The Easter celebrations and mood in 2021 forces the author to a memory retreat on the Catholic exertions in the Lagos area of Nigeria
By Okoh Samuel Ejime
Catholic Mission area in Lagos Island can be described as the source from which the early catholic missionaries spread Christianity in Lagos and beyond especially to other parts of western Nigeria. There is a street in Lagos Island of Lagos State known as Catholic Mission Street, (CMS). The Catholic Church has strong presence along this street and environs that after a period of time, the areas around the street and beyond now came to be known as ‘’Popo Aguda’’ . Popo Aguda in Yoruba language means the Catholic Domain. Popo stand for area or domain while Aguda stand for the Catholics.
Popo Aguda has the presence of The Holy Cross Cathedral which was inaugurated in 1881 and, no doubt, one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in the country. Opposite The Holy Cross Cathedral is the Holy Cross Primary School attached to the Bishop’s Court which was occupied for many years by Bishop, Archbishop and later Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie until he retired in 2012.
Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie is highly influential and respected by people across different religions in Lagos and beyond, especially among well-known figures, even highly revered politicians and leaders including General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who reached out to him during his birthdays and other Christian events like Easter and Christmas celebrations, despite his public criticism of their unpopular policies both at the state and at the federal level. One unique thing that set Cardinal Okogie apart is his simplicity and close association with the low in the society, and his deep concern for their wellbeing. Though in retirement, he always express his views and recently, he publicly accused President Buhari of taking the country back to military era because of his approach to some issues.
It was always interesting for me and contemporaries as young boys growing up in Lagos Island to see Cardinal Okogie walk from the Bishop’s compound along Glover Street opposite the popular Lagos City Hall to St Gregory College, Obalende which is some metres away from his residence. People take delight in greeting him while motorists that recognised him will stop to give him smooth passage as his eminence moved along with his golden cassock and small round cap at the back of his head. This humble act and other laudable activities he is associated with did make people give great support to his projects even till today in retirement. I can remember his 80th birthday celebration four years back that was sponsored by friends and well-wishers with a unique and uncommon customised cake that people will not forget in a hurry. It is interesting to note that even in retirement, prominent families across the country that reside in Lagos and beyond still want him to celebrate Mass and grace special occasions for the wedding of their loved ones and anniversaries. Such is the influence of the Catholic mission and Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie because you cannot separate the two and that is why in his online profile, he was described as “a practical model of social conscience and true symbol of the church’’
Easter celebration with Catholic families in Lagos is usually very interesting because of the special food delicacies they serve during this period, these include frejon made from black beans, Tapioca which is served with milk and sugar, and ‘moimoi elemimeje’ that is served with fried pepper. Fanti and horse riding activities also take place around the Church area during this period.
For educational activities, the Catholic Mission has about five primary schools and two quality secondary schools that are all located in Lagos Island. The two secondary schools are St. Gregory College for boys and Holy Child College for girls, both located in Obalende in Lagos. These schools have contributed immensely to the development of many great minds.
Getting admission into secondary schools in Lagos and many parts of south west in the 70s was highly competitive and a little bit difficult because you must pass your Common Entrance Examination or stay back at home for another one year to get another opportunity. This made life difficult and frustrating for many primary school leavers that wanted secondary school education but were unable to pass at first attempt.
It was the Catholic Diocese of Lagos that came to the rescue of these students and their parents by establishing a preparatory school at St Mathias Catholic Church Parish at Oke Suna, Lagos Island. This was to prepare them for few months in order to retake the common entrance examination. With this preparatory school, many primary school leavers who would have dropped out of school to learn different technical skills were able to regain their confidence, pass their Common Entrance Examination and then proceed to secondary schools, eventually ending up in higher institutions of their choice.
In the typical Catholic tradition of giving students comprehensive training, St Gregory College, Obalende, Lagos excelled in two different areas, namely music and sports, giving the school national recognition. In music, the school produced a musical group known as ‘Ofege’ in the 1970s. The group produced some popular singles that sold thousands of copies and won many national awards.
Also in sports, the college did very well especially in Cricket and football. The exploits of the school football team led to the winning of the prestigious and highly competitive Lagos Principal Cup a couple of times. Is also on record that St Finbars College, Akoka, Lagos, another Catholic college produced popular National team players like Henry Nwosu and Captain Stephen Keshi who won the African Cup of nations as a player and years later as a coach.
Holy Child College Obalende has also produced accomplished women in different areas, thereby making the Catholic Church and the nation proud. It is good to know that late President Umoru Yar Adua did his one year NYSC mandatory programme at the college.
The assumption is that a Nigerian university such as Veritas University, Abuja would ensure that its admission team also reaches out to the Catholic secondary schools mentioned in this article and others in Lagos for patronage because these schools have strong Catholic tradition and Veritas University, Abuja, as we all know, is not just a Catholic University but the only one jointly owned by all Catholic Bishops in Nigeria. That ownership is what advertisers would call its Unique Selling Point, (USP). So, convincing parents and students of these secondary schools to make Veritas University, Abuja their first choice should not be difficult.
That would be the great convergence!
The author teaches Mass Communications at Veritas University, Abuja