A Man of Many Parts

Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins

|  By Olu Ojewale  |

IT IS very difficult to imagine Adewale Martins, archbishop of the Metropolitian See of Lagos, in another role. Calm, pious, soft-spoken and intelligent, all roll into one personality of this man of God. Although Martins did not have specific ideas what the Realnews team was going to ask him, the five-month-old archbishop of Lagos Archdiocese did not hesitate to answer every question thrown at him. As the Realnews team of two editors and a staff writer were ushered into his office located along Mission Street, Lagos, on Tuesday, February 12, and after the usual exchange of greetings, Martins asked how long the interview was going to last because he had other engagements that morning. Despite his crowded schedule, the archbishop shared more than 30 minutes of his precious morning hour with the Realnews team.

For the Archbishop, the five months he had been the head of Lagos archdiocese have been quite an experience. “It’s been five months of learning, trying to understand, observing, asking questions and generally getting a feel of the archdiocese which has been entrusted to me,” he said. In carrying out his duty as an archbishop, he acknowledged the cooperation the people in the archdiocese have given him to ensure that the work of God progresses. The major challenge he has faced as head of the archdiocese is finding enough priests to take charge of the activities in the parishes. But that has not dampened his spirit.

Archbishop A. Adewale Martins
Archbishop A. Adewale Martins

Martins is not someone who shies away from controversies either. He gave reasons why the Catholic Church remains solidly against ordaining women as priests, the use of condoms and prosperity-preaching pastors. He insisted that the Catholic Church in Nigeria is not against the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, but its style of administration. What has happened according to the 53-year-old Archbishop is that the Catholic Church had suspended its activities in the national executive of CAN, but has remained active at local government and state levels.

While blaming the leadership of the country for the level of poverty in the society, he is not comfortable with some Penticostal pastors who make prosperity the main theme of their messages, saying they are distorting the gospel of Christ regarding people’s welfare. He wants such pastors to repent so that they can have the mercy of God. “Even though Christ did not want us to live in poverty, that is not his will for us, they should be telling those who are responsible for the poverty in the world, that they should change and ensure a better management of the resources of the world, rather than use the message of Christ to deceive the people,” he said.

A graduate of the University of Ibadan and the Pontifical Urban University, Rome, Martins likened owning a private jet by a pastor in the mist of the poor to “punching them (congregation) in the face.” According to him, taking care of the needy should be more paramount in the programme of every church as Christ has commanded.

An Abeokuta-born Martins, blames the leadership of Nigeria for the level corruption in the country. According to him, leaders are expected to lead with the kind of values that would inspire the rest of the country to follow and with the right attitude to life. “If a leader cannot be held by his word for example, if they don’t create the condition that will make the resources to be tapped well, then they certainly are responsible for the corruption that the followership gets themselves involved in,” he argued. He also pointed out that the follower who engages in corruption should also be faulted “because the law of nature has given all of us the ability to know the right and the wrong and therefore if you say because a leader is not doing it right and therefore you are not going to do it right, one is also blame worthy,” he argued.

Martins, who succeeded Olubunmi Anthony Cardinal Okogie, as the fourth Catholic archbishop of Lagos in August last year, believes that there is hope for an African to be elected as the next pope. Prominent among the eligible Nigerian candidates are Okogie and John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, the archbishop of Abuja diocese.

Born on June 1, 1959, in Abeokuta South Local Government Area of Ogun State, Martins started his primary education at Saint Augustine’s Roman Catholic Mission School, Itesi, Abeokuta and from there he went to Saint Theresa’s Minor Seminary, Oke-Are, Ibadan, Oyo State, for his secondary education from 1971 to 1976.

A third child and a second male child in the family, Martins thereafter proceeded to the Seminary of SS. Peter and Paul, Bodija, Ibadan, in 1976. He had a Diploma in Religious Studies from the University of Ibadan in 1978 and graduated with a first class honour in Theology from the Pontifical Urban University, Rome, in 1983. He was ordained a deacon at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos, in December 1982, and became a priest on September 18, 1983 at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos.

