Wednesday, April 23, 2014 1:23 pm
How are you spending your retirement?
Thank you. I have just started. First, I don’t find it difficult to keep myself aloof from positions. Secondly, I have worked consistently and in a very hard way. So, I really need a rest. Now, I sleep, wake, pray, eat and exercise myself. After that, I come back to activities, not to be in charge but to assist.
What do you intend doing to keep yourself busy?
I don’t want to count my chickens before they are hatched. I had somebody who retired and said that he would spend his retirement writing books, but he never wrote one book until his death. If God grants me the privilege, I will want others to see life as I have seen it; that life is a gift of God that we live day to day in His presence.
Apart from priesthood, what are the other professions you dipped your fingers into?
I thank God for the gift of life and talents He gives me. I believe that God gives many talents to human beings and the more we struggle to actualise and activate these talents, the more we become adept in them. I can say a little bit about almost everything. When I was young, even in the secondary school, I used to write. Afterward, I continued to write. When Tribune newspaper started in the 1950s, I was making my contributions. In the Catholic Independent, a weekly title, I made contributions in 1960. In 1962, when I finished Philosophy, one had to go for one year pastoral work, a probation period, to prove that one could continue. Every week, we had to make our contributions to Nigeria Tribune and Daily Times in those days. We didn’t take it just as journalism then, we took it as part of our culture to enlighten ourselves and others. I remember, when I got to Rome in 1963, Pope John the 23rd called the meetings of all the bishops of the world, more than 4000 of them, and I had my Tesera, the ID card to go there. I was writing the daily press releases; I brought some of them to Ibadan when I came in 1969. So, the Vatican council lasted from 1963 to 1965 and I was inside it writing. I have dipped my fingers into agriculture. I love horticulture. You didn’t come in time to see me arranging my flower pots. Where I have lived since 1974 till date, I have eight species of oranges, four species of coconut trees, two of breadfruit, and a lot of others. Gardening is a beautiful thing. I lifted weight, I ran in the University Olympics in 1964 and 1965. I took part in footballing, basketball, lawn tennis, etc. I did painting. If you see my first pencil drawing, you will marvel. All these help the body to mature. We have talents in this country and we should develop them.
What are the impact of sports and arts on you?
All these are gifts of God that should be realised to the full in every human being. They mould one’s life, give will power and the more one struggles to do them, the more one learns to know himself better and react rightly to situations and events. For instance, Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie is a great footballer. I was a goalkeeper. Sometime ago, a classmate of ours from Australia was always the one winning the 880s metres race and in 1965, I told my brother that I was going to win that year among the universities in Rome and he said, “Felix, don’t kill yourself.” I won. All these strengthen your will, make you flexible and create endurance in you. You will not join the bandwagon to do wrong things. All these are good for training of youth, and they yield dividends in old age.
Is it right to conclude that decadence in youth today is as a result of not being well trained?
Yes, we have a lot of problems. I believe in positive thinking. I don’t believe in condemning the present because of the past. For example, when I was a student at St. Theresa’s Minor Seminary, Oke Are, in those days, if a student is sent out, he abhors no ill feeling. When I came back in 1969 and I thought I was giving some students the opportunity to see “the outer world”, they asked for taxi fare. I went to Ibowon in Lagos State from Ijebu in Ogun State. I told them the long distance we trekked in our days and they wondered how it was possible to trek such long distances. I appreciate that the world has changed. Security is lacking in our country. Nobody expected anyone to kidnap in those days. Of course, when you have technology, you lose something in its place. It is like today, our students will go on the Internet to do so many things and have no room for personal research. Academically, very few are dedicated. Virtually,no new things are being discovered. We can’t just say yester years were so beautiful. Yes, they were. Today also is beautiful but there is decadence in every age. It is that decadence we should fight against. Jesus has said that the poor you will have among you. The poor are not those that are financially poor alone, there are those who are mentally poor; they will always be there, like spiritually poor ones, materially poor; we can’t do without them. The only thing is that you shouldn’t be one of them in any strata. Be a rich person because God has created us to be rich.
Can you attribute your sound spoken English to the privilege of schooling outside Nigeria where words are correctly pronounced by the native speakers?
No, my dear. I studied this in primary and in secondary school and it assisted me in the university. I studied in Esure, in Ijebu Mushin, Ogun State. From standard two to standard six, you were not allowed to speak vernacular in school.
But don’t you think that is responsible for our inability to be proficient in our language?
