- Good day Your Excellency, we the editorial board of the Mind Opener Magazine are in a state of ecstasy for this privilege of being with you. Can we please know you?
I am Valerian Maduka Okeke, by the grace of God, the Archbishop of Onitsha and Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province.
- In our search for a better Nigeria, we themed this year’s publication “Nigeria at 61: Twice as tall or an inch away from a fall.” How would you view the 61-year old Nigeria and its developmental status since her inception?
What an interesting theme. It is good that you dedicated this edition to look closely at our country’s journey to nationhood. As for me, it has not been an easy road, but in all things, we give thanks to God. These 61 years have been a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, each in proportion. Nigerian history has been chequered, and the movement has encountered many obstacles along the way, yet we are still marching on. Though rich in highly mobile, endowed, resilient and resourceful citizens and material resources, our nation has not been adequately developed for the maximum benefit of the citizens. Corruption and bad governance, which have exacerbated the security challenges, have remained the bane of successive governments. Yet Nigeria holds a great promise not only to Nigerians but also to the entire black race. With relatively great difficulties, our nation has helped many to realise their dreams and thrive. It flows with both milk and honey and human blood, and it is the onus on the government to ensure justice for all as the basis for constructing a great nation. In this way, she creates a security architecture that is not only efficient but effective.
- The founding founders of our great nation wished to create a harmonious state, free from rancour and acrimony. Placing yourself in the shoes of our heroes past, do you think the Nigeria of today is close to that ideal?
As I earlier mentioned, the ideals are far from being realised. The journey moves in a zigzag form, some steps forward, some steps backwards. But the dreams are still alive, spurring the citizens to express their dissatisfaction in various forms, both legitimate and illegitimate forms. But any responsible government ought to listen to these words and gestures with which the citizens express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction towards the trajectory of the nation. I may not forget to mention that no government is perfect and no nation is totally just. However, the difference is that some governments or nations make justice, accountability, equity, probity, responsibility and fairness to all their cardinal principles of governance. In contrast, others replace these values with injustice, corruption, partiality, nepotism, favouritism and marginalisation as instruments of governance. In these 61 years, Nigeria has experienced bits and pieces of each set. The ideals are always there, beckoning the leaders to wake up to their responsibilities and to the citizens to exercise patience while they support the leaders.
- Speaking from the religious perspective, religion in Nigeria is crumbling down and falling into the dungeon. What do you think might have been the cause of this? Is it the infiltrating miracle-oriented Christians we have now or the ubiquitous prosperity preachers?
I think your conclusion is very weighty and sounds exaggerated. It is a bold and misleading statement to say that religion is crumbling in Nigeria. Do you mean religion in general, or are you referring to Christianity? Your question is not clear. In responding to your question, I would align with the conclusion of my personal experience and sociologists on this matter. Nigeria is a religious nation and expresses this religiosity in many and various ways. Part of the security challenges in the country is, arguably linked to religion. So I submit that religion is much alive here. Similarly, may I immediately add that Christianity is not crumbling in Nigeria. The Church still takes her mission to make disciples of the nations seriously. Other denominations in Nigeria are not sleeping. Nevertheless, I am not in any way denying the challenges facing the spreading and living the authentic Christian faith in Nigeria. Syncretism, false prophesies, money and fame-driven ministries, the so-called prosperity gospel, prioritising mundane benefits to salvation of souls and many other forms of abuse are baneful and injurious to the faith. The commercialisation of religion by unconscionable claimants and ministers of the Gospel portends a great danger.
- In what is seen to be an appalling sight, religious syncretism is now the mantra of the day. It is now a thing of normalcy in our contemporary milieu, and this can be seen as a misinterpretation of Pope John XXIII’s decree in the second Vatican. What do you have to say about this?
