In this interview, most Reverend Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of the Lagos Catholic Archdiocese comments on the issue of Boko Haram, same-sex relationships, plans to legalise cremation in Lagos State and numerous other issues.
What do you think is responsible for the near intractable problems in the North? Why has it become so difficult to achieve peace there?
We, as a nation, have quite a number of challenges and difficulties to deal with. I believe that we must trace it back to this thing about human nature. People are selfish and greedy for power and always want to have their own ways, with regard to lives and situations. That is the ultimate reason for the problems that we have in the northern part of our nation. I believe that it is this basic problem that continues to play itself out in the case of Boko Haram, for example. People want to dominate others and want to ensure that it is only their own voices that would be heard; that they take control of lives and situations for all kinds of reasons, including material wellbeing and the rest of it. And, therefore, I believe that as we begin a new year, the call must be to people in the northern part of the country – those who are fomenting trouble there – that they have to recognise that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Every human being has a right to exist. And every human being, as a Nigerian, has a right to be here and has a right to the opportunities that Nigeria has to offer. And, therefore, they do not have the right to abridge the right of all other Nigerians, so that, as they want to carry through and fulfill their own particular agenda, they must realise that their agenda is not the national agenda. And, therefore, they should allow others to live, to be and to flourish in the nation that God has given to us.
So, whether be it ethnic, religious or anything at all, the call is that everyone should recognise the fact that every other person has the right to be. And that right must not be abridged by anyone for any reason at all. After all, as I said, we are all made in the image and likeness of God and that being the case, we all have equal rights in the presence of God, not to talk of equal rights according to the constitution of the nation. Therefore, if we are going to have peace in the North, all the selfishness and greed, personal and group agenda must be subjected to the peace of the nation and the goodwill of all within the nation.
What is the position of the Catholic Bishop Conference with regards to Boko Haram and what are its efforts at assisting government towards dealing with the sect?
Well, the Catholic Bishops Conference over the years has always been engaging with the leaders of our government. We have engaged with the current President, Goodluck Jonathan. And we indeed, presented our positions on that matter and other matters to him, sometime in 2012; one of which was that we advised him to create a forum, by which leaders of different religions will meet, as different from NIREC – such forum that will bring together those who are directly connected with these issues, such as the Boko Haram. We reasoned that interacting with them and bringing them in contact with others, we would be able to begin to sensitise them, as to what others feel and how others feel with regard to their activities. But apart from that, we know that our bishops and the church in the northern part of the country is also engaging with leaders of the Islamic religion to work with them in the North such that we can harmonise our efforts and bring together out different effort to ensure that we bring about the resolution of the Boko Haram problem. But we continue to also ask that this issue should be continually put in prayers because, in the end, no matter what it is that we do, it is the help of God that is capable of taking care of the problems that we find among us.
Nigeria is currently facing numerous challenges, as has been noted. What is your advice to Mr President with regard to finding lasting solutions to some of them?
In the first instance, we recognise the fact that Nigeria is a nation that is challenging in many ways. There are different kinds of factors and there are different kinds of agenda set by different kinds of people in the nation. And, therefore, governance is not an easy thing in our nation. We recognise that very much. However, I believe that our government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, also ought to address some issues frontally and not skirt around them. We are talking, for instance, about the issue of corruption in the nation and the issue of ensuring that good governance is established. Indeed, we have so many bodies and agencies that have been put together to deal with these matters. But what we know too is that some of the matters that have come up have not meet proper resolution. And we have had committees that have been set up to deal with some of the issues; committees submit reports and in the end, nothing seems to come out of those reports. So, one would like to advice Mr. President that these bodies and agencies that had been set up should be empowered to carry through whatever it is that they are set up for; they should be empowered to carry them through – the EFCC, ICPC and all others. And they should be given adequate political backing in order to ensure that whatever it is that they discover are not swept under the carpet but are dealt with frontally. Secondly, reports that come from the different committees and panels that have been set up should be made to see the light of day. I believe that if some of these were addressed in the past, if some of the reports have been put to use, we will not have the same kind of impunity that we have sometimes when people commit crimes and carry through unwholesome activities in the nation.
What is the church doing to sensitise all Nigerians, not only Catholics, to ensure that the menace of same-sex marriage does not encroach into the Nigerian society?
First of all, let me note that to call it same-sex marriage is to abuse the word "marriage", because that can be called same-sex union or anything, but, certainly, it cannot and should not be described as same-sex marriage. Marriage, by its very definition, is union between a man and a woman, as it is given to us by God in the scriptures and as nature itself has ordained it. It is natural, such that anything that is now called same-sex union or anything is certainly unnatural. That is why they have to try and find reasons it should be acceptable in the nation. The scriptures have made it clear. Natural inclination as human beings has also made it quite clear, such that the word marriage is not quite applicable to that which we call same sex-union.
On what the church is doing to ensure it does not encroach into the nation, we know that there are many interests all over the world that are putting a lot of money into ensuring that these disvalues are finding their way into the nation, such that even they are trying to get the National Assembly to accept and put such aberrations into law. Obviously, the church will not stand by and not put across that which we know is the will of God in this regard – that which we know is the natural thing. And that is why when the bill came before the National Assembly, the church was fully represented at the debate. And the position of the church was clearly made available to members of the National Assembly. Thank God that majority of them were also responsive to the need to ensure that we keep the traditional values and the right and good, with regard to human relationships and marriage. So, the church continues to use opportunities such as interacting with the lawmakers as well as bringing the truth and the values concerning these issues to the people within our own immediate constituencies, the church and also asking the members of the church who, by the definition of their faith, also buy into this to also be agents of ensuring that the message of the values of marriage and traditional family values are passed across to the rest of the nation.
