Rev. Agbali comments on the funeral sermon by Dr. Hassan Kukah:


I find the posting of the Funeral Sermon for Mrs. Stella Obasanjo gratifying. It highlights certain perceptible issues that emerged from the media presentation of what Fr. Kukah preached at that funeral. Though the full text of the sermon did answer some of the issues I had raised, though partially and never in depth, I still feel that there are essential issues regarding matters of justice and equal treatments in the matter of Stella's reconciliation and marital regularization within the Church. Dispensation or not, there are many Catholic women in similar situations that are not given the same kind of equal treatment, to be dispensed to be married and reconcilled to the Church when they are married to a polygamists.

The issue raised by Fr. Kukah seems to predicate the matter on the differences on faith between the First citizen;'s baptist faith, and Stella's Catholicism. I do not see it in the same light, since the Catholic Church affirms mixed marriaged anyway. The issue that made matters somewhat problematic is that President Obasanjo polygamous status, and I guess still is, without formally claiming to be separated from the other wives. Therefore, I still see a frantic attempt in the sermon to explain a matter that has been painful to Catholics in similar conditions like Stella, who are daily denied Holy Communion within their Church. Also, Stella did not meet the natural law requirement being not Obasanjo's first wife, as that would have at least given her some consideration. All too often, hegemonic order have attempted to arm twist the Catholic norm on marriage, as Henry VIII, King of England attempted.

I am most glad that Stella could seek reconciliation within her faith and her God. Such value was meaningful for her. Thus, I was about her sudden demise and the nature of her death. Plus, she seemed to have touched the lives of many Nigerians positively, as hardly anyone spoke ill of her, during this period. . Though this some with a caveat, since many Nigerians, as part of their cultural ideal, often do not speak ill of the death. Except for two cases, else such is often considered a taboo. The first case I read about, I think around 1985 or 1986 in a Newswatch (Nigerian) News magazine, regarding Professor Adu, the father of the sweetest voiced Briton-Nigerian musician, Sade Adu.

At his funeral, it was noted that the pakistors (pastors) railed obscenities and ridiculed the former economics Professor of the University of Lagos for failing to have use his influence to develop their town or even building a decent house for himself, as prominent sons and daughters are wont to do, but rather was adept in marrying different foreign women, and refused to eye any one of his own from the town. Therefore, he was considered a renegade. According to that report, Sade sobbed herself sore, and promised never to come to Nigeria, or that town ever. Hence, few years later, the Oba of her hometown, decidedly attempted to honor her with a Chieftaincy title, but she refused, and it was even noted that she disrespected the royal delegation sent to invite her. The second, is the all too familiar case of former Nigerian despot, General Sani Abacha.

I say this last piece because, in life, I have read and heard the insinuations that some of the corruption associated with the Presidency were traceable to the erstwhile first lady, and a Nigerian newspaper had the audacity to call her "Greedy Stella" for which I also learnt Mrs. Nigerian First Lady sued, not before the editor of the newspaper was arrested, almost at the same time that Mrs. Kenyan First Lady stormed into a Kenyan Media establishment and made history that may probably make the Guiness Book of records for being the First African First Lady to have slapped a journalist, at least in a detestable and public rage. Hence, while the Nigerian First Lady was greatly eulogized in death no one had the audacity to mention any perceived ills. Well, how can anyone stand up to the grieving first citizen and first family, when they knew all too well that the Owo Chiefs that stood up to him regarding the election of a new Alake of Egbaland, were all imprisoned.

Therefore, who else has the audacity of not only being bad-mouthed but also endangering themselves to be sent into Ita-Oko, Kirikiri prisons, or Alagbon- actually, even the last one the prospect of returning alive is uncertain given that it is now rife news that some prisoners from Alagbon are selectively targeted, taken from their cells by police officers and killed, while their body parts are sold by police officers to body-parts dealer. To avoid, the Alagbon body-part industry, the best policy is to mute one's emotions. Thus, no one had the temerity to even raise then issue that, in spite of the loss and grief, it was Olumuyiwa, the son of Stella and Uncle Sege (his first Presidential name before OBJ or the now more Paternalistic "Baba"), a non-working lawyer, who recently bought a house in New York in clouded circumstances, that was the family spokesperson. Hopefully, giving him a privileged podium to use his mother's death to gain some political capital.

