In this interview with ADEOLA BALOGUN and JESUSEGUN ALAGBE, Archbishop Adebayo Akinde, the pioneer bishop of the Lagos Mainland diocese of the Anglican Church and a retired professor of Computer Engineering, shares his life experiences
Being a retired professor, one would think the office of the Archbishop is probably boring. Is that correct?
Oh no, and I will explain. The office of the archbishop is one of the administrative offices in our church in the Anglican Communion, and in our own case, we have the Church of Nigeria as our church which is a province as far as the global Anglican Communion is concerned. But within the Church of Nigeria, we have 14 Provinces. Lagos province is one of the 14 ecclesiastical provinces of the church. Essentially you can say we’re making use of the word ‘province’ twice. There is a small ‘p’, and that’s the ecclesiastical province. But when we talk of the Province with a capital ‘P’, that’s the one that encompasses the entire country – Nigeria. So the Anglican Communion in Nigeria has 14 ecclesiastical provinces. The ecclesiastical province of Lagos is just one out of the 14. That has to be done to ease administration. You know Nigeria is a big nation in terms of landmass, population and resources. It’s almost impossible and inconceivable to expect an individual to exercise adequate spiritual and administrative superintendence over such a massive place. As a church within Nigeria, policies are taken centrally, then the ecclesiastical provinces take care of the implementation. The office of the archbishop in an ecclesiastical province is more of a coordinator. He does not have any metropolitical powers. An archbishop is a bishop; it’s just that he is the first bishop among his peers. In the ecclesiastical province of Lagos, there are 13 dioceses. Each diocese is headed by a diocesan bishop. All the 13 diocesan bishops have equal voting, but as an archbishop, I’m just the first among them in the Lagos ecclesiastical province. And the ecclesiastical province of Lagos covers all the Anglican dioceses in Lagos State and the ones in Ogun State. Then, all it means naturally is more work. I perform all the functions of the diocesan bishop. I sometimes represent the Primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, who is the head of our church, in certain places. These are the additional responsibilities which come on top of the functions of the diocesan bishop. So an archbishop is basically a diocesan bishop, and that’s why you will find written against my name the “Archbishop of Lagos and diocesan bishop of Lagos Mainland.”
You started ministerial work when you were still active as a lecturer. How were you able to do both at that time?
I must say I have the grace of having being ordained early. I came into the ordained ministry in 1979 – that’s 35 years ago. At that time I was a junior lecturer (Lecturer 1). My academic activities were not too burdensome then and so I had sufficient time to be well-tutored as a curate. I served my curacy. That’s when I was a deacon and was attached to a senior clergy. This happened in Ile-Ife and all I did was to help in the distribution of elements in the Holy Communion. I was given assignments by my vicar who was then a canon and later an archdeacon. So one could say I had the grace of coming early into the ministry; and I must say it’s by divine arrangement, not by personal decision. I was well-groomed and God’s grace has been enormous towards me and I have always been available for his work. I think that’s what brings the blessings I enjoy from God.
As a scientist who was always involved in researches, you must have had it tough combining it with ministerial work
For me, I didn’t have any conflict between the two. Christianity belongs to the sphere of the spiritual. My academia was something else completely as a scientist which is basically an intellectual exercise whereas my faith is totally spiritual. My faith was about the spirit man in me. My scientifical researches were all intellectual. I never had any conflict. If to say anything, my faith in God boosted my academic activities. I have said this many times to the eternal glory of God that I got the inspiration for my PhD research project in a church service on a Sunday. In fact, I have kept the service bulletin for that day up till now. I went to church and as usual I was involved in researching on how computer-generated images could be done faster than the speed of an aircraft which was the area I was focusing my research on to earn a doctorate degree. This was around 1974. At that time there was no computer that could operate at a speed comparable to the speed at which aircraft move and I had a problem of how one could generate image (computer graphics) at a speed fast enough to cope with the speed of aircraft. I had been reading papers on computer graphics and simulation. There were moments I thought I was close to the solution but it never came. On this particular Sunday I went to worship and as the service was on, I felt the Holy Spirit talk to me. I felt someone spoke to me about my project that every object in space exists in three dimensions (X, Y and Z coordinates). The Holy Spirit spoke to me to get three processors that would calculate all the three dimensions for me. I quickly wrote all he told me. When I returned from service my wife was already preparing lunch but I told her that that was not time for lunch. I told her God was set to give me a breakthrough; and she should go ahead with the lunch. I ran to the laboratory. I went to the laboratory that Sunday which I wouldn’t do ordinarily. I did this and eventually got what I was looking for. That idea came to me in a church service. So in my own case, my faith boosted my academic activities.
In contrast to your experience, some scientists do question the existence of God
By the grace of God, I am a scientist; and by his grace and to his glory, I am not an ordinary scientist. I am an accomplished scientist and my faith in God has enhanced my work. I never had a conflict. I know the limits of my intellectual capacity which is infinitesimally small when compared to the unlimited intellect of God the creator. Those who say they are scientists and want to subject spiritual things to scientific scrutiny are deluding themselves. It cannot happen. That is the intellectual confusion obtainable in the West now. What we see happening there in terms of human sexuality is a classical example of intellectual confusion among people suffering from the loss of Christian memory. The White people (specifically the Church of England) brought Christianity to us. They brought the Bible to us and they were scientists. In the 18th century, eminent scientists who were Christians existed then. They never queried the supremacy and sovereignty of God. So what is happening now is intellectual confusion and it is a manifestation that they have lost their Christian memory.
Why did you choose to study science in the first place?
