Reverend Father Anthony Gudonu is the current Director of Social Communications of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. In this interview with journalists, he urges government to tackle insecurity through dialogue
Could let us in on your journey into Priesthood?
My journey to priesthood started from my secondary school days. After baptism and first Holy Communion, I became a Mass Servant. I served under many priests including Very Rev. Fr. Edward Hartnett, SMA, Very Rev. Fr. Michael Umoh, and Very Rev. Fr. Hubert Opara. These Priests had greatly influenced my decision to become a priest.
I had one of the best results from Badagry Grammar School. I had planned to study Petroleum Engineering. But Fr. Michael Umoh, who was the Associate Parish Priest in my home parish, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Badagry, persuaded me to drop idea of pursuing a career in Petroleum Engineering. Hence, I went to seminary. That was how my journey into priesthood started. I was admitted into the Seminary in January 1998 for a spiritual year. After the spiritual year, I was admitted into the Seminary of all Saints, Ekpoma in Edo State, where I had two degrees in Philosophy and Theology. I was ordained in December, 2006. This is my 13th year of priesthood; I have worked in a number of parishes. I have worked in Our Lady of Holy Rosary, Ogba; Immaculate Conception, Epe; Saint Paul, Ebute Metta; St. Mary Ajegunle; and from there, I went to Rome to obtain a Master’s Degree in Social Communication. I spent one year in Rome and came back in 2012 and I was assigned shortly to St. Margret, Olodi Apapa. Thereafter, I was assigned to Saint Gerald, Gbagada where I doubled as the Deputy Director, Centre for Media Development, Ojota.
For over six years now, I have been the Priest-in-Charge of the Catholic Church of the Presentation, Festac Town, Lagos. Earlier last year, the Archbishop called me to become the Acting Director of Social Communication in the Archdiocese of Lagos. Since my appointment on April 1, 1019, I have seen the portfolio as a challenge.
As the Director of Social Communications, how do you plan to move department to a greater height?
My predecessor, Very Rev. Msgr. Gabriel Osu, has done so well. He has fostered a lot of background structure in terms of relationship with the media. He is well known to many media executives. He has been the voice for the Archdioceses for many years. He was always on the pages of the newspapers for almost 25 years. Therefore, having come on board, I have plans to take it from where he stopped and continue to build on it.
To this end, I came up with a blue print, which I presented to the Archbishop. One of our main goals is to get a permanent structure for the Directorate of Social Communication. All the while, we have only had a satellite office at St. Agnes Maryland, which has hitherto been housing the Catholic Herald Newspapers, which is an aspect of the Directorate of Social Communication. I requested an audience with the Archbishop, with Father Umoh who built the Centre for Media Development in Ojota. We concluded that it is necessary for us to have a Centralized place, which can be known as the office of the Directorate for Social Communications.
We also have plans to build a multi-media center. This is necessary because we are in a digital era and the church has been involved in communication for many years. If you look at so many documents that have been written by the Popes, they have always been forceful on the need to use the communication apparatus to foster the spread of the gospel. It is for this reason we are thinking of building a multi-media center for which we are still at the planning stage. We have gotten the cost of purchase and installation of the equipment that we need. Now, fund is still the challenge. This is one of the major projects I wish to execute during my tenure as the Director of Communication. This is my dream and I hope to realize it.
Also, we are planning to improve on our audio studio, which is presently not functional. We are planning to rebuild it and make it more functional, so that some of our annual projects, which are undertaken by the Archbishop, like the Archbishop Reflection for the Lenten season, can be aired from the studio instead of going to somewhere else. We are also looking at the possibility of building a mini-television studio. We are not oblivious of the fact that licensing of religious bodies and organization in Nigeria is very tough, but what we are going to do is to create our own contents that have to do with social, moral, and faith issues from the television studio and disseminate to other broadcasting houses. We are hoping to get to the level of expanding the scope of evangelization within the society.
Now, one of the pressing projects that we are carrying out in the Directorate is to have a media conference for Catholic media practitioners with the Archbishop. The Archbishop is the one calling on all media practitioners to come on board and put heads together to see how these blue prints that we have enumerated can be achieved. Apart from the fact that we hope that the conference will be an opportunity to open up the blue prints of the directorate of the communication apostolate within the Archdiocese, our plans is to rebrand or revamp our newspapers, which is called the Catholic Herald Newspaper. At the moment, it is being produced weekly from Ojota. Therefore, we want to rebrand it and we want to work on the layout, give it a new face and then present it to Catholic faithful in the Archdioceses as well as the general public.
We hope that when we gather the Catholic media practitioners together, we will be able to discuss with them the modalities of distribution, collations and sales as well as inflow of newsworthy items from the parishes and from other sources that can be gathered together for the publication in the newspaper.
What is the theme and who are the speakers?
The conference is scheduled for Saturday, February 29, 2020, at Saint Agnes’ Catholic Church, Maryland by 9:00am. The Archbishop is going to be in attendance. We are expecting two additional speakers and the theme of the conference is “Mobilizing Catholic Media Practitioners for the Mission of the Church in the Digital Era.”
This theme was chosen to give a direction to Catholics who are professional media practitioners to know their roles within the Church. The conference is expected to stir up the desire to drive the mission of the church across the society through the instruments media communication. We are planning to set up a Parish Communications Committee in the Archdiocese.