As a priest, Martins worked as an assistant administrator at the Holy Cross Cathedral from October 1983 to August 1984 and was later transferred to St. Gregory’s College, where he worked as a teacher and chaplain from September 1984 to September 1986. During this period, he also doubled as the priest-in-charge of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Maroko, as well as the chaplain to Holy Child College, Lagos.

Martins’ flair for teaching, which he inherited from his parents and enjoyed as a hobby, took him to SS. Peter and Paul Major Seminary where he assisted in the formation of future priests. There he was appointed graduate assistant in the Department of Philosophy in September 1986. He was promoted lecturer in 1988 after obtaining a Masters’ Degree in Philosophy at the University of Ibadan. At the seminary, he held several positions of responsibilities including that of bursar, registrar and secretary of appointments and promotions committee from 1994 to 1996.

Still in his pursuit of knowledge, Martins went to the University of St. Andrews’ in Scotland where he also obtained a Master of Letters’ Degree in Philosophy in 1997. Thereafter, he enrolled for a doctorate programme in the University of Edinburgh and had submitted his disertation when God’s call came to him again through the appointment as the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Abeokuta, which was excised from the old archdiocese of Lagos by the late Pope John Paul II.

Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, speaks with Maureen Chigbo, editor, Olu Ojewale, general editor and Ishaya Ibrahim, staff writer, about the state of the nation, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and ordination of women priests among other issues. Excerpts:

Realnews:  It’s been five months since you became the Archbishop of Lagos Diocese, how has it been?
Martins: It’s been five months alright. It’s been five months of learning, trying to understand, observing, asking questions and generally getting a feel of the archdiocese which has been entrusted to me. I, by the grace of God, have had quite a number of people who have been very supportive of the whole exercise of trying to familiarise myself with the situation in the archdiocese. I’ve had people who have declared their intention to cooperate and ensure that the work of promoting the kingdom of God in our society is carried on; knowing fully well that it is God’s own work and everyone needs to play his own role without prejudice to whoever is at the helm of affairs at any point in time. So, by the grace of God, it’s been all of these in the last few months.

Archbishop Alfred A. Martins

Realnews:  What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Martins: Normally, the challenge that we have in general is having adequate number of men to carry on the work in the different parishes. The number of men, meaning priests, to take care of the number of parishes that we have. And of course, the amount of time that I need in order to be able to meet the different groups of persons and parishes that I need to interact with in my process of familiarising with the archdiocese. Unfortunately, there are not more than 24 hours in a day. Aside from that, I think God has been very good.


Realnews:  When you talk about not having enough men, does it mean there is shortage of priests to do the work of God?
Martins: Well, you know the archdiocese is continually getting bigger and bigger, expanding from all sides both in terms of number of persons who are embracing the faith in the catholic as well as in terms of the number of places that are involved. So, as you get men they just get swallowed in the number of places that need to be covered.

Realnews:  Talking about the priests, there is this controversy about ordaining women priests to also help out in the church and the Catholic Church has been so conservative about it. What do you think?
Martins: Well, the fact is, there are a few things that are the prerogative of us as people who are in-charge of the church at this point in time. There are a few things that are our prerogative to change. There are other things that do not belong to the range of things that we can tinker with. Now, teachings of doctrines or practices that are specifically as it were given to us both in the scriptures and the tradition of the church, we cannot tinker with them anyhow and that is the reason why the ordination of women as priests, for instance, cannot be a matter of our decision to change at this time or at any time because it is a measure that we received from Christ in the scriptures and a measure that we have seen in the tradition of the church which themselves are based upon the instruction of Christ to his apostles to carry on the work that he has given on  to them.  So this is why that is not doable as at now.

