Why Pope Francis Honoured Me, By Ilika | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Why Pope Francis Honoured Me, By Ilika

Posted: May 27, 2015 at 3:04 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

One time Anambra State Commissioner for Health, Professor Linus Amobi Ilika, was recently honoured with the Papal Knighthood of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

From Church History as explained by Bishop Hilary Odili Okeke of Nnewi Diocese during the investiture at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption, Nnewi, the Order of St. Gregory the Great was instituted by Pope Gregory the 16th in 1831 as a reward for “those laity who have contributed in an outstanding way to the welfare of the church and community and who have displayed indisputable zeal in service to the Holy See”.  In this interview with Chukwujekwu Ilozue, Ilika explains what he thought made the Pope to honour him.


What do you think informed your being honoured with the Papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great?

Well, it is always very difficult to know the mind of the Church, the mind of God. But like Bishop Hilary Okeke of Nnewi Diocese said, these are merits given to those who have been palpably identified to have contributed to the growth of the church, development of the church, humanity, society and the entire world. He made it very clear that the thing doesn’t go to everybody and that there are a lot of people that have worked for the church but only few are selected after a rigorous process. In spite of the fact that they made recommendations the Holy Father looks at all, event by event, and not all the people are selected. Some of them are screened out by the Holy Father using his network.

The total thing in my own case, there are quite a lot of things; number one: I was running and am still running a pro-poor clinic as a medical doctor where you see and treat poor people, old people  and care for them whether they are able to pay or not. And I have extended that to the village where poor people are mostly found; the disadvantaged are mostly found. I have done that for years since I became a medical doctor. Then another thing is my charisma for pro-life. I have been nick-named the voice for unborn children, victims of violence. In my place they call me ‘Ozondu’. I am passionate about unborn children; I am passionate about those the world reject and say they will not be born at all; I am one of the people that say that nobody should be killed. I get so much hurt any time there is violence and blood is shed and people kill people; that is an act of hatred, it offends the law of love.

Apart from the 5th commandment it offends the law of love that nobody has the right to take another man’s  life except the Maker: God is the creator of life. This activity of pro-life has led me to establish cenotaphs to the unborn child and victims of violence. These are memorials that will make the world to remember the unborn child; the so-called unwanted children –social or medical, I think it is wrong and then all people killed as a result of racism, religion, hate and so on. So, I fight a cause against such. And that have been very appealing to the Holy Father and the church.

Also, I have been involved in youth activities. Under my youth activities I have been able to teach the young values and ethics, so that they will not only think about these values, this secularism; the whole world has been secularised. Everybody is now thinking about power, everybody is thinking about fame, everybody is now thinking about money. Nobody is thinking about basic values. So, I have always thought of teaching the youth a sense of having the right values – moral values that are esoteric that move towards God more than material things, more than secular things and that include boys respecting girls, treating issues of rape, treating issues of sexual abuse even in the university and everywhere. No person should abuse any young girl or abuse anybody because of his sex or because of his weakness or disadvantaged situation. So, that has given the youth the power to cope and resist those things.

Then the next issue that the Holy Father and the Church considered was what I did for the church when I was commissioner.

When the war ended the government stopped giving grants-in-aide to Voluntary Agency Hospitals because in its concept it felt that they are their competitors. But for the six years I was Commissioner of Health I came up with an advocacy and that is a fact in real growth that these voluntary agency hospitals and mission hospitals and private hospitals provide over 75 per cent of health services in the state; so whatever indicators we have is because of their services. So, I advocated a robust partnership with the mission if we are to achieve Millennium Development Goals and to realise health for all.

So, I advocated and got with the then Governor Peter Obi and the Executive Council that we restore aides-in-grant to mission hospitals. So you can imagine when the war ended – 1970 to 2006 when I became commissioner mission hospitals were not given grants-in-aide and it affected the services, most of them collapsed. That was my argument.

My next argument was that these Mission Hospitals trained the core of health workers  nurses, pharmacists and others. As a matter of fact it is Iyi-Enu that trained the first midwife in Nigeria. The first General Hospital in Nigeria is Sacred Heart Hospital, Abeokuta. The first big hospital is Diocesan Hospital Iyi- Enu. I brought this point to the Governor and then convinced them and then to the House of Assembly and based on that grant-in-aide was restored to Mission Hospitals and everybody saw the result, very wonderful result, total transformation of the health sector.

All the schools of nursing that lost accreditation – Iyi-Enu School of Nursing, Ihiala, Adazi, was totally closed down, Water-side School of Nursing and Midwifery, Onitsha; I got all of them rehabilitated and re-accredited.

With grant-in-aide to hospitals we even opened more and more and went down to primary health centres and small hospitals in hard to reach areas. With that health care reached everybody, equitable health care and effective and efficient health service so that the issue of equity in health, issue of accessibility wherever the people are got fulfilled to a great level, issue of low immunisation coverage was improved because hitherto because the mission and private hospitals were not involved we couldn’t reach a large number of people.

Because in the area of immunisation they were all submitting because before then the churches thought the immunisation vaccines were laced with contraceptives, but because of the involvement of government these changed. It was when I did all these activities and got the missions involved that it was demonstrated that these vaccines were not laced with contraceptives.

How would this award impact on your future activities?  

First of all I wish to thank the Holy Father, the Pope; my Bishop Hilary Okeke, the Papal Nuncio for seeing all these things. As the Bishop said there are lots of people that their names were sent; the Pope scrutinised, made inquiry and took the few. So, I believe it is an act of God. And you remember that I have won an award – the Michael Ben International Award for Pro-life, for life initiative and over 60 awards for these services but this one coming from the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ from far away Rome gives me a lot of joy and I dedicate it to the unborn children and children of abortion; aborted children and victims of violence.

What it will do for me is that it will steer me to do more for humanity because that convinces me that what I am doing is right even when I lose, so-called loss in the eyes of people. When this kind of award comes it makes me look at the spiritual thing.

The next challenge it gives me is that I look more and more at pro-life and pro-poor programme, my sense of the voiceless of young people anywhere I am found and making sure that I satisfy my work anywhere I am – be a good shepherd which a teacher and professor will be. And again, spread love and avoid languages of hate that is all over the world now and make all of us know that God is the father of all of us.

Then, this is a reminder of my final destiny which is heaven. So it is a challenge to channel all any resources towards making my final destiny.