Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Lagos West
Rt. Rev. Peter Adebiyi may be seen as a cleric, but beneath the general mien around him as the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Lagos West, overseeing about 300 churches, is a man who is an activist and an advocate for good governance and issues that will foster the interest of the masses. Born on April 27, 1943 at Osi-Ekiti, the cleric, who would be 70 in April 2013, got a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religious Studies in 1975, a master degree in1981 and a doctorate degree also in Religious Studies, specialising in Church History in 1987 from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife).
Bishop Adebiyi has despite his call to priesthood remained a keen follower of development issues in Nigeria. In 2005, he served the nation on the platform of the National Political Reform Conference, representing the Christian community of the South West zone. In that capacity, he was an active voice in the discussion of national issues, with the central interest being to advocate for the welfare of the common man.
In this interview, he shares a number of cross-cutting issues about his passion, insights into his life, call to the ministry, his legacies and guiding principles, besides some salient issues of national development. He bemoans how Nigeria, a pride of all in the 1960’s, has degenerated in all aspects of the affairs of governance and the economy.
Sir, you work very hard. What keeps you going?
It is God that has given me good health. Secondly, I know that a lot of people come to see me every day for one advice, guidance and counsel on one issue or the other and they know that I will never repel them or send them away. So, when they come, they have to see me and I have to attend to them even till around 7 p.m. It is God who gives me the enabling grace to so do. Even when I get home, there may still be one or two people wanting to see me, but God has given me the enabling grace and He is with me such that after I have eaten my Iyan (pounded yam) and then gone to sleep, I would wake up strong the next morning. It is God that has given me the good health and I thank God for His mercies and His blessings.
Do you have the time to relax?
When I get home around 8 or 9 O’clock, I eat my food and relax to watch television.
… What do you watch on TV, sir?
I watch African Magic, the Yoruba edition or any of the other channels till about 10 p.m. and then switch to Channels Television and listen to the news till around 11 p.m. Then I do one or two other things till around 12 midnight. I don’t sleep earlier than 12 midnight every day and I wake up around 5 or 6 a.m.
How was your call to ministry?
I started as a teacher and an organist in the Anglican Church and then one day my pastor just called me and said, “Peter, accompany me to Ado-Ekiti.” I just accompanied him like an obedient boy, thinking that perhaps it was an organist meeting. So, the following day when we got there, it was an interview to the theological college and when the interview was conducted I became one of the three that were selected to go to Ibadan. I wanted to dodge going to Ibadan, because I was expecting that I would be going to the university. So, when we were to go to Ibadan, I told the man that took me that I didn’t have money and he then went home and gave me transport fare to and fro and some money to eat. That man was Pa Oloniyo. So when I got to Ibadan and the man who was to interview me, the former Bishop of Akure, Baba Gbonigi, asked me: “How do you know you were called?” I said I knew who called me and that it was Oloniyo who called me. He laughed and laughed and I thought that was the end of the discussion as I had thought I would not be taken but that was how I was taken at Emmanuel College 45 years ago. I was ordained 42 years ago. That tells you that my call was not a deliberate thing, like I wanted to be a priest, but it was God that has been my guide. In-between, I went to the university for my BA degree, my masters and then Ph.D. I could have gone to do any other job but it was God that has assisted me hitherto and still till now. For the past 42 years, I have been in the vicarage and I’d never lived anywhere more than the vicarage of the church and the Lord has assisted me through all. Even when I lectured in the University of Ado Ekiti and Lagos State University, I was still in the vicarage.
So, how do you view Christianity in Nigeria today compared to when you started?
It is both good and bad. Good in the sense that we are now very many and bad in the sense that we are shallow in our faith. In those days, those who were Christians were Christians. Though people who were Christians were few in number, they were formidable, more serious and more acceptable. But today, there are more Christians but majority of them are fake. How can you not carry your faith with your work?
Where did the problem come from?
The problem started from the government. Thirty and 40 years ago, things were not like this. In those days, the schools were teaching Religious Studies and Bible Knowledge. When we were young, there was a catechism which says God has taught me to put my hands away from picking and from stealing. And because that thing was in you, when you see one kobo on the ground, you don’t pick it because the Bible teaches us not to steal. When a child did not now hear that, why won’t he steal? So, that’s how our Christianity became watery.
Sir, what does it take as the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Lagos West to run the kind of structures you have here?