You make me laugh. I speak Yoruba equally well. It is a balanced diet that gives good health. I grew up in the village where we never saw a white man, and Yoruba is the only means of communication. In school, how will you learn if you continue to speak your dialect? Do our radio or television reporters or presenters speak good English? Many of them speak their dialects and coloured their dialect with English. We had to consciously learn English and Yoruba, our own language. Nigeria has about 450 languages. A Nigerian professor of Phonology in Oxford told me that phonologists have discovered that some of these tongues that we call dialects like Egba, Yewa, Awori, Egun, Ijebu, and Remo are full languages. So we have to promote them by allowing them to speak them. We learnt grammar. Today, students are no longer keen in leaning grammar either in English or Yoruba. We learnt the structures of languages. We speak our language after school and it is natural to us. So there must be a way to ensure that we master English Language well. On top of this is the diligence of educational system where the teachers insisted on speaking and knowing well the structure of the languages. I started my infant education in Remo, so, I speak Remo very well. But when I got to Esure to further my education, my classmates were making jest of me because I couldn’t speak Ijebu and I had to learn Ijebu and I can speak it just like any other language. Then, in school, we were all trained to man position. In our school, Peter Clever, Esure, in primary school, every two weeks, we had a court, the offenders will be tried. The headmaster was the chief judge, some teachers were the jurists, and some of us prosecute offenders. I rose to be Queens Counsel, QC. Students were taught to channel their thought to becoming anything in future. Before the panel, I argued, and I prosecuted and everybody began to know what is right. Civic was taught practically. Today, we don’t have all that. In primary school, we were bound to read how lawyers argue. There was an episode. My classmate, Henry Oyenubi who later became a king, the Ajalorun of Ife before his death found me speaking to infant three boy and he said, “Felix, you are speaking vernacular.” I said, “Me, QC? He said he was joking. The following court day, I prosecuted many students requesting them to fetch bundles of firewood or buckets of water, etc. When I said your worship, I rest my case and he said no, I still have another case here. My name was called and students were happy that the QC who had prosecuted many people would also be prosecuted. The headmaster said, to the dock and I went. You have a right to defend yourself or get a counsel to defend you and I said, “Your worship sir, I want to defend myself”. One of the teachers prosecuted me but I won the case because I maintained that I was not speaking vernacular. I was only speaking Ijebu language which the young boy could understand. The law says that from standard two to standard six, you must not speak vernacular but not infant. I was the only one who went scot free that day.
With your interest and skill in law, why didn’t you study law instead of going into priesthood?
I could have been a lawyer, an architect, an engineer, and anything but God called me to be a priest and if I come back again, I will be a Catholic celibate priest.
Now you sound like one of those “God called me” pastors engaging in countless series of atrocities. What experience did you have to make you feel that you are called?
My experience is varied and long. There were only three religions practised in Esure: the Anglican Church, the traditional worshippers and Islam. My grandfather, Kojeiro Osinboni Job, was one of the three persons that went to bring the Catholic faith to Esure in 1903, trekking three days to Lagos to bring a Catholic priest. My family was raised in the knowledge of God, in knowing the words of God, and following the precepts of the Lord. I am not the only child of the family. We were many. We have a large family because my grandfather has sons and only one daughter. When God calls, you will know. I always love things about the church, and follow priests around. Whenever we were having moonlight play on the pavement in the front of the house, my father would be asking the children one after the other what they want to be and they will be disclosing it. When it gets to my turn, he will skip me and call the next person and I will shout, ‘You have not asked me,’ and everybody will chorus, “Father.”
At what age was that?
Around 12 years of age. In 1952, my Taiwo (twin) who lives in Ijebu-Ode and was into the banking industry wanted me to stay with him and my parish priest said no. All these movement with priests, service in the church, in the choir, all these orientated me and I had my focus. The way the Lord calls is not a sudden call at night. God’s call is a process and the society, family, and church aid your acceptance and finally, the authority of the church says yes, you really have the vocation. It is not the individual who says I must be or because I have gone to theology school. A school is a school. A school is not a market or profession; it is a place where you learn to be.
At what point did you resolve to be a priest?
It is not just about one point. It was a buildup thing. There was an episode in 1955. I was playing football on our field full of stones and got wounded in my ankle. I had to be going to Adeoyo hospital for treatment. That period, a thief came in to steal the only vehicle that was in the compound, a motorcycle. The next is that students were to watch at night. It is not like now that everybody has to be pampered. And if you watch tonight, you will sleep during manual labour tomorrow evening. My tight friend, Cardinal Okogie, did his own turn watching at night. As a good Lagos boy, he managed to sleep in between. Then he came to where we were doing manual labour in the evening. I was making rosaries. I taught him how to do it. I gave him my pliers and instead of staying idle, I started stretching the wire for making rosary. It takes two of us to do it but I was using my teeth and my hand to stretch the wire to the amusement of others who started shouting, talking and laughing. And the director heard the laughter, came to the door of where we were and discovered that I was the source of the laughter. In those days during manual labour, to laugh was totally out of place, you will be reprimanded for that. He said, “Felix, you are not working.”