What are the challenges you have encountered since you became the Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos?
One thing I must say is that our church, by the grace of God, is built and structured in such a way that anyone who is given the authority to carry through any responsibility is also given the backing with which to carry them out. And, therefore, the authority to carry out my duties have not been lacking. Therefore, the challenges that arise are also easily resolved, by the grace of God and by the goodwill of people. And I can say to you that by the grace of God too, there have been a lot of, not only goodwill but also demonstration of faith in the way people have been cooperating and ensuring that the work of God continues, knowing fully that for us, the work is that which is most important. God is the reason for doing the work. And, therefore, persons are just instruments. And as instruments in the hand of God for the church, for the growth of the kingdom, the challenges are well taken care of by the people around who are ready to do God’s work. So, the challenges have not been daunting. They are there, but we deal with them as they come. God has been very, very faithful in these past few months; He will always be.
What is your view about the acquisition of choice property, such as private jets and other landed property by religious leaders in Nigeria, which has raised enormous controversy in recent times?
Well, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the leader of His church, has given us parameters by which we must behave. And it is only necessary that each of us who have the responsibilities of being religious leaders be conversant with the expectations of Christ of us and, therefore, ensure that we do not go beyond our bounds. The Lord Himself did all that He needed to do without necessarily going out of that which is necessary. The Lord Jesus should be our model in the way we carry out our responsibilities as religious leaders. I believe that if Christ Himself is before us all the time, in whatever decision we want to take, that naturally, we cannot go far on. I believe that this is necessary to just keep on reminding ourselves about this, and keep on trying to ensure that we live and abide by this principle – principle of life.
Taking you back to the issue of corruption, most of those involved in high profile corruption in the country are people who also attend various churches, including the Catholic Church, at the end of the day. What is the church doing about that situation?
Any religious organisation has within it, both the good and the not-so-good; the saint and the sinner. That is the nature of any human organisation. But it is obviously, the responsibility of the institution to continue to tell those who are on the wrong side that they are on the wrong side. In other words, if our members are among those who are engaged in corrupt practices, our church has never stopped preaching it in season and out of season, that it is not acceptable in the sight of God and also in the sight of human beings. It leads to hell. It leads to damnation to be involved in acts that bring pain and poverty – actions and activities that bring any kind of discomfort or lack of adequate welfare of people; that we will continue to say. There are some who may be engaged in that, yes. But the duty of the church is not to cast aside those who go astray, but rather to help them to find their way back to the right path. And that is what the church will continue to do with utmost zeal and utmost authority behind it. That’s the church’s position in that regard.
In his New Year message of Pope Benedict the XVI, he urged leaders in all states to ensure that agriculture was given prime attention and noted that food shortage is worse than economic recession. How, in your view, does that apply to the Nigerian state, considering the flood disaster witnessed in the country in 2012?
Well, the Holy Father obviously is concerned about the kind of situations that can abort the peace that we are seeking. If there are people who are hungry, their hunger can lead to situations in which they could just create conditions that would not make peace available. So, it is in that situation that we must look at the comment of the Holy Father. Even the Yoruba have a saying that if you have food to eat, your poverty has reduced by a large percentage. So, it is in that circumstance that you can say that food shortage is worse than economic recession – meaning, therefore, that it is necessary for anyone who has responsibility of leadership to see that if he does not succeed in doing anything else, he should make effort to put food on the table of people. You know that even if you do not have a house you can call your own, if you have food, at least the urge to violence and the likes is reduced. That is not to say that having a house over your head is not a basic need of a human being. It is. But we are only saying that food is the much more direct thing.
Now, we have mentioned about the flood disaster in parts of our country and how that has affected food – production and availability of food. This brings to the fore again the need for our nation to go back to its roots – a time in our country where production of food and other agricultural produce were in the forefront of every other thing. And we must not allow this oil that has distorted the whole phase of our nation to continue to distort the living of people. And so, agricultural institutions should just begin to find ways and means of ensuring that we do not have food shortage in this nation. All the facilities for storage should be well organised more and more. And wherever we have excesses sometimes, it should be mopped up and kept for the rainy day. But the minister of agriculture and the various state commissioners in that sector should encourage the different bodies responsible for food and agriculture to take more steps in this regard.
What is your take on the issue of legalising cremation in Lagos State, which has passed second reading at the Lagos State House or Assembly? What is the position of the church?
We know that one of the basic things of human life is to have a decent way of taking care of the dead, such that the body is not in any way desecrated. The body of a human being, even after his death, is still a sacred thing. And, therefore, they should not be desecrated. We know that different parts of the world have different cultures with regards to taking care of the body of the dead. I do not know the reasoning behind government’s position with regard to cremation. I do not know whether it has to do with availability of land. I do not know what particular argument are there that informed that effort. However, what we know is that as long as the body is decently taken care of without any disrespect to the body, it is okay. Even in the Catholic Church, there is a right for taking care of bodies that have undergone cremation. So, in principle, cremation is not an unacceptable practice. That is not to say that every individual should not be able to give directives about how he wants his or her body to be treated after death. But if there are individuals who do not mind being cremated, they should be allowed to have the option of being cremated. So, the position of the church is that in principle, cremation is not abominable. But on the other hand, every individual ought to be able to have a right to decide on personal term, what should be done with him or her.