In many case, as a human person and as a priest, I continue to condole the Nigerian President and his family for their loss. It is a painful loss because a human life was wasted over vanity, in the process of cosmetic (plastic) surgery. Painful as this was, it happened at a time of national tragedy with the loss of 117 passengers and crew, on board the ill-fated Bellview airline Flight 210 on Saturday, October 22nd. However, while I prayed for all, including Stella that God would give them eternal peace and perpetual light to shine on them, I have asked some salient questions. Some of that emerged regarding what I read about the funeral of Stella Obasanjo and what I'd considered as the ignominious role of some religious ministers, acting like more like marabouts and court griots. Occasions like this raises critical issues regarding the face and depth of the Nigerian Christianity that is beginning to engage in reverse "missionization" within Western and global metropoles.
Thus, while the Nigerian Anglican Communion is trying to stand up for what they consider as the truth of the gospel, conscientizing against what they regard as the hypocrisy and looming coldness of their brethren's faith in Europe and America, especially as it pertains to issues of sexuality and specifically homosexuality within its clerical ranks and the abrupt change of church policies relative to matrimony; the efforts of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which through its attempt to expand and make their American headquarters around Dallas makes it her missionary goal to awake the perceived the weakening tendons of American Christianity, and Nigerian Catholic Seminarians in Enugu are beaming to come to resurrect the amber of a dying Catholic fatih in the West, I wonder what kind of cultural heritage they would be offering the West.

I tried to image some recent development in Nigeria as it affects the Church, and specifically the Catholic Church, and my mind goes back to the spate of recent armed robberies that dominated the news sometimes this year around summer. On one occassion, a Nigerian Dominican deacon was brutally murdered at St. Dominic Church, Yaba, Lagos. Thereafter, a string of other robberies around Catholic Churches in the Lagos area, and the Eastern part of Nigeria. On another occasion, a Church member and son of the catechiest, attempted using a broken bottle to hack the priest while celebrating the Sunday mass (Church service) in full public glare. Another priest was assasinated while praying on his kneels, because according to the story he was competing with the local herbalists in making "healing medicines." It was likely that his faith and practical actions had economic repercussions for the business of the traditional herbalists and healers in the area.

Sometimes, last year, another priest was accosted and physically molested by University lecturers in Awka, because during his sermons he vilified the university lecturers for selling grades, sexually harrassing female students and extorting money from male students for grades advancement. All these has set me wondering as to what has gone wrong. There was a time, when no one would rob a priest. Rather, it used to be stated that some priests during armed robbery operations, the hoodlums would just ironically ask the priest to pray for their successful robbery operations and even forgiveness.

Today, rectories and convents are ransacked. In one instance in Edo State, the walls of the rectory was broken by axes (or what we call "diggers" in Nigeria) and the money was taken away. It was noted that when the priests asked him for the money that came from the bazaar sales, that evening, he said he did not have the money. Unfortunately, for him, after the hoodlums ransacked the room and found the money, they sermonized and moralized, asserting: "Haba, Reverend, I think you a man of God, why you dey lie like dis?" That was before they gave him some thorough beating, and then while leaving asked him to stand up to bless them and forgive them. The poor priest had to act according to their script. Poor fellow!

This whole anomalies has made me to suppose that something is wrong with regards to our image of religion and religiosity in Nigeria. Sometimes, in the recent past, I think last year (2004) a BBC survey noted Nigerians as the most highly religious people on the planet. Well, it sounds good, but my issue is to what extent does this religiousness or religiosity correlate with practicing the ideals of the essential tenets and norms of these religious entities as professed by Nigerians? Armed robbers robbing priests and asking for the same priest blessings and forgiveness, I think there is a fundamental and rational mismatch here. Pastors endulging in criminal activities, such as the Owerri Okotoko burying human skulls beneath church altars, in an imperceptible admixture of faith, magic, and criminality.

Well, some might argue intellectually that religion represents one of the most irrational imagination, and such facts are the summit of such irrationalities displayed in full force. But, yet at the rational level, something is wrong. I think that something is that these highly religious people do not believe in the kind of religiosity of their leaders. Thus, my sense is many Nigerians are religious by default, rather than by in depth internalization of the values and ideals profoundly espoused by their different persuasions. What, I have continued to wonder, is where the blistering blot in all of this exists. Is there also a disconnect between the perceived religious reality and the lifestyle and action of the leadership. That reflection led me to right my blog that I want to share here, in the light of the recent posting of the USA-Africa Dialogue 1304 on Funeral Sermon for Stella Obasanjo.

As a result on the night of October 30th, I wrote in my blog: the following thoughts. I would like to place this thoughts alongside the funeral sermons of Fr. Matthew Kukah. There were some points that I raised in my blog that I did not have the privilege of cross-checking with the real sermons, but nonetheless, I still maintain that the major premises and conclusions contained therein calls for salient intellectual and rational reflection.