Religious syncretism, an unhealthy mixture of elements of different religions, is a form of exploitation or manipulation of religion. It has nothing to do with the openness to dialogue, which the Holy Father, Saint John XXIII, encouraged and celebrated with the Second Vatican Council. A religious syncretist shops for solution in religion and does not really understand religion as a way of life and as a system of relationship with the Divine. He or she is only interested in the consolation of God and not really the God of consolation. As such, he approaches religion with a kind of mercantile-utility mentality that searches for benefits. Around here, such persons combine elements of Christianity and African Traditional Religion in a manipulative manner that is neither faithful nor committed to either of the two religions. Such persons could be lay members or even self-appointed and so-called ministers of the Church. This is fundamentally different from ecumenism and dialogue. Contrarily, dialogue is the process of submitting to stewardship of reason. The possibility of the use of reason is the common denominator for all men and women and guides life. Promoting dialogue is an affirmation by the Conciliar Fathers of the rational foundation for interpersonal relationships in society. Every rational being is supposed to be capable of dialogue. The subjects in dialogue are first of all well-versed in their conviction and from that stand point meet their interlocutors. In fact, Christianity itself is a great dialogue initiated by God if not a trialogue – it aims at the communion of God, the Church and the entire creation.
- The status of religion in our country was further dealt a grievous blow by the outbreak of the ravaging corona virus, which shook people’s faith, leading to the impending question, why believe?
We believe in God no matter the adversity because there is no alternative to faith in God. There is no excuse that justifies that one denies his father. Every child knows that he or she received life through father and mother. So faith in God is a common sense acknowledgement that life is a gift we all received from God that requires our gratitude to the most merciful and the most beneficent God. Religion is that simple common sense acknowledgement that we owe everything to God. So in good times and in time of adversities, we still submit to God. It is the duty of all of us to help our brothers and sisters understand that the denial of a Creator is an affirmation of chance but rationally it does not follow. Belief in chance destroys the foundation of everything, including logic and science. Without that irreducible foundation of meaning everything becomes meaningless unrelated realities. Without a Creator, everything is a possibility because there would not be any coherent basis for law and order, morality and spirituality. COVID-19 or no COVID-19, we ought to keep our faith alive, knowing that the world will emerge, triumphantly from the embers beneath the ashes of death and destruction, reset and renewed.
- Where do you think we might have gone wrong and what do you think will be the possible solution to this crumbling state of religion in Nigeria?
This question would have been relevant had I accepted that religion is crumbling in Nigeria. I shared a different thought on that. I see the reality differently and I have made my point known in the previous response.
- Nigeria as an overly religious nation. How can this multi-religious energy be harnessed for the greater good of the nation?
There you go! You have made the point; Nigeria is a very religious country. So I do not subscribe to the point that religion is crumbling here. Diversity is a blessing when it is properly harnessed. It enriches unity. So the presence of the multi-religious groups in Nigeria is not supposed to be a threat to peace rather it should be an ingredient for building a virile nation where everyone has a space to flourish and thrive. The fundamental solution is ensuring justice and fairness on the side of the government. On the side of the adherents of these religions, there is need to appreciate the praxis of true religion. By being true to the core of their religion they will realise that all true worship of God is linked to love of God and love of the humanity. If religions propagate love, even if understood imperfectly, then it is easy to see that a sincere adherent will appreciate the antithetical nature of calling on the God of love, life and peace while standing on the bulwarks of hatred, violence and hostility. Profound appreciation of true religion is of an immense help and the role of government in maintaining fairness and justice to all is not to be neglected. Then again, there is need for dialogue between these religious groups. No true Christian lives in obliviousness of the neighbour even if he is in error. Error has no right but the person in error has a right to life, to peace and tranquillity and to love.
- We cannot but express our profound gratitude to you for your encouraging participation in the publication of our magazine and for offering us your intellectual help on all the raised questions. May God reward you abundantly as we wish u well in your future endeavours.
I thank you for your efforts and congratulate you as you produce this edition. You are doing a great service. May God bless you all. Amen.