“How good God is to allow me to see Nigeria once again.” These were the words of our legendry Bishop Joseph Shanahan, CSSp. He was once in Nigeria, wherein he worked tediously and made profound sacrifices to minister to the poor and disadvantaged. He literally fell in love with Nigeria such that when he eventually left the shores of the Niger, the nostalgia was excruciating for him to bear. Hence, he longed “once again” to be back to Nigeria. Though Nigeria as a nation may be called by all sorts of ugly names, yet Nigeria remains the ‘envy’ and pride of millions of people, who like Shanahan, tasted and saw that Nigeria is good. The reason is simple: Nigerians are resilient. Thus, our 50-year history as a nation is nothing short of a people who continue to strive and survive despite all odds. In the same vein, the Spiritan presence and mission in Nigeria from 1885 to the present day remain profoundly anchored on resilience.
Our Nigerian story as the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) is a story of dialectics and transformational metamorphosis. The Nigeria-Biafra War that ended in 1970 saw the expulsion from Nigeria of all the Irish Spiritan missionaries, most of who were working in the southeastern Nigeria. The future was then left in the hands of few promising and highly determined indigenous Spiritans formed in Igbo land. Despite all odds and precisely in 1976, this few were formally elevated to the status of a Spiritan Province, called the Province of Nigeria East. Thus, the first Spiritan Province in all Africa and the third world was born.
But, the struggle for survival continued up until 2010, when a new era of Spiritan mission in Nigeria emerged. The Province of Nigeria as it has hitherto been known and organised gave way for the Union of autonomous but supportive circumscriptions made up of two Provinces and two Foundations, one of which is the Foundation of Nigeria South West, formerly known as Ekiti Region.
Our Journey of Transformation
From 1976 to September 2001, the Spiritan presence in Nigeria was under one banner of ‘Province of Nigeria’ one Provincial Superior serving One Province! However, with growth in membership (584 professed members of whom 360 are priests with one bishop) and most importantly with increased consciousness of and ‘compassionate respect’ for the ethno-cultural origins and background of members, it was necessary that the One United Province be ‘de-provinced’ or better put, regionalized: One Province, Four Regions (Onitsha, Okura, Makurdi and Ekiti). This new form of the province was inaugurated in October 2001 during the first Chapter of the Province of Nigeria as a regionalized Province.
Nevertheless, the euphoria of regionalization did not last long as this new form of administration and mission has its vicissitudes, one of which was the sometimes lack of solid support from regions to the Province. The Province as an entity thus became the proverbial communal goat that famishes while personal goats of individuals bloom and blossom. It is therefore not surprising that regionalized province of Nigeria has to undergo another historical dialectics. It is time for change again! Yes, again! It is time to restructure the province. This need continued to grow until it formed a profoundly significant section in the second provincial chapter of 2007 held at Spiritan International School of Theology, Attakwu from August 26 to September 8, 2007. In this landmark chapter, regionalization metamorphosed into‘re-structuralization’. The chapter decided to restructure the current “4 regions-1 province” into a “Union of Supportive Circumscriptions” and then mandated the new administration to set up a committee charged with the task of facilitating the much needed restructuring, which is the creation of more circumscriptions out of the present Nigerian province.
The Birth of the Foundation of Nigeria South-West
The Restructuring Committee worked so hard and their recommendations were well accepted. Hence, in a letter dated March 11, 2009 addressed from Rome to all Spiritans, the Superior General, Fr. Jean-Paul HOCH, CSSp gave the seal of approval in these words:
“After examining the results of the consultation of all members of the Province carried out by the Committee set up by the Provincial Council of the Nigerian Province and following the recommendations of the Provincial Council, the General Council has decided to reorganize the Spiritan Presence in Nigeria into the Union of Supportive Circumscriptions made up of two Provinces and two Foundations as follows: the Region of Onitsha is to become the Province of Nigeria South-East, the Region of Makurdi is to become the Province of Nigeria North-East, the Region of Okura is to become the Foundation of Nigeria North-West and the Region of Ekiti is to become the Foundation of Nigeria South-West.”
With the above statement, our beloved Ekiti Region became a Foundation. The old Province of Nigeria shook hands with extinction. This old, therefore, gives way to the new as further affirmed by the Superior General’s letter
“The Nigerian Province as it is currently organized and known will cease to exist from the 2nd of October 2010 and the new circumscriptions of Province of Nigeria South-East, Province of Nigeria North-East, Foundation of Nigeria North-West and Foundation of Nigeria South-West will take off on the same 2nd October 2010 as requested by the Provincial Council of Nigeria. On that same day, the mandates of both the Provincial and Regional administrations of the old Province of Nigeria will come to an end and the mandate of the new superiors of the four circumscriptions begin.”
The 2nd of October 2010 has therefore become the birthday of our beloved and promising Foundation of Nigeria South-West. Posterity will continuously cherish this glorious day as the day we came of age. It is the day that we became an autonomous circumscription with autonomous administration lead by a Major Superior.
Mission and Leadership
The Foundation of Nigeria South West geographically comprises and covers the Spiritan missions in Delta, Edo, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti and Lagos States of Nigeria. As part of the global Spiritan family and particularly as a circumscription-member of the Union of Spiritan Circumscriptions of Nigeria (USCN), our mission remains in line with the core mission of Christ brought to the shores of Nigeria over 120 years ago by our Spiritan ancestors, namely ‘evangelizare pauperibus’ (evangelization of the poor). Hence, in accordance with the Spiritan Rule of Life #4, our mission ranges from first evangelization to pastoral care in areas where the Church has difficulty finding apostolic workers, to work for human and social development in justice and peace, works of education, chaplaincy and youth ministry and the formation and training of the clergy.
In terms of leadership, our journey thus far had been pioneered by superiors, who, together with their councils, oversaw the administrative and apostolic activities of the former Ekiti Region. Hence, the first elected regional superior was Very Rev. Fr. Chika Onyejiuwa, CSSp, who served from 2002-2007. He was succeeded by Very Rev. Fr. Emeka Akabueze, CSSp, who served from 2007-September 2010. Both superiors did their best in taking the Spiritan mission in the former Ekiti Region to a higher level of animation, growth and development. It must not have been easy for them but, thanks to God, they survived happily.
Nevertheless, where do we go from here? We are marching to greatness with one heart and one soul! As Martin Luther King, Jr, wisely affirms, “power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” This is the way forward for Foundation of Nigeria South-West. The 2nd of October 2010 has not only become our birthday as Foundation of Nigeria South-West, it also marks the coming to office of Very Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Ogbodo, CSSp as the 3rd superior in succession but, more historically, as the 1st major superior of our nascent Foundation. God has chosen him to stir the ship of our present and future aspirations as a united family of loving and mutually supportive brothers. Our fruitful future depends, therefore, on fraternal LOVE that emanates and moves back and forth between the Superior and all confreres, a love that must necessarily extend to our individual cum collective commitment to the Spiritan mission of furthering holistic evangelization in and beyond South-West Nigeria.
Chibuike Ojilere CSSp [Director of Communications]