MIND YOUR BUSINESS, DON'T DISCUSS CELIBACY
Monsignor [Professor] Obiora Francis Barthlomew Ike is a Catholic Priest, Theologian, Professor of social Ethics and African studies, Human Right Activist, Publisher and Writer. He was born in Gusau, Northern Nigeria on 7th April 1956 to Richard Maduabuchi and Ike Lucy Mgbafor Ike.
He is an enigma of sorts, His antecedents which speak volumes of God's gift to mankind, materialized in the Catholic institute of Development, justice and Peace (CIDJAP), which has grown over the last twenty four years to positively impact the lives of the people through its various arms, namely: the farms; the publishing house; the prisoner's project, the bookshop, the library; the micro credit lunching; skills acquisition center, Ofu Obi Africa Centre, Umuchinemere Community Bank and the Godfery Okoye University, Enugu. He became the youngest monsignor in Africa at the age of forty-three in 1999. He squeezed out time from his busy schedule to grant this interview.
Who actually is Obiora Ike, if I may ask?
As for back as 1999, when I was just about 43, I became the youngest Monsignor in the whole of Africa; and that was an honor when you think about age playing a role because I always believe that genius is when you achieve things which for a life long period others achieve. At the age of thirty-Six, thirty-Seven, I already became a professor. At the age of twenty-five I was ordained a Catholic Priest and at the age of thirty, I have finished all my Doctorate Degrees. I am an early started, I do things that God has empowered me to do in order to achieve his purposes.
Did you choose this calling or did it come looking for you. Was there any resistance from your parents?
The priesthood is a call, it is a vocation. Some get it late but I got mine very early in life. There was nothing else I wanted to do since I was born on earth; as a boy of one year, as a boy of five years, when I remembered the ideas about the priesthood and the call and request I made to my people. This is just my identity. There is nothing else I have ever dreamt of being in life except this.
You are carrying out this task with such a zeal that am forced to ask what motivates you?
What motivates one in life? That is a question people answer differently. I mean, there is a motivation that God gives you, the motivation does not come from me, the motivation comes from Jesus Christ who says I am the way, The Truth and Life. He says he is the motivator, he makes me to wake up in the morning and without him, I can do nothing. He is the one that gives me the idea and strength to try to be of service to the people. He is a perfect model for us who are the people of faith. Many of the things we do, the actions we perform, the ideas we try to develop, he is the power behind every thinkers and philosophers and so on. Whether they are ancient, modern, whether Western or traditional African thinkers, whether they are in the areas of theology or in the areas of technology behind all that, there is the strong pillar who is the premium effect, the effect mover, the prime mover who influences, who is admirable and whose life style and wisdom is beyond qualification. So, the life of Christ for me is the prime motivator in my activities.
Recent developments within the Catholic Institution have amplified the cry for a second look at celibacy as a concept?
(Raising his Voice) I think the discussion about the priesthood should be discussed by people who are priest and not any body putting mouth in what does not concern him. We have reached a stage in world development when people should not gossip about things that are not their business.
What does an Anglican have to do about a Catholic priest getting married or not; I mean a thing that does not concern them. Or what does a Moslem have to do or a Christian to ask Moslems about their doctrines. I do think that we have reached a level in the world of religion were respect for people, dignity for people decisions, for peoples religions motivation, for peoples sacred way of life should not be subject to media speculation and discussion in opinion polls.
I mean… I know the world wants to discuss everything, but how do you discuss faith? Some thing you cannot see, touch, you can't quantify
Concerning the issue of the Catholic priesthood, we call it 'Discipline of being free', of being celibate, being celibate means to be free, celibate means to be of heaven, heaven is the height. So, the priest says I shall not marry because I want to spend my time, my vision, my energy for the people. I want to be available for them. It is free from and free for, from all those things that hold you down whether they are children or what ever, your own immediate obligations and for God. And this is a life that you take in once you decided to be a priest because you don't know it when you become a priest.
You know it all along and it is part of the tradition of the Catholic Church for over 1,000 years. And if people think that they have some other idea about how their own life can be lived you don't need to reinvent the wheel. You don't need to become a Catholic priest to be able to go and do what the Anglicans are doing. Anglicans are already doing it, just go and join then. You don't need to tell me come let us go and join another group. Just do your own; everybody is in his own shop and the Catholic clergyman, the catholic discipline, the catholic theology within the Christian life style is one that is very, very elevated and mostly respected. And when people have different opinion they should just go and join other parties that already exist instead of trying to turn the best in town into just a copy.
Since you are into social and humanitarian empowerment, do you think the present democratic dispensation has benefited the ordinary man?
What is democracy? Is it a word or a life style? We have to first of all define what democracy is because before we can properly access its benefits. If democracy by definition is government of the people for the people by the people, because granted the people in the ancient Greek definition of democracy were at the centre. If you look at democracy in other countries whether it is in USA or Germany or other countries they still have fundamental tenets. One is respect for people, another is guarantee of basic rights and you talk of quality of life which also the United Nation charter and African charter on people and human right try also to convey. What I do think is that if you look at Nigeria our country you have only a history from the colonial period to independent of 50 years, from 1960 to 2010 is fifty years.
That's a very short time in the history of a nation of over 300 languages, over 300 tribes, … I do feel that there must be a way to look at democracy in Nigeria as some thing that is yet evolving. We are working towards it. We have had thirty years of military arbitration, we have had all source of experiments with democracy. We have not yet become a democratic country; we were before we became de-democratized. In the area of Igbo land were you go to Igbo culture and tribes and villages or in the North or in the West.
