Nigeria's anti-gay bishop fights new battle

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, a strong opponent of the acceptance of homosexuality within the worldwide Anglican Church, has chosen a different battle at home—the fight against corruption and what he calls the “dirty game” of politics.

Days after warning that Nigeria’s Anglican Church may break ties with its mother Church of England, Akinola took advantage of an Independence Day celebration on Sunday to tell the government its fight against “the evil of corruption” is not going nearly far enough.

“It is time we look at corruption, and charge all those who should be charged and jail those who should be jailed,” Akinola said to cheers from a congregation of more than 5 000 at the opening of a huge interdenominational church in the capital, Abuja.

“We haven’t sent anyone to jail yet,” the archbishop said in a booming voice from a revolving marble podium. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Nigeria regularly ranks as one of the world’s three most-corrupt nations in annual surveys by Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

Sitting in the congregation was Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, whom Akinola had just blessed. The two men, both from the town of Abeokuta in south-western Nigeria and both from the Yoruba tribe, are thought to be friends.

The archbishop said last week that recent sharp fuel price rises in Nigeria—one of the world’s biggest oil exporters—was not justifiable.
Residents complain profits from the industry have never trickled down to them.

“We all agree that the fuel price cannot be justified in our context,” Akinola told journalists, saying he sympathised with “the millions of Nigerians who continue to groan under abject want and poverty in the midst of plenty”.

Stance against homosexuality

Abroad, Akinola is better known for his criticism of churches that condone homosexuality.

With 17,5-million Anglicans, Nigeria has a powerful voice in the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican communion. Akinola also wields influence as leader of an African grouping of Anglican churches and has a strong voice in the Global South organisation of churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The archbishop says Western liberalism has corrupted church values, and that African churches must assert themselves.

“Liberalism and the human rights agenda have impacted so much on the Western world that they cannot see any real justification for what we are saying,” said Akinola.

“They are the ones leaving the scriptures,” he said. “They are the ones who are tearing apart the very fabric of our Anglican family, not the Nigerian church.”

The Nigerian and Ugandan Anglican churches broke ties with the United States Episcopal Church over its 2003 consecration of a gay bishop living with a partner. Nigeria also broke with Canada’s Anglican Church over its blessing of same-sex marriages.

Akinola has come out strongly against an announcement by Church of England bishops that gay priests in same-sex partnerships will remain in good standing as long as they promise to remain celibate.

Last week, he warned that the Nigerian church might break ties with the English church over the homosexuality issue, but said he would discuss matters with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in Cairo later this month.

The archbishop told foreign journalists in Abuja on Thursday that he regularly receives letters from Anglicans in Europe and the US asking to become members of the Church of Nigeria because of its conservative stance on homosexuality.

Akinola (61) said he decided to devote his life to the church when he was 18, after seeing visions of “myself preaching in public areas ... admonishing people”.

He accepted an offer of seminary training, despite being initially reluctant to abandon his chain of cabinet-making shops and postal agencies in the mainly Muslim north.

Akinola said his heightened religious fervour shocked his friends back then—“the same friends with whom I was drinking and with whom I was looking at girls”.—Sapa-AP

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