Realnews:  Is there anything intrinsically wrong with ordaining women as priests because we have a lot of women in the church and they play vital roles?
Martins: No…This is not about ability. This is not about saying that women are not able either by their constitution as women or by their intelligence or by their strength or whatever. It is not a commentary on who women are. But rather, this position is driven by what scriptures have given to us. We are not in a position to rewrite the scriptures or write the scriptures according to what the modern times say. I know there are those who say that because times have changed, because…of women liberation and all of that, which is a great thing in terms of giving women their proper roles and giving them their proper due as creatures of God with the same abilities as men but at the same time if we have been given something as the basis of our faith and the practice of the faith, we just simply are not in a position to tinker with it.

Realnews:  But the church has been shifting grounds on some social issues, Let’s take for instance the use of condoms. Time was when Catholics don’t talk about it, they don’t use condom but now they’ve shifted a little bit of ground and it is like they’ve approved the use of condom.
Martins: That is not correct. It is not correct that the Catholics have approved the use of condoms. I remember that when the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, was coming to Africa sometime ago, there was all that story that was built around some statement that he made. But the fact of the matter is the principle that is behind that position. Is the act of sexual intercourse between a man and his wife, by that act, directed towards procreation? That is the principle upon which the position is grounded. If the condom is permitted only on the basis of the fact that you can get on with it as long as if you want to prevent having children or if you don’t want to catch diseases, you can go ahead and feel free, naturally the use of condom cannot be justified in that kind of  circumstance

Archbishop Alfred MartinsRealnews: Are you saying it will be justified to use it as birth control measure?
Martins: One of the reasons why it is not permitted is because the act of sexual intercourse between a man and his wife is to be directed towards the procreation and so for that reason, the condom disrupts or stops that possibility. That’s the argument, that’s the position that the church holds on this matter.

Realnews: Can you let us know the position of the church in terms of abortion because it appears that it has also shifted in terms of those who were raped and they conceived in that process. What is the position of the church?
Martins: I’m not sure I am aware of that shift or change that you are referring to because the position of the church that is held up till…even in an act of rape which is a terrible, terrible, terrible  thing to happen and is something that should, by all means be discouraged because of the kind of effect that it has particularly on the woman that is concerned. However, on the other hand, if for any reason a child is brought into the world by that act, the child is not the offender in the first instance and should therefore not be made to suffer for the offence of somebody. This is a human being in his own right, unfortunately brought into the world in that circumstance. That does not mean that child should be killed.

Realnews: Catholics have withdrawn from the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, activities. Why?
Martins: It is not correct to say that the Catholic Church has withdrawn from CAN. I know that that has been bandied about in the newspapers and in the news in recent times. It is not correct because the Catholic Church has come out to say that it has not withdrawn from CAN. CAN is a baby of the Catholic Church in many ways because we were right there from the beginning. The first president of CAN was a catholic and in the history of CAN we have had two other Catholics who have headed the CAN at the national level. So we have the passion for the existence and the growth of CAN and therefore, we have not withdrawn from CAN. What has happened is that we do not agree with some of the activities that take place at the national level of CAN. For this reason, we did communicate with the national executive of CAN that we shall suspend our participation in the activities of the national executive committee of CAN until the issues that we brought before it are addressed.  We also made it clear that our decision to suspend our activities at the national level does not mean that we shall not participate in the activities of CAN at the state, local government and other levels. That is why we had inter-denominational divine service in Lagos here and I was physically present apart from the fact that the President of Lagos CAN is a catholic.

Realnews: What are these issues?
Martins: For instance, we raised issues with regards to procedure for taking decisions. We raised issues with regards to procedure for making statements on behalf of CAN because there are procedures that are stated in our constitution and we think that the constitution should be followed. We raised issues to the fact that our activities should be directed towards bringing Christian bodies together rather than creating more groups said to be constituting CAN. And of course, we think that our relationship with government should be as a result of a decision taken by the president-in-council of the CAN. So, these are some of the issues but as I said, these are not issues that we intended should be in the public domain. We ask CAN to create a forum for us to discuss these issues and iron them out. So, it was embarrassing so to say, to find out this was flashed on the pages of newspapers.

