There was pomp and ceremony Wednesday, June 16 in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos as the Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie marked his 85th birthday and 50th Episcopal ordination anniversaries. The event which started with Mass at the Catholic Church of the Assumption, Falomo, Lagos, attended by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, saw the outpouring of encomiums on the celebrant, whom many acclaimed as a worthy servant of God, and held in high esteem by all and sundry. Among the outpouring of love and respect for the iconic personality of Cardinal Okogie, were speeches delivered by dignitaries on the occasion. Below are some of the speeches: For the celebrant, who even in retirement still worries about the state of the nation, he said: “As I pray the words of the beautiful Psalm 85, on the occasion of my 85th birthday, I give thanks to God from the depth of my hearts for his steadfast love and never failing mercies which have sustained me these 85years. Indeed, it is His grace that led me thus far. May the name of the Lord be praised and exalted both now and forever! Amen. “The words of Psalm 85 form the prayer of a patriot for his afflicted country, a fervent prayer for Revival and Restoration. It recognizes that national restoration is not entirely man-made but given by God and indeed, what other prayer but for mercy and restoration, is appropriate for our beloved country Nigeria in these trying times of all forms of depressing occurrences. It seems that Nigeria has become a killing field as insecurity and terror reign from one end to the other and there seems to be no end in sight at present.
“Few weeks ago, on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of this administration, given the severity of the status quo of our socio-economic and political situation, it was shocking that the government claimed that the Nigerian people never had it so good and Nigerians would have reason to praise this government at the end of their tenure. As they say, the matter speaks for itself, as it is evident that Nigeria has practically become a failed state. “A country fails when it is no longer able to protect its citizens from harm and secure their welfare. A country fails when instead of being a harbour of refuge for its citizens; it turns out to be a cauldron of fire and sorrow that consumes its citizens. A country fails when instead of reassuring its citizens by actions and policies that the future is secure, it becomes a case of most people planning to flee the country to other climes, where their governments are truly functioning. Such is practically our case today. One whose house is on fire should not take to the streets dancing. “While it is true that our problems did not start under this administration, they seem to have worsened economically and politically in these past six years. Insurgency in the North-east is still ongoing, and insecurity has spread nationwide, in spite of the military being deployed everywhere. The avalanche of banditry and kidnapping that have overwhelmed parts of the North-west and North-central cannot be described, as they stroll casually into schools and cart away tens, nay hundreds of students and mysteriously melt into nearby forest/bushes. The entire security apparatus often seems clueless or helpless.
“The situation in some part of the South-east also leaves much to be desired; police officers mauled, soldiers butchered, innocent citizens killed, property destroyed. People are no longer safe in the land. “Unknown Gunmen” has become a favourite vocabulary in our parlance as they come in and out, operate unfettered and untraceable. The case of the Fulani herdsmen has been badly handled so far. The indices of inflation, unemployment, fear, poverty and misery are shooting through the roof. The sad part is that there is no articulate coordinated response from the government to stem these downward trends, apart from the usual ‘playing the ostrich’ and throwing tantrums when they are criticized, like the rather hasty suspension of Twitter. “The political class, in spite of all their protestations to the contrary, seems unable to stay the course and prevent this slide of this greatly endowed country into this sad quagmire. As they say, ‘truth is bitter’. “At a time when evil spars against good, we have to make a choice to stand up on the side of righteousness and justice. Our Lord and Master remind us that those who do not gather with him, scatter (Matt.12:30). Let us not sit quietly and bury our heads while our houses are on fire. The presence of Christ and his love urges us on to be reconciled and restore peace to our land.
“We call on the governments at all levels to rise up to the situation and carry out their duties for which they are elected, to save this nation from drowning. Let them listen to the cries of the people and do the needful. The effects of the insecurity and anxiety in our land are colossal. We call on all Nigerians of all religions and tribes to join hands together to rescue this once favoured land. “At 85, I rededicate my life towards building a better Nigeria, a Nigeria where we shall live together in harmony despite our diverse ethnic, regional or religious affiliations; a Nigeria where no one is placed at any advantage or disadvantage because of where he or she hails from. That is the Nigeria posterity deserves from us. This is an urgent call. May God help us all! Bishop Augustine Akubueze, President of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, commended Cardinal Okogie for his dedication and giving in to the will of God, in serving God and the people God has entrusted to him. “We are here today because His Eminence gave in to the will of God, to serve God and the flock entrusted to him. We thank God for your dedication in his vineyard. Many men of God learnt from you to speak truth to those in government because you never relented to do so, even in retirement.
“On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, I thank you for your selfless service to the Church in Nigeria, as a priest for 55 years and Bishop for 50 years. Many people have come after you, and are standing on the foundation you provided as President of the Confrence. We have learnt to speak out against government irresponsibility because we saw how you spoke out when you were President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN. Your prophetic voice during the military rule will never be forgotten. “Your decision to live a life of simplicity, amidst the affluence of Lagos, shows that you are a shepherd who cares for the sheep. You are the third Nigerian to be elevated to the status of a Cardinal, and during this period, you have participated in two conclaves that gave the Church Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. “We join the Archdiocese of Lagos to celebrate you. In your retirement, you have continued to exercise your prophetic ministry; you call on government to be responsible and accountable to the electorate. It is indeed a great privilege and honour to be associated with a great ecclesiastical personality like you, a Prince of the Church, a Prince of the royal family of Uromi Kngdom, and a Prince of the Okogie’s family.
We saluté you. Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins, Catholic Archbishop of Lagos in his speech, among other things, commended the Cardinal for his contributions in the growth of the Archdiocese of Lagos. “In the name of the entire Archdiocese of Lagos, we greet you with reverence, as you celebrate 85 years today. We greet you for the 50 years of your episcopacy, much of which you have spent directing our Church in Lagos. “We thank you for allowing yourself to be persuaded to have this celebration. Your Eminence, you have been very concerned of the situation in our country, and other uncertainties, for which we thought that we should celebrate this on a low key, and indeed, it is on a low key because were it not on a low key, 85 years of Cardinal Okogie will be resounding much farther than it is at the moment. “So, Your Eminence, we thank you. We pray that the Lord will reward you for the efforts that you have made today, to make yourself available for this celebration. We know that the Lord Himself will continue to strengthen you, and give you the graces that you need to continue to be a father to us in the Archdiocese as you have been for many, many years. “Today, you have built on the foundation that was there, and made more solid in your years of governance, and we hope you continue to build further on that foundation. We thank you for being in many, many ways, by which you inspire and encourage and advise, in order that we built on that foundation.
“We thank the Bishops for taking the time out to come and celebrate with us. I pray that God will lead you back safely, and continue to guide you as you shepherd the flocks in your various Dioceses. “I also thank those who have been taking care of the needs of His Eminence, morally, financially and otherwise. I urge you to continue in your good works because whoever takes care of the man of God, especially in his old age, will receive the reward of God’s blessing. I also thank all who have taken time off, to come and celebrate His Eminence. May God continue to bless you all. “Your Eminence, we want you to continue to be the father you are to the Archdiocese, in years to come. We shall continue to look up to you more than we have received, and many more that we hope to receive in the years ahead. I also thank Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Executive Governor of Lagos State, ably represented on the occasion. Please, give our assurance to His Excellency that we shall continue to pray for him. We shall continue to be the head of counsel that is required from men of God in this kind of time. In his goodwill message, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu lauded the notable achievements of Anthony Cardinal Okogie, as a Catholic and Christian leader. “I am privileged to join the clergy and parishioners of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, as well as friends and well wishers at this celebration of the 85th birthday and 50th Episcopal ordination anniversary of an accolade spiritual leader and humanist.
“I recall the excitement with which the news of your ordination as Archbishop, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos was received all over the city of Lagos, and invariably across the length and breadth of Nigeria. It was indeed a historic moment, not only in the Catholic fold, but also for the entire Christian faithful. Today is therefore worthy of celebration because the ascension of His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie as Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, the Church of Christ, over three decades recorded major successes that mapped out achievements of the Church, as a major stakeholder in governance in Nigeria during the military era, and our nascent democratic experience. “The standout factor of His Eminence over the years has been his consistence in speaking truth to power, at a time when it was high risk to do so. You have been a consistent backbone and spiritual doyen for Lagos State Government, over the years. I am proud to say that our administration has benefited immensely from your wisdom and knowledge, especially in promoting religious and ethnic tolerance in Lagos State, which is a melting point of the various ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria. Today, the Lagos State Government and all Lagosians, including all stakeholders and visitors to Lagos, join hands to celebrate a humanist with compassion and the milk of human kindness, flowing through his veins, on his 85th birthday anniversary and 50th Episcopal, and worthwhile service in the Lord’s vineyard.
“Baba, on behalf of the government and people of Lagos, I wish you a happy birthday, and many more years in good health, to continue serving in the Lord’s vineyard. Congratulations sir! Your Eminence congratulations!” The homilist, Rev. Fr. Stephen Akinsowon thanked God for giving the Church someone like Anthony Cardinal Okogie. “Indeed, ours is a song of joy and thanksgiving to God, for giving us a humble, energetic, hardworking, prayerful, determined, meticulous leader and father, whose utmost concern has always been the wellbeing of the flock entrusted to him. We can simply say that he is indeed, a man of many parts, and a man of all seasons. “When we gather in thanksgiving like this, the story that readily comes to mind is the ten lepers, one of whom returned to give thanks to Jesus. The story reminds us of how important it is to take time to say thank you. “From my experience in life, it is evident that thanksgiving is not something that comes naturally. Gratitude is not instinctive; it is a learned behaviour, a habit that is cultivated by doing it. “Today’s celebration is a short testimony to the fact that Cardinal Okogie realizes that gratitude is a seasoning for all life seasons, and applies the curious mixture of times and glooms, and of gains and pains. “Today, we have come to thank God, without whom we can do nothing. We have come to thank the one who we live, and have our being. We thank God for calling Cardinal Okogie in His service and service of his people. “While we acknowledge that this is a good time to rejoice and celebrate an exquisitely quintessential icon at 85, it is also a time for sober reflection, a time to give thanks to God for the privilege of existence, and to realize that the day a man is born, he begins another journey of life.