Under the Episcopal leadership of Right Reverend Afolabi Popoola, the Diocese of Osun, inaugurated on August 3, 1987, will celebrate its 30th anniversary. RITA OKONOBOH presents excerpts of an interaction with Bishop Popoola on the diocese and the lessons Nigeria can learn from its 30 years existence, among other issues.
BRIEF history of Osun Anglican Diocese
Following the arrival of the missionaries in 1842, and the movement to Abeokuta and Lagos, the beginning of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria dates back to December 1842. By 1852, what was known as the Yoruba Mission and that brought Christianity to different parts of the South-West evolved. From Abeokuta, they came to Ibadan, and from Ibadan, the Christian religion, through the early missionaries, spread to other parts of Yorubaland. That was the mission referred to as the Yoruba mission. By 1856, St. Andrew’s College, Oyo, was established to train teachers for the schools that were to be established, and equally to train seminarians; so it was a combination of teachers’ training and theological training. The teachers trained were sent to various parts of the South-West, and they equally served as catechists and organists in various churches. By 1952, the Diocese of Ibadan was established and that constituted almost the entire Yorubaland, as far as Kogi, Kwara, among others. For many years, what is now Osun Diocese was part of Ibadan Diocese. Over time, it became necessary to bring the leadership of the church closer to the people. On August 3, 1987, the Diocese of Osun was inaugurated.
Over the past 30 years, would you say the vision and mission of the diocese have been met and have there been reviews?
The vision and mission are very clear. The Church Missionary Society’s intention in Nigeria was to evangelise, and through that, people would be converted and they would embrace the living God. They also wanted to educate people and when they came, they established schools. Along with that, they started what is now known as journalism, with the establishment of Iwe Iroyin in Abeokuta. They were also involved in politics, provision of healthcare, and even burial grounds for those who died as Christians. They were interested in the total man. The church wasn’t established as a commercial enterprise. It was to win souls for Christ and for 30 years, that vision has been pursued vigorously.
One way we have reviewed the vision and mission is to make the Anglican Communion, (Church of Nigeria) Bible-based, in order to encourage members to read the Bible. That’s why we now have The Daily Fountain, which is a daily book of meditation. We also have the outlined Bible study for the Church of Nigeria, which ensures that the congregation meets every Sunday for Bible study before the matins; we also encourage those who don’t attend Sunday Schools to listen to us on radio. So, every Sunday evening, between 5pm and 5:30pm, there is a review of the portion of the Bible we have studied at the morning service, on radio, and the diocesan Public Relations Officer (PRO) is the anchorman, and churches are represented and questions are asked.
Then, we have a syllabus for the children to encourage the younger ones to read the Bible. We are also interested in the welfare of the citizenry. Some of our parishes have a food bank, which members have contributed to, and which is redistributed to those who do not have. Based on the foundation of winning souls, the Anglican Church is very focused on pragmatic evangelism. We have also been very active in the provision of high standards of qualitative education. In the last external examinations, our students had 100 per cent distinctions in various subjects. This is also testament to our positive contributions to the education sector. I must mention the enviable supportive role of the clergy and laity in moving the diocese forward. When people say we are making progress, it is first, God, then the clergy and members of the church. Even with the current state of the economy, the support has been most commendable.
What are the highlights of activities for the 30th anniversary?
