What can you attribute to your fast growth in the ministry?
I have been in the full time ministry now for 18 years and in the Anglican Communion, you are qualified to be a Bishop once you are thirty years of age and you have served for 6 years you can be made a Bishop. You cannot be ordained a priest until you are 23 years old. In short, we have a Bishop consecrated at the age of 34 that is the present Bishop of Jos. He is the youngest Bishop so far. By January, I would be 50 years.
However, I have been a product of God’s grace all along, that grace has been following me, and this have helped and prospered us all the way, I am called to serve. This has given rise to my move growth in the ministry.
What do you have to say about priests who complain when they are posted to certain locations?
No station can be termed to be bad because you can always develop a station. The truth is that if you impact the community, the community will of course make sure you are comfortable.
Some people look at people in the city and believe that they are better off. But the truth is that there are certain things you have in the cities that people enjoy, so also there are certain things in the rural areas that people enjoy. All stations are good.
Sir, what is your advice to other priests and the upcoming ones?
My advice is that they should make effort to make impact on the lives of the people wherever they are sent to. Every opportunity given to anyone to lead and serve in all walks of life should be used to make positive impact in the lives of the people they are serving, no matter the duration.
Secondly, the priest should try to develop themselves. In 2015, at the age of 46, I bought a JAMB form to get admission into the University of Abuja to study Religion and Philosophy. I had to do a full-time programme. I graduated last year with a First Class in Philosophy and Religion. In short, I was the first to earn a First Class Degree in that department.
Priests should also own personal libraries for private study because they just have to study because the world is revolving. By making impact and developing themselves any priest is sure to succeed in the ministry.
What is your view on the generally believed fact that there is more of Ika North East than Ika South in Ika Diocese of the Anglican Communion?
To start with, I am as much Ika North East as I am Ika South. My mother is from Owa-Ekei, my wife is from Owa-Alizomor, and my maternal grandmother is from Owerre-Olubor, while my father is from Ika South. I am actually more of Ika North East and I want that to be noted.
Secondly, we intend to evangelize the whole part of the Ika nation. No area will be left out. I agree that in terms of number, there are more of Ika North East in the Diocese. The gospel first came to Agbor, that is why the Cathedral is here in Agbor, that is St. John Cathedral, but because of space, we are moving it now. However, attempt will be made to evangelize the whole of Ika nation. Work of evangelism will be carried to all nooks and crannies of Ika nation, because the growth of every part is necessary.
How is your relationship with Bishop Onekpe like?
Bishop Onekpe ordained me on 30th September 2001, priested me in 2002, preferred me a Canon in 2005, and preferred me an Archdeacon. In whatever I got in the rank and file of my priesthood, he has been there. Bishop Onekpe is a father and brother to me.
Our relationship dates back to 2001 and it has continued to blossom. We have always attended the annual synod of the Diocese from Abuja. And since our election and consecration, which he witnessed at Kubwa, Abuja, we have enjoyed tremendous support, prayers and robust relationship. So, the process of transition is moving smoothly as there is no grumbling in any part of the Diocese. Our transition is one of the smoothest in the Communion of Nigeria and this is as a result of the robust relationship between the two of us. We are praying that Bishop Onekpe will finish well.
The Anglican Communion in Ika Nation is building a gigantic Cathedral. What actually prompted this and what are we to expect?
There was a need for expansion, as where we are presently has issues of space, as the capacity of the church is no longer enough for us. The present Cathedral Church of St. John for instance, cannot take the crowd for the oncoming Enthronement. So, there was need for a bigger church. The stage of the Cathedral inside Ika Grammar School is near completion.
It will be our new Cathedral. The Bishop’s throne will move from St. John to the new Cathedral. We are optimistic that the church will be completed before the 15th of December and dedicated, as the new bishop will be enthroned there on the 15th of December. The stage where it is now has covered up to 85% completion and it will be 95% by the next few weeks.
Are there people the Bishop would want to appreciate in respect of the new Cathedral project?
First, the committee that started the work headed by Sir Ileh has to be appreciated for the good work.
Second is our brother, father and parishioner, the present Governor of Delta State, Sir Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa. He is a Knight of the Diocese. We appreciate him for his support for the project. His singular effort actually made the building to come very fast in just duration of two years. The entire faithful of Ika Diocese are also to be appreciated for their prayers and support.