My voice was big and I said, “How could you say that I am not working? You should have asked them why they were laughing.” And he said, “I have been watching you for a couple of months.” And I said, “How long have I been in this place that makes it a couple of months?
“Father, nobody gave me invitation letter to come to this place and nobody is going to drive me away except I am prepared to go, I hope you understand.”
The man turned back and went away and the others were shivering, thinking that I would be expelled. I think he related it among other members of staff and they looked at me and said, “Leave him.”
That was an episode I always hold on to. If you are in a position of authority, don’t undermine others, whether they are below you or with you. And try to reason with others.
As Christianity came from white man’s land, so also are devices. Do you think white men are right trying to force gay, bestiality and other vices on Africa?
First, it is a mistake that Europeans brought us Christianity. It is Christ that brought Himself to the world to save us. We should look at Christ rather than the man that comes to preach Christ to us. Jesus Christ, through his Apostle Peter, has warned us, saying your adversary, the devil, like a roaring lion, is going around seeking whom to devour. He said: Resist him, and be steadfast in faith and persevere to the end. The developed countries have so many challenges to face just like our own. What do we say about the problem of evil? If there is no night, there will not be the day. The night leaves its place for the day. When the day has reached its end, night comes in; it might be long a night, it might be a short night.
You speak of the gay; tell me how the word gay came into the vocabulary. It is because it existed. These things were there before Christianity. Abnormalities happened. Solomon, who did so much for God, was he not the same Solomon who abandoned the Lord? Solomon who built Temple for God was the same one who constructed temples for gods and goddesses. In the history of humanity, we have come from holiness, goodness and justice, to callousness. Do we not study in order to be better? And some people say we live to learn and learn to live. Do we learn to kill, and to destroy? In Nigeria, the destroyers are killing peoples, saying that they are fighting for God. Evil exists and that was why Jesus came to conquer. But unfortunately, not all are listening to Him. The little flock must be the salt and light of the world. Let them do what they want, you don’t join them. White people are not better human beings than us to copy. Are they better human beings? No, they are not better human beings than us. Let none of us miss the train of Christ. Those that are against gay in America are in millions but don’t forget, an empty barrel makes more noise than 20 full ones. It is unfortunate for mankind; we listen to people we should not listen to.
What is your take on prosperity pastors, especially those that ride jets all about at the expense of their followers?
We should follow Christ’s laid down ways. He has told us: You will hear that I am there and there, don’t follow them. He says, If you want to be my disciples, deny yourself daily, carry your cross and follow me. Jesus emptied Himself by becoming like us. A man or woman of God will not use ungoldly means to rake money from his neigbours. Christ doesn’t promise us a bed of roses in this world. Scripture tells us that the road to heaven is narrow, and he that perseveres to the end shall be saved.
While some countries like Norway are closing down their prisons because crime is almost at nil, crime is on the increase in Nigeria. How do you think crime can be reduced in Nigeria?
Except we follow Christ whole-heartedly, crime can’t be reduced or eradicated. Where there is multitude, there will be sins. See many houses being built and overnight, they collapse. The population of Nigeria is great and Nigeria as a nation is very young. You can’t compare us to other states that are small in population and old in existence. Let us not exaggerate our weaknesses. They are many but there are reasons for them. Our cultures have not merged together. For instance, more than 19 tribes make up the Yoruba. We should not expect to be like others but be like ourselves. First, we need to see how our culture will be integrated. We must understand one another in order to become progressive. There is no group that is totally compatible. Even within a family, there is always a black sheep. Because of that, will we not marry? We will go into extinction and perish.
When you know this, why did you choose priesthood?
Is the same God who created you not the one that created a eunuch? Some are born eunuch, some are made eunuch, and some made themselves eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom. That answers your curiosity.
Sir, can you say sincerely that with what you have done in the vineyard of God, you will make heaven?
(Long laughter) There are stages in one’s life. There is nobody who can be sure of himself because you don’t know when. Scripture tells us that if the household knows when a thief will come, he will arm himself to the teeth but nobody knows. Therefore, we should be prepared. The stage I have reached, I have seen a lot in the world and I can say that the world is emptiness and therefore, I am preparing for my homeward journey and every day, I think of that. I meditate on the words of God, I pray for myself and others to make it but I do not say that I have already made it.
How do you see the agitation among the Catholic priesthood about marriage?
It has always been that people will agitate against the status quo. Agitation doesn’t change things. Just as you don’t change things from outside, you change from inside. In the solid Catholic Church, it is the only thing this church has practised and it will remain.