Recently elected Archbishop of Lagos Ecclesiastical Province (Anglican Communion), Archbishop Michael Olusina Fape shares his experience on the new office, his aspirations for the province, expected challenges and how government can combat recession in an interview with YEMISI AOFOLAJU, WOLE EFUNNUGA AND KEHINDE OYETIMI. Excerpts:
If you could look back, how would you describe the journey into the ministry?
I want to thank God for the privilege of being alive to witness a time like this in the ministry. What started like child’s play 36 years ago, by the grace of God, has got to its peak by being what I am by God’s grace today, as an Archbishop in the Anglican Church, especially in the Church of Nigeria. I can only ascribe the glory to the grace of God. When we were starting, nobody anticipated such a glorious moment, but God, who, from the beginning, knows even the end, works out His plans and purposes in the affairs of man. God has been so faithful, regardless of the challenges I have faced as a cleric. My election was an act of God. One could have been archbishop much earlier, but my wife and I, having sought the face of God, felt probably God didn’t want it to happen at that time, even when some of my colleagues thought it was time. From Reverend, to Reverend Canon, Archdeacon, Bishop and now Archbishop within these 36 years, all glory goes to God.
When the election was going on, what went on in your mind, because one would assume that moving from Bishop to an Archbishop should not necessarily require election?
Every religious institution has its structure. Going by the constitution of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, being a bishop does not automatically qualify you as an archbishop. There has to be an election and there are laid down principles and constitutional procedures that should be followed. There are 13 bishops in Lagos Province and from us, one has to be elected as the archbishop. Also, there is ecclesiastical politicking. We may not refer to it as campaign as it were, but it is not a thing to be taken for granted. It wasn’t just child’s play. We had to pray and work. After the election, you can see the spirit displayed. It’s not a do-or-die affair as obtains in the civil political arena. I still see my brother bishops as my brothers because without them, I can’t do anything. I can only be an archbishop because I have bishops to work with. That is how we can bring God’s will to fruition in Lagos Ecclesiastical Province.
Now that you have emerged by His grace, how do you intend to tackle the challenges that may arise by virtue of your new position?
Honestly, there are various challenges. The Province of Lagos is number one in Nigeria as far as the Church of Nigeria is concerned. It is first among equals. So, if the archbishops before me have been able to maintain that culture of excellence, one must also strive to ensure that there is no retrogression. I want to believe that God has given me this assignment at a time like this and I must ensure that the culture of excellence is sustained. What that entails is that there must be close interaction with my brother bishops. If one feels he can do it on his own, one will fail. There is a time for euphoria but after that one needs to settle down to the office. I see the need to keep the pace and maintain the high standard set by Most Reverend (Dr) Ephraim Ademowo, who is the first archbishop of the province, followed by Archbishop Akinde. They have worked very hard and I can’t do less. That is the first challenge – making sure that our prime position is maintained. Another challenge is to see that the unity of the province is, without any doubt, sustained. If there are areas where the unity is not pronounced, I must work to ensure that whatever is lacking is supplied. I’ve just hosted the Provincial Council Meeting and there were representatives and bishops of all the 13 dioceses and one thing that was clear at the meeting was that the task of unity. Even people who I thought would not be able to attend because they had official assignments outside the country were present. I saw that as an eloquent testimony that they were ready to work with me. Thirdly, I also want to see that even though ecclesiastical provinces were created for ease of administration. I believe, as a province, financially, we must consolidate and God has been faithful with raising people who would see this assignment as a joint task. We are already thinking about working on programmes that will ensure financial stability. We trust God to give us the grace to surmount the challenges.
Nigeria is going through recession and the Church is not left out. How would you advise government on tackling the economic situation?
The economy of a nation, to a large extent, will dictate what happens in the church because individuals make up the church and these individuals derive their source of income from the society. Recession is relative. People think Nigeria is in recession because of the reliance on oil. But I will say ‘no,’ because at the end of the day, oil accounts for less than 20 per cent of the economy. There are other revenue-generating organisations in the country. A year or two years ago, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) generated something around N4 trillion. As at that time, even the total budget of the country was around that figure. There are other parastatals bringing in money too. The question now is where do these monies go? Recession is when all sectors are affected. It is only the poor masses that are affected. How many government functionaries go to the parallel market to buy dollars at the current exchange rate? How many of them go to the local markets to buy foodstuffs? How many patronise public transportation? Although I’m not an economist, I am a cleric but being a cleric does not rob me of the application of common sense. There is recession because some people have chosen to make people suffer what they shouldn’t suffer for. How many NASS members agreed to be paid half of their salaries? See the current crisis in the House of Representatives. Now salaries are not even paid regularly. When the members are affected, the finance of the church is affected. However, regardless of the recession, it is God that has been meeting the needs of His people.
There has been an unprecedented increase in kidnapping, security challenges. How can government fight insecurity?
Regardless of what is happening, I still thank God there are some sane individuals within the All Progressives Congress (APC), who will still not hide the truth. For instance, Senator Sheu Sani. I like him because he is plain and forthright. The calibre of people kidnapped recently also sends a serious message to people in leadership positions, even with the bodyguards they have. It is an expression of the anger of the people. Gradually, if care is not taken, it will result in civil revolt. In the situation we are now, people like Sani know we are close to an unusual uprising. It’s like people sitting on a keg of gunpowder. When people are gainfully employed, they won’t have time to envy others. How can you imagine an individual owning five, ten houses. That is why people even kidnap relatives in political positions. Insecurity is on the rise because government is a bit insensitive to the plight of the common people. I want to believe Nigeria has more than enough to cater for everybody. Even as we speak now, what we realise from other avenues apart from oil should be able to sustain this country if we have wise investors. Recently, I was reading the reference to Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was praised on his expertise on proffering solutions to national challenges. There is no discipline Papa could not discuss on reasonably well because he belonged to a generation of people who wanted Nigeria to be a great nation, unlike the selfish attitudes of present day politicians.
How do you feel now that Chief (Mrs) H.I.D. Awolowo is no more?
When I was preaching on September 21, 2016 at Mama’s first year remembrance service, I wished Mama were alive. If she were alive, it would have made a big difference. I still thank God for Remo sons and daughters who are still alive and who have showed us great love and affection and have identified with our success and elevation. I know Mama Awolowo would have added a new dimension by some kind of endowment to assist the office. Initially, my relationship with Mama was viewed in some quarters with suspicion, but eventually they realised that I had no ulterior motive but that I wanted Mama to occupy her rightful position in church polity in the diocese of Remo. I am glad we were able to do that with the HID Awolowo Anglican Church. Today, people keep referring to that church as a model. When the idea was brought to Mama, she didn’t believe it. I thank God for the children as the Lord is honouring His name through them. There is no way we can talk about the Remo Anglican Diocese without the Awolowo family, so I will still come to them. Honestly, I still miss Mama.
What are your aspirations as the Archbishop of Lagos with the headquarters in Remo?
Now Remo is the headquarters, we must play our role as the diocese with the archbishop. That will not make us bigger than dioceses in Lagos, except I want to deceive myself. However, even with the dioceses in Lagos, one of the things I am trusting God for is that Remo would occupy its rightful position within the committee of dioceses within Lagos Province. So that nobody would say it is because we’re not in Lagos that certain things cannot be achieved. I want to thank God for what the members have been doing. They have been meeting regularly, mapping out strategies, challenging themselves to assist the archbishop in his assignment. I want to be seen as an archbishop who can raise his head without intimidation and I’m trusting God that we would get there.