1 October 2009

Nigeria: Okoh - Revealing a Truth-Bearing Ministry

Lagos — Elected to take up the leadership of the Church of Christ (Anglican Communion) by March 25 next year, the Primate-elect Archbishop Nicholas Okoh has already started drawing media attention. On Monday, September 28, he was widely reported as speaking out powerfully against the country's rulers.

Okoh, speaking in Abuja, the nation's capital, on the country's independence, berated Nigeria's leaders for the plight of the country, cautioning that unless they mended their ways, the country would remain stagnant.

Providing more details, he said unless leaders of the country change their attitude, have the fear of God, shun thuggery, ballot box snatching, political assassinations and treasury looting, that Nigeria would remain backward, "even if it celebrates its 1,000-year anniversary."

A father of five and retired lieutenant-colonel in the Nigerian Army, Nicholas Okoh will be taking the Anglican mantle of leadership in March 25 next year. But that will be after he has undergone some months of tutelage under the outgoing Primate, Peter Akinola.

He was elected unanimously in Abia State by what is known as the House of Bishops, a 146-member electing body. By his new position, Archbishop Okoh will be leading the more than 18 million-strong Anglican membership across the country.

Generally seen in Anglican circles as an uncompromising and ultra-conservative man of God, part of his challenge in office will be the homosexuality controversy in the church, an issue that has rocked the Anglican family worldwide, and which the exiting Akinola battled strenuously to keep out of the Nigerian and African church.

Homosexuality or same-sex marriage is considered a major challenge to the worldwide church. It gained prominence with the Episcopal (Anglican) Church of North America. The Episcopal Church's decision to tolerate same-sex unions or marriages in some of its churches, and the consenting posture of the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of the Anglican faithful worldwide, has been threatening to tear the Anglican Communion apart.

Already the African arm of the church has taken a solid stand against it. There is expectation that Okoh will continue with heightened vigour from where Akinola stopped.

Indeed, the prelate was once a house boy who later became an apprentice. Later, he was made to go into business with an uncle, and it was after this that he joined the Nigerian Army, from where he grew to become a commissioned officer.

Born on November 10, 1952 at Owa-Alero, Delta State, Okoh attended St. Michael's Anglican School, Owa-Alero.

After a brief lull, he went back to school between 1974 and 1975, subsequently obtaining his London University General Certificate of Education (GCE), O'Level. Immediately after that, he went to the Vinning Centre for Cathechist Training in Akure, where he busied himself in his studies. By 1979, he attended an ordination course at Emmanuel College, Ibadan and was ordained the same year.

On Okoh's emergence as the incoming Primate, Rt. Rev. Peter Adebiyi, Bishop of the Anglican Communion (Lagos West), expressed happiness the way the election went. "The Anglican Communion has demonstrated internal democracy, which the larger public should emulate," he said. "It shows how good things can start from the church."

Okoh was at Jos, Plateau State, as the 3 Division Garrison Chaplain, in 1979. In 1982, he completed a degree course at University of Ibadan (UI). His rise proved tortuous, but it was rewarding. He became the vicar of St. Luke's Church, Yaba, and went back to Ibadan to do a Master's degree programme. Currently, he is engaged in a Ph.D. programme. The former Chaplain at 2 Mechanized Division of the Nigerian Army in Ibadan later moved back to Jos as Deputy Director.

For his numerous admirers who are aware of his life story, they see his rise to the office of Archbishop of the Bendel Ecclesiastical Province as no mean feat. With his latest elevation, however, there are questions in some quarters whether he will be able to establish and sustain the ministry of speaking out against evil.

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