His Grace, Most Rev. (Dr) Alfred Adewale Martins, the Catholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, who turned 60 years recently was born on June 1, 1959, in Abeokuta, Ogun State. He was ordained a priest on September 18, 1983 at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos by the then Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Olubunmi Okogie. He was appointed by the late Pope John-Paul II, as the first Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Abeokuta on October 24, 1997 and was appointed and elevated by Pope Benedict XVI on May 25, 2012 as the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, to succeed His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, who attained the mandatory age of retirement of 75 years. He was consecrated as the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos on August 2, 2012.
Archbishop Martins in this interview spoke on various issues.
Who is Archbishop Adewale Martins? What particular experiences in your past would you say shaped your future?
I was born into a Catholic family, and that contributed in shaping major events in my life. I was born in Abeokuta. I grew up in Abeokuta. I went to school in Ibadan. I have been a priest in Lagos. All these have been very important in the whole trajectory of my life. The greatest shaping influence I would say lies in the faith experience within the family while growing up. My family is built on the fact that we simply have to be part of the life of the church. If you are a boy, then you are an altar boy; if you are a girl, you are a chorister; and the whole atmosphere of coming together in prayers; morning and evening. Seeing my parents being fully engaged in the life of the church was also a contributing factor. All these were very instrumental in making me what I am today. And then, my parents were also concerned about the kind of friendships that we kept, they were also concerned about where one went to, I mean, you couldn’t leave my father’s house without somebody knowing where you were going exactly, and you couldn’t just stay on forever there. You couldn’t go to a party that they don’t know who is celebrating; you couldn’t have a friend they don’t know. So, all of these had effect on my life.
You are 60. What are the highs and the lows?
Well, there are several highs and perhaps, there are several lows too. One of the greatest moments in my own life has been the day of my ordination to priesthood. It was something I had looked forward to right from childhood. In fact, Monsignor Patrick Somide, God rest his soul was my parish priest at some point in time, and I used to call him Fr. Somide at the time; even as a child, putting on all kinds of dresses and simulating Mass. Well, of course, simulating Mass in a very innocent way. So, the day of my ordination was one of the high points of my life as a person. Well, the day I was asked to be the Bishop of Abeokuta was a very important day in my life also because I know that people in that area have been expecting this. Even I was extremely surprised when I was asked to be the bishop. I was really afraid of what this might mean, but nevertheless, I was glad in the fact that people were going to have an opportunity to make the kingdom of God to grow in that area of the diocese. Basically, these are the things from the high side. What should be the highest point in my life was when I was baptized as a child because that was when everything changed for the one that was in sin, now brought to righteousness. So, from high sides, that should be the first thing really.
You have been a priest for the past 36 years; are you still happy being a priest? What is the greatest problem you have faced as a priest?
Well, I can say it without even thinking about it that I am happy to be a priest. That is what I have looked forward to right from my childhood. I don’t know what else I could have done if I was not ordained a priest. That having been said, in every aspect of life, there are difficulties and there are challenges. But, my own challenges have not been anything major; be it in relationship with others, fellow priests and the rest of it. But those are human things. I cannot really say in all honesty, that I have had any serious challenge being a priest.
You have characterized your office as Archbishop of Lagos with the mantra “Called to serve in love.” What informed this choice “Called to serve in love?”
What brought that to be is when I was informed that Pope John Paul had asked me to be the Bishop of Abeokuta. I had to find a guiding principle to lead me in carrying out that task of being bishop and I said to myself ‘I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t pray for this, but I was called.’ So, I looked at that call as part of what should shape my life, and I was called not to do anything or be anything else, but to serve God’s people in the same way as Christ served us; even as the master that he was. And I was called to serve them in nothing else than in love. If you served for any other purpose, then the purpose cannot be God’s own purpose. If you want to serve for any other purpose, it cannot bear the value that love values. So, ‘Called to serve in love’ was a motto that I chose as bishop of Abeokuta to guide my life in the episcopacy, and so, naturally, it continues to be, even as I come to Lagos. So, basically, that is the story behind the motto “Called to serve in love.”
Are you satisfied with the present state of governance in the country?
