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Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins at 61: Portrait of an indefatigable Chief Shepherd

He has several great moments in his life: The day he was baptized. The day he was ordained a priest. The day he became Bishop of Abeokuta Diocese. With this insight, should anyone be astonished at the drive, the direction and the dedication that His Grace, Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins, the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, brings to his Episcopalian duty? As he clocked 61 on June 1, 2020, he is like the good steward in the “Parable of Talents” who justified his master’s faith in him.

Archbishop Martins had a sturdy preparation for his apostolic calling, starting from his family which was a cradle of Christian orientation, as he vividly recalls: “The greatest shaping influence I would say lies in the faith experience within the family while growing up. My family is built on the fact that we simply have to be part of the life of the church. If you are a boy, then you are an altar boy; if you are a girl, you are a chorister; and (there is) the whole atmosphere of coming together in prayers, morning and evening (and) seeing my parents being fully engaged in the life of the church was also a contributing factor. All these were very instrumental in making me what I am today.”

There is no downplaying the impact of his Catholic education. Martins attended St. Augustine Roman Catholic Mission School, ltesi, had his secondary education at St. Theresa Minor Seminary, Oke-Are, Ibadan (1971-1976) and enrolled for his priesthood at SS. Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Bodija, lbadan (1976-1983). Brilliant and well-read, his scholarship is accentuated by his qualifications: Diploma in Religious Studies (University of Ibadan, 1978), Bachelor Theology first-class honours (Pontifical Urban University, Rome, 1983), Master of Philosophy (University of Ibadan, 1988) and Master of Letters in Philosophy in 1997 from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. 

He is a portrait of a hardworking priest. Starting as a Deacon at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos, under His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos, he worked as an Assistant Administrator at the Cathedral from October 1983 to August 1984 and later as teacher and Chaplain at St. Gregory’s College, Obalende; Priest-in-Charge at St.Theresa’s Catholic Church Maroko and Chaplain of Holy Child College, Obalende, from September 1984 to September 1986. 

At SS. Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Bodija where he was deployed as Graduate Assistant in September 1986, he taught courses in the Department of Philosophy for two years before attaining the lecturer status after his Master’s degree. 

Thereafter, he served the seminary in various capacities as Bursar (1988-1994), Registrar (1994-1996) and Secretary, Appointments and Promotions Committee (1994-1996).

With such a profile, his appointment by Pope John Paul II on November 24, 1997, as the first Bishop of the new Abeokuta Diocese wasn’t farfetched. 

His 14 years as Bishop of Abeokuta was full of achievements. The most obvious was how he built a young and struggling local Church of only nine parishes and eight incardinated Priests into a vibrant and dynamic Church of 60 priests, 44 of them incardinated Priests of the Diocese. His stewardship was characterized by remarkable contributions to the education sector in Ogun State, epitomized by the establishment of the Sacred Heart Catholic College, Abeokuta in 1999 and St. Patrick’s Catholic College, lmeko in 2006. The establishment of St. Bernadette of Lourdes School, Abeokuta and the relocation of St. Luke School, lwoye, happened under his watch. Bishop Martins was a leading broker of the mediation that culminated in the return of Secondary Schools to their original owners. Two of such institutions, St. Peter’s College, Olomore and Catholic Comprehensive High School, Ibara, were returned to the Diocese of Abeokuta. 

His appointment as the new Archbishop of the Lagos See by Pope Benedict XVI on May 25, 2012, was a natural progression. When on August 4, 2012, he was installed as the fourth Archbishop of Catholic See of Lagos at the Holy Cross Cathedral Lagos by the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Most. Rev. Augustine Kasujja, he was stepping into the shoes of illustrious predecessors. 

So far, he has acquitted himself capably in the office. Succeeding Anthony Cardinal Okogie at the Lagos Archdiocese, he took over 98 parishes and numerous outstations spread across seven Deaneries in the Archdiocese of Lagos. He has since created eight new deaneries and 77 new parishes. Presently, the Archdiocese of Lagos has 15 Deaneries, 175 Parishes and 20 Chaplaincies while there is an imminent expansion into the Eko Atlantic City, Banana Island and Badagry and Ikorodu, where large hectares of lands have been designated for schools and other future developments.  

Of the 295 clerical workforces he met on ground, 110 were indigenous priests; so far, His Grace has ordained 44 indigenous priests. Currently, the Archdiocese has over 156 indigenous Priests with over 250 Religious and Fidei Donum Priests working in Lagos. Archbishop Martins was the Principal Consecrator of Bishop Kayode Odetoyinbo (2014), Bishop Francis Obafemi Adesina (2019).

His Grace also gave impetus to educational development with three new Archdiocesan Secondary Schools in Iju-Ishaga, Ikorodu, and Bogije. He completed the St. Augustine University, started by his predecessor, Anthony Cardinal Okogie. Inaugurated in October 2015, the University currently has nine departments across two faculties, graduated its first set of students on October 17, 2019. The St. Albert the Great Major Seminary has since commenced its session while the St. Joseph the Worker Technical Institute is underway. Additionally, over12 priests have proceeded on further studies in America, Rome, Spain and France. Others, too, studied at the Catholic Institute of West Africa, Calabar and the University of Lagos, while a schedule has been set up for the rest to further their education in the coming years. 

Having served in various capacities––including as Assistant Secretary (2002-2008) and later Secretary (2008 -2012) of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) respectively for two terms; Co-Chairman, Nigerian Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission (2001- 2008); Episcopal Chairman, CBCN Committee on Ecumenism (1999-2008); and a delegate of the Nigerian Church to the 2nd Ordinary Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 2009––it is expected that he would know better if there was a need to tweak the administrative processes to enhance efficiency. His promulgation of the Parish Pastoral, Laity and Finance Councils has galvanized the church to be more forward-looking and action-oriented. 

His Grace is known for his outspokenness and that is because the Archbishop of Lagos Catholic Archdiocese knows the importance of adding the Catholic Church voice to important national discourses. This is why, in a country of religious pluralism like Nigeria, Archbishop Adewale Martins stands out as an advocate of multi-faith harmony and a leader of faith who proffers solution to social problems. 

The Chief Shepherd of the Archdiocese of Lagos has tried to live by his motto of “Called to Serve in love.” This is reflected by his creation of Caritas Lagos in 2013 to assist dioceses, mission territories, congregations, institutions, parishes and individuals in need within and outside Nigeria. The Caritas Lagos Fund has been of great help to people and Dioceses in faraway places in the North, notably victims of insurgency and flood, some of whom are living as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri and Yola. 

At 61, he has proven himself a dedicated Priest in the vineyard of the Lord with outstanding humility and humane virtues. As he looks ahead to more years on earth, there is every indication that His Grace will not slacken his hold on the plough. 

by Lady Neta Nwosu (LSM), the President of SIGNIS, Archdiocese of Lagos.


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