The Metropolitan Catholic Archbishop of Benin City, Most Revd Dr Augustine Obiora Akubeze, has advised those fanning the feud between the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, to know that their actions are not in the interest of the people of the state.
In this interview with AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, the respected Catholic priest said conflicts among leaders on the long run have no beneficiaries, but only victims. Dwelling on his intervention in the crisis between Obaseki and Oshiomhole, Akubeze said: “I have told both of them that Edo State needs both of them. They should put the welfare of the people of Edo State before any other personal ambition. The combination of the gifts in each of them will provide better quality leadership in the State. I hope and pray that they are able to do this and set a good example for others to follow in the future.
The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) also opened up on the 425 health facilities spread across the various dioceses in the country, which the Catholic Church recently made available for use as isolation centres to COVI-19 patients.
Two of the prominent leaders of the state where you preside as the Catholic Archbishop, Governor Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, are on each other’s throat. Have you deemed it fit to intervene in the feud to reconcile them?
First, I must say that I am completely non-partisan. What I support as a clergyman is that leaders must provide necessary environment for economic prosperity in the land. Anyone who is capable of doing that should be encouraged and supported because that leads to the development of the people. I will take exception to your depiction of the disagreement between the two persons you have mentioned, to say that they are at each other’s throat. That graphic description is one that I just do not fancy. The two of them are great men with various administrative skills. With Oshiomhole, we saw a leader who was so close to the grassroots and there was significant development in areas of roads. His style of dressing which he got from his time as a labour leader continued even when he became governor. With Governor Obaseki, you find professionalism in governance; a new style of governance that places professionals in positions to administer agencies of government. There have been significant developments in the various senatorial districts in the State under his leadership. I have told both of them that Edo State needs both of them. They should put the welfare of the people of Edo State before any other personal ambition. The combination of the gifts in each of them will provide better quality leadership in the State. I hope and pray that they are able to do this and set a good example for others to follow in the future. I will also advise that those who seem to be gaining by fanning the difference between them into flame must know that they are not acting in the interest of the people of Edo State. Conflicts among leaders on the long run have no beneficiaries, but only victims.
Do you think the issues are beyond what the two of them are saying?
What are the differences among human beings that are beyond resolve? For me, there is none. Whenever we start from what constitutes our common interest, we are able to discover that our collective interest is stronger than our individual differences.
Do you also think godfatherism is something that should be sustained in our political system, given some sweet and bitter experiences of some godfathers and godsons in Nigerian politics?
As a religious man, when I hear the word “godfather,” I remember its religious usage. In the Catholic tradition, when a person is to be baptized or confirmed, the person chooses a godfather or godmother. This godfather helps the person to grow in the faith, while respecting the independence of the person. So, when the word godfather is used in the political circle, it creates some level of confusion in the mind of some persons. The word has taken a negative connotation in the political realm. It now means a political leader who determines the future of his political godson. I only wished if the word could have a similar religious meaning where the godfather is seen as a mentor, one who helps to make the godson better while respecting the independence of the godson. So, it will become a political mentorship. We need political mentorship that is not a dictatorship. This is what happens in many societies. In the USA, you hear of political endorsement by prominent political leaders for those who run for offices. They do not call them godfather. I think we should expunge the word “godfather” from our political vocabulary.
Are you not scared that if the disagreement between both parties is not resolved quickly, something unimaginable might happen in the state?
There are people who benefit from conflicts and they are specialists in fanning small differences into huge flames. It is in the interest of the people of Edo State for these differences to collapse. Edo people want to see debates about policy differences and not personality differences. We hope, pray and must work for a peaceful election that is free, just and fair from the primaries to the final election. Let the votes of the people count. To the electorate, I must say, do not sell your votes because if you do, you will be jeopardizing your future.
What informed the donation of 425 health facilities as isolation centres by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria to the Federal Government?
We the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria are like every Nigerian. We are very much aware of the enormous challenges our healthcare systems are facing. We know that government alone cannot handle the crisis that COVID-19 poses to the lives of Nigerians. Our love for God, which should be manifested in our love for each other motivated us. We must learn to show our love for the suffering people of Nigeria. Having said that, I will like to clarify some presumption in your question. You said the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria donated 425 health facilities as isolation centres to the Federal Government. First, the CBCN does not own hospitals as a body. These healthcare facilities are owned by individual dioceses and some religious institutes, who enjoy autonomy that accrues to every legitimate owner. We agreed to give the Federal Government the facilities for use during this pandemic period. So, it is the use of the facilities that is given to the government, while the ownership of the facilities remains with the legitimate owners. It is expected that government will discuss with the bishop of any diocese where the facility is located before accessing it. We have not alienated or donated the perpetual use of these facilities to the Federal Government. Secondly, the CBCN wanted to also let every Nigerian know that our solicitude for the welfare of Nigerians is not based on religious sentiments or ethnic sentiments. These facilities owned by Catholic institutions will be made freely available to both Muslims, Christians of various denominations, Traditional African worshipers etc. We must never forget our common humanity.