There can be no nation that can make any meaningful progress without having a very strong and sustainable science and technological foundation. The veritable platform on which any meaningful and sustainable development in any human society can happen is science and technology. That is the basis for going to space. That is the basis of human comfort. History, English language, Literature cannot give us air-conditioners or automobiles. I can go on. So we need to be up and doing as a nation to recognise the prime position of science and technology and to give it all its dues. A year or two ago, what the Federal Government budgeted for the education sector in this country was about $3bn, which was less than N500bn, if I remember correctly. No government had ever budgeted that amount before in Nigeria. But that was just a pittance when compared to what a single university in the United States spends on researches alone. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology alone spends $200bn a year on researches.
You seem so much fascinated with Science
It is not a matter of fascination. It is a service for me and that is why I am planning to devote the rest of my life to the promotion of science and technology in this country. I should be retiring in about two years. Then I will face the campaign that we must give the prime position to science and technology if we are serious about any meaningful and sustainable development as a nation. No one can go far today without being computer literate and compliant. In some homes abroad, cookers are now digital devices. I went on vacation with my wife last year, and where we lodged, the kitchen was equipped with digital cookers. In fact, I had to teach my wife to use them. Everything is going digital and we should not be left behind.
What motivated you to develop the passion to study Science?
I have always enjoyed enormous divine guidance. In fact, I never set out to study Science in the first place, but my late mentor, Right Rev. Jonathan Adeniyi, who was the principal of Abeokuta Grammar School, was my father’s relation. And for some reasons, he never explained to me why he liked me so much. He kept on telling me he had one legacy for me – to leave me in the church. He wanted me to be a priest. At that time, I was the best student in Arts. I was very good at Literature, Latin, English language, and the rest. I was just an average student in the sciences. But I thought within me that if I continued to study Arts at that time, Baba Adeniyi would just bundle me into the theological college. I didn’t want to be a priest like him. That was how when it was time for me to choose between Sciences and Arts in the Senior Secondary School, I went for Sciences. I thought I was escaping being a priest at that time. But I have realised everything was orchestrated by God for me to go that way. I loved Literature so much that before the end of the term in those days, I would have read the whole textbook twice. I also loved memorising things. That was my passion, but when Baba Adeniyi kept on saying the only legacy he had for me was to leave me in the church, I went for Sciences. And when it came to Sciences, I wanted to study Medicine, but I couldn’t stand seeing blood. Then I ended up doing Engineering. That was how I studied Computer Engineering in the United Kingdom.
There were no computers in the 1970s. Was it therefore not a daunting task to study Computer Engineering?
It is again a classic example of divine guidance in my life. Divine intervention and guidance led me into studying computer engineering. There is no conflict whatsoever between the spiritual and the academic. Not many Nigerians knew what computing was at that time not to talk of computer engineering. I was a loner in the field. It was very lonely then. And even then, there was nothing like computer science in the country then. At that time, you couldn’t say you were a computer engineer without having the knowledge of computer science and vice-versa. I was instrumental to the starting of Computer Engineering department in Obafemi Awolowo University – which happens to be the first university to start a degree in Computer Engineering in the whole of Africa. Of course, I am not the first computer scientist in Nigeria, but if you say computer engineering, you could probably say I was a pioneer.
Would you say Nigeria has progressed in terms of Computer education?
Nigeria has taken giant strides. I can recall that in April 1980, I wrote my first paper which I took to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, urging the government to put more computing power into the hands of Nigerian pupils. I wrote then that it was sure that at the end of the second millennium, any pupil that was not computer literate would be at a terrible disadvantage. And I thank God, in September 1988 when Professor Jubril Aminu inaugurated the computer education committee in the Ministry of Education and I emerged as the chairman of the committee to train secondary school teachers and students. Since then, Nigeria has taken real giant strides.
What is the motive behind the annual Science Fair Exhibition you normally organise?
One feels a bit worried when you see the trend in university admissions in Nigeria. If you pick 10 prospective students and ask them what they want to study, seven out of them would tell you they want to study Economics, Banking and Finance, Business Administration, Medicine, Accounting, etc. Hardly would you find one who wants to study Physics, or Chemistry, or Mathematics; and it is a dangerous trend that must be stopped and then reversed. The government should know that if we are serious about any meaningful and sustainable development, we should have a definite policy for the improvement of science and technology education as a nation, and back it up with incentive programmes. In those days, if two graduates finished their degree programmes at the same time, and one finished with B.Tech and the other with B.A, the person who studied a science course got an extra 10 pounds in salary, and it was a lot of money. It motivated many people to go for the sciences. We must go back to that age. Apart from that, scholarships were always available for science students, but now why must we abandon such a lofty idea? It is good to have degrees in other courses, but they cannot sustain the development of any country. When you also look at the world economic order, the correlation is clear. There is a direct correlation between the scientific competence of a nation and its economic success. Has it ever occurred to anyone what happens if the West decides to block its trade routes to Nigeria? It will just be a matter of time before everyone parks their cars and start to ride on camels again because they are all manufactured there. Even the ones we assemble here, the parts come from abroad. We cannot claim any meaningful political independence if we are not scientifically independent.
Now that you are a priest, do you miss teaching?
Oh yes, I do. I miss the classroom. It is one of the things I have passion for and that cannot be quenched.
Does your appointment as the pioneer bishop of the diocese of Lagos Mainland of the Anglican Church has anything to do with your academic background?
None whatsoever! Church work is completely different from academic work. The church founders were convinced I could make some meaningful contributions to a new diocese in a place like Lagos Mainland and that is why I was invited and elected to do this. For me, nothing gives me greater joy than serving God.