The District Grand Master For Nigeria Tells Julian Rees What Is Important To Him
Chief Olorogun is a District Grand Master to remember. He ascends the stairway of the Masonic Hall in Broad Street, Lagos, with the stern determination of a man who will not stand for any nonsense. But as he approaches, you notice sparkling eyes, you see the curl at the corner of his mouth as his face breaks into his trademark smile and his hand reaches out to greet you. His greeting is a cry of joy that, it seems, will be heard all across this noisy city. The District Grand Master is not a man you can ignore.
Appointed in 2008, Moses Taiga took charge of a district of over thirty lodges, in a country of 923,000 sq. km., more than four times the size of the British Isles, with a population in excess of 123 million. The ethnic diversity in this rich and colourful country makes a social and ethnic patchwork which is as bewildering as it is dazzling.
‘When you took over as District Grand Master,’ I asked, ‘what did you regard as your most urgent task?’
‘Strangely enough, it was how do I improve the District’s standing with Great Queen Street. Communications between the District and Grand Lodge were not as good as they should have been. Some in District Grand Lodge were ignoring a lot of correspondence, annual returns and so forth, so we had to put that right. I realised that if we didn’t cement our relationship with Grand Lodge then the District would not advance.
‘I was very pleased this April when we had the District Grand Masters’ meeting with the Pro Grand Master. I had been rather vocal on two points – the churches and our neighbours. He said to me, “you were a bit tough there!” But I think my primary objective, to improve the image of the District Grand Lodge in the eyes of Grand Lodge has been achieved, and it has been achieved by making the lodges themselves more responsive.’
‘So, you’ve been District Grand Master now for two years. Are you beginning to feel easy in the job now?’
‘No, there’s nothing easy about the job, because there are new challenges every day. We have thirty-two lodges, some of them very successful, some of them not so successful. Some lodges have an inherent weakness: in Jos for example, the plateau region, where most of the Freemasons there have moved from this area. This is a political crisis. The Berom Christians and the Hausas are fighting. All the members of our lodges in Jos had to leave Jos. This is where St. Georges Lodge, No. 3065, in Lagos has done well by being mixed: Nigerian, Indigene, Lebanese, White, they are all members. Some lodges had a policy of expats only and they died as a result.
‘Looking at the global position, our membership compared with ten years ago is up by about 10%. Much of this we have achieved by keeping a more watchful eye on the way the lodges are recruiting members. You asked me what was the most important thing when I was made District Grand Master: at this point in time we English Freemasons have to know who we are because the Scottish and Irish District Grand Lodges have decided to found, April next year, a Grand Lodge of Nigeria. They wanted us to join them but I said no. We were not tempted, because in our view, English masonry is more disciplined – we don’t have so many of what I would call commercial masons.’
‘Are you afraid of losing members to the new Grand Lodge?’ ‘It’s bound to happen. And to counter it, I can offer them an organised masonic career on English masonic principles. When I visit lodges in England, I find that Masonry is altogether different. The English lodges take more care, more care of their brethren and families, of their history, and so do we in the District here.’
‘If you look at the most successful lodges in your District, St. Georges Lodge, Nigeria Lodge, No. 3773, what is the chief element of success?’
‘Dedication. And commitment to togetherness. In the best lodges, when they gather for a meeting, they will tell you, this man is ill. We will go and look after him. That togetherness is what I want to bring.
‘Nigeria is a very complex country. It’s a country full of contradictions, a country full of conflicts, a country full of opposites, a country full of unanswered questions. The politics do not sit easily with Freemasonry, and that is the issue I want to address. During the dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida the military condemned Freemasonry and declared it illegal. The goverment are leaving us alone at the moment, but I want us to have a proper dialogue with them. And that is why I am trying to attract members of the National Assembly, where we currently have about ten members. That’s not enough. We want about fifty members. My ambition is that the President of the day knows who we are.’
‘Let me ask you this – the accusation is often made that Freemasonry is nothing but a social and dining club, but there is an increasing number who say no, it is not only a route to moral improvement but also a spiritual pursuit. How do you stand towards that?’
‘I say that Freemasonry can make a perfect man. We should be working towards perfection. That’s what it is about. We see some who join – I’m sorry to be direct – in order to gain power. They think that it imparts some mystical power. There are those who misinterpret the words “by virtue of the power in me vested”. There are those who say, I’ve been in the organisation two or three years, and I haven’t got any power – I’m not coming again. That’s why it’s important to show them an interest in Freemasonry on a spiritual level.
‘The other thing which I’m also trying to change is the way everybody wants to be Master of the lodge. The everyday practice of Freemasonry is not enough for some – they want promotion to Master and beyond. People should have interests in Freemasonry; an interest in what they are doing, and the enjoyment of doing it. Being a Master implies being master of yourself.’