Are the health facilities currently in use? And if they are in use, will the decision not elicit panic among the people?
The healthcare facilities are presently in use and in good shape. The decision will not elicit panic because the healthcare administrators are prepared for the transition and are making appropriate adjustments to ensure that those patients using these facilities are well taken care of. Therefore, I do not see any need to anticipate panic.
The word ‘donation’ as used by the government, was not properly communicated as the Catholic Bishops only offered the health facilities to be used for the purpose of COVID-19 only after which the Church will have them returned. What is your take on this?
I have already addressed this issue in my response to your first question. Let me add something here: With regards to ownership of property, there are four essential elements that must be present. To own a property, it means the person has legitimately acquired it, has the right to retain it or possess it, has the right to administer it, and has the right to alienate it, that is, sell it. What the Church has done is to make the facilities available to the Federal Government to use as isolation centres for COVID-19 patients. The Federal Government has been given a temporal right to administer the sections of the health facilities for the care of COVID-19 patients. Therefore, when the pandemic is over, the Church takes over the administration of the sections leased out to the government.
What plan does the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria have to ensure that her faithful are not overstretched by the impact of COVID-19?
The CBCN, right from the beginning, gave this deadly virus the priority it deserved. We have written to all Catholics in Nigeria to follow the protocols of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the provisions made in various dioceses, which should be in line with the civil authorities in their various local areas. Individual diocesan bishops have made responsible provision to ensure that the spiritual life of the people is taken care of. We encourage education of the people to follow all means of prevention and spread of the virus, and also ensure that they make themselves available for treatment when they feel sick. We have also been emphasising the need for everyone to avoid stigmatising those who have contracted the virus. The Church has also been providing food items to the needy and vulnerable faithful and members of the communities where our parishes are.
Are there other ways the Catholic Church is going to assist the government in the fight against COVID-19?
Yes, in the area of continuous education of our people of the serious threat this virus poses to our collective wellbeing and existence. We must also help to let our people know that the virus is not a demon and that those who have it are not infected because they are sinners. Therefore, all priests and other men and women who are ministering to the people must avoid painting a picture of this pandemic as demonic attack or a spiritual Armageddon. Just like malaria parasite that kills many in Nigeria is not a demonic attack, so is the coronavirus not a demon.
Spiritually, what is your view on COVID-19? Is it like any other plague or it is something different?
Well, I do not know the cause of the virus. But the spiritual dimension I can draw from it, is the fact that the virus reminds us of our common humanity. It attacks people of all races, people of various creeds, people of various ethnicity and people of various economic status. It just goes to show that we as human beings are equal before God and we must continue to treat each other with respect rooted in this fundamental equality. We must avoid promoting any form of religious or ethnic or racial hegemony. We must not politicize this present situation.
Why is the Catholic Church that should be preaching divine healing involved in herbal medicine?
The Catholic Church will continue to preach and work for peace and healing of all those who are sick. We also believe that legitimately approved medical treatments are to be used by those who are sick. We believe that hospitals and the intervention of medical experts are extension of the healing ministry of Christ. When a sick person prays and goes to receive treatment in the hospital, the person is relying upon God’s healing even from the hands of the doctors. Divine healing does not exclude accessing medical and legitimate means of treatment. With regard to whether the Catholic Church is involved in herbal medicine, I will caution that you must be careful in taking the action of one Catholic as the action of the Church in Nigeria. Just because a priest comes out to say he has a cure for COVID-19 does not mean he is speaking on behalf of all Catholics or for the Catholic Church in Nigeria. But going historically, you will discover that some individual clergymen have always been involved in seeking healing through natural means. I will like to mention Gregory Mendel, an Augustinian monk, who is recognised as the founder of modern science of genetics. His discovery has revolutionized the scientific world. It has led to finding cure for many illnesses.
Mendel worked on plants’ hybridization. Working with plants to make discovery for cure is not new. Herbs are gotten from plants too. Many, if not all the drugs we take, are extracts from plants. I think our concern should not be whether it is herbs, but it should be whether the purported herbal cure meets the standard recognised for accepting its administration upon humans. We must avoid the tendency to think that our local herbs are totally incapable of curing anything. On the other hand, all those involved in herbal medicine should form a collective body that can present their findings to the scientific world for standard scrutiny. I think it is the lack of standardized herbal treatments that creates the cynicism in the minds of many people.
Are you satisfied with the Fr Anselm Adodo COVID-19 cure?
Fr Anselm Adodo has been of tremendous help to many people who have been using the PAX Herbal products of the Benedictine Monastery in Ewu, Edo State. My position is that every purported herbal medicine must be subject to regular medical trials, following the standard for any new medicine. Fr Anselm Adodo COVID-19 alleged cure must be subjected to this same process. It must meet the clinical trial standard. But it is totally disingenuous to dismiss it without trial.