Articles : An Exclusive Interview With Obianuju Ekeocha (Culture of Life Africa)

Posted on: 2014-09-26

There are many people who live with great ideas, but not very many of them have the courage to bring those ideas to the light of day. As regards moral issues in our days and time, the voices which ring out for freedom to act against previously acceptable moral standards in the name of secularism seem to be so loud and confusing. Yet there are a lot of people who still speak for the right moral standards. One of them is MS. OBIANUJU EKEOCHA, the founder and coordinator of CULTURE OF LIFE AFRICA. Even with the busy schedule of her own private life and work, she travels round the world to propagate the ideals for life, which the (negative forces especially of the) Western World wishes to corrode gradually. Revd. Frs. Peter Akinola and Martin Badejo were able to spot her amidst her busy schedule and they took the opportunity to make her share her convictions in this brief interview. Please enjoy the excerpt:


Akéde Ìgbàgbó: Ms. Uju Ekeocha, please may we know more about you?


Obianuju: My name is Ms Obianuju Ekeocha. A lot of people know and call me Uju. I am the sixth and the youngest child of my parents who are still alive, they live in Nigeria and have been married for close to fifty years. I am from Imo State and I studied Microbiology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria, after which I did a post graduate course in Medical Laboratory Sciences. Being always very focused on my career, I came to the United Kingdom to pursue a Masters degree in Biomedical Sciences and I successfully became a specialist in testing blood and making blood diagnosis. So I work in the area of healthcare called hematology and blood transfusion.


Akéde Ìgbàgbó: You have made a glaring mark with your Culture of Life Africa project. What informed your interest in Pro-Life issues?


Obianuju: Despite the usual challenges one is bound to face in daily living, things were really going well for me and I had no plans of doing any work on Pro-Life. I just love the Church and I tried to keep abreast of what she teaches, indeed I can say that even though inherently I am Pro-Life, it was not a thing I really gave the thought of engaging in a deeper way as many other people do. I actually set out to be a great scientist and I got employed in the United Kingdom in 2006 and became a real specialist in my field in 2011. The reason I point this out is that as a Nigerian outside the shores of our country it is necessary to note that there are many of us making real efforts to achieve the good we have set as goals, much so that very often it might just be very tough to ever give it a thought of picking up any sort of missionary work. All I had in my heart was to grow in my career as that was the way I was brought up to have a clear focus about whatever I wanted to achieve. Even though I was brought up to know and love the Church and I made the conscious choice to love her even as I grew older, yet I had the objective of allowing nothing to cross the (path of the) pursuit of my career. However between the year 2010 and 2011, I had this feeling within me to do something, what I can describe as a more active mission, a duty for God and the Church. But I didn't know what it was and I started to pray for something extra as regards inspiration, because for some reason my science was no longer adequate, even with the different researches I embarked upon, and in spite of the lots of accolades I got from the hospital I was working for. Nevertheless, each time I went for Mass, I felt an emptiness asking to be filled, an urge asking to do more sacrifice. So I started to pray, asking for direction, and based upon a saying I happened to have heard from a Catholic speaker which goes that, "one prayer that God will always answer is when man says to God, give me something to do." According to the speaker, God may not give direct answers to any other prayer, but he definitely will never leave such a request unanswered, especially in his own way. So I started to ask God more actively and I also embarked upon reading many Church literature. I must say that things started to change and I began to realize myself coming together from within. In the year 2012 I seized the opportunity of the International Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin, Ireland, to explore the new possibilities of the spiritual life in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I really felt if I could have the opportunity to take a break from my job to experience The Lord for a week, It was going to be like heaven. I felt that if I could put everything away for those five or six days for which the Congress lasted and just run to His presence daily where he was exposed, listen to the talks, and adore The Lord it could just make a difference. And I tell you that was where I realized the full import of what God was calling me to do, to go into the world to proclaim.


The whole thing came to a climax not quite two months after that experience in Dublin when as I finished the first day of the novena prayer for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the eve of the Transfiguration (a novena I never wanted to pray due to the fatigue I experienced in my place of work), something took me to turn on my television even though my body and mind asked that I go to bed after I had had a long shift at work. It was an inspiration I cannot explain its source, but that was what marked the precise turning point. As I tuned to CNN, I saw Melinda Gates on the Christine Amanpour show being interviewed concerning the Family Planning Summit which she held in July 2012 in London. And it was all about how to get contraceptives to Africa and other poor parts of the world. She was raising money and a lot of awareness. Her target was to get 5 billion dollars with which she can get the idea of contraception and contraceptive devices to Africa and give it as a humanitarian aid. According to her, she wanted to bring in the culture of contraception in a new way that we have never heard before. I watched this interview and I heard her say something about the Church which I count as an insult. Christine had asked her opinion about what the Church might say and what might be the reaction of groups and individuals who do not support such an idea and project. Melinda responded that she was simply saving lives and not in any way against the Church and that even when she went to Kenya, she was moved to take the decision to do this because one woman in Kenya passionately asked her to give them access to and make provisions for contraceptives for them (as that was what she desired most above every other thing). But I knew she was telling a lie, because I don't know any African woman who will want contraception and contraceptives above all else that she has to contend with, especially with the love for family life and the respect for life which the African lifeworld lives by. I was really upset that she told a lie and that she insulted the Church.


