When Alfred Adewale Martins was consecrated Catholic Archbishop of Lagos in 2012, his choice was received with joy and applause because of his hard work and spiritual gift. Since the choice by the Holy See, the diocese has witnessed tremendous growth. The Abeokuta-born cleric will be 60 on June 1. Bayo Adeoye spent some time with His Grace and he spoke on preparations for his 60th birthday, his journey so far and many interesting issues. Excerpt:
How are you feeling at 60?
In my 60 years, by his grace, I have had no cause to feel abandoned by God. Indeed, I have every cause to feel that His grace has been carrying me all along. God has been like the wind behind the sails that is moving me. It’s a statement of thanksgiving to God in the first instance, gratitude to people who have been part of my life since the beginning, family, the church, the leadership of the church, the people and all those who had taught me one thing or the other all these years, that’s the greatest feeling.
Tell us a bit about your formative years?
I was born in Abeokuta at the Secret Heart Hospital, Lantoro. I went to St Augustine Catholic Primary School, after which I went to the Seminary in Ibadan. I was there as a boarding student. We returned home only on holidays. I chose to go to the major seminary at SS Peter and Paul in Ibadan. My formative years were between Abeokuta, Ibadan and Lagos. During our formation years, we were part of the Lagos Archdiocese. My life was centred around those three places.
Growing up was very interesting because as young boys, we had opportunities to interact, personally and individually tell stories to feel the pulse of one another. We didn’t have distraction of play station games, Google and social media. So, it made us bond a lot. Looking back, I still remember the story we told each other while growing up; that was one of the fascinating things about growing up. I am not saying Google and social media are bad; they have their own wonderful effect. Just mentioning that it was not part of my growing up.
I grew up in Abeokuta, it was a town in which people knew one another; families were connected. We were connected either by church or neighbourhood. It was a situation in which children never feel nobody is looking at them. Growing up also had the church as part and parcel of my life.
Your parents are devoted Catholics, when you made your decision of going to the seminary, what was their reaction?
My parents were happy that I choose to become a priest. We were two of us, my elder brother and I, who had attended the minor seminary, like a secondary school where we get prepared for going to the seminary. They allowed both of us go even with the danger of both of us becoming priest. But he decided to leave and I choose to continue.
Was it a hard decision for you to make or you easily made up your mind?
Really, I think the trajectory of mine is such that the church has been part of it. I went to a catholic primary and secondary schools. For me, it was part of me already and I am happy I was not sent out. If not I would have been wondering what I would have done next.
At 60, what else do you want God to do for you?
First of all, I wish that God would continue to keep my feet on the path of faith. Practice of the faith, helping people to live on the faith and giving directions, helping to chart a path to help people to live their faith. What is someone’s purpose in life? The purpose of one’s life from the point of view of faith is to know God, to love and serve him and be with him in life to come. The fulfilment of my own purpose in life is that God would keep my feet on this path.
What has life taught you at 60?
Life has taught me that faith and practicing the faith is a very important part of life. No one can live a fruitful life without practicing the faith. Life has taught me that every individual human person is important and made in the image of God. What you do to each person is so important for how you will spend your life after this world. The relationship you have with people, how you treat them, respect and disrespect is important. That is one of the things that life has taught me all these years. I have also learnt that it’s important to do the best possible, look through the lens of others, see and appreciate their point of view, help them to realise the position that you have, because living is that we are all inter connected. If we do not have the value and record of one another, we shall end up in big mess like the country is in a big mess. Life has taught me that it’s important to be fair to all as part of justice. These are the things I have learnt in these years.
Talking about the country being in a big mess, insecurity, kidnapping, robbery, killings are all over the country. As a Christian and catholic, what are your roles in advising government?
Let me say that as a Christian, Priest and Bishop, it’s not just a role, it’s an obligation to advise and give counsel to those who lead us. When I said that the country was in a mess, I am referring to the fact underlining some of these difficulties we have today; it is the fact that we don’t have adequate respect for others as people within the country. When a Yoruba man wants to talk about the Igbo man he has a fixed mentality about the Igbo man, likewise the Igbo man. The kind of respect we expect is an ability to listen to one another. This has been pulled to the background. We are constantly at war with one another; we have not harmonised our interest. One of the causes is the inequity in the distributions of resources. The inadequate provision of education of children, all of these showing in the whole track of governance we have today. All the menaces are fall out of the basic lack of respect we don’t have as a nation. We need to build a nation within the country. We need our leaders to be at the forefront of it. If they are not on the forefront, troubles will keep happening.
What was the biggest gift you ever got while growing up?
The biggest gift I have gotten was the gift of faith from God. That’s the greatest gift, nothing matches it. It’s not only for this world but for eternity. The gift of the priesthood, that I can bear the treasure of priesthood. That is the greatest gift. Talking about gift from people, most especially, my parents, was a gift of a wrist watch from my father as a young boy. He had used the wrist watch for many years but handed it over to me. It’s very strong in my mind.
What do you think Government can do to foster love between Nigerians to build a nation like you said?
The problem is not religion based. The problem is those who are using Christianity and Islam to feather their own personal interest; that’s where the problem is. I grew up in a place where the Christians and Muslims were living side by side. I keep on saying that back then, as Catholics, we were made to fill bottles with water that Muslims were going to use for prayers. The people are not the problem, leaders are responsible for it. They are fuelling the disparity between both religions. When some people feel a certain religion is being given more advantage over the other, naturally trouble begins. I can say when the membership of OIC was made known to people, that to my own understanding, was the beginning of the cleavage that we have now between the two religions. We hope the present administration will make an effort to disabuse the minds of people. If people make allegations of allocations of positions in government, it’s for the government to be able to discharge itself that they are not in anyway partial in the matter, particular, when they talk about positions that are critical to the life of the nation. The armed forces, the security agencies and ministries that impact directly on the life of the people, it is in the interest of government to disabuse the minds of the people.
Do you think this administration is doing enough to disabuse the minds of the people?
In his first tenure, that accusation was right. Many people including myself have heard opinion that he was not fair. We have heard people saying he is going to rewrite the wrong of the past which means that he accepted that he did the wrong thing. We are looking forward to a time when the situation would be corrected.
When you grow much older, what are those things you so desire from God?
Well, what I want from God is for him to guide my feet to the path of salvation. In the language of the church, the grace of final destination and also assist me to do the work he has given me to do. I consider the work he has given me as Archbishop. He gave me the task, so he will help me to carry out the task. I plead with him to help me.
Do you have any fear about life?
If you talk about concerns, there are lots of concerns about security and inadequate provision of infrastructure, young people not having prospect for the future, there are concerns where all of this can lead us to. If you talk about fear, the only fear I have is to lose heaven.
Can you share with us activities lined up for your 60th birthday on June 1?
It’s like a four day event, during that period, we would be engaging with the motherless baby homes, which are run by the “Sisters of Mother Theresa”. We will be there to eat and pray together. I will be with the Regina Old Peoples’ Home to interact with our elders. There is going to be an evening of music. On the day of my birthday, 1st of June, there would be thanksgiving in the cathedral here and reception afterwards.
At 60, most people nurse one health issue or the other, can you tell us how 100% fit you are?
Well, nobody is 100% fit. But I can give thanks to God that I have a reasonably good health for a 60 years old. I really don’t have any issue so that’s one of the things I’m grateful for. He has kept me spiritually and physically over these years.
Do you have a meal routine or any exercise that has made you stay this fit and healthy?
Medical people say a little bit of everything is good. It’s excess of any of those things that is harmful. A little bit of everything is what I take. As we say my own stomach is catholic, its able to take everything except the ones I don’t like the taste.