On 29/6/21, a special day in the Catholic calendar, being the feast of SS Peter and Paul, I lost a dear friend, Bishop AA Fashina, the immediate past Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ijebu-Ode. At the age of 82, one cannot say that he died prematurely, especially given that our life expectancy hovers around 55 and noting the Biblical promises of 70 and 80 years.
But it is not for us to judge whether somebody dies maturely or prematurely; it is for He who designed his calendar to say so. I have interacted with him for the last 5 years and my only regret is that I did not come to know him earlier. Bishop Fashina was what every Christian would wish to be: gentle humble, simple, grateful, generous and humorous. He also always had this disarming smile that radiated self-fulfilment, joy and multidimensional peace (peace of mind, peace with men, peace with God and peace of God which passet all understanding). By the way he lived, he was fully convinced that ‘a simple life means a humble life and a humble life means a happy life’(MM Koulouris) and that ‘Simplicity and humility, not power or status, are the sources of joy and happiness’ (Debasish Mridha).
My first close encounter with this self-effacing servant leader, was when he visited Olabisi Onabanjo University, to request for a parcel of land for the Catholic Chaplaincy. As were awaiting him at the gate, he passed without our knowledge. He came in an ordinary Toyota Rav4, without tinted glasses, (the air-conditioner was not even on!), with an ordinary plate number (some Bishops have specialized plate numbers), sat in front with the driver and had no entourage (simplicity).
Ralph Waldo Emerson must have had him in mind when he philosophised years ago that ‘A great man is ALWAYs willing to be little’; but Bishop Fashina was not little because he knew quite well that ‘a person can achieve everything by being humble and simple’ and he did achieve quite a lot. When he saw my red cap, he called me a fellow red-cap chief (in reference to his zucchetto; the Bishopric cap) and requested for a photoshoot with me (humour). At the OOU administrative block, he bowed and reverentially greeted EVERYBODY: gatemen, security men, cleaners, messengers, from the reception to the executive floor (humility).
During my first visit at his retirement home, he took me round, enthusing, repeatedly ‘look at the wonderful place the Bishop (his successor) prepared for me’ (gratitude)! He was so grateful for my visit (ordinary visit) and remarked that the church authorities had not shown enough gratitude to the laity for all their efforts and sacrifices; who despite daunting family and social responsibilities still donated for church development and care of the clergy (gratitude). He actually suggested that we ‘do something’ (writing) jointly on the matter of appreciation for the laity.
During his 80th Birthday, I presented him with some of my books among other little things. A few weeks later, he called to thank me, spent more than 30mins on the phone, discussing the entrepreneurs showcased in the book (Entrepreneurship in a Changing Environment, Ik Muo, 2018), and was particularly impressed by the business odysseys of Chief Eric Nwobi. On one of those days, we met at the Cathedral, he requested me to review the book ‘Catholic beliefs and practices’ published by the Ijebu-Ode Diocese. I also remember one of the days I visited him, and he was stridently trying to convert another guest, a Muslim gentleman whose wife is a Catholic. He used his Muslim background to an advantage (his father was an Imam and he was baptized in 1959 at the age of 20). Thus, even in retirement, he was into evangelism. He also promoted ecumenism as you will see Muslims around and about the Cathedral.
His support for marriage and family was unapparelled. He totally supported the World Wide Marriage Encounter, was the first Bishop to be encountered, released Fr Banjo for all WWME activities without much ado and on our way to the ‘3rd Missionary’ Journey to Akureb ( 14/7/17) he came to the Sagamu-Benin expressway (Ijebu-Ode flyover), to see us off, bless and pray for us and wish us well. My last visit to him was on Sunday, 21/2/21. As usually, he was his witty self as we discussed everything. As I was leaving, he asked me to pray for him! Ordinary me! And I did! Another evidence of humility! A priest told the story of how he accompanied him to Lagos in search of financial assistance for the Diocese. However, before they got back to base, he had shared ALL the money to others who had more pressing needs (generosity).
Bishop Fashina who was born in 1939, baptized in 1959, ordained in 1980 and became a Bishop in 1988, knew early enough that ‘Simplicity and humility are the key virtues for spiritual growth’ and that was why he made both, his ‘inseparable companions’. He was buried on Wednesday, 14/7/21 at St Sabastian’s Catholic Cathedral, IjebuOde. This was after a Requiem Mass attended by a mammoth crowd consisting of people from all walks of life, including the poor and ordinary people whose lives he had touched. This self-effacing shepherd of Catholics and non-Catholics, who agreed with the injunction of AW Tozer that ‘It takes simplicity and humility to worship God acceptably’ is gone to the great beyond. But he was not just simple, he was also sophisticated and elegant because according to Leonardo de Vinci, ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ while another sage declares that ‘Simplicity is the keynote for elegance’. Well, it has come to become! Initially, I felt sad that I would not see the Bishop and gentleman again. But on a second thought, I took solace on the fact that it was the Lords doing and everything the Lord does is good. I have no doubt that he has gone to be with the Chief Shepherd. Good night, my dear friend; a model for me and for others
Other matters: Feedback on Coro Controversies
Despite my report that I had been doubly jabbed and that there was nothing weird about it, the controversies surrounding the Coro vaccination continues, with more ‘evidences’ of strange post-jab experiences. And this is despite the fact that the more deadly Delta variant has landed on our shores Here are two reactions to my last weeks intervention on the matter (See Ik Muo: Vaccination, Controversies and Billionaires, BusinessDay,8/7/21).
‘You are indeed a front liner and pacesetter as regards the global statistics, awareness creation and the needed precautionary measures about Covid-19 pandemic, that I have known from inception. It is not out of place to assert that almost all I know about the pandemic came from your series. I must salute your courage, doggedness and determination to be vaccinated for two consecutive times, damning the unending controversies and conspiracy theories around the vaccine and the vaccination. You have really demystified the conspiracies empirically. I am now encouraged by this, to take the necessary steps towards my own’ ( Opaluwa Shehu, Abuja)
‘Controversies trailing the Covid-19 vaccines and vaccination are not unexpected though some seem so convincing. The number of people that simply refused to believe the existence of the virus, especially in Nigeria, even in the face of daunting evidences from ‘coronised’ people (using your coined word) and coro-related deaths speaks to this. Expectedly too, many people, even locally, whave been be made billionaires through the virus: overnight manufacturers and dealers in facemasks, sanitisers, etc ( Mrs Olatunji ET, Lagos)
There is a scientific/medical response to all these controversies and conspiracy theories by Professor Uchenna Nwosu, the Group Chairman and Medical Director at Apex Specialist Hospitals. I will share it the next time I write on coro-related matters.