Realnews: So, you made a representation to the national body to create a forum to discuss issues raised and it was leaked to the press. Is that what you are saying?
Martins: Well I’m saying that we made a representation that we should talk and in fact, I understand that some moves have been made at some point in time. I’m not quite sure of the details of that. But I don’t know how the matter became a public…..

Realnews:  Other members of CAN from other denominations said that it’s because the Catholics are not at the head and that’s why they are not supporting it?
Martins: Actually, it’s a very laughable position to even advance because it cannot bear the scrutiny of even experience. We have had Primate Sunday Mbang as the president of CAN; the Catholic Church never said it was going to withdraw. We have had Archbishop Akinola as the president of CAN; the Catholic Church never said it was going to withdraw. So, where is this kind of contortion of facts coming from? I don’t understand! It does not bear scrutiny.

Realnews: So, sir, is it true that you are angry with the headship of CAN because he is hobnobbing with the president.
Martins: What is true is what I’ve just mentioned that the process for taking decisions, the process for making positions clear, the process for deciding in what way we relate with government in terms of statement and interactions and in terms of what we bring to government, this is what is true.

Realnews: So you are not against the flamboyancy of the headship of CAN?
Martins: He is an individual and as an individual, he is free to be what he is but as head of CAN, he cannot act on behalf of CAN in a way that he likes. He has to, as the head of CAN, act in line with the constitution and in line with the procedures that have been put in place and I think it is a distortion of fact to say that because Pastor Oritsejafor is this and that, that is why the Catholics are… The Catholic Church is not in a position to take up issues with a person or an individual because of his style of life. That is not our issue. Our issue has to do with the activity of the headship of CAN.

Archbishop MartinsRealnews:I asked this question, sir, because I understand that the Catholic Church is not comfortable with Pastor Oritsejafor riding a private jet and that private jet should not be for pastors and men of God
Martins:  The Catholic Church as an institution cannot go there and say I’m not happy because you as an individual, you are riding this or riding that. The Catholic Church as an institution does not have an issue with an individual for what he is riding or not riding. Of course, each individual can have reservations about him flying a private jet. We can have issues individually, not as a church. But it’s mixing up of facts to say that the Catholic Church is against Pastor Oritsejafor riding private jet. He doesn’t belong to us. We would even be demeaning ourselves as a group just because he has a piece of property. It’s not right.

Realnews: So what do you think about a pastor owning a private jet? I’m talking about your own personal view. May be if you have money would you buy one
Martins: Well, I mean, the way we operate in the Catholic Church is such that even the Holy Father does not own a jet. If he is going to travel, he goes to A’Litalia and they arrange for him to travel because the cost that is involved first of all in buying one, is high. The cost that is involved in keeping one, in maintaining it, in ensuring that you have the staff, is pretty high. That kind of money could be used for other things that are more beneficial. To that extent, I as an individual, certainly even if I have the money, would not put my money into that because I think that we are living in a country where there are young men who don’t have money to pay tuition fees for going to school. We are living in a country where the health facilities are as bad as they are. We are living in a country where some individuals cannot afford a meal.  In some ways, it is like punching them in the face if you spend so much to buy a jet. If something is necessary, naturally it’s appropriate to get it. If it’s necessary for the work that one is doing, it’s appropriate to get it, if the needs are there. However if it’s not….let’s just leave it at that.