First, it takes the grace of God. It also takes accountability and hard work. It is the work of God. When I first came here some 25 years ago as a priest, I was using all these places as farmland, but now they have been developed and today we have over 300 churches and it is because we did it as the work of God and we supervised it as it should.
Beyond the grace of God, what physical or human things did you apply to achieve what you have achieved?
There are leaders who may say, “do as I say and don’t do as I do.” I don’t believe in that. I believe in my work and I don’t believe in a life of exploitation. If you make yourself the head and make yourself whatever, at the expense of the people, they will not follow you. They will not do what you expect them to do. But if they know that you are a man of your words and you do things rightly, you’re accountable to them and do things without hiding what you are doing, people will follow you. They will not only follow you well, but have confidence in you that you are assisting them. They will develop the confidence that you are doing your work and doing that to benefit them. With that, the grace of God will be there to assist you.
In all these years of your work in several capacities, did you come across people who disappointed or betrayed you?
That is bound to happen as human beings. I started as a vicar of this church, as the archdeacon of Ikeja Deaconry with 31 churches between 1987 and 1993. By 1993, I was elected Bishop of Owo. I was in Owo between 1993 and 1999. Before then, this area used to be Lagos Diocese but in 1999, a new diocese of Lagos West was created and I was brought back to preside over this diocese. So, it is not possible that people have not betrayed me. You will have some people who, for their selfish reasons, will not like what you are doing and they may betray, malign and tell stories and tales about you. But also, you see some other people who are very confident about what you are doing and these people are in the majority, among the priest and among the laymen. So, it is human for some people to betray you, but we have many people who are confident and believe in what we are doing.
What would you say have been the highpoints of your success?
It is the people who can judge me. It would be very unfair for me to judge myself. Whatever God has given us the opportunity to do is in the ground for everybody to see. I will not say this and this is what I have done, but the people will say what they have seen us do. In about six months, I will be retiring when I clock 70, so I am waiting for their verdict. That is all.
What words of wisdom would you give those who are looking up to you?
I believe in the person who has sent me on errand. That is the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, I believe in the mentoring of those who have lived before me and who I have lived with also. One of them is Bishop Abiodun Adetiloye (the Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion), who was my Bishop and I was his chaplain for many years. He told me what I should do and how I should do it. He was a selfless man and did his work to the end without looking for benefits. God used him for what he wanted him to do. So, for me, I believe that those who have seen anything good in what I have done are picking it up and will translate it to the future more than I can. It is my belief that those who look up to me here and elsewhere will have many good things to take from me. I know myself that one of the things I hate most is laziness. I don’t like it. I don’t like laziness and I don’t like those who are lazy. I believe that when we are alive and when we are dead, whatever we have done will continue to speak for us. I have nothing more to say. You know that there are politicians in this country who will say that they are followers of Awolowo. They talk and speak about him till today, but they have nothing to show of what they themselves have done. So let everyone do what they believe their generation will remember them for.
If you look back and around you, apart from being a clergyman, what other profession would you have preferred?
If I were not a clergyman, I would have loved to be a lawyer. And I would have been a lawyer with a difference. I would be a lawyer only to defend the defenceless. To be an advocate to the oppressed and to fight tooth and nail against injustice. That is the reason I could have been a lawyer because that is what I believe I am doing through my preaching.
What are the underlining factors that make you to want to be the people’s advocate?
One of the influences is that I am just about 70 years old and I remember what happened some 50 years ago and I knew how this country was before independence under the colonial rule and what it is now. At that time, our facilities were running well. The few schools were good, the few roads we had were all very good. At independence, we looked forward to a glorious country, a better development. We looked forward to a better life for the common people, but unfortunately it has not been and those who could have done so have become the oppressors. So, if I were a lawyer, I would probably be more hated than Gani Fawehinmi. I have seen how this country was then, and now and I can tell you that things are worse. Integrity is gone, accountability is gone, fair play is gone. The infrastructures at that time, even few as they were, were working. Today, infrastructures have collapsed. Everything has gone bad and worse.
At what time do you think things started going bad?
At the point of the entry of the military. The military has done the worst injustice to this country. They didn’t have any accountability, nobody could query them and they destroyed our sense of responsibility and our sense of value. The situation of the country became worse.
But we now have civilian rule now?