They have specific forms of managing their affairs of leadership by the elders by consensus building and hearing opinion … Republicanism for example in this part of the world where I come from. So democracy from 1999 to the year 2010 is yet evolving and one test came recently when the president of Nigeria was sick. What will happen if he did not transmit power to the immediate subordinate Mr. Vice President. The management of that situation was a test of democracy even with a doctrine of necessity which means that democracy evolves through test and after ten years, we passed some test and we failed some test. But on the overall score, I am very optimistic.
What led to this level of insecurity in the east and what's the way out?
You know the term insecurity is not something local, insecurity is a global phenomenon. worldwide. There was a bomb in the United States of America in New York and other places; over 2,000 lives were lost. There are wars taking place all over the world. Any airport you go to whether they are in London or in France, Germany or in Chad. Whether it is in Nigeria or Togo or in Sudan any where you are going on the road you notice that there is a general melee whether it is in the East of Nigeria or in the West of Nigeria, in the North of Nigeria or in the South of Nigeria. Insecurity is not peculiar to a locality; insecurity is a phenomenon world wide. And I think we should expand the scope of the discussion so that people in Eastern part of Nigeria do not say oh we are insecure , other parts of Nigeria are all secured. Security is life, it's property, it's freedom of movement, its' guarantee of right and where do you have it in Nigeria?
No where! Where: where do you have it in USA? No where! Where! do you have it in Germany? No where! There are basic tenets, like you can say you can move from one place to another. But the guarantee for life, only God can give it to you. And then, at the second level you get element of state. There you have institution that make sure that peoples rights are guaranteed and their security is protected. When people are well paid, when are trained, when the environment they are living is more open and that's when you now have relative security. Absolute security does not exist any where.
And in relative security you discovered that in the south-east we a relatively low level of security than a relatively higher level of security in for example a country like Germany or like in a country like Italy. When the mafia in Italy kidnapped the foreign minister of Italy Azze Muro or when in Awka the thugs there kidnapped a sitting Governor (Ngige). You find all these things happening everywhere. I don't limit them, I expand them. And the main reason is the corruption of the human mind that wants to destroy and not build. And we must not give in to insecurity or to the fear, my attitude is to say 'transform the world and live beyond fear' and you will discover that insecurity and security often are items of the mind. I move freely anywhere, anytime in this part of the world without some fears. Nonetheless, if something happens to one person, the news is so shocking that many others believe that it is happening to them at same time.
When you talk of corruption the human mind, does it have cure?
Haven spoken about security and insecurity I must also add one thing, just to finish with that topic before I come to corruption. The fact that young people do not have jobs, the fact that infrastructure is not available, the fact that rural dwellers have to migrate to the city to find a better system of life. The fact that those in the cities do no have satisfaction of their immediate needs; they squat, there is no accommodation, there is no job of course there is no freedom, there is no money and they can't have opportunity. All these leads to certain forms of frustration, so, that addressing security, addressing poverty, is addressing education, it is expanding the scope so that our people can live better and that is why I think that the level of joblessness, of unemployment, of loafers in our government and of course stealing of public funds and private funds.
And the insensitivity of the system, all these contributed to the high point of the security that we now find people kidnapping others and some raping others, and of course armed robbery and banditry. But, they are not majority of the people; they are very, very minimal. And I also do think that we should contain them along those lines. These are people who live simple natural lives in the past and our people do not even have all these fears. But in a modern society therefore, you find all these things coming up and the news media carry it so loud that many more people live only in the frontage of the television. They don't even go out again because they think everybody else out there will just kidnap or kill them.
Talking about corruption, corruption is an incidence and a life style that is a threat to democracy, a threat to people's integrity, a threat to culture, a treat to wealth and a treat to over all system of human value. Corruption is unfortunately growing into a monster, we notice it every where, when you to give some money to have your right done.
However, it happens in many countries of the world including Nigeria, I do feel that no stone should be left unturned in the fight against corruption. The Catholic Church and the Christian churches pray against corruption. We have a prayer in Nigeria, prayer against corruption and bribery. We have many more people doing all sorts of activities, in terms of education, society building, accountability, transparency measures all these to check corruption. But if the corruption in mind is not fought, the external ways of catching with them will be very, very difficult. So I think we should spend more in engaging corruption at the mental and at the moral level that is where it has its foundation.
Don't you think your last answer is an indictment on the side of our religious leaders like you? All these corrupt minds belong to one religious body or the other.
And the o emphasis on materialism by the church is not helping matters?
People like you have their right to express their opinion on any topic. But, the facts are often different from the insinuation. When for example you cited membership of a religious body, which is not a guarantee of me being more or less corrupt. You become less corrupt by virtue of education, by virtue of values inculcated in you, by virtue of the training by the family where you come from, a name you have. If you come from a family where there is an identifiable honest father and mother, who have a name and a respect, they will give you something. Some of the values that they have if they are not corrupt. So what am saying therefore is that in the fight against corruption, people should not over generalize and say all these corrupt people go to church and they bring money and church does not reject them. Money is good and the church needs it for their work to progress, and they always preach against making it the evil way, I don't think it is part of their duty to follow you around to see how you make you money. So, if after hearing the sermon, you still decide to engage yourself in corrupt practices I don't see the how the church should be blamed
Christians shy away from politics; do you encourage them to get involved?
There is no human society without order. And there is no order without certain people stepping out to carry and bear the cross of a particular community. So if the God fearing ones shy away from carrying the cross, the evil ones will emerge and take over the system and their evil ways will be the order of the day. So any Christian who desired a good moral society has no excuse in not participating to bring about a good order to the society. Or else, he should have himself to blame when evil men take over, not God.
I am against the overall idea that politicians are bad; therefore, they are indecent people. Politics is a formal discipline, politics is a responsible profession. It is profession made for responsible people; we must go away from over generalization. Everything boils down to the human person and the kind of up bringing that he has of course, a lot of politicians are not living by examples, but at the same time let us not over generalize.