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An Interview with Father Anthony Ikechukwu Kanu, OSA

by Gordon Nary

Gordon: Father Anthony, kindly introduce yourself and your religious Order to our audience.

Father Anthony: I am a Friar of the Order of Saint Augustine, Province of Nigeria. And currently, the Prior Provincial of the Province of Saint Augustine of Nigeria. The Order of Saint Augustine was founded in 1244 through the instrumentality of Pope Innocent IV who united several communities of hermits living in the region of Tuscany under one common rule of life and Superior General, that is, the Prior General. The Order came to Nigeria in 1938 and since then we have been bearing witness in the Church in Nigeria through community life, which is at the heart of our diverse services. I, however, joined the Augustinian family in Nigeria in 2001; was finally professed in 2008, and ordained a priest in 2009.

Gordon: What are your responsibilities as the Prior Provincial of the Order of Saint Augustine in Nigeria?

Father Anthony: As Prior Provincial of the Province of Nigeria, I serve as the immediate Major Superior of the Province of Nigeria which has been entrusted to my care by the Order. I have the responsibility of preserving the unity of the Province of Nigeria, safeguarding the observance of our way of life, promoting apostolic undertakings and providing for the good of the Province. I have the first care of apostolic vocations, ensuring that the candidates in formation receive suitable education according to the mind of the Church and the Order. In all these, I report to the Prior General of the Order, The Most Rev. Alejandro Moral Anton, OSA.

Gordon: You are also the President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Nigeria (Men), what are your responsibilities?

Father Anthony: There are more than 45 male religious institutes in Nigeria, both priests and brothers. As president of the conference, I provide official representation for these religious institutes with ecclesiastical and civil authorities; I have the responsibility of promoting cooperation among the different male religious institutes in Nigeria and to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas on matters of common interests while respecting the autonomy of each institute. It is also my responsibility to promote cooperation between religious institutes and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, especially in apostolic endeavors.

Gordon: We are aware that you have studied in several universities, kindly tell us about your academic background?

Father Anthony: I studied philosophy at the Urbanian University Rome through Saint Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, Makurdi, Benue State, her affiliate institution. I studied Theology at Saint Augustine’s Major Seminary, Jos, an affiliate institute of the University of Jos, Plateau State. I attended the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Enugu State, where I earned a masters degree in Philosophy with specialization in Metaphysics; and another Masters Degree in African Traditional Religion from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. In this same University, I bagged a doctorate degree in Religion and Human Relations with specialization in African Traditional Religion. I also earned another doctorate degree in African Philosophy from Selinus University of Literature and Sciences, London.

Gordon: You attended several schools in the United States, what were they, what did you study at each school and what degree did you earn?

Father Anthony: I was at Harvard University, Boston in 2018 for a certificate course in Advanced Negotiation Strategies: Mastering the Art and Science of Negotiation; I also took Leadership courses from University of Michigan, USA; University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, USA and Wesleyan University, USA so as to advance my relationship with those I work with, and to be a better servant to those who have been placed under my care. To improve on my research skills, I undertook a course in Data Science and Machine Learning: Making Data-Driven Decisions from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, USA.

Gordon: What is at the base of your interest in African Studies, and what were the most important moments during your studies?

Father Anthony: My interest in African studies is not disconnected with my interest in the theology of African inculturation; that is, inserting the Christian faith into African culture in a such a manner that the Christian faith becomes culture and the African culture, the Christian faith. In other words, making the Christian faith feel at home in Africa and the African feel at home with the Christian faith. My Masters thesis was on “Inculturation and the Quest for an Igbo-African Christology”. It was an attempt to make Christ understood within Igbo-African categories. The most important moment for me during my studies was the period I started developing African Christology.

Gordon: You are a Professor to several higher institutions of learning, kindly tell us about this?

Father Anthony: I am Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Tansian University, Umunya, Anambra State. It is a university founded by late Msgr. Akam in memory of Blessed Iwene Tansi. I am visiting Professor to the Department of Philosophy, Veritas University, Abuja (The Catholic University of Nigeria); a visiting Professor to the Institute of Consecrated Life In Africa, Abuja; a visiting Professor to the Augustinian Institute of Philosophy, Makurdi; a visiting Professor to Saint Albert the Great Major Seminary, Abeokuta; formerly a visiting Professor to Saint Augustine’s Major Seminary, Jos; I am also a visiting Professor to the University of Jos, Plateau State.

Gordon:: What are the human rights challenges in Nigeria and what are your recommendations on how they should be addressed?

Father Anthony: A major human right challenge in Nigeria is the right to education, which is affecting the girl-child in a peculiar manner. Despite the UBE Act of 2004 in Nigeria and other incentives aimed at promoting primary education by the government, there seems to be a considerable percentage of primary school age children still out of school, especially the girl-child. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in its recent report disclosed that about 10.5 Million children of primary school age are out of school in Nigeria. The organization also emphasized that 1 out of 5 out of school children across the world is a Nigerian child.

With the growing extremism in the forms of banditry, conflicts between pastoralists herders and farming communities, kidnapping, armed robbery, etc., communities lacking state protection, are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Given that there is very little or even no state presence in most parts of the country outside of state capitals and major towns, it has become very easy for non-state actors to roam in the deep rural areas. Boko Haram and Bandits have taken advantage of the unresolved and escalating local conflicts and rising organised crime to expand and recruit children, especially those who are out of school. The result is that several communities have been sacked. This further affects the education of children, and poses a new human right challenge, which is that of religious expression.

As a religious institute in Nigeria, the Order of Saint Augustine has made efforts at the building and expansion of schools in volatile areas like Maiduguri in Borno State, Adamawa State, Niger State, Kaduna State, Plateau State, etc. The aim is to bring education to the young, especially the girl-child, the poor citizens of the country and those displaced by all kinds of crises.

Gordon: Please provide an overview of the violence in Northern Nigeria and your recommendations to reduce violence

Father Anthony: The most recent case of violence is the lynching and eventual burning to ashes of Deborah Yakubu, a second year Christian college student who was killed by a mob of Muslim students in Sokoto, after being accused of blasphemy. Beyond this, there are several cases of the activities of the Boko Haram terrorist group in the North-eastern part of Nigeria and that of Bandits in the North-western part of the country. At the base of all these are religious intolerance, fanaticism, unbridled press actions, poverty, aggressive evangelism, illiteracy, selfishness, wrong religious orientations, and sometimes external influences.

Gordon: How do you think this problem should be addressed?

Father Anthony: The present crisis can be resolved through drastic reduction of poverty and illiteracy levels among the Nigerian people as well as a better understanding of the other person. The fact that someone is not a Muslim or a Christian does not make that person less human. In spite of our religious differences, we have one thing in common- our common humanity. It can be the starting point of dialogue among different religious groups across the country.

Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional and powerful interview Fr Anthony.

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