“Exceptional religious leader”: President of Nigeria Extols Cardinal on His Birthday

John Cardinal Onaiyekan (left) and President Bola Ahmed Tinubu . Credit: Oyo Diocese/Nigeria Catholic Network

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria has acclaimed John Cardinal Onaiyekan for his “exceptional” leadership traits, underscoring the Cardinal’s prophetic stance against injustice efforts in fighting for the oppressed and peacebuilding in the West African nation on the occasion of his 80th birthday celebration.

In a message published on X on January 29,  the day the Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja Archdiocese turned 80, Nigeria’s President conveys his “hearty felicitations”, and wishes Cardinal Onaiyekan “more prosperous years in the Lord’s Vineyard.”

“President Tinubu celebrates the exceptional religious leader who has used his calling not only to preach the good gospel of Jesus Christ, but also followed his example by fighting for the downtrodden and speaking out against the ills in society, yet remains unbending in the pursuit of peace and unity in Nigeria,” President Tinubu says.

In the message authored by the Special Adviser to President Tinubu, Chief Ajuri Ngelale, the Cardinal’s “sacrifices and efforts” towards lasting peace in Nigeria are acknowledged.

“The President thanks His Eminence for his sacrifices and efforts in peace-building in Nigeria over the years, assuring him that his hope and prayers for a glorious and united Nigeria will be made manifest,” Chief Ngelale says.


Born in Kabba in Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Lokoja on 29 January 1944, Cardinal Onaiyekan was ordained a Priest for his native Diocese in August 1969.

He started his Episcopal ministry in January 1983 as Auxiliary Bishop of Ilorin Diocese, having been assigned the Titular See of Thunusuda.

The Catholic Church leader assisted Bishop William Mahony in the Diocese of Ilorin until October 1984 when he succeeded the late member of the Society of African Missions (SMA).

In July 1990, Pope St. John Paul II appointed him Coadjutor Bishop of Abuja. He succeeded the late Dominic Ignatius Cardinal Ekandem as Bishop of Abuja when he retired in September 1992.  

Cardinal Onaiyekan became the pioneer Archbishop of Abuja when the Nigerian Episcopal See was elevated to an Archdiocese in March 1994.

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In November 2012, the Nigerian Archbishop was elevated to the rank of Cardinal and appointed Cardinal-Priest of San Saturnino.

Cardinal Onaiyekan served as the Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese from July 2013 to February 2018.

He has also served as President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN). 

Cardinal Onaiyekan retired as Archbishop of Abuja at the age of 75 in 2019; he was succeeded by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, who was installed in December 2019.

At 80, Cardinal Onaiyekan will not be taking part in Conclaves, convened to elect a Pope. 


Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.