1000 people attended a farewell dinner for outgoing Primate of All Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola in his 65th year, in Abuja on March 24th , the eve of the installation of his successor, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh.
In appreciating his role in the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Justice Akrofi, Primate of All West Africa (except Nigeria), spoke on behalf of the Primates of Africa. He noted that under Archbishop Akinola’s chairmanship, “the Council of the Anglican Provinces of Africa became a voice to be reckoned with”. Under his chairmanship the Global South became a place where African bishops could meet others in the Global South. Under his chairmanship, “for the first time in history, was held the first All African Bishops’ Conference”. (The second is to be held in Kampala in August 2010). And then there was the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem in 2008.
The Archbishop of Lagos, Dr Ephraim Ademowo, noted with pride that Archbishop Akinola had become a household name globally. He paid tribute to his work in securing the support of the then President of Nigeria to be treasurer of the fund to build the National Ecumenical Cathedral of the Advent, a magnificent structure that holds 10,000 people and which will be the site of Thursday’s ceremony. He continued “The Anglican Church under your leadership spread to every nook and cranny of this country”.
Under his leadership, the number of dioceses and bishops has increased from 91 – 166. Professor Jerry Gana noted that he had established the Church of Nigeria on the rock of Jesus Christ, and shared his vision that Nigeria should be a place where it will be unprofitable to be unrighteous.
Other speakers noted his very humble beginnings, his loss of his father at an early age, his early work as a carpenter and his training as a catechist at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, starting on the lowest rung of the ladder.
Archbishop Akinola responded to the tributes to his work, by thanking profusely those who had worked with him “ not minding who this man is or his inadequacies” and had supported the work of the church. He expressed thanks to those who had come from America (Archbishop Bob Duncan with 4 other bishops), Kenya (Archbishop Eliud Wabukala), Ghana (Archbishop Justice Akrofi) Canada, UK, Australia (Bishop Peter Tasker) and the Acting President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. He noted that “it had never happened before like this”.
He stressed that the Church of Nigeria needed to be financially strong to carry out its work. He challenged the Nigerian church, “whatever it takes”, to remain united and insisted that every section of the country be represented and brought along. He counselled his successor, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, to be a father, a brother, a friend, a pastor to his bishops, clergy and people – but above all to be firm. “If you procrastinate, you fail”.
Archbishop Akinola’s tireless work “36 hours a day” was much remarked on. One bishop noted that he had phoned Archbishop Akinola one day to tell him he was down, and in bed, with malaria. :”Stand up”, was his reply, “You are celebrating laziness”.
“History will be kind to you” concluded General T.Y. Danjuma, “You have been a titanic defender of the faith, the Ajayi Crowther of our time” (the first African Anglican bishop, who was rescued from slavery and founded the Anglican Church in many parts of Nigeria). “You will become a document for scholars”.
In his honour the League of Anglican Media Professionals have published a 135 page book “Peter Akinola in the Eyes of the Media” ( available from LAMP, Episcopal House, 22 Douala Street, Wuse zone 5, PO Box 11239, Garki, Abuja, Nigeria.) since “the full story of his reign could hardly be told without reference to his media activities.”
In retirement, Peter Akinola and his wife Susan ( who was given a standing ovation) will devote their time to the Peter Akinola Foundation, and to providing retirement accommodation for retired bishops. For a short biography see http://www.anglican-nig.org/main.php?k_j=22
Chris Sugden, Canon of Jos, Nigeria, from Abuja
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