My Intimate Encounters With Four Primates Of The Church Of Nigeria, By Maduoma
Rt. Rev. Caleb A. Maduoma, Bishop of Ideato Diocese (Anglican Communion), Imo State, had intimate relationship with four primates of the Church of Nigeria. In this interview with CHRIS IREKAMBA and ISAAC TAIWO, he reveals how the first primate Archbishop Olufosoye operated the church from his bedroom, how through the initiative of the second primate, Archbishop Abiodun Adetiloye, younger ones were made bishops, and how the immediate past primate, Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola took the church to greater heights. He also speaks of other bishops’ co-operation with the new primate to consolidate changes already made in the church, among other vital issues.
Impression on new primate
WE are happy because we are following the Constitution. That is what the Constitution says, that after 10 years, another person should take over and that is what is happening. So, we are following the right way.
What kind of person is the new primate?
The new primate, Most Revd. Nicholas Okoh, happened to be my schoolmate at the Emmanuel College of Theology in Ibadan. He was my immediate senior. I spent two full years with him. He spent one year, before I came in. We were very good friends. I know him very well. And he has been a Christian all along. We belonged to the evangelical wing, in those days. They called us SU Ñ whether you were SU or not. They called us SU and we were proud. You know, he was in the Army Chaplaincy then. We related very well. I was at the All Saints Surulere, Lagos because I served as a priest in Lagos before I was made a Bishop. I became a bishop before him. When you see him, you know that this man is a good material for bishopric. So, we are grateful that he is there, today, as the new primate.
I served last at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Igbobi, Lagos, and before then, I was the clerical secretary for the Church of Nigeria. I worked hand in hand with the former primate, Archbishop Abiodun Adetiloye and later the immediate past primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola. When I was elected first for Okigwe South in Imo State, I was there for five years before the translation came to Ideato Diocese.
What is the remarkable difference between these four primates you’ve known and closely worked with?
For Archbishop Timothy O. Olufosoye, he operated from his bedroom as primate of the Church of Nigeria.
He had no office. When Adetiloye came, that was when the church started establishing offices. Adetiloye too started the idea of missionary dioceses. He was the person who said that the young ones should be made bishops. But it was strongly opposed by the Council of Bishops. They said he was trying to make the bishopric look so common. I was a secretary then, not a bishop.
He replied, saying, yes, Jesus is common!’ Jesus was common that was why he left heaven and came down to the earth to mix with people. We celebrated when 99 missionary bishops were made first bishops. It was a big celebration.
Then Akinola came. He really took the church to greater heights. I must say, beyond the expectations of many of us. Adetiloye was more mature, he was taking it easy and listening to people.
Akinola made the Church of Nigeria to be financially self-reliant. When I was the secretary, we couldn’t afford to buy a jeep for Adetiloye. But if we want to buy anything now, we will do it because Akinola made the church financially self-reliant. And this is what we saw in him when we elected himÑ that this man will make the church rich. And he did it. In those days, the church was as poor as a church rat’. That was what we used to say, but today Akinola has made the church proud. And evangelism was like a wide fire. God really used Akinola to put the Anglican Church in Nigeria on its feet. When Adetiloye was there, we didn’t care much about ecumenism. Other people were running and running and it appeared we were not there. We started saying we must go into it. And when he (Akinola) became the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), you saw the difference he made. Within that period, we were able to complete the Ecumenical Centre in Abuja. And he left some money there.
He made Obasanjo the treasurer. So, he knows how to commit people and make them to really come out to donate. The new primate is just coming. He did very well at Asaba, where he was before his new appointment. When he became the Archbishop of Asaba, they were saying, We don’t have money,’ but he was able to build a cathedral. Anglican Church has changed from what it used to be. Go to any Anglican Church you will see the remarkable difference. So, we cannot assess the new primate because he is just starting.
On Bishops’ cooperation with the new primate
We (Bishops) are happy with his election. And you know, his election was not controversial. So, we will give him all the support he deserves to forge ahead. We had about three or four bishops, who contested with him. But at the end of the day, he came out clearly. He would get that support. Meanwhile, he was trained in the West. He served in the Army and he was chaplain in the North, chaplain in the East. So, he has that experience. We all are ready to support him.
