George Omaku Ehusani: 60 years of grace
The threads of our lives were strengthened when he joined me as Deputy Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat in Lagos and finally took over from me. We worked together pretty well, reinforcing one another’s strengths, coping with each other’s lapses and weakness but never losing sight of the compass.
We came together at a very exciting time, the peak of our energies. In 1990, after defending my Ph.D thesis, I had asked permission from my Bishop to study Journalism formally. I had wanted to go to Columbia where I had heard from my friend Mohammed Haruna that they had a great School of Journalism. I decided to seek counsel from my good friend, Dan Agbese who, then as now, combined both an elegant turn of phrase with some serious intellectual depth thus, making his writings both entertaining and didactic.
When I raised the issue, Dan emphatically said No emphatically. You should thank God, he said to me. He has already given you a gift. You do not need anyone to teach you any writing skills. You already have your own style. What you need is more depth and knowledge. Columbia went through the window on Dan’s advice.
It was in the middle of this that my Archbishop asked me to come back home because, he said, the Catholic Bishops are looking for you. I complied and headed back home. I was invited for an interview in the September 1990 and the next day, I was told I had been appointed Deputy Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat and Secretary, Pastoral Department. Both, as I was told, came with a handsome ecclesiastical stipend of N250 monthly (I love my Catholic Church. Imagine: My Ph. D, Secretary General, all rolled into N250!!
By 1996, I had already been appointed Secretary General and so I started thinking of rallying my troops. It was an excitingly challenging time in Nigeria. My head was spinning with different ideas. I sensed that being Secretary General was a great platform to test my ideas about where I thought our Church should be heading. I sensed that it would be challenging, trying to move the Conference of Bishops and the Catholic Church in a new and untested path regarding the social questions of our time. Enter General Abacha!
Things were brewing in Nigeria and I thought these were great times to be alive. I had always been drawn to the appeal and allure of activism, what Steve Biko, my inspiration, would refer to as, asking for trouble.
The ingredients were all there: the NADECO tribe, Nigerian Labour Congress, Pat Utomi, Olisa Agbakoba, Gani Fawehinmi, Clement Nwankwo, Chidi Odinkalu, Innocent Chukwuma, Josephine Effah, Ayo Obe, Abdul Oroh, Odia Ofeimun, Fela and Beko Ransome Kuti, detainees, the whole lot, all served a brew of forbidden fruits that I could not resist. I also sensed we needed to make the Catholic Church had to be part of this historic times. I began my search for a strike force.
My first choice was Fr George. I decided to visit him in his parish of Ogori Magongo outside Okene. We spent a night chatting in his nondescript parish house. He had returned from the prestigious Howard University where he had earned a Ph.D. We talked for most part of the night.
Back home, he had been made Parish priest and Editor of a local Diocesan Newspaper. He wrote Editorials that had depth and finesse. He had passion, devotion, and deep love for God and the Church. He had deeper insights than myself in many fields. I managed to convince him to come over to Lagos. You need to publish in The Guardian, I told him. What you are writing as Editorials should be read in The Guardian, the flagship of Nigerian journalism. I assured him that I had a long leg in The Guardian and that seemed to attract him. But, the bigger offer I made was for him to consider joining me at the Catholic Secretariat. I told him I would do the homework. I sensed that I needed him as a sounding board because he had better antenna than I had. My move was largely selfish, but I also wanted the world to hear him and he needed a bigger stage.
My job was made easy when he was invited to the Vatican as part of the delegation for the first ever Synod of Bishops on Africa in 1996. He presented a paper before the Holy Father. When the delegation came back, Archbishop Albert Obiefuna, President of the Bishops’ Conference asked over dinner if I knew Fr. George Ehusani. I put on my diplomatic charm and pretended that I did not know him so well because I was not sure what to expect.
After hearing his enthusiasm, I drew him slowly into my net. If you think so highly of him, perhaps we could invite him for an interview for the new staff. His face lit up. The rest is history. I had won my first battle, but there were a few more.
Next, I persuaded Archbishop Anthony Ekpu to release Fr. John Ofei or blessed memory. He had impressed me with his writings too. Next were Fr (now Bishop) Emmanuel Badejo and Sr. Regina Oke. With George as my Deputy, I felt we now had a great strike force. On balance, I think we are thankful to God for what we were able to accomplish.
At the end of it all, I think we managed to place the Catholic Church on the right side of history. Indeed, it is a measure of the appreciation of civil society, the media especially that when the late Pope John Paul came to Nigeria at the height of the Abacha reign in 1998, one of the newspapers, I think Vanguard, splashed a headline: The Pope our Last Hope!
We were not without our own little troubles both internal and external, but there was nothing that compared with feeling that the Catholic Church had achieved an unprecedented level of visibility and moral authority. Then, at the end of every Conference of the Bishops, our Communiqués and Statements were very much sought after.
Our so-called revolution had been accomplished because of the presence and encouragement of our father, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Anthony Okogie who served as our guide. With his own rhetoric and no holds barred views about all social issues, even we could never rise beyond him.
Looking back, I am thankful to God that our paths crossed with Fr George. Being in his company is always a pleasure because he is a man with neither equivocation nor diplomacy when it comes to where he stands on issues. He speaks truth to power with eloquence, passion and depth, but with sincerity of one who truly loves both country and church. He is a man of deep faith.
I am grateful to God that he heeded my proposal because to come to Lagos, not only did he write for The Guardian, he ended up on its Editorial Board, Deputy Secretary General and Secretary General! Today, he runs Lux Terra (Light of the World), an initiative that focuses on strengthening the capacity of the Church to become more professional in administration and its commitment to human development. Fr. George’s passion, expressed in his many talents has been deployed in the service of the Catholic Church with his many books.
His Sunday night sermon on AIT and Lumen Christi television have become for many outside the Catholic Church, the source of inspiration and respect for the Catholic Church. He has written extensively, produced tones of electronic spiritual guides, songs, poems and commentaries.
At 60 today, we celebrate and love you, my brother. I am happy that you are my dear friend who became a brother. May your shadow never grow dim. Toast to a great man and may the Lord be with you.
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