Who are those who became politicians to run the civilian government? Are they not those who have amassed the wealth of the country? Go and see them. Many of them who have been governors and are in the Senate are ex-military people. It seems as if Nigeria is like a ship that has no captain.
Don’t you think there can be a change?
Yes, there can be.
How can that change be?
It depends on two things. There can be a very bad revolution…
… Like a civil war?
Not really like a civil war. Look at the mass of young people that are unemployed roaming the streets; no work, no food and at the same time, they see those politicians in their big regalia and agbada earning millions and millions of naira as salary and gratis. And most of the contracts are being cornered either by themselves or their cronies. So, if they still continue as they are doing, there is no way there wouldn’t be a revolution and it would be very bloody. Two, the country can go into shred. Some people are deceiving themselves that Nigeria would be one forever. How can Nigerian be one when you cannot freely walk in the street of another town?
How do you mean, sir?
See, if I dress in my full robe as a bishop and walk in the streets of Kano, I know that I would be lynched because they would know that I am a Christian and a bishop, so they would want to lynch me. Why should I be proud of such a place as a country? Would it not be better for me to be a southerner and when I want to go to Kano, I take a visa and when I am in Kano, they see me as somebody from another country and then because of that, they would respect me a little and I would be safer because I am from another country? But now that we say we are in the same country, I have no respect and I could be treated like a common criminal if I dare go there in my robe. And this is in a country that I was born and I am saying that I am a citizen! So, for me, Nigeria is a conglomeration of nations; Yoruba is a nation, Igbo is a nation, Hausa is a nation, Jukun is nation. You don’t need to force anybody to live together. We called for true federation, they said no, we call for national conference they say no and it is because those who eat and chop in the situation wouldn’t want it to change. But whether they like it or not, I, Peter Awelewa Adebiyi, might have gone to rest with the Lord, something is going to happen!
Is this a prophecy, sir?
I have said it. Something is going to happen. It is not a curse, I may see it or not, but I know something is going to happen. See what the people in the East have started doing by having their own anthem, flag and constitution, that is the beginning of the trouble!
What should be done for this to be avoided?
The leaders need to change from their evil ways. If in this country, everything is working, the road is good, the taps are running, security is good, the people have daily food on their table and all these indices are there, who cares who is ruling whom? Nobody will care who is leading whom, because when all these things are in place, your existence is assured and your daily bread is sure and assured. In America or England, if a child of six or 10 years is declared missing, the whole police would go and look for him, but here in Nigeria, it is better for you to look for a missing goat, than looking for a human being. We are in a country where human beings have no value. I am not saying that there are no good things in Nigeria, but the reality is that the bad things are greater in number and the situation is bad. I am told that 75 per cent of Nigerians live below poverty line, yet I read in the newspaper that some people are asking that their salaries be jacked up by N7 million each. That is the kind of evil we have.
As you approach retirement age, what guiding principle would you give Nigerians?
Love your neighbour as yourself. If you love your neighbour, you will not steal his property. If those people in parliament love fellow Nigerians, they will not steal our money. What we and our children will use, they have taken for themselves and even stashed the money abroad and built houses everyway while many are poor and suffering, whereas the provision is there. So those people in government do not love Nigerians, they are not the lovers of the country, they are our enemies and everybody knows it. I don’t hide it and will continue to tell them. I have it all in my book and I know that when they read it, they will want to crucify me but I am old enough to die.
What would you want to be written about you?
Let them say or write whatever they want. In my diocese here, they call me Peter the church planter. So whatever people call me, I am not worried. Some people say I am a tribalist. And I will say yes. If I am not tribalistic, how can I be nationalistic? I first must identify with my place before my nation. I am from Ekiti and I am first an Ekiti man before I become a Yoruba man and then before I become a Nigerian. So Yoruba is my nation and I can die for that.
So you are a supporter of regional government?
Yes. Let us go back to the regions and do what Awolowo was doing when he was here. He was the first in everything. It was because of him that I could go to school because he gave me free education. If not, I would have been a dead farmer. If there was no free education brought by him, I would not have been here today. So why shouldn’t I love such a person? Politically, he is my mentor. He is a good man. He may have his fault but he loved the people, he worked for the people and he died serving the people, like Jesus Christ died for every one of us. But you see these people who say they believe in Awolowo, they eat only for themselves and die for themselves with nothing to show in them.