Realnews: But the Catholic Church is regarded as one of the richest institutions in the world. It has its own bank, it has its own city, and I’m surprised that you don’t have money to buy a jet, I’m surprised.
Martins:  Well, in the first instance, you said the Catholic Church is very rich. It’s a form of prayer for the church and as they say, ‘we claim it!’ (Laughter).  The riches of the church lay in the people who are very generous to the church. Every year, all over the world, there are collections that are taken in all the churches, in order to assist the pope in doing the work that he needs to do. This is where the riches lie, people from all over the world, bringing together everything that they have, in order to be able to share it to people who need it. I can sit here for instance, and request that Rome assist me in building a church, it will do it if it has the money because somebody from America has contributed money and sends to the Pope to do it. That is where the riches of the church lie – in the people that God has given to us. However, even if the church has the resources, there are principles that guide our lives and activities. Principles of simplicity in approach to life, principles of consideration for other people, principle of being as it were, responsive to  the needs of others, these are the kind of things that guide our decisions on what to do and what not to do

Realnews: There is so much corruption in the country, despite the fact that Christianity is spreading in the country. Does it worry you?
Martins: Of course, it should worry anyone and not only because Christianity is spreading but because human beings are not responding well to the values that should drive us in living our lives. I believe the values that should drive us include being selfless in service, being honest and being people of integrity, being people whose words can be relied upon. And I think it is these values that are, as it were, beginning to be eroded, if not completely eroded from the country in which we are. And I think this is part of what is responsible for the corruption that we have. Naturally, of course, we expect that as Christianity grows, as people listen to the words of God, people listen to sermons, people hear what God has to say, it will affect their lives such that we will all go away from sin. But unfortunately, that is not the case and in my estimation, because we have a lot of people who bear the name, Christian, that does not mean they live the values of Christianity. But of course, we know it is not restricted to Christians. Peoples of other religions are also involved in this act of corruption. And as it were, we all just need to go back to the values that use to drive us as a people in our local traditional setting in which an individual is respected because the name of the family in which he comes is integrity personified. But unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The name of the family is important only as far as it can get you into the next office and get you what you want. Rather, the name of the family ought to be what everyone cherishes.

Realnews: Is it because the messenger is not delivering the right message. That is, preaching prosperity instead of hard work and that poverty is a sin so everybody has to be rich?
Martins: Obviously, anyone that preaches that is preaching half the truth of the message. In fact, it’s like distorting the message of Christ because the message of Christ is for us to first of all believe in him, accept his teachings, live by those teachings, repent if we have sinned and turn back towards him. That is the message of Christ, that is what John the Baptist said when he introduced Him to us and to the world. Well, of course, God did not create us to live in poverty; that is why he gave us all the resources that are there in our world. And therefore, if there is poverty in the world, it is because we human beings have either mismanaged the resources in the world or we have not managed to spread it out in such a way that everybody can have a portion that will make him to be comfortable. So, those who preach prosperity as the main message of the gospel, I think they themselves need to repent and accept the fact that they are distorting the message of Christ and even though Christ did not want us to live in poverty, that is not his will for us. They should be telling those who are responsible for the poverty in the world, that they should change and ensure a better management of the resources of the world, rather than use the message of Christ to deceive people.

MartinsRealnews: Poverty and corruption are wide spread in the country. Seventy percent of the population live below poverty level. Is it a leadership failure in the country?
Martins: Obviously, when we have leaders, we expect them to be beacons by which others will find their bearing. We expect leaders to have the values that will inspire the rest of the nation. So, to the extent that we have a large followership that is not keying into the right attitude to life. We can also, and indeed put the blame on the shoulders of the leadership of the nation because if they have not been able to inspire the followership to follow the right and the true path, it means that they have failed in their leadership position. I mean, if a leader cannot be held by his word, if they don’t create the condition that will make the resources to be tapped well, then they certainly are responsible for the corruption that the followership gets themselves involved in. But that is not to say that the follower who engages in corruption is not also at fault because the law of nature has given all of us the ability to know the right and wrong and therefore if you say because a leader is not doing the right thing and therefore you are not going to do it right, one is also blame worthy. So, whereas we can attribute it, and in deed, we do attribute the level of poverty and corruption to poor leadership, we cannot exonerate ourselves completely – the followership.

