By Nkechi Onyedika, Chris Irekemba and Isaac Taiwo:

* As Okoh becomes new Primate of Anglican Church

THE Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has expressed the commitment of the present administration to transforming the nation by addressing various developmental challenges militating against its growth.

Speaking at the swearing in of Most Rev. Nicholas Dikenriehi Okoh as the new Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and Bishop of Abuja Diocese yesterday in Abuja, Jonathan blamed the crises and other problems facing the country on long period of neglect by the country’s leadership in performing certain responsibility and called on religious leaders and Nigerians to support government to achieve its goals.

He said: “We are facing a lot of crisis, crises of long period of negligence in performing certain responsibility. We know that there are problems and we appreciate our problems and we are totally committed and by the grace of God to addressing them and we promise Nigerians that we will do our best. We call on all Nigerians and religious leaders to work with us to solve the problems we have. We need the encouragement of all Nigerians and religious leaders.”

Jonathan, who also appealed to religious leaders to support government in the fight against corruption, cited an instance of a brief he received recently from the Inspector-General of Police in which a church tried to assist in bailing out a member arrested by the Police over alleged corrupt practices:

“We plead with our Christian brothers and sisters to ensure that we don’t support corruption. Not too long ago, the Inspector-General of Police came to see me and told me of an accountant in an organisation that was arrested by the local Police station and the church contributed money to go and lobby for his bail. Yes, he is a brother, the law says that until you are proven guilty, you are assumed innocent. You can help to get a brother out of problem. But while doing that as a religious group, try and also have an idea about how bad the case is.”

He continued: “As a politician, I started as a deputy governor, and there has been instances I have been called upon to assist somebody in a Police cell. But I first of all try to find out what must have happened and if I get a clear picture that you are involved in any anti-social behaviour, I will never talk to the Police because I have a moral duty not to stain my name. Even if you are the only person that will make me win an election, I am ready to lose the election.”

The Acting President commended the out-gone Primate, Most Rev. Peter Akinola, for the progress recorded during his tenure in the Anglican Communion and Christianity globally.

Describing the out-gone Primate as a vibrant preacher, Jonathan said: “I believe in what you have been saying. As I was coming for this programme, I was wondering whether the new Primate would be able to fit into your shoes because he looks more gentle than myself but after listening to his sermon, I bowed.”

Speaking after his installation performed by Akinola, Okoh reiterated the commitment of the Church of Nigeria under his tenure to continuing with the fight against same-sex marriage.

He said: “They have spent a huge sum of money to pervert and undermine this institution, the family. They want us to accept the homosexual lifestyle and same-sex union as normal as marriage between male and female and we said ‘we are sorry, we dissociate ourselves.’ The recent view of the Bishop of Liverpool is equally not acceptable to us. His view is that since in the past the church had to live side by side with those who object to war and those who say war is okay, they are worshipping together in the same church, that we could equally go on like that. If you say homosexuality is okay for you, you go on. If you say it is not ok, we all go on like that.”

The new Primate continued: “The danger in this type of teaching is that it establishes two authorities in the church. The scripture on one hand and the cannon of deviant sub-culture intended to destroy the genuine Christian understanding of morality as revealed in the Bible. We refuse to accept it, he is speaking for himself and not for the Church of Nigeria. If the Anglican covenant is intended to achieve the globalisation for easy spread of homosexual lifestyle, then it is doomed to fail. ‘Are you homophobic?’ is a devise designed to hold people into conformity, to accept it is conforming to the world. For those with homosexual lifestyle, we do not pursue or hate anybody, what we emphasise is that there is power in the gospel and that the gospel of Jesus Christ has a transforming power, that whoever comes to the Lord will be transformed and will never be the same again.”

On the Niger Delta, the new Primate commended President Umaru Yar’Adua for initiating the amnesty programme and urged government to vigorously pursue the amnesty programme to its logical conclusion.

He said: “The people deserved to be attended to and there should be no apology about that…The oil on which we depend for our daily life is God’s property graciously given to us by the benevolent God. Abuse of oil revenue is a sin against God and against the people of Nigeria. We call our people to repentance; we cannot continue to build a society that has no space to stand. If we continue to bore holes into our national life, the remaining will collapse and unfortunately if it collapses, you have no place to go. Ghana cannot accommodate us, it is too small, that is why we must as a people solve our problems.”