Is retirement in the Anglican Church Biblical?
It is advisable for one to retire at a certain age. You know, when I preached my sermon on death’, I said God is good. Without death there will be confusion in the world.
And from experience, once someone gets to a certain age, he starts behaving strangely. There is a point when one starts thinking like a child and before they lose their senses, it’s better to retire and have some rest.
For instance, I’m bishop. I will be 60 this year. Already, I’m thinking of my own retirement. Even 10 years to come, I see it as being far. This is because the trouble, the pressure, the travelling Ñ everything is too much.
You care for the family, you care for the church, you care for the diocese, and you care for the congregation. You care for the communityÑ it’s too much. So, it’s not a question of the scripture. If it is not done that way, there will be confusion. Once a bishop, you are always a bishop; once you are a priest, you are always a priest. It is good you step aside when the ovation is loudest, before you start to spoil things.
Ideato diocese and its challenges
When I left Lagos, I assumed that easterners are Christians. Everybody is a Christian, and somehow, they look holy or you will be quick to conclude this is a Christian family or Christian area. But when you come close, you find that their Christianity is not deep; it’s superficial Christianity. They are mixing Christianity with culture. They go to church, but when they are sick, they go to native doctors. People could be in the church and be involved in their traditional masquerade and other things, in the name of culture.
The boyfriend and girlfriend affairÑ nobody talks about it. They are fornicating togetherÑ nobody talks about it. And they are supposed to be Christians. People who are in business cheatÑ it doesn’t matter. Students cheatÑ it doesn’t matter.
My vision of Christianity is to bring people back home to become committed Christians, like in the 70s. If you are a Christian everybody will know you are one; if you are not, you are not. So, there is no need mixing Christianity with culture or tradition.
One of the things we have done in my diocese, of which I thank God still goes on, is to make people believe that you cannot serve God and mammon, culture and tradition at the same time.
If you know the area I come from ÑArondizuogu in Ideato. There is a festival going on there, and these people are deep in it. And we try to let them know that there is no power in what they are doing; they are not safe.
For instance, in the month of April, we had our synod, and we looked at how a Christian should be different from others. If you are a Christian, you must be different. If you are not different from your culture or tradition, what makes you a Christian? I want to make the people better Christians. I believe that if we are better Christians, we will have better politicians, we will have a better country. If all the so-called Christians are real Christians, we will change Nigeria. That is part of what I’m doing. Part of it is also to change my ministers, to train them. You know, some got into the ministry without knowing why they are in ministry, and anybody who is not ready should give way. But I thank God for the type of ministers I have. I am proud of them. They are ready to direct the people, lead and teach them the Christian way.
I know it is not easy. In the past, they tried to tell me I should take it easy with the way I preached because there were people with chieftaincy titles known as Ozo, who were members of the church. Now, the people who were involved are resigning, they are sending letters to me, having realised that if you must serve God, you must serve Him in spirit and in truth. You do not need to mix it with anything.
With what is happening in the Church of Nigeria, we have to build the people physically, spiritually and also train them. Like we normally say, the pulpit must be higher than the pew. I don’t like to talk about my achievements. If you ask me, I will tell you to go and ask God.
What is the disposition of youths towards these changes?
They are responding very well. The youths these days love the things of God, in fact, they are the people challenging the elder ones. These young ones are the ones in the Evangelical Fellowship within the Anglican Church; that is the evangelical wing within the church. We teach them the word and the freedom to operate like what happened at the send-forth dinner you saw the youths singing that is the kind of thing they like.
And if you notice it is difficult to convert Anglicans these days, especially the younger ones. Part of the challenges I have in my diocese is that it is a rural diocese, most the young ones move to the towns it’s only during festivities that they come home and that is why when they come home; we provide a kind of festival for them that will promote their faith. By so doing, you have taken their minds away from getting involved in the traditional festival.