Already, we have the Lagos Archdiocese Communication Commission, which was recently inaugurated. Having had that at the Archdiocesan level, we are hoping that through the conference, we will be able to give the idea of the Parish Communication Committee to those who will come from different part of the Archdiocese. We are expecting them to take it home and work on the modalities of establishing the committee.
The reason we are organising the conference is to unfold to the Catholic media practitioners the various communications agenda of the Archdiocese and invite them to key into it in order to drive the mission of the church.
The lead speaker at the event is Very Rev. Msgr. Prof. Joseph Faniran. He is the Head of the Department of Communications at the Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port Harcourt. The second speaker is Mr. Seyi Martins and he is going to talk to us on how to use digital media in order to foster the mission of the Church. We are hoping during the conference, to have breakout sessions to allow the participants to disclose their thoughts that will be beneficial to the Archdioceses. They may have thoughts that have not been put down in black and white, not only on the theme of the conference, but also from their own perspective as Catholic Media Practitioners.
How do you intend to source for funds for these projects during your tenure?
Yes, funding is always a major problem when it comes to project execution. We have requested for grant from Signis. Signis is the umbrella body for all Catholic practitioners and entertainers. We are having talks with the Archbishop to know how we are going to raise funds to achieve the dream. Our intended project of establishing multi media centre, for instance, is going to cost us almost N76 million, but I have realized is that we do not need to wait until we have the whole money before starting the project.
We can actually start with whatever we are able to raise. Secondly, we hope that the fund that will be generated from Catholic Herald Newspapers will be of a support. At the moment, we have not gotten to the stage where we would like to be. We still need to go higher than this. We need a lot of sponsors, a lot of adverts from the corporate world. Nevertheless, we have to create that corporate look for organizations to key into our newspaper. One of the things we are actually working on is to rebrand the Newspaper to have a better readership and encourage organizations to patronize us through advert placement. If every week, we print up to 10,000 copies, why will an organisation not want to be on the pages of our newspaper?
Hopefully, with the support of the Archbishop who has been very supportive, we should be able to raise funds.
Do you think pastors and Reverend Fathers should be involved in politics?
Priests are not known to be partisans in anyway. This is because we are not trained to be politicians. Not that we cannot speak to the conscience of the politicians. However, the Catholic Priest is not known to categorically get involved in politics and become supporter of one party against the other. It is unfortunate that some of our priests and pastors are getting involved in politics. Though, there is a saying that evil thrives when good men and women do nothing to bring change. So, if it is in view of becoming voice to the voiceless, or hope for the hopeless, I don’t have any problem. But, to categorically come out and say, you are for ‘A’ and not for ‘B’, that is not what the Christian leaders are known for. We also remember that among our congregation, there are people who belong to the opposition parties. We cannot take the microphone and stand on the pulpit and say we are for this party; we are not for that party.
There is this current debate about tithing and first fruits. What are your views regarding these augments?
We do not emphasize so much on tithing and giving of first fruits in the Catholic Church. We all know that the debate around tithing started when our brothers in the Pentecostal churches began to speak and preach about it. It became so elaborate that many people began to scrutinize it. The Catholic Church has created the environment for those who wish to pay their tithes.
It is not a forceful thing in the Catholic Church. We also have numerous ways of
raising funds for the sustenance of the church. We have our own ways of generating funds. Therefore, this is not something that is obligatory, but if you bring your tithe, we will receive it on behalf of the church. Even in our accounting system, we have a space for the recording of the tithe. Receiving the tithe is not even the problem, being accountable to higher authorities is the problem. This is the problem we are having in some of the Pentecostal churches.
Many of them are not really accountable to anyone. They are accountable to themselves because some of them are General Overseers of their churches, so they have nobody they are accountable to.
In the Catholic Church, the Reverend Father is accountable to the Bishop, the Bishop is accountable to the Pope, and the Pope is accountable to the universal church and Christ himself. That is why the Catholic Church is different from other churches.
What is your advice on how to tackle the menace of insecurity in different regions of the country?
Insecurity was one of the things we talked about on the World Day of Peace on the January 1, 2020. We said there is need to create an environment for dialogue. Dialogue in a way that everybody will feel wanted in the society. In a situation whereby you relegate some people to the background, and they become resistive in terms of how they want to carry out preservation and sustenance of their own lives, then you will surely have insecurity.
Kidnappers and armed robbers that are being arrested always attribute their irresponsible life styles to lack of work. Many of them claimed to have graduated from the universities and have not been able to secure a source of livelihood. Therefore, if you cannot create the kind of environment in which people can leave a decent life, you continue to create a situation of insecurity. That is what we are having in Nigeria. Therefore, what the government has to do is to re-strategize and create that security mechanism to tackle the challenge.
Now, we are talking about regional security and the Federal Government is saying no and declaring it as illegal. So, if it is illegal, and you are in charge of security, what do you have on the table in order to secure the people? You do not have what it takes to create a safe place for lives and properties.
Now, people from a particular region are saying we want to gather together and create our own security measures and our federal government is resisting. They are saying “we are not trying to take over the work of the Nigerian Police, but to compliment what the Police is doing”, and you are saying it is illegal. Let the Federal Government discuss with each regions. That is why we are talking about restructuring.