By Tajudeen Kareem
His Eminence, John, Cardinal Onaiyekan is 75 today.
Strongly admired for his deep commitment to inter-religious harmony, Cardinal Onaiyekan is appropriately described as “a radical but gentle churchman”; one who is well revered as a foremost religious leader with a strong passion and commitment to peace and national development.
Indeed, posterity will record him as a nationalist who served in various leadership capacities, using his religious influence to impact on the society.
One-time President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the President of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria and Bishop of Ilorin, he is known for his intolerance for injustice and corruption.
Growing up in his native Kabba town, he started his educational pursuit at St. Mary’s Catholic School Kabba, in 1949, after which he proceeded to St. Michael’s Secondary School in Aliade, Benue State where he started demonstrating his qualities of greatness at a very young age; graduating top of his class in 1962.
His priestly calendar, as chronicled by COFP Foundation, commenced in Jan. 1963 – June 1965 with Studies of Philosophy at the SS. Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan. From Sept. 1965 to June 1969, he studied Theology at the Pontifical Urban College of Propaganda Fide, Rome. His early priestly life began with his ordination to the Catholic Priesthood at Kabba, on 3rd August, 1969.
But the gentle priest is a teacher by profession. He taught at St. Kizito’s College, Isanlu before proceeding for Scripture Studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome in Sept. 1971 and completed his Licentiate degree programme in Sacred Scriptures in Feb. 1973.
From 1973 to 1976, Cardinal John studied and obtained a Doctorate degree at the Pontifical Urban University, Rome in Biblical Theology with full distinction.
His adult life has been devoted to peace building, nation harmony and the advancement of humanity. Indeed, Cardinal Onaiyekan has been described by many as true nationalist and a pride of black heritage.
On the occasion of his 75th birthday celebration, the President of Okun Heritage Foundation, Ambassador Rufus Aiyenigba paid tribute to the great religious icon, describing him as an emblem of honesty, integrity and an embodiment of the teachings of Christ.
“He is a man reputed to be one of the greatest among his peers. He is a man of national and international acclaim; a man renowned for his virtue, forthrightness and learned personality. He is humble, honest and I consider him as an emblem of the finest of the body of Christ in the service to God.
“A man who has always spoken truth to power, he is also a man of deep conviction who is highly respected for his integrity and statesmanship. Don’t forget he was the President of CAN in Nigeria for a number of years and I think those moments when he was President was about the finest era for CAN leadership in Nigeria,” said Aiyenigba.
Despite the national and international acclaim, Bishop Onaiyekan is a man who is deeply related to his roots. Indeed, he is a national icon that always identify with his native land and the cause of his people.
“He has added his voice in very noble manner to issues of national importance, and had always intervened at every strategic and critical moment of our national life, making a difference.
“I think he is one of the best that youths of this generation can pattern their lives after, in terms of courage, convictions, nobility of virtues, and commitment to human dignity, national development and peace building. We are proud of him, we will continually be grateful to God for giving him to us as a gift to this generation,” said Aiyenigba. .ke