Okoh, who spoke passionately on the need to fix the perennial power problem and other problems confronting the nation, questioned: “Think of Nigeria having an underground rail system without stable power, is it possible? Think of a viable tourism industry without steady power supply and security, is it possible? Think of a growing manufacturing economy with double-digit growth, Vision 20:2020, is it possible? Think of a prosperous society with more graduate unemployed, is there prosperity in such a country? We have to solve these problems.”

While urging Christians with good leadership qualities to join politics instead of criticising from the background, Okoh stressed: “Jesus is Lord over politics and election. He is Lord over our private and public life. So, our public and private ethics should enable us serve the Lord diligently so that people who go into politics are people who have something to offer and make things happen. If you are a good Christian and you stay in your village and begin to criticise those in government and refuse to come out into politics, you are part of our problem because the normal way of getting power is through politics. If you want to transform a society, and you have what it takes, the patience, the perseverance and ability to endure persecution, come out and take part and things will get better bit by bit.”

On Jos crisis, the cleric urged government to bring to book all the perpetrators of the killings. “They should not be allowed to go free. The law should be made to follow them because if it doesn’t happen, we will get into a state of where dog eats dog.”

He assured that the Church of Nigeria would support government in the actualisation of projects aimed at revamping education and the health sector in the country.

“We believe in the healing ministry for by His stripes we are healed. We will continue to struggle to support government health programmes by paying attention to HIV and malaria in our own way, the church will open up hospitals and clinics to attend to our people. In the area of education, we will continue to collaborate with government to provide good and quality education to our people.

Instead of crying over spilt milk where schools are not forthcoming, those that were taken over by government, let us found new schools, don’t allow yourself to be frustrated by any system. Go forward and establish schools so that we can bring up our children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. The children who are shooting people on the street today are products of government take-over of schools. People who have resolved that there is law and there is no teaching about God in the school, these are people who can pull pistols without looking back. These are people who were raised in the schools where God has no part in the syllabus.”

Akinola was elected in March 25, 2000 into the office.

He moved the Church of Nigeria to the position of second largest Province in the Anglican Communion, as measured by baptised membership, after the Church of England with membership of about 20 million.

Under his leadership, the Church grew from 76 dioceses to 161 and saw to the revision of the book, Common Prayer and reprinting of the Church hymnal.

He fought passionately against the liberal revisionist agenda of the West (Europe and America) condemning completely homosexuality and same-sex marriages.

For his gallant fight, among others, the Times magazine in 2006, listed the Archbishop as one of the world’s most influential personalities.

Akinola made frantic efforts to ensure that the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is not left out in the current fight against the HIV-AIDS pandemic, by the Church playing a leading role in Africa in this area as the pioneer co-ordinator at the Africa regional (CAPA) level.

During his tenure, he established an endowment fund of N1 billion for the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) thus positioning the Church to be financially bought to pursue its programmes and activities.

He was elected National President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in November 2009.

The same year, he was honoured with Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) for his great achievements, leadership and influence.

He also became chairman for both the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) and the South-South Encounter of the Anglican Communion during his tenure.

His Primacy has been described as a resounding success for the Church of Nigeria, which has never had it so good.

In the light of this, a book published by Anglican Media titled “Peter Akinola in the eyes of the Media” was presented at the event by the Diocesan Bishop of Ife, the Very Revd. Oluranti Odubogun.

Odubogun described the book as a ‘refreshing compendium’ revealing how the media perceived the Primate, which also include all the interviews he granted.

The Bishop of Lokoja and the Archbishop of Lokoja Province, the Most Revd. Emmanuel Egbunnu, presented three poems in Akinola’s honour titled: ‘The Babel Poetry’, ‘the winning life’ and ‘the Pilgrimate’.

Akinola began his life as a carpenter and through destiny went to Anglican Seminary and eventually became the head of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and a world figure.

The Bishop of Ibadan and the Archbishop of Ibadan Province, the Most Revd. James Akinfenwa, described him as ‘Ajayi Crowther of our time’ whose life is a document for scholars to research into.

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