As I turned off the television, I tried to sleep but I could not. So I decided to write down reasons why I am sure that the African woman will not in any way ask for what she claimed. I stayed up for close to five hours doing the write up, after which I sent it to one of the television presenters of the EWTN with whom I used to communicate. She later published it and so it began to spread till it got to the Vatican and I had to report myself to my Archbishop in Nigeria (Archbishop Obinna of Owerri), in case the whole thing will cause trouble, because as many as got interested in it, (there) were so many who felt that why should anyone oppose the wife of Bill Gates. The write up had practically caught fire. For instance, while the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria also got interested in it, I was on the other hand engaging feminists and other supporters of free way of life in debates on the social media for over three months. They challenged me on why I decided to write such a response. They had begun to refer to the write up as AN OPEN LETTER TO MELINDA GATES. It of course led me to know that there was so much about Africa which was yet unknown to many in the Western world and that many Africans are united on topical issues such as this.


Akéde Ìgbàgbó: How will you rate the points of convergence (if any) and the points of divergence as regards the Culture of Life in Africa with other parts of the world, especially Europe?


Obianuju: the point of convergence which I can point to is that they say they want the best for Africans. They want to see an end to poverty, they want to see an end to health scare issues, they desire peace in Africa, they want education, they want development. Here I can say this is a desire common to both grounds. But that is where it ends. Once it goes beyond such development to the level of human dignity, what they think about is how to make smaller families in Africa, and they think once they give us contraceptives and we start to have one child per couple, Africa will all of a sudden become good and everybody will have education. But that is not true. That's where I see the divergence.


Akéde Ìgbàgbó: What obstacles and successes have you experienced in your Pro-Life campaign especially in Nigeria?


Obianuju: The biggest success is that the Catholic Bishops from the very beginning have been on board with the work. They have received and supported the work with open arms. But the biggest obstacle that we have had is that even though I have met a lot of wonderful priests, who are active Pro-Lifers and have helped to spread the ideas to a great extent, yet I have met some who do not seem to share the ideas we have as strongly as one might expect. Another obstacle is the poverty of the people which makes it difficult for them to make the sacrifice which is absolutely necessary for the Pro Life mission. Some Nigerians aren't willing to help in anyway if they don't get paid or if it does not offer careers prospects.


Akéde Ìgbàgbó: What do you judge to be the link between prayer life and the fight for life?


Obianuju: The fight for life is first and foremost a spiritual one. So anyone who wants to work for life without backing it up with prayers first is making a big mistake. Of course some people are doing great work as activists within the Pro-Life movement. But once it becomes activism, the work can become empty and could make one to lose sight of the humanity of the opponent and even those you work with as everything will be geared at a forceful way of doing it and seeking to achieve it only by human effort. I believe that the propagation of the Culture for Life is a missionary (task) role and it is a vocation from God which he wants a lot of us to be doing. So there is that very intricate link between prayer and the defense of life, of marriage and of family. The advice is for anyone who is going to answer this call to propagate the Culture of Life, the Gospel of Life, to be rooted in Spirituality. For the Catholic, the Eucharist is what you cannot do without, the rosary is what you cannot do without. That Our Lady brought me directly into this Pro-Life movement is not a joke. She practically held me by the hand and she brought me directly into this. And that I am doing it is that I have to receive the Eucharist regularly at Mass and that I have to keep my eyes fixed on The Lord is necessary because this is a spiritual battle. And of course one has to be smart and read the documents of the Church, also about the lives of the saints, and the policies which are passed day by day in the secular milieu so as to be up to date. One also has to be as generous as possible especially with the gift of oneself. The virtues, the strength, the protection, and the means one needs to do the work come from God. I invite people especially the Youth to read the document Evanglium Vitae written by St. Pope John Paul II. It is a document which is quite helpful. ‎


Akéde Ìgbàgbó: How do the newly constructed terminologies, (e.g. the use of the term MToP in place of Abortion), affect the real ideas of the Culture of Life which you propagate?


