By Vivian Onyebukwa

The Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, has celebrated the Feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and 50th memorial anniversary of Most Rev (Dr) John Awao Amuzu Aggey.
Aggey was the first African Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, and First African Bishop.
The event which took place at Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos was organised to honour and pay tribute to Most Rev John Aggey and also a thanksgiving for the price Jesus paid on the cross.

In a homily by the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev Alfred Adewale Martins, who was represented by
Vicar, Lagos Region Arch Diocese, Very Rev Msgr Bernard Okodua, extolled the virtue of the late Arch Bishop, describing him as a man who stood for the truth.

He described him as a peace maker, referring to an incident when Aggey, as the President of Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, mediated between the feud by Nigerian government and the Pope when the government accused the Pope of supporting Biafra when Biafra broke away from Nigeria. “He took time to explain to the government, that the Catholic Church is not partisan, and peace reigned. He was generous to a fault. People were not disappointed that came to him for either financial, and moral advice help. A humble servant of God, he operated an open door policy. You did not have to write a letter to see him. He was a shepherd and a good man of God”, the Bishop stated.
Bishop Adele Martins recalled how Aggey died two months after ordaining him a Bishop.

Rev. Msgr Okodua referred to Exaltation of the Cross as the triumph of the Cross. “The very word cross signifies punishment, pain or death. Nobody likes to carry a cross. When you have difficulties or disappointments, we call it a cross. You say I am carrying a cross, my wife is my cross, my husband is my cross, meaning he or she is not cooperating, difficult or he is giving you headache.”
To Christians, he stated that cross is not just the wood but the salvation. “In the Christian world, the cross of Jesus Christ is what we are venerating and remembering and honouring. It is not just the wood, it stands for salvation. Jesus Christ, the Son of God was sinless. You can punish a criminal for an offence but you don’t punish an innocent person, even Pilate said Jesus Christ was innocent but because the elders of the people hated him out of jealousy, they insisted that Pilate must condemn him to death, and so he did, just to please them. And the punishment was persecution. So they crucified him because that was one of the normal way of the Romans in punishing a criminal. For them Jesus was a criminal, for us, he is our Saviour. He chose to die on the cross willingly, he could have avoided it, if he wanted to, but he said that is what His father wanted, that is why he came into the world to suffer and to die,” Okodua stated.
He further stated that Jesus Christ came to save man from sins through his suffering and death on the cross. “That means without the cross, no resurrection, and if Jesus did not rise from the death, then our faith and preaching has no meaning. So what we did today is simply to say, thank you to God for the gift of His son and Jesus Christ for dying on the cross for us; and by so doing he is telling us that we all have to carry our own cross as he did so that we can also share in the glory of his resurrection. Because he died he rose, and because he rose, God honoured him, and gave him a name that is above other names. We are Christians, followers of Christ; that is the meaning. We don’t follow just by name; we follow by action. He said it, if you want to be my disciple, carry your cross, follow me, meaning imitate me. What type of imitation? Humility, submission to the will of God, love of fellow human being, forgiving those who offend us, admitting our own fault when we offend people, among others,” Msgr Okodua stated.

Speaking on the life and times of Archbishop Aggey, Msgr Okodua said, “Honestly I was not in Lagos in his lifetime, I lived outside Lagos, and he died just three months after my ordination. So I only knew him as a seminarian. When I would have related with him as a priest, he left, so I did not know much about him except what I hear about him. He didn’t live in this premises, where the Bishop is living, he lived at Ikoyi, the Archbishop Court, but my relationship with him even as a seminarian, each time I came home, he asked us to do some casual work, and I met him on this occasions. He was a simple and humble man, he was always in his khaki short, his assistant then was the late Bishop of Ijebu Ode, Bishop Albert Fashino, who was what was called mission boy at that time, and also a student of St Joseph’s Teachers Training College, Owodele in Surulere.”
On why the Archdiocese decided to honour him, Very Rev Msgr Okodua said it is because Archbishop Aggey was the first African bishop of Lagos. “The one we had before him was Archbishop Tailor, the one before Tailor was Archbishop Rock; they were all Irish Priests. Rock and Tailor were all buried in the premises of the cathedral. Aggey’s tenure didn’t last very long, he was Archbishop for only seven years, but this seven years he made an impact in the life of the people and it was the beginning of what they call indigenization of the church. We have local clergy, the church cannot grow if there is no local clergy, he promoted local clergy. As I said, he encouraged those of us at the seminary at that time, he never accepted that somebody should be expelled from the Seminary, he believed that if you entered, it means you have a vocation; that is why you are there, so he tried to nurture those vocations. Three months before he died, I didn’t know he was sick. In December of 1971 when I met him for the final arrangement for our ordination, I went to see him in his house at Ikoyi. After the arrangement, he said to me, Bernard, pray I will be able to ordain you. I didn’t know what he meant, I didn’t know that he was sick. So that statement touched me. Pray that I will be able to ordain you, is like saying, I may not ordain you, maybe I will die, but I didn’t know. And I say, thank you my grace, I will pray for you. He ordained me at Abeokuta, then posted me at a place called Adeleke in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Three months later I just heard that the Archbishop was dead. I was devastated. But then he was like a big father, a holy man, very friendly and very generous,” he disclosed.

Speaking about his relationship with late Bishop Aggey, Gabriel Adilano Ojomo, a Sacristan, recalled how he met him when he was still a mission boy. “I met him and during his time he was good to us. In those days he would call us, advise us, and talke to us. For him he didn’t believe that somebody cannot do something. He would encourage you, making sure you do well in that your vocation.”

Archbishop Aggey, a Togolese was born on the 5th of March, 1908. As a priest and an Archbishop, he demonstrated both the leadership qualities of St Peter and the Evangelistic zeal of St Paul in his service to humanity. His ordination as a priest took place in Lagos in 1944. It was the culmination of years of hard work, dedication and preparation for his priestly vocation. Like St Dominic and St Anthony, he was a powerful preacher, fluent in both English and Yoruba languages. He was, therefore, a great asset to the church in the area of evangelism. He delivered very inspiring and uplifting homilies full of wisdom which deepened the faith convictions of his congregation.

After 28 years as a priest, 14 years as Bishop, and 64 years on earth, Archbishop Aggey died after a brief illness at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba on Tuesday 14th of March, 1972. The late Archbishop was honoured in his lifetime by the Federal Republic of Nigeria with OON (Officer of the Order of the Niger). He also held the chieftaincy title of Baba-Suwa of Egbaland and the Togolese Honour of Legion d’Honor.
Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie who succeeded him renamed the prestigious Pope Pius Secondary School Mushin, as Archbishop Aggey Memorial Secondary School, in honour of the great man of God. The school is now the proposed Archbishop Aggey Technical College, Ilasamaja, Mushin.

“He is survived by years of legacies passed on to many lives he touched, who have in turn carried on his legacies by setting up foundations, schools, and other charitable courses in all in his memories”, Bishop Martins said.


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