Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Oyo, Most Reverend (Dr) Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, speaks on the concerns regarding Islamisation of Nigeria; how his father reacted when he was ordained a deacon more than 30 years ago; how the experience has been, 10 years as a bishop, among other issues. Rita Okonoboh provides excerpts:
WHat attracted you to the priesthood?
The church has always been right that the family is the first formation for a child. I’m happy to have been born a Catholic with a disciplined upbringing and the fear of God and I thank God for that. For as long as I have been aware, I had always wanted to be a priest. As a child, my family was very welcoming to priests and seminarians. My road to the ministry was charted by divine wisdom. After my primary education, I entered into St. Kizito’s minor seminary at Ede. I was around 9 at the time. When I got to class 3, I was delayed for a year because I was considered quite young. The rector sent me home, but my father also sent me back to the seminary, saying I couldn’t be at home. Eventually, I had to take Class 3 twice because of my age. I finished there at the age of 15 but I couldn’t go to the major seminary because they could only take from age 16, so I was sent home again. Thankfully, someone got me a job as a teacher at CAC primary school at Ifo-Osun at the time. In fact, sometimes, the pupils and teachers found it hard to distinguish me from their mates and a few times, the headmaster had to bring me out to the assembly and tell them I was a teacher and not a pupil. It got worse when I was asked to teach English at a nearby secondary school at the time to students who were preparing for their school certificate examination. I had to teach them to accept me first, because I was much smaller than some of the students. Eventually, I reached the required age for the major seminary, and joined the Ss Peter and Paul Seminary, Ibadan. I am really grateful for those delays that helped me mature in the journey to priesthood.
You have been a priest for more than 30 years. Is there any particular experience that remains memorable?
There are too many. To put it a bit more ideologically, one experience that will stay with me all my life about the priesthood is what my father did the day I became a deacon and which I have seen all through the priesthood. It was in October 1984. When I came back from Ife that day, my father was sitting with other elders in the family when I came in. As expected of a Yoruba boy, I prostrated before all of them in greeting. However, my father asked me to stand up and said henceforth, I shouldn’t prostrate before any of them, stating that I was now their father. That was a huge shock to me. I looked at the faces of other people present for approval, and it seemed he was saying their minds. I didn’t argue, but that has stayed with me. In all my life as a priest, the kind of dignity that God has given to the priest, and the kind of respect people – Catholics and non-Catholics – have for Catholic priests, even in the world today, where people have gone secular, and in some cases, anti-clerical, it is still clear that the Catholic priest still has that extra edge – on the roads, with policemen, at the marketplace, in public buses. You can see that there is something about the dignity of the priesthood, once you’re ordained. And it’s not an ordinary thing; it is what Christ said that: ‘the spirit of the Lord has been given to me.’ It’s something we must never lose; it’s something we must continue to appreciate.
How did it feel when you received the news that you were appointed bishop 10 years ago?
It felt like one had run into a tipper while riding a motorbike. I had just returned from the US and I felt it was my time to have a long, drawn-out time after work at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria. I had worked at the Catholic Diocese of Osogbo because my bishop had agreed I would work for two years after which I would go on a sabbatical. In the seventh month, I came to see my Dad who was 90 at the time, and go back. At that time, I was working on my doctorate, which was on the spirituality in Nigerian movies, because at the time, there were concerns that Nollywood films were too fetish and I realised that beneath those concerns, was the call for spirituality, because even an outcry against fetishism is a desire for spirituality deep down. I had gathered materials to work with because I had spoken to families, who also gave me access to actors and actresses even in Hollywood. I had got a scholarship in Rome to write the doctorate there too and I had sent even my books, laptop and other materials to Rome. It was on my way back during that period after visiting Fr (now Bishop) Ajakaye that the call came that I should come to the nunciature. I told the caller I had no business there, but the person insisted that I should come. I assumed it was about my visa, so I went. For days, I didn’t agree to go to Abuja, until my bishop then, now Archbishop Abegunrin, told me I had to go. So, I went. It wasn’t an easy day at all. There was quite a bit of argument and in the end I was sent to the chapel, but even after visiting the chapel, I didn’t feel any better. But I didn’t have a choice and I was asked to choose a date for announcement. I’m still surprised today that I’m Bishop of Oyo, not because I’m afraid of work, but because I never dreamt I would be bishop of anywhere. I was really enjoying being a priest, doing what I was told to do, in the most creative way possible. However, today, I thank God for giving me the privilege to serve at this exalted position. It’s a huge responsibility and I can feel the weight of the responsibility, and I also thank those who have, so far, worked with me to carry out those responsibilities in the Catholic Diocese of Oyo. These past 10 years, I have seen the goodness of God and of a lot of people, who have been contributing to ensuring that the challenges are tackled – the clergy and the laity. These past 10 years, we have seen that there is nothing God cannot do.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), again, claimed there were plans to Islamise Nigeria – following the Sukuk loan acquisition. Do you think there is a plan to Islamise Nigeria?
I’ve always shared the view of one of our leaders, John Cardinal Onaiyekan. I believe that Muslims have an Islamisation agenda, and they have a right to have it. Do Christians have a Christianisation agenda? Yes, I hope so and we have a right to have it. The Muslims are pursuing an agenda; why are we not pursuing ours? Nigeria, for many many years, let’s be honest, had a larger number of Christians in power, in the past, than Muslims. What we should be doing is a mea culpa, that we failed when we should have worked, and that even now, instead of trying to catch up on our lapses, we’re busy pointing fingers. It’s part of Islam to Islamise; is it not part of our own programme too to evangelise? How much of it are we doing? The education curriculum, which caused so much row recently, was approved when a Christian was chair of the body. Why don’t we turn, first of all, to the – so to speak – ‘terrorists’ within our own clan, who are not allowing the church to breathe and move, before going out to ‘fight?’ Till today, Christians are still not an insignificant population in Nigeria. The next question to ask is: what kind of Christians? A large part of Christians today are Christians in name, who pursue power, position, privileges. That’s not Christianity. And that’s where I come to the issue of the prosperity gospel. We have not yet done research on how much damage prosperity gospel has done to the psyche of Christianity in our country. Prosperity gospel provides cheap solutions to complex realities of life and so many people have heard it, so often, that they begin to believe it; that it is actually possible to have cancer and pray it away, when doctors are actually available; that it is possible to fail exams, and still become the director of a bank, if you pray enough. People believe that in Nigeria.
Is that why we have many churches in Nigeria and no seeming marked difference positively?
Another of our leaders, Anthony Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie, just addressed that. Many of these churches are business centres and shops. Why do you need five churches on a street? Is it right or wrong? Your guess is as good as mine. But, we have not done enough research on this matter that has shifted the attention of Christians from working hard to achieve a goal that is Christian from that to just praying and seeing visions. The church has a role to play to make a positive difference. We must restate our commitment to getting our messages into the mainstream of public discourse, so that the Christian religion would not be rubbished in the mud as it is at the moment.