(Sighs) No one in his right senses can be satisfied with the situation of things in the country. I, for instance, believe that as a nation, we are a contraption put together, and made up of different people. We have not yet developed a system that will ensure that everyone that makes up the nation feel part and parcel of the life of the nation. I think that is one major problem that is responsible for many other things that we have. I have been an advocate of making Nigeria becoming a true federation. A true federation in which each part of the nation is able to develop according to its own trajectory, but nevertheless, subject to the nation as a whole. In some places, they call it devolution of power; here, we call it restructuring. I have been an advocate of that. Here, we have gone away from federation and we have almost become what I don’t know what name to qualify our status at this point in time. So, one cannot be satisfied with the state of governance in that way. And then, of course, over the years, we have not had the kind of leadership our country deserves. Many people have said it on several occasions that people need to be prepared for the office they occupy. In some more advanced democracies, there is a trajectory that people go through; almost a kind of formation that they go through before they can even aspire to become leaders in the land. But here, we have a situation in which leadership is literally thrust upon people; and as a result, they have difficulties in carrying out their duties.
Nigerians are deeply concerned about religious violence, burning of churches, killings and persecution of Christians. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), over the years has called on the federal and state governments to do everything to secure the affected communities and protect innocent citizens, including Muslims; but the killings are still on. CBCN at a point, had to accuse President Buhari of ineffective leadership and asked him to resign. What next line of action do you think CBCN should take?
Well, let me say first from my point of view that the problem is not that of religion, but rather of abuse of religion by people who want to feather their nest, their own personal interest. They use, and indeed abuse religion in order to carry that through. I believe also that the ordinary, regular average Nigerian is ready to interact with others across the divide, if not for those who abuse their positions and sometimes even take advantage of their poverty, in order to use religion as their undoing. I think that it is for us who are leaders in the faith to continue to make efforts to help people recognize that they are been used, and also get people to know that if you are being abused, it is your responsibility to find ways of defending yourself and ensuring your faith is kept going. Having said that, the killings are still going on. We did in fact asked the president to resign at a point in time when the issue got out of control. And we even went beyond that by showing our displeasure through a prayer procession that was held all over the nation. These actions were just to help the government to recognize our displeasure as leaders of a significant population of our nation. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons President Buhari is telling us that some of the shortcomings of his previous tenure will be corrected in this present tenure. We are all looking forward; very alert to see whether that will be corrected because that is what will help us to recognize the integrity of the promise that he made and help us to accept that he is really serious about his position. But what the CBCN will continue to do is to educate our own people, educate people in general about their rights as people.
How would you rate the recent elections? Would you say it was free and fair?
Well, international observers, local observers within the nation showed a lot of displeasure about what happened in some parts of the country. We had quite a good bit of violence in some parts of the country. We had quite a bit of voters in other parts of the country. Generally, there were lots of displeasure that were raised with regards to the elections. I think that if the electoral bill had been passed into law, some of these shortcomings would probably not be recorded. They say where there is no law, there is no offence. So, if the law is passed, and we have new ways of doing things, things could have been different. However, the fact is that the electoral body has declared some people as winners. The second fact so to say, is that there are those who have disagreed and are at the tribunals. We will wait for what the tribunals have to say.
What is your message to President Buhari on his second term in office?
Our president should recognize the fact that he is president for all and of all. He is father of Muslims, as well as father of Christians. He is father of the Fulani, as well as father of the Yoruba and the Hausa and the Ijaw; the father of the nation. And, therefore, in his decisions and actions, he should reflect this as far as it’s necessary. We expect him to also pay a lot more attention to the insecurity that we have now as a nation. People are afraid to go out and go to places now because there is so much kidnapping. Some of these things we all know very well. Even if it means re-engineering the whole security structure, even if it means removing people and bringing in new people, even if it means looking for ideas across party lines; all of these need to be done because insecurity is obviously crushing other developmental possibilities that we could have as a nation.
Your Grace, what has been your greatest asset as a priest and an Archbishop?
The gift that I have been given by God; I have tried to put it to use in different ways, and I hope that people who are watching me, who are seeing me perform my duties would have been able to identify some of those gifts that God has given to me. And naturally, the people of God; they are the greatest asset that one has in carrying out one’s work. The priests, for instance, are the closest collaborators of the bishop. And so, we need to more and more fulfill our mission, and fulfill it following a vision that is well defined. So, that is an ongoing project as new priests come on board. Of course, the lay faithful are also a very important part of the life of the church. They are like the ones that bring Christ to the offices, to market places; to wherever they are. And so, I wish to use this occasion to ask the leadership of our lay faithful to put together quality formation programmes, not just to fulfill all righteousness, rather directed to really ensuring that people are truly formed. We are doing that for ourselves as priests; the lay faithful need to do that as well.
Your Grace, what are your hobbies and what is your typical day like?
(Smiles) Well, I listen to music also like most people do. I enjoy detective movies. I enjoy documentaries. I also want to try and be better at exercising myself. That’s it basically.