George Ehusani and a more humanised world
In 1991, Father George Omaku Ehusani had the honour of having the University Press of America publish his doctoral dissertation, which had metamorphosed into a book. Two years earlier, when he held the scroll of his doctorate degree from Howard University School of Divinity, Washington DC in his hands, he was sure he was holding the fruit of his painstaking effort to extend the frontier of scholarship on a new area of intellectual exploration known as ‘African Christian humanism.’
The dissertation was published in a book titled, An Afro-Christian Vision ‘Ozovehe’: Toward A More Humanized World. Divided into six chapters, numbering 264 pages in all, Ozovehe is a true replica of Father Ehusani’s unparalleled theological sophistication. No wonder it effortlessly won the award of the most distinguished dissertation of the year in Howard University Divinity School in 1989.
Shaped by the religious and cultural worldviews of his Ebira upbringing, Father Ehusani’s entry into the white man’s world brought a keen awareness of the ambiguity of what was known as Western civilization. While Africa was dismissed in Europe and America as a land of barbarity, savagery, primitiveness and all sorts of human backwardness, Europe was exalted as the land of civilization, modernity and progress. However, Father Ehusani’s sojourn to North America revealed the ambivalence of the much-touted progress of Western civilization.
In spite of the phenomenal breakthroughs in the fields of science and technology, communication, medicine, and many other facets of human endeavour recorded in the West, Father Ehusani saw first-hand the degradation of the human person by the same forces of technology. The exaltation of materialism, consumerism and secularism to a level of Western spirituality and the many atrocities committed in the name of human progress made Father Ehusani to rethink the whole idea of Western progress and civilization.
Despite the high level of material self-sufficiency in the West, the rate of suicide, homicide, drug addiction, abortion, euthanasia and the deterioration of our ecological system had reached an alarming level. According to Father Ehusani, “Such is the ambiguity of modern Western technological civilization, that one could say with some justification that the twentieth century has seen the emergence of the machine, and the disappearance of the person.” With the rich background of his Christian religious and African cultural heritage, Father Ehusani began a theological and anthropological journey to reconstruct human civilization from an African lens. He identified certain African values that could help in the ongoing struggle to build a humanized world.
For Father Ehusani, Africans love life. The fullness of this African humanistic worldview “is encapsulated in the Ebira name ‘Ozovehe’, meaning ‘the human person is life’. This worldview which is expressed in the traditional African’s love for children, for the family, for harmony or wholesome personal relations, for community and for hospitality, gave meaning and purpose to traditional life, and characterized the African as ‘humanistic’.” For Father Ehusani these are the powerful values that can counter the solipsism and narcissism of Western civilization and its attendant maladies.
In Ehusani words, “The vast majority of Africans are still poor peasants, who survive the harsh realities of life by holding on firmly to faith in the human person, in the human family and in the human community. These people have never lost their roots; they have never declared ‘the death of God’, for to them that is the height of insanity. Miserable in appearance, and with insignificant means according to the modern Western perspective, these peasant Africans still find joy and meaning in life… The traditional African therefore has much to contribute to human development. Modern Western civilization has a lot to learn from these peasants. They may not know how to read or write, they may never enter a motor car, and they may be malnourished, but with the names they give their children, the proverbs that enrich their discourse, the songs that they sing, and the art forms that decorate their environment, they seem to possess the answer to what is perhaps the most profound question of humanity today, that is, ‘What is the human person?’ The African answers by saying: ‘The human person is life’: Ozovehe!”
Twenty-five years after its first publication in 1991, Ozovehe has grown to become a reliable signpost of authentic African incarnation of the Christian Gospel, what is known in contemporary theological parlance as “inculturation.” For many years, the book has been a resource text in the study of African philosophy and religions in Catholic major seminaries and other institutions of higher learning in Nigeria. As a result of his strenuous effort in promoting authentic African Christian values, Father Ehusani was tapped in April 1994, at the first African Synod of Bishops in Rome, to deliver a keynote address to the distinguished gathering of prelates, pastors and peoples of Africa. As Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (2000–2007), Father Ehusani used his vantage position to propel the understanding and application of theological principles in the area of inculturation in the Catholic Church in Nigeria. His many lectures in Catholic major seminaries and other Catholic institutions across the country bear eloquent testimony of his full grasp of the issues.
In 2008, after a sabbatical year in Germany at the service of the German Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Ehusani came back to Nigeria and established Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, an outfit for training future leaders of the Church and society in Nigeria. Four years later, he established Psycho-Spiritual Institute (PSI) in Nairobi, Kenya, with the aim of training and graduating experts in psycho-spiritual therapy and Christian counselling for English-speaking African countries. The emergence of PSI, “is a response to what many have identified as an urgent need to offer professional psychological and spiritual care to the increasing number of clerical, religious and lay pastoral agents who now and again find themselves in difficult life situations of an emotional and psychological nature, but who often do not find adequate support.” PSI Nairobi is affiliated to the Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA), Nairobi and offers the award of Master’s degree in Psycho-Spiritual Therapy. It is the first of three others that Father Ehusani hopes to establish in Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria.
All of these initiatives could be said to spring forth from Father Ehusani’s Afro-centric vision of the human person, and the vital place of the human person in all life’s schemes. For Father Ehusani, our work in building a more just, equitable, peaceful and humanized world ought to take its foundation from the ideal of the human person as the centre of all life schemes. The human person is created in the human and likeness of God and, for this very reason, the human person must be at the centre of all political, economic, cultural and technological decisions.
* Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.
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