Realnews: Poverty has also led to insecurity in the country; the Boko Haram activities have also affected the Christendom. Catholics have equally suffered bomb attacks. So what do you think can be done to check it? Do we dialogue with them?
Martins: In the first instance, Boko Haram is one phenomenon that is difficult to understand because on the one hand, it strikes Christian churches today, the next day it strikes police post, the third day it’s going to schools, the fourth day it’s the market. That leaves everybody confused as to what is their anger. It gives one an impression of wanting to create chaos, wanting to create a state of anarchy and ensure that we all don’t have the peace that we deserve as a nation. And that is why we need to first of all pray. It will seem to me that all efforts that have been made so far have not been able to resolve the situation and therefore, we need to commit it to prayer by asking God himself to give direction on what to do. But apart from that, we also need to continue to speak to the hearts and minds of these people. The Muslim population have told us that these Boko Haram people are not acting in line with the teaching of Islam and therefore, they seem to be a group that is difficult to know what their purposes are. If they are not representing Islam, at least, the mainstream Islam, who are they? What’s their purpose, who do they represent? These are the kind of questions that arise in my own mind as regards to the Boko Haram. Oh yes, if it is possible to identify or if, indeed, we do identify those who are leading them, or giving them the ammunition and the things that they use, we need to first of all ensure that we bring them to justice. I think that part of the problem that we have had is that people have done things with impunity in the past. Those who were caught are let go on flimsy grounds of escaping. All of these things make the phenomenon to continue unabated. I think our security agencies need to be up and doing in their duty of securing the nation, particular by increasing their intelligence gathering such that they can be found out before they unleash havoc on the nation.

Realnews: Should government have dialogue with them?
Martins: My own take on this is this: If you have people that are patently representing the group that we can identify, we lose nothing by dialoguing with them. But dialoguing with them should not stop the effort to find other means of cutting off the lifeline of these Boko Haram people. The idea of taking steps to end it is necessary but if we can find certified, so to say, certified leaders of the group, then we should not exclude the possibility of dialogue

Realnews: Pope Benedict is going to resign on February 28. He cited old age as the reason. But since he came, there has been a lot of controversy trailing him. One has to do with pedophile case which has been on. He published a book also which was deemed controversial. Could all these have been part of what led to his resignation and is there politics in the Vatican between the conservatives and liberals among the clergy that has brought the situation to where it is today?
Martins: Well, I think that in the first instance, it is necessary for us to respect the reasons that he gave for resigning. I read it very well and he said that in freedom, in total freedom, with full awareness of what it means, he has decided to tender his resignation on the basis of the fact that his body and his mind are not as strong as is needed in order to carry out the duty of his office. He didn’t even say that he is ill, that he has ill health.  He said that old age and the mind and the body are not able to bear the strains of the office. And so I think it is only right and good for us to respect the reason that he has given to us and believe that he will not be lying about the reason why he has decided to resign. I mean, I can imagine that there will be all kinds of interpretations and speculations and insinuations. I think it is the lot of human beings to speculate and insinuate but that which the man has said, in my own estimation, is adequate reason for thanking him for being true to himself and showing love for the church. You know one interview that he had which was published into a book, he said it very clearly then that he as a person will not resign when there is a problem, that you do not run away from a problem and ask somebody else to go and face it. That obviously, that is selfishness. But he then said also that it is best for a man to leave at a time when there is peace or else, when the person does not feel capable of carrying on his duties. So if he has said all these in the last few years ago, I think it will be presumptuous to be imputing other motives to his resignation.

Realnews: Any hope for an African Pope?
Martins: Of course, there is hope for an African to become a pope but there is no hope for an African Pope (laughter)

Realnews: No. For an African to become Pope?
Martins: Aha (laughter) because I believe that every cardinal that is African there, has as good a chance as any other person to be elected pope because everyone is brought on to the college of cardinals because they have proved themselves to be capable of leading the church if it came to it. And so to that extent, I believe it is not out of place to expect that an African could become a pope as well.

— Feb. 25, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

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