I must vouchsafe to add that I do not have a problem with Stella Obasanjo's relationship with her God. Whatever she did and did not do here on earth is known to her and her creator alone. I pray that she would see eternal light, as I once prayed even for the despot Sani Abacha, though with twisted thoughts, since while praying I was simultaneously polygotting his dictatorial onslaughts, like the innocent protesters hacked to death in Ibadan, Lagos, and other places during the frosted years of Nigeria's blotched history. At least, it was a little different with Stella.
I share my blog piece herein:
Is the Catholic Church in Nigeria for the Highest Bidder?
I have been tied down with the news of the tragedy in Nigeria. First, was the Bellview Flight 210 Boeing 737 Plane crash en route from Lagos to Abuja, on Saturday night, October 22nd, 2005. On that plane were some people that I have known in this life that are no more. These are my very close friend and a brother, John Moru, a former Seminarian of Saints Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan, erstwhile of Benin Diocese. He left the seminary in 1995 or thereabout to pursue other causes which he actually excelled at doing magnificently until the tidings of death cut him short on the wings of the big human-made bird. Up on stairy heights, the Lord lifted John home to himself. John was, though he left ever before becoming a Catholic priest, was a priest-in-the-world, the kind that our baptism made us. He cut an image for himself saddling himself with the issues of human suffering, of which he made his own being and life an altar, upon which he was eventually sacrificed.

News of John's death ran my nerves down. Frozen, iced, my eye's mind felt it was like a phatom, a dream that was not true, but in fact was actually true. Real to the teeth. My entire being has not come alive since then, but I know his life was not wasted, he did something about the human condition that he was passionate about. One of the things that John noted to me when last I saw him in the Fall of 1995 (September) shortly before leaving the major seminary, was his low appetite for swallowing the kind of politics and witch hunting that was becoming the bane in the Archdiocese of Benin, prior to the creation of Auchi diocese. I tried to help him see that the Church, our Catholic Church was both divine and human, hence it was its human side that was actually manifesting, while its divine mission, ideal, and ministry was real and untainted. I believed it then, and so do I still do even now. However, I had understood that injustice in the Church is not often a palatable thing when you are at the receiving end.

My experiences with the Archdiocese of Detroit, with their racist ways of discrimination and dehumanization, the cowardize of the Diocese of Austin, Texas, regarding the same racism and noxious discriminatory practices at the Daughter of Charity's owned Seton Healthcare Network, Austin, Texas, that were directed at Nigerian priests (including myself) working within its Spiritual Care department, as a result of the manipulations and machinations of an American Baptist Female Chaplain, a Rev. Gina Bethune, director of their Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) programe enables me to understand that subtility in the face of injustice is a farce. I have learnt that while the Church is human, to be denigrated and degradated by elements and institutions of the same Church resembles being snowfrosted and sore.

Now, I fully understood one of the significant reasons that led my friend to leave the seminary. But given who he was, an hardworking and intelligent personality, he completed his graduate (post) studies and channelled his energies to become a priest-in-the-world fighting the poverty of Africa and Nigeria in full glare and placed his intellect, imagination, skills, creativity, charm, wit, and energy at the disposal of this goal. He died a sacrificial lamb with others of like mind, while returning from a workshop or promotion concerned about the issues of alleviating and eradicating global poverty. He died a man of faith and hope in the course of his life-work and in the causes he fervently believed. He continued to utilize even his acquisition within the seminary and placed it at the service of humanity and his immediate Nigerian society. He was true to self, to duty, to the empowerment of his community, and to humanity. He was courageous and upfront, and did not engage in manipulations. He died a martyr in the service of humanity, especially in service of the poor, suffering, and marginal of humanity, especially his immediate Nigerian ambient. He was, in spite of having left the seminary, marrying and becoming a father of a charming daughter, a witness to some golden ideal, driven not just by nostalgia and impulse, but by reflexive contemplation and examined action.

Yes, John loved his Church but had issues with his Church. He had issues with some of us, priests of his beloved Church, friends and brothers. His issue was that many of us are not fervent to the spirit and ideal of the gospel. John had many friends who were priests and he connected with them deeply. John's death also happened about the same time of a fellow Edo indigene. John we must note is a citizen of Edo State, but resident and was working in Abuja, with Action Aid International. The fellow Edo citizen, was First Lady, Stella Obasanjo, wife of the Nigerian President who died early Sunday morning of October 23rd, in Spain, following complications from what was assumed to be cosmetic surgery to her face. John and Stella might never had shared the same banquet table in life because, politics elevated Stella over and above John, as Stella's husband being also a former military leader of Nigeria, helped to shell her within the cocoon of the Nigerian who is who, the power estate. John was an activist whose concern was not the accoutrement of power, but in resolving issues of social imbalances and injustice. One commonality both shared interestingly was that they were both Catholics, brother and sister through their common baptism.

