on June 16, to Prince Michael Okogie, an Ishan father and Lucy Adunni Okogie (Nee Afolabi), a Yoruba mother; both Catholics. He entered St. Theresa’s Minor Seminary, Ibadan in 1954 and later left for Rome in 1963 for further studies. He was ordained a priest at Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos on December 4, 1966. Shortly after his ordination, the civil war broke out and he was sent to the war front to counsel soldiers. He rose to the rank of Major before his retirement. Okogie was consecrated the Bishop Oyo diocese on August 29, 1971 at St. Benedith’s Cathedral, Oshogbo. He was made the Auxilliary Bishop to the Apostolic Administrator of Lagos, Late Bishop Anthony Saliu Sanusi in 1972. He was enthroned as Archbishop of Lagos on June 17, 1973.
Very Rev. Msgr Gabriel Osu
Director, Social Communications,
Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos