Many in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos will remember him as ‘our Baba’ as he was usually introduced to start the refrain on Holy Thursday at Chrism mass at Holy Cross Cathedral, of the chant O’Redemptor. Since the introduction of the lay faithful attending this very solemn holy celebration particularly for the priesthood, that introduction was usually greeted with very loud reverberating applause from the public including of course, some of the priests. Baba hated that moment but his usual response was never to wait for the applause to die down to start the refrain….. O Redemptor Sume Carmen Temet concinentium… A few months after his 96th birthday Monsignor fell and hit his head. A few days later, he rang me to complain he was losing his memory he could not remember the wordings of O Redemptor. I had asked him to go see his personal Doctor.
Oh no, let’s not bring him into this matter, he said. ‘I will not put the Lord to test’ just go to a record store on Baker Street you will be able to find a CD. He was so frightened of losing his memory he rang me every evening until I reported to him that I found a CD which had the chant amongst others with the wordings. Monsignor, as was a large man with a funny old school master glasses, sporting a drawback hair style, which I remember as boy of about four years old. He was always talking funny like a white man. He loved children. Seven years gone, (almost about) as if why should a mortal being who was stubbornly strong enough, to have spent 103 years in this life, should still be here even now? That’s our Baba. The morning of May the 17th would for always, be ‘In memoriam’ in the heart of all who remembers the Rt. Reverend Monsignor (Col) Pedro Ayodele Martins. Monkey, obo lagido, words very familiar to those whoever came close to him. Baba was a fantastic story teller who will repeat a story many times over without missing out a detail you may have heard more than once before.
He had a penchant for those things that were old. In the old days, he loved to recall. He was just that sort of guy who knew something about whatever you may be thinking. I believed Baba never exhausted all the gifts and talents he was endowed with by the Almighty, by all means, he had more than enough time to exhibit many of it. There was a time I decided to relocate my family from London and found a lovely property in Rochester and as usual, I called him to let him know I was moving home to the outskirt and his response shocked and angered me; “o, alejo ti poju ni ile e? (too many visitors to your home?) Why would you say that Monsignor? I retorted. You don’t want us to know where you live, for those of us coming to holidays. In any case, I won’t come to your house because you will abuse my privileges. In God’s name what would that be? And he answered, “The privilege of old age”.
Then he went on I used to know Rochester very well, and they have very good schools too, they have the Kings School… Ah Baba! You see, I once rode a bicycle from Rochester to France it took me a couple of days and I had very little money. How many days were you riding a bicycle to France? It must have been three days to Dover, and with the little money I had, I could cross the channel to Calais. So what about food, I had a couple of sandwiches that lasted two days, after which I remained a priest whose lent started early. What about tea…? Oh oooo, that was my penance. You had no tea at all? I had my Army issue water bottle which I put my tea, which finished before I got to Dover. The friend you were visiting, must have been so very important for you to ride a bike to France. Then he added, I needed to see my sister too. Once he told the story of the first woman to be hanged in Nigeria, a Cameroonian at the Broad Street Prison. As he went to pray for her before the execution, suddenly the woman opened her eyes and asked where she was? Sebi I don die? No bi heaven be this? Seeing a man in white priestly robe, aah thank you o, God. I no know say I go see you sef.
Can you imagine having to tell her that she was yet to be hanged, and that I am not God ? On the day I foiled a military coup d’etat against the Shehu Shagari Government, 24th May 1980, Monsignor was one of the first people that came to the studio and asked the late Mrs. Marie Irikefe to arrange for someone to take me into hiding. Not knowing where to keep me but somehow, I ended in Mr. Soni Irabor’s bedroom. Eventually, I was released to an NSO (SSS today) handler for interrogation. About a week or so later, a second handler who took over the interrogation slipped in that Monsignor must have spoken to everyone in government, getting assurances that I will not be detained in prison or NSO detention custody and be treated well. Till he passed, he never told me who it was he spoke with. Baba had friends, from Sir James Robertson, Sir Abubarkar Tafawa Balewa on whose bed was found the last present given to him by Monsignor; ‘The Imitation of Christ’ when he was kidnapped and was later found assassinated. He knew all the right people he needed to know while in this life.
He was very traditional and conservative. He once told a seminarian in my presence, referring to drumming and secular dancing at Mass: that the Mass is the passion of our Lord being re-enacted all over again and again. And he asked, which portion of the mass will you jazz up with drums and the guitar? His heart and mind worked for the church and conversion of souls for eternal life, but was not very strict or rigid about it. ‘It was a case of your free will, if you chose to go to hell; but do not say I, Ayo Martins did not tell you o’. Rt. Rev. Monsignor Col. Pedro Martins achieved many first including:
• First Lagosian to be ordained a priest.
• First Nigeran Catholic Chaplain Nigeria Army.
• First Nigerian Director of Army Chaplaincy
• Oldest living Catholic Cleric in Nigeria
• Oldest living retired military officer in Nigeria.
• A former Vicar Capitula, a member of the Consultors, Archdiocese of Lagos, former Member of Nigerian Constitution Drafting Committee, Former Chairman, World Military Council (The first African to occupy that position), former Chaplain General the Nigerian Army.
• Probably, the first Catholic Priest to be buried in Vaults and Gardens. As you laugh at your mortal beloved, from above, we miss you very dearly; we pray for your soul and remember your admonition, “Remember me with Love.”Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in Peace. Amen and Amen.