We had the Eroya radio programme and Jesus rally last Sunday; visit to motherless home last Monday, there was also dedications of St. Peter’s Church, Kupelete, Inisa, last Tuesday and St. Jude’s Church, Oke-Odo, Osogbo last Saturday, respectively. We will dedicate the Church of Redemption, Owode, Ilesa Road, Osogbo today at 10am. Other activities include: revival in all churches on Monday, July 31, at 5pm; Bible quiz at Inisa and revival in all churches at 5pm on Tuesday, August 1; Youth Day between 10am and 3pm at the diocesan conference centre – this will feature a seminar on empowerment by a representative from the Bank of Industry, and revival in all churches on Wednesday, August 2nd; inauguration day and service of Holy Communion in all churches at 5pm on Thursday, August, 3; Women’s Day at the Bishopscourt, Isale-Aro, Osogbo, on Friday, August 4. On Saturday, August 5th, at 10am at the diocesan conference centre, there will be anniversary lecture to be delivered by the vice chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, Bishop (Professor) Dapo Asaju, on The Role of the Church in Nation Building; a book launch on the history of Osun diocese and awards ceremony, while a thanksgiving service will hold next Sunday. The theme for the anniversary is Ebenezer: Hitherto, The Lord Has Helped Us.
There are concerns that many youths do not seem very interested in the church. What programmes are in place to ensure all-round development of youths in the diocese?
The future belongs to the youths. We have designed a programme for their annual retreat which we call Camp Glory – this gathers our youths together for a few days and they’re involved in many activities to lift them spiritually. We have also established the youth chapel and youths from other denominations also worship with them at the chapel. They have services, not just on Sundays, but during the week as well. They are also engaged in evangelism and run a programme on television, Kingdom Youths, on Osun State Broadcasting Corporation. They have a well-equipped church auditorium with a recording studio for their programmes. They participate in various seminars and workshops for spiritual and physical development. There are also various organisations for training youths: Girls’ Guild; Diocesan Ladies’ Christian Fellowship; Boys’ Brigade; Anglican Boys’ Fellowship; Anglican Youth Fellowship. These are just some of the programmes for the development of our youths.
At 30, the Diocese of Osun has many enviable achievements, and you have even had to review the vision and mission of the diocese for positive development. At 56, with the current realities, many have said Nigeria can do better, as a result of its rich human and material resources. Do you agree it is time to restructure Nigeria?
There is a need to restructure Nigeria, but we need to be educated on what is meant by restructuring. Some people have called for regional government; some have said we should go back to the parliamentary system of government, especially because of the expensive and wasteful nature it would seem the presidential system is being run on. In my opinion, the Federal Government should allow Nigerians discuss on how they want to be ruled. It would seem some people are afraid of discussing the issue of restructuring Nigeria. Why are they afraid? Let us organise a referendum. It is good that we have one Nigeria, but we cannot continue with a marriage of inconvenience. Those who brought us together had their purpose, and they prepared grounds to handle the issues that would be raised. Let there be discussions at the local, state and federal levels. Let it be thrown open so that people can make their contributions. Let us prayerfully discuss and pray that God will lead us. Prayer is very powerful, but we must also move forward with action.
The menace of cattle rearers seems to be getting more pronounced; they have grazed into stadiums and classrooms. Even churches in the South-West have complained about the damage done to their farmlands by herdsmen and their cattle. How do you think government can handle this issue?
That is another big problem. Now, I’m thinking of going into agriculture when I retire, but when I think of the problems of cattle rearers and I remember the experience of Chief Olu Falae in Akure, I think otherwise. Government is encouraging us to go into agriculture and so, something must be done to address the situation. I don’t know why the Federal Government is finding this issue difficult to tackle. Does it mean they’re more powerful than the government or the security agencies? It has even been said that some of them are foreigners. Traditional cattle rearers, as we know them, carry sticks. That’s why Psalm 23 talks about the Lord as the Shepherd, a rod and staff. However, cattle rearers now carry AK-47 guns. When one is travelling and sees cattle crossing the road, there is fear because one doesn’t know if they’re carrying guns. In spite of what the security agencies have done, they continue to molest, kill and maim people. The Federal Government needs to address the issue with urgency. We have done enough of rhetoric. If the government cannot disarm herdsmen, then, are they saying it should be legalised that we all should carry guns? How can one be travelling and all of a sudden, a gun is pointed at the victim? What special advantage does the gun-totting individual have that others don’t have? Why should we become slaves of gun-wielding herdsmen? Something drastic must be done to control the situation. It is really unfortunate.
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