What is your relationship with Archbishop Okoh like? And what impart has his position as head of the Anglican Communion, Church Nigeria made in Ika Nation?
Most Revd. Nicholas Okoh served as Bishop of Asaba, the position he held for about 9 years and within that time he was also elected as Archbishop of Bendel Province which covers the whole of Edo and Delta States and he was enthroned as the Primate of the Church of Nigeria in 2010. His episcopacy has brought a lot of changes in the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.
One in particular is that he is holding on to the tenet of the church and ensuring that things that are in the Canons are upheld. He makes sure those things in the Scriptures, are upheld by the church. So, we thank God for that. It is actually difficult to trace any error in the way he handles the Holy Scriptures and the Canons of the church.
Secondly, he has also consolidated the church; we have up to about 646 Dioceses. In the past 8 years, Most Rev’d. Okoh has and ensured the growth and consolidation of the Dioceses in Nigeria.
He brought in a lot of developmental and infrastructural progress. Example of this is the retreat ground at Abuja amongst others. His episcopacy has helped Ika people because the peace we are enjoying today as a church was his handwork.
He has influenced the church here in Ika land. There is a gigantic church building project at Owa-Alero that would be dedicated on the 9th of December.
He has made impact in terms of infrastructure, leadership, and the spread of the gospel. There is a programme, Divine Commonwealth that takes place annually it was initiated by Most Revd. Okoh. This programme has helped in the growth of the clergymen and Laity.
I worked closely with him for 8 years and I learnt so much, in terms of his style of leadership, and his being a man of vision. He is a super mentor to us; we are glad and proud of him as a son of Ika Nation.
Tell us about your immediate family?
I am married to Mrs. Evelyn Nkemdilim Ekpenisi. We got married in 2002. She is from Owa-Aliziomor and a school teacher too. She is a graduate of English Language from University of Benin. Our marriage is blessed with three children; Miracle, Ebubechukwu and Ifeanyichukwu Anita. The children are all still in the secondary school. We have 2 sons and a daughter.
How has your wife helped your ministry?
Our people did not make the mistake when they said behind every successful man is a woman. She has done well to ensure that we succeed in the ministry. In Anglican Communion, when a man heads a church, his wife automatically leads the women. And statistics have shown that women are more in the church than the men. We do not know why it is like that. Therefore, when the women are active in the church, then the church will be active. We are succeeding because she is doing well in her women ministry. She has been very supportive to my ministry.
What is your assessment of the role of women in the church? Are there female priest in Anglican Church?
We have female priests in some Provinces of the world but in the Anglican Church of Nigeria we do not have. We may have some as Lay Readers and Evangelist, but no ordained woman in the church, in the priesthood in Nigeria. However, in view of their numerical strength, they play a lot of roles in every aspect of the church. The relevance of women in this part of the world cannot be over-emphasized; they are of great help to the church.
My Lordship, having seen the disparity in the figures of the men and the women in the church, what are your plans to bring in more men into the church?
You understand that the way we are going in Ika land, sooner or later there will be no man in the church. This will be so because our young men have left the farm and have traveled outside the country leaving their wives behind, so where will you see them to put in the church. And they come back plaiting their hair and having ear-rings on their ears. So, you see that there are situations that you will have no choice than just to go to God in prayers. When you go to some of our local communities, you would not see young men again. Sadly, the older generations are going away and in the next few decades where would we find the young men to take over from them? This is issue that with time we are going to be looking into. We will set up committees and on a round table discussion to proffer solutions, as we need to research into this problem, find out what to do in view of the future.
However, we are going to be having more of the female folks than the men for now since the men have gone outside the country to look for food to put on the table for their families.
Sir, why is it that we do not have female priest in the Anglican Church in this part of the world?
This is basically because of the culture and tradition of the people. The church cannot be completely removed from the culture, tradition and belief of the people. Although in Africa culture and tradition in those days and even of recent times we had female priestess of some certain shrines. But, in terms of the church, particularly in the mainstream orthodox churches, we are still growing towards that stage; we will get there. However, we will ensure that everybody is carried along and the women are much ready.
My Lord Bishop, the 18 years of Bishop Onekpe in Ikaland saw Anglican Church move to higher level. What are we to expect from you as you take over from him?
First is to consolidate and ensure that those churches that were planted are growing. But beyond that, we should be able to touch every aspect of the Ika nation. It is actually sometimes difficult to separate the church from the community. To this end, we will improve the education of the people and ensure more growth in their scriptural education.