Stella's catholicity only emerged publicly after her death (truly faith is a private affairs) and it was a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Matthew Kukah preaching a sermon at her interdenominational funeral service in Abeokuta, on Friday, October 29th, 2005, that made this all the more apparent. Kukah, a Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Kaduna, and former Secretary-General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (the clearing house of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria), and Secretary to Nigeria's version of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Oputa panel) and recent Secretary to the Nigerian Political Reformed Conference convoked by President Obasanjo earlier this year, would have us believe that Stella had a premonition of her death. Yes, Kukah painted a portrait of Stella as a 'Prodigal daughter', who returned to her father's house; the Catholic Church, following her recent marriage (regularization) ceremonies to President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Baptist, acclaimed Pastor, but a reputed polygamist. According to him, Stella had approached him to enable her get wedded to the First Nigerian so that she can receive communion. In conclusion, of this tale, Kukah concluded that Stella died a true Catholic, meaning she was in good standing in terms of the tenets of her Catholic faith and beliefs, because she received Holy Communion, hence his theory that she had a premonition of her death.

Well, if Kukah was an attorney trying to format a smart theory, his theoretical assumptions would have all easily and readily come crashing in the face of a rebuttal. But he is not, he is a man of the cloth. He is a high ranking Church official, who has been hanging too much around the corridor of power, so much that the incense of power has also filled his lungs, maybe with nostalgia. However, the point is a man of the cloth, a man called by God to act on His behalf and in behalf of God's people, he has a right to his opinion and to his functioning. But, certain things need to be filled in here to make the picture all the more clearer. There is a certain gap that his tale has created in terms of the time honored Catholic theology of our Catholic Church. This will enable us to know that the norms and tenets of our faith was not slabbed on the ignonymous altar of power.

First, I was wondering, under which diocese does the Aso Rock Chaplaincy belong? Are we witnessing a replay of Imelda Marcos phenomenon in using priests to further some noxious agenda? Is Fr. Kukah now the officially appointed Chaplain to the Presidency's Chapel? Has the theology and sacrament of marriage been toned down to satisfy the first family, because of their social influence and standing? I relate this because these were the issues that my friend John Moru struggled with that led him out the twin gates of the Bodija seminary, on his own volition. Was John to be substituted with the First Nigerian, known to have other women (married to other wives) in his life, would he easily have had his way to the altar to receive the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, without first the usual advice for him to get rid of his remaining wives (or concubines), before being wedded in the Catholic Church? However, John did not have to go through that. He married decently, marrying a woman he was in love with, honorably in the Catholic Church.

However, there are questions that are now of public interests, given the questionable wedding of our late Stella to the First Nigerian in the interest of public probity and ecclesiastical honor. Did Obasanjo get rid of his other wives in favor of Stella? When did he do so? Or was a compromised reach for him to just cage them outside of public view? Secondly, was the Archdiocese of Abuja involved in all these arrangements? Else, was Fr. Kukah transcending ecclesiastical juridical territories to carry out actions that are actually embarrassing to the Abuja archdiocese, and the entire Nigerian Catholic Church? Were and when was the President's and Stella's band of marriage publicized? Or was this an act of favor for the first citizens, to favor the President to have his ways at all times, even in things religious, hence watering down the tennets of our cherished and beloved faith? Which ecclesiastical authorities permitted Fr. Kukah to act under an ecclesial jurisdiction that is foreign to him?

The clear danger here is that once people in power are able to carve chaplains and ecclesiastics for themselves, outside the alloted juridical prescint of the Church, then they cheapen the divide between Church and State, and water down the sacred role of the faith, as they align it with purely secular interests. Therefore, political and secular authority, begins to devalue the Church and her social inputs, as defined by her divine mission and role as the conscience of society. My believe is that Fr. Kukah is a decent man and would sanction the requirements of the Church, and actually performed a valid pastoral function, as any conscientious priest would do, to try to bring home the lost sheep.

But I hope that this was not done at the expense of self-aggrandizing motives, in the interests of the coercing interests of hegemonic orders. I hope that the Nigerian Catholic Church has not become an entity for sale to the highest bidder. If so I am ready to be at the auction house, where it would be put up for sale by the power that be, at least to pay my last homages. I hope not. Rather, I hope that, in spite of all its human limitations, it would courageously remains an eternal embodiment of Christ's teaching and those of the Church's magisterium, and a non-discriminatory institution that validates the rights of all equally, without prejudice.

Else, I know that this is the kind of things that would make my friend, John would turn and twist wherever he's now lying. Such scenario, I would imagine my friend, John, would attempt to desperately allude in validating his postulation regarding his perceived imagery of ecclesial double standard. I. Though, I mourn with the First family, I also hope that ecclesiastical protocols were followed appropriately in this matter, and that all people are treated equally, without preference for their social situations within the Church or society.