OKOGIE: Our Education Should Include Morality, Spirituality And Academics
Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie is the Emeritus Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. He was the founder of the soon to commence Augustine University, Ilara, Epe, Lagos State. In this interview with KENECHUKWU EZEONYEJIAKU during an inspection of the school to ascertain its level or preparedness for commencement of academic activities, the Cardinal bared his mind on the deteriorating standard of education in the country, a situation which he noted was what necessitated the establishment of the institution; to offer a holistic education.
You have a huge structure here. What is the rationale behind it?
WE’VE been thinking of helping the Federal Government in educating the citizens, especially the youths, and we discovered that there is a big lacuna in the kind of education that our youths are getting today. So, the Catholic church of the Archdiocese of Lagos felt it is something good to put an institution, a tertiary institution that will help train Nigerians and give them holistic education, proper one. Not the kind you find in other places.
What differentiates this institution from other private institutions, especially church owned institutions?
I have just told you that it is going to be holistic – every part; it is not just going to be academic. Probably, before you see really what we are doing, it will be about three or four years when the first group will go out, then you begin to see what the Catholic Church is doing. I cannot stand here immediately and tell you, this is what we are going to do. I don’t believe in that; I am not a politician; I want you to see things by yourself.
How much will the school charge? This is because there is this thing about church-owned institutions charging what is normally out of the reach of their members…
It is not only church-owned institutions. Anybody who wants to offer something good must be ready to spend money. If you want your child to go into a good school, you must be ready to spend money because it is an investment, life investment. If you want us to give you a rickety kind of education, we can do it so you can bring any Tom, Dick and Harry; then they get nothing.
Look at when we took over schools, take, for example, St. Gregory’s or St. Finbars’ College, there were more than 3,000 students in a school; we had to weed them out, even though some parents and students were not happy, but we had to do that because those were not the kind of pupils we want for our education. Now go there today and see.
So there must be that clear-cut difference. You talk of morality, you talk of spirituality and not only academics should be there. We want students that will come out from our institutions to make the mark; there must be that difference. For example, I am a priest; we are marked out among other people and that is seen in anything we do. We don’t have to ring our bells that ours is the best school. No! The schools speak for themselves.
What has it cost the Catholic Church to create this; and how are the programmes going to accommodate persons of other faith?
Coming to the money, I must tell you this: we have invested a lot of money in this place as you can see by yourselves, and we are still spending and we will continue to spend for the foreseeable future because it is a lifetime thing; it is not something you just do today and then you fold your arms or something you do for money, no.
I cannot tell you precisely how much we have spent here, but I know we have spent billions, I can tell you that authoritatively. I mean, look at the structures. Even when Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) delegates came here, they were surprised to see what is already on ground in comparison to what they have been seeing elsewhere. And that is the Catholic Church for you when they do something.
Whether it is going to be faith-based or not, I don’t think so, otherwise, we will be failing in our ministry. When Lord Jesus Christ came… any good evangelizer will not just say, ‘I’m only going to look after my people, I don’t care about the other people’. No, that is not that. God is the father of us all. He didn’t say “I am only for Christians, for Catholics, for Muslims…” No! He is the father of everybody. Any good faith-based institution must look at everybody.
Go to any of our schools, you find Muslims there, you find Christians of other denominations. We don’t differentiate. If we are doing something and you want to go, you are free. I remember when I was in charge of the primary school, St. Mary’s, Broad Street, Lagos Island, one Colonel in the Nigerian Army came and met me and said: “I don’t want my children anytime we want to eat, they start doing this (sign of the cross). What is that nonsense? They won’ eat without driving away flies.” I said, “sir, you know one thing I will ask you to do and it will be good for you and for your children, just take them out”. The man said “No! No! But I like the school.” I told him “then, that is it. Leave it, when they come out from the school and grow up, then they will take anything they want out of the school.” That’s all. We force nobody, no one.
I think that is fair enough not to force anybody, ‘you must be here, or you must be there’. No! That’s not education.
When is the school starting operation?
I think it is September. I don’t know, I am not quite sure, but they are preparing the ground for matriculation.
The former Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Peter Okebukola recently canvassed that there should be ranking in terms of academic integrity in our nation’s universities. And he made this suggestion based on the corruption in the university system- incidents of cultism, inducement of lecturers financially for grades, sexual harassments. Are you worried in that regard?
I am greatly worried. And you cannot blame these children because this is the kind of society we leave for them. Didn’t you see what happened in the National Assembly? Fathers throwing chairs to their colleagues; what example are they setting for their children, even to students? And these are leaders and lawmakers of tomorrow. What are you going to say to that? This is where everything should begin.
The NUC should try to tailor things to the way that it is going to be beneficial to the nation. I blame them. What are they looking at? At least, they are in charge of the tertiary institutions I believe. What are they doing? Tomorrow, a lot of these boys that passed out of these rickety institutions will still enter the National Assembly.
Do you know how many lawyers we have today in the country? Innumerable. Why are they rushing there? Is there no other thing that they can do? And more and more are still going in for law; the same thing with economics. Everybody is rushing, rushing, for what? What are they looking for there? There are so many other courses… I don’t know. The Vice Chancellor and others will give you whatever you want about the academics of the institution; I don’t think I am competent enough for that.
His Eminence, there is this allegation about private institutions of late, what they do is to award First Class arbitrarily. Is this institution going to be different?
Before you land, I can promise you that it is definitely going to be different. Otherwise, I won’t be bothering my head thinking about giving the nation a university.
It took us time before they approved this institution, beginning with Obasanjo…
Really? So when was this institution conceived?
You know we have a College of Education in Akoka, Lagos State. Somebody just muted it at one of the school’s convocation ceremony. He said: “His Grace”, then, “why not turn this place to a university?” I said “what, this place?” He said, “of course, you can do it.” I said, “sir, I don’t think so. Look at this place, we are still trying to develop it and you are telling me about turning it into a university.” So that idea sank into me. I said, “Ok, God will do it”. That’s how we got it.
You see, I believe in one thing, that this heavenly father that we all look up to, He has a way of tailoring us the way he wants us to go. But unfortunately, we are so egoistically minded that we don’t just care; we want to do things our own way, ‘I have arrived, no one can control me.’
Look at our youths, look at the kind of names they call their fathers – ‘Old School’ and all sorts of names, and the parents will be looking at them, that it is not their fault. Rubbish! We are destroying these children and God will ask us: ‘You asked for children, I gave you, look at what you are returning to me’.
So, these are the kind of things that are happening.
His Eminence, it is an allegation too that Catholic institutions are known to be costly – Loyola Jesuit College and many others. Will the Augustine University expected to take-off by September, still be up there?
Before you land again, I had just answered the question earlier that ‘obe to donu owo lopa’. If you want to buy a good thing, a quality something, you just have to spend. Don’t forget that the lecturers have to be paid, the institutions have to be maintained; the students themselves, they want this they want that, you have to provide them. Where do you think I get the money from? You think I have a mint? I haven’t got a mint. You asked me earlier how much we have invested here, I told you that all I can tell you is that billions have gone into this place. You can see it by yourself and we haven’t started o! We haven’t started at all. It’s not easy.
Will there be provision for scholarship?
I don’t know. That depends on the Archbishop. I know we have a scholarship scheme going on, but whether the money in that account is buoyant enough for that, I don’t know.
TO BE CONTINUED