Also, the infrastructural development of the church will be looked into as well as some aspects of our Christian life that need to be developed will be developed.
In addition, Ika language will be encouraged. Whether we believe it or not, there is a group that has said that our language will go into extinction very soon. The Anglican Church is a church that has always used the local language and we will look for a way to improve on it. The Ika Bible; Old and New Testament is ready now, so we shall attempt to promote it and encourage other churches to do same.
One other aspect that the Bishop has started and tries to develop is putting in place investments that will in one way or the other impart the lives of the people. And if there are things Ika Nation needs, we will try to bring them here to the church. When the missionaries came, they brought schools, hospitals and many other things. The earliest things we had in Nigeria were brought in by the missionaries. So, the church has always been in the forefront of developing and investing in the lives of people and even employing people.
We are going to be working with different aspects of the government to ensure that in a matter of years from now, we can look back and see the great developmental impact the church has been able to make on the community
In revamping and sustaining the Ika language in the church, is there any possibility of having the hymn book written in Ika language?
Some other aspects of the church life; the liturgy, some very familiar hymns, and the communion service will be developed in Ika language. This is so that we will be able to have in the next couple of years, one hundred percent worship in Ika language. This is necessary because the younger generation is beginning to lose our language.
To this end, a committee will be set up to look at the possibility of the use of Ika language in our Liturgy.
You mentioned Bishop Onekpe as your super mentor. Who was your mentor while growing up?
While growing up, we had majorly the likes of Ven. Augustine Nmabata, now retired and from Asaba. So many of us grew up under him and have him as our mentor on earth. While spiritually, Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega of our faith. Many of my contemporaries and I followed, watched and grew under the tutelage of Ven. Augustine Mbaneta. Archbishop Okoh is also one of those that have influenced my ministry greatly.
How do you see your coming home to serve?
It is something great as a true son of the land. A lot has actually been done here but a lot still needs to be done. We are coming at a time that a lot of things in Ika nation need to be attended to. We thank God for the opportunity to come and serve here.
What are your likes and dislikes?
My like is mainly in serving and pleasing God and winning souls for Christ as well as sharing the good news. I also like reading and writing. In terms of dislike, what the scripture hates, I dislike.
In recent times, many clergymen have been asking Christians to go into politics. What is your take on that?
It is actually difficult to separate the church from politics. In the Church of England; the State and the Church are the same. In fact, twenty six bishops are permanent members of the House of Lords. The Queen has a role in the selection of Bishops. So the church and State work together.
Back home, you cannot remove Christians from governance. In short, anyone can hardly govern well without God. The more Christians we have in governance and power, the better for us as a people. Some people may feel that there is a lot of corruption which is not far from the truth, and that politics is dirty. But the question is; who will clean it up? I therefore share the view that more Christians should be involved in politics, as this will go a long way to help in sanitizing the political life of our nation as the nation is presently in dire need of sanity.
What is your advice on the issue of illegal migration by our youths?
This is an issue that we all have to look into and proffer solutions to. However, my basic advice is that people should follow the legal or right and proper route. Secondly, the youths when they get to outside the country, they should not indulge in dirty deals there. The world is gradually becoming a global village and so people keep moving from one place to the other, but not when it is life-threatening.
There is no problem with people traveling outside the country, but they should go through the normal and legal route to avoid death and other life-threatening situations.
However, the migration of our youths to other countries, whether it is normal or abnormal route, is going to have devastating effect on our community in the future. Nevertheless, these are some of the issues we are going to address and come up with solutions and prepare for the future, God helping us. This is because some will come back very sick, weak, dying and even dead, while some will not even come back at all. It is therefore imperative that we prepare for whatever situation we will find ourselves in the future, but we are praying for the best for Ika Nation and that is what God will give to us in Jesus Name.
What is your last word to your congregation, politicians and the people of Ika in general?
Summarily, the fear of the Lord should rule our hearts, irrespective of our business or profession.
Our deeds and words, even our thoughts should be guided by the fear of God, and should be worth emulating by the incoming generation.
Most of us in this part of the country are professed Christians; therefore Christ should be seen in all that we do. If we live our lives putting outing Christ first, I am sure things will so much be better than what we have today. My principal message to all, most especially Christians, is; Christ first, and let Christ be seen in all our actions.
Thank you, your Lordship for your time.
It has been my pleasure and God bless you.