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ARCHBISHOP JOB IS 80, and the Church in Ibadan has been celebrating.The occasion of his birthday offers an opportunity to look at the historical circumstances surrounding his episcopal appointment at the tender age of 33. When he was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Ibadan on July 4,1971, it was one year, seven months and twenty-two days after the Nigerian civil war. During and after that war, relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Nigerian military junta were strained. Missionaries working in war affected areas did what pastors ought to do. They did not abandon the flock. Instead, while soldiers on both sides of the conflict committed untold atrocities, Catholic missionaries offered much-needed succor to victims on both sides. But the Nigerian military government saw the Church as aiding rebellion. This erroneous perspective largely influenced the Nigerian military's unfortunate misrepresentation of the role Pope Paul VI played during the war. In his Angelus message on Sunday, January 11, 1970, a day before the war ended, Pope Paul VI spoke from the heart when he said: "We cannot hide the trepidation of Our mind for the exacerbation of war operations in the three regions of the world, where not only peace still returns, but where war multiplies victims and ruins." The three regions the Pope had in mind were Vietnam, the Middle East, and Biafra. He continued: "But today the most painful point is Africa, where the war now seems to reach its conclusion, with the fear of possible reprisals and massacres of unarmed population exhausted by hardship, by hunger and the loss of everything. This morning's news is very alarming." The fear of reprisals and massacres to which the Pope referred were not unfounded. For, in the aftermath of the January 15, 1966 coup, and in the build-up to the war, Igbo soldiers and civilians were killed in their thousands in towns and cities of northern Nigeria. The fear was that, after the imminent surrender of Biafra, reprisals and massacres would resume. Briefly explaining his peace initiatives and humanitarian role, Pope Paul VI continued: "We have also, throughout this time, through generous and heroic people, who have defied every risk, tried to send help, with absolute impartiality and with the sole preference of need, where it was necessary and possible to bring some help. We have also tried every way to make the conflict reach an honorable and peaceful conclusion without blood. Today the weapons decide. God wants this to be at least followed by the end of the war and the return of normality and concord. But a fear torments public opinion: that the victory of arms carries with it the killing of countless people; some even fear a kind of genocide. We want to exclude this horrendous hypothesis, for the honor of the African people and those responsible, who have themselves excluded them with so many explicit assurances. "Therefore, let us pray: only from the help of God can the gift of true peace reach us, which the world desires and cannot give." The following day, on January 12, 1970, as the war was coming to an end, Pope Paul VI once again alluded to the fear. Addressing members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, he said: "The painful events of recent days, which have taken place in those African lands so dear to Us, compel all men of good will to do everything possible to ensure that the Nigerian conflict-which seems to be moving toward an end-should not become a frightening tragedy and end with an epilogue even more cruel than the horror that every war entails. "We Ourself, during Our recent trip to Africa, as on every other occasion, have done all in Our power to save human lives and to bring about a peaceful settlement. We have never failed to assist and to help the needy and the hungry with all the means at Our disposal. You can understand with how much emotion We direct this appeal to you, Excellencies and Ambassadors, and through you to all your governments, so that the swift action of all men of good will may succeed in preventing further bloodshed, and in saving innocent lives, in respect for international law. "We know that the Nigerian Authorities have again expressed their intention to safeguard the human and civil rights of all, including their opponents, as they had already requested for some time past the presence of certain Observers from various nations and international Organizations. This represents already a good omen and a happy promise. May history in the future be able to testify to the magnanimity of all those engaged in these decisive events. On its part, the Holy See is ready to do all it can to render human this painful situation, and to that end it is ready to make use of all the means available to it. May this armed conflict cease, and may the voices of solidarity and charity be loudly heard. May the efforts of generous Nations and Our prayer to the God of peace bring these precious gifts to the land of Africa." I have chosen to give these long quotations because these remarks are among the most misrepresented of Pope Paul VI. At a time when so much was being said about genocide, the Pope appealed, on humanitarian and pastoral grounds,that "a frightening tragedy and end with an epilogue even more cruel than the horror that every war entails" be avoided. But in a war that included the use of propaganda by both sides, what came out in the media was different. Pope Paul VI did not use the words "genocide in Biafra". He only alluded to a well-founded fear that dominated sections of international public opinion that massacre of the Igbo may resume after the war. But the Yakubu Gowon-led junta gave this well-intentioned intervention a different interpretation. Just a few hours after the war ended, in a speech made at midnight January 13, 1970, and reported in the New York Times the following day, a speech whose words give the impression that Gowon did not have the benefit of reading the text of the Pope's intervention before reacting, Gowon unjustly condemned the Vatican, saying: "The federal military government recalls the role of the Vatican throughout the Nigerian crisis, sustaining the rebels with money and vital supplies and transportation links with the outside world. The role of the Vatican has had the tragic consequence of prolonging rebel resistance, leading to the deaths of many innocent people and distress for the population in those areas." The military junta was determined to take retaliatory measures against the Catholic Church for its perceived sustenance of rebellion. Although initiated by Anthony UkpabiAsika, Administrator of the then East Central State, who was himself Catholic, the takeover of schools was one of such measures, while restrictive immigration policies that made it difficult, sometimes impossible for new missionaries to come to Nigeria, was another. This happened at a time most of the Bishops in Nigeria were missionaries from Europe and North America. The prospects of bishops impeded from their sees by a hostile immigration policy became real. In a climate of retaliation against the Catholic Church, these measures largely informed the appointment of young Nigerian priests, in their 30s, as auxiliary bishops who later assumed leadership of the Church in Nigeria in the uncertainty of the immediate post-conflict era. One of these was Father Felix Job. Others included Fathers Alexius Makozi who was appointed auxiliary Bishop of Lokoja, Anthony Okogie who was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Oyo, Michael Fagun who was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Ondo, and later, first Bishop of Ekiti, Francis Alonge who was later appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Ondo, not forgetting Father Julius Adelakun who was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Oyo. What is important to note here is a felix culpa, a happy fault, in which divine providence used retaliatory measures of the Nigerian military government as an occasion of growth for the Church in Nigeria. True then are the words of a Yoruba dictum: "Adani loro agbara lo fi ko ni." The victimizer unwittingly strengthened the victim. It is to the eternal credit of Archbishop Job and his generation of bishops that they courageously led the Church in Nigeria during years of prolonged military rule, and during years of unprincipled civilian government. Retaliatory measures implemented by the military, especially the takeover of schools, did not deter them from making prophetic declarations on the need for successive governments in Nigeria to work for the common good in the respect for the dignity of every Nigerian. They, as it were, risked their lives for the sake of the people of Nigeria. It is now up to our generation to learn from their wisdom and from their mistakes. For, while they were neither infallible nor impeccable, their credentials as heroes and monuments of the Church in Nigeria can never be ignored.It is in our interest to celebrate heroes. That will inspire us and the generation coming after ours. If we fail to celebrate our heroes ours, will be a historic defeat. And for Archbishop Job we pray: that the Lord who has added to his span may enrich his longevity with good health of mind and body.


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