Obianuju: Obviously many people within the camp of Pro Abortion and anti-life campaigns know that meddling with the terminologies which are well defined, so as to make them look good and more seemingly attractive, drop people's consciousness to the culpability of their actions in this sense. Yet they know what they are doing and they know it is the killing of the innocent. So they use these words to confuse and desensitize people. There is MToP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) being used in place of Abortion. They also use the term, Removal of Product of Conception in place of Abortion, so that the profound expression, "abortion of the baby" never shows up. There is Sexual and Reproductive Rights which is the big one at the level of the United Nations. Once they say that, it is a signal for the whole package propagating abortion and the likes of LGBT (Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual) lifestyles. So it does confuse people who are not conscientious or people who do not want to make the effort to find out a little bit more about these realities. In their own way, they create a new world of expressions to confuse, but with even greater intent of harming the mind and getting people desensitized, because it works for them. More easily they claim that they are helping women especially to fight for their rights, their sexual rights. Anyone who doesn't understand the profound import of these will think that they use such to sell ideas about the protection of women from rape and such sexual violence. But all they do is use these terms to push their agenda forward and they seem to be making strides in so many countries. In Africa many of our leaders who neither have adequate education nor good advisers in this light get lobbied into this frame of ideas. They never speak of abortion to our leaders, they only use sweetly constructed terms like these to sway them. It then becomes a duty for Pro-Lifers not only to neutralize these ideas but more importantly to become proactive in the education of the people as regards keeping the sanctity of life.

Akéde Ìgbàgbó: In what ways do you think the pastoral workers can collaborate in the campaign for life?


Obianuju: To start with, I will say that we must find common grounds to discuss such issues especially among young people, irrespective of faith denominations or faith preferences. Even though there could still exist some differences in preferences, while I promote basically what the Church teaches I try to go for the most basic ideas such as the fact that contraception is the beginning point of the culture of death. I realize too that we still have strong family values, so I also go for the big issues such as abortion and homosexual lifestyles which stand against these core values of our lives. Pastors have a great deal to help with as well as lay pastoral workers to help move the message to the grassroots especially by getting a lot of young people involved and using the lay associations and societies to propagate it. It ought not be like choosing the Pro-Life society as one of the other church groups. It will work better to use every arm of the church societies to imbibe and spread the Pro-Life and the Culture of Life message. Even as far back as when St. Pope John Paul wrote the encyclical "Evangelium Vitae", it has become a universal call to all people to promote the message of supporting the family life at every cost, because if we lose the family, we will lose the entire society. Indeed the Church in each locality ought to create programmes within which the message can be given to the people, especially the youth, making it more engaging for them to get involved.


Akéde Ìgbàgbó: What is your advice for African Youth as regards the Culture of Life?

Obianuju: Obviously I have been in Europe now for almost a decade and before that I lived in Nigeria and I do see the difference. What many of our youth think is the beauty of the western life is more often a confusion of ideas. It looks like because there is always electric supply, water supply, and every of such thing which looks beautiful on the television and the social media, and even some of our people who have travelled outside the shores of Africa making it seem like Europe and America are always like watered gardens where all you need do is pick up the ripe fruits. But the truth of the matter is that a lot of people in the West, especially the young are not happy. So even though you see people walking around and it seems that they do not have any worries, a lot of them live on anti-depressants. You see young people committing suicide, especially the girls, because they have being turned into objects and things to be used. They find it hard to even get married, as no one is expecting that a man can ever marry a woman here without having lived with her for many years long before the marriage. And that itself is not an assurance that they will get married at the end of the day. Indeed the cherished being created by God has been almost snuffed out of the western life. I wish to tell African youth that our culture, our life world and the lessons we are taught are beautiful. If only we can have governments to help us stand back a little bit from the hardships we do not really deserve economically and otherwise, if the corruption in our governments can be reduced to the minimum and they concentrate on giving a life to the people, then we can realize our potentials even more. I wish to let our African youth realize the fact that the love their families in Africa offer them cannot be gotten elsewhere, not the least in the West. The family ties in Europe and America is at its nadir. These are graces which we still have and which we should protect and not give away for anything. Almost everybody in Europe lives an individual life, grandparents are moved out of the house to the Old Peoples’ Homes, young children over the age of 18 are encouraged to go out of the house to live alone, parents sometimes who are yet to be divorced hardly spend time together in the name of getting a good life and having to work for long hours, so as to pay their bills. Indeed the lifestyle is lonely, coupled with a lot of spiritual poverty. So I wish to ask our youth not to really look at the greener pastures aspect of it alone. In other words while they aspire, to move forward in life, they should hold on to the moral values which they have been given from home, embrace family life and respect the norms of life that the African communal life offers. They should not be too quick to accept everything thrown at them on the television and other media of information because behind the pictures and the scenes are a whole lot of disappointed, disillusioned, unhappy and depressed people.


Akéde Ìgbàgbó: Thank you very much Uju.


Obianuju: Thank you. It is a great pleasure sharing these convictions. Please feel free to visit the website and let us work together to stand for life against all odds.