Nigerian priest James Anyaegbu has become an internet sensation because of his viral videos.
NewsOnline understands that Catholic priests are typically conservatives, and that is why they rarely jump on Tiktok trends or even maintain active Instagram accounts.
But a Nigerian priest, James Anyaegbu, who boasts of 429,000 TitTok followers and over 24,000 Instagram followers – Catholics and non-Catholics alike, has become an internet sensation because of his viral videos.
Mr Anyaegbu was ordained a priest in 2013 before going to Scotland in 2015, where he is currently based.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the social media savvy priest talks about the priesthood, how he handles fans, and the Nigerian society.
P.T.: What inspired your priesthood journey?
Fr. James: My journey to the priesthood was inspired by Catholic prayers. As a child, my parents said Catholic, prayers every night, and we attended masses almost every morning and every Sunday.
I think it inspired me to seek this ministry at a tender age. At the same time, the priests at my local parish loved the Eucharist, so I loved how they ‘comported’ themselves.
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P.T.: Catholics are conservatives. How much more a catholic priest? What inspired your Tiktok videos and your Instagram evangelism?
Fr. James: You know, just before 2020, I had this push, like a zeal to reach out to more people and minister to the young generation. I searched for them and created a platform to speak for themselves. I wanted a platform where their voices could be heard in the Church and spirituality.
I became very active first on my YouTube Channel in 2019. The lockdown in 2020 inspired me to create an avenue to speak more to the young people through TikTok. I love social media; I love surfing the net and seeing the activities of young people.
I believe you have to know people before you speak to them, at least to a certain extent. So seeing the activities of the young people, I realise that they need more because once you keep scrolling through this TikTok and these social media, you would always find something that would question your faith. I needed to answer some of their pressing questions and remind them that God still loves them despite their challenges. I started on Tiktok.
P.T.: Were you warmly received?
Fr. James: Yeah, it gained so much acceptance because people needed to know about God. People are longing to know more about God.
P.T.: You said some challenging incidents on social media affect young people’s faith. Can you share examples?
Fr. James: Social media is a new culture: it has grown into a village where people gather and do all sorts of things, some of which would question your faith. Habits hitherto considered sins have become normalised, and social media promote them without restraint. Some people rarely ask questions in Church, but when they see a priest on social media, they reach out to seek clarification on things that bother them.
Many people come to my D.M. and talk about situations that question their faith. However, they usually would not talk to their ministers about these issues, and because churches seem so far away from them, social media has become their refuge.
P.T.: So it won’t be wrong to call you ‘the social media parish priest’?
Fr. James: No, social media has not become a parish yet. From my perspective, it’s just a village with its own culture.
P.T.: How long have you been a priest?
Fr. James: 2022 would make me nine years in the priesthood. I have been a Catholic priest for (roughly) eight years.
P.T.: Have you been ordained a Catholic priest here in Nigeria?
Fr. James: I was ordained in Nigeria by Most Rev. Valerian Okeke of the Onitsha Archdiocese for the diocese of Aba.
P.T.: Have you not been criticised for your strong social media presence as a priest?
Fr. James: Of course, when I started, people asked specific questions like what is a priest doing here (on TikTok), a priest shouldn’t be here, this is not an arena for you. They have social media as a corrupt ground for the priest. This leads me back to what I had said earlier, and people have normalised social media as a sinful and corrupt ground. They forget that when Jesus came into the world, Jesus did not go into a very holy world. Jesus came into a corrupt ground, filled with darkness and all sorts of things to bring light there. I always reiterate that I am here to shine the light, bring joy and bring positivity, not just any positivity but that positivity found in God, leading people back to Jesus.
P.T.: Have you received criticism from fellow priests?
Fr. James: Honestly speaking, my fellow priests have been supportive.
P.T.: As a priest on social media who gets to meet Nigerian youths on social media, from your observation, what is the pertinent issue with the youth?
Fr. James: There are many issues with the Nigerian youth, and it all boils down to the Nigerian Government and the Nigerian society.
An average Nigerian youth wants to become something in the society wants to influence the society, but when the desirable is not available, the available becomes desirable. That is the problem of our country today. Every human seeks a good life, not just the youth.
P.T.: Is travelling abroad the best alternative?
Fr. James: Most youths don’t want to know or care about whatever they face abroad. This is because Nigerian society does not appreciate them.
More people are telling me that father, I want to travel abroad. How do I travel? One of the pertinent requests of the Nigerian youths these days, from the university, is ‘once I finish school, I want to go to the U.S. or U.K. to do my masters.’ This Is because they want a good life.
P.T.: Are there no good jobs in Nigeria?
Fr. James: The truth is that there are no jobs in Nigeria. Even the president affirms it. Buhari once said if you finish university, do not expect the Government to give you a job. Such a statement from the president discourages you even more.
P.T.: Don’t you think the president’s remarks would encourage entrepreneurship?
Fr. James: I’ve seen many entrepreneurs in Nigeria. But the question is, do they have an enabling environment? Has the Government recognised them? When you go to the bank to take a loan, would you take that loan peacefully, or would the loan process work against you? These are some of the challenges they face, but not everybody can be an entrepreneur. I would tell you emphatically that Nigeria has the most prominent entrepreneurs in Africa.
P.T.: Why do you say so?
Fr. James: Have you visited Alaba, Ariara, and Onitsha main markets? Every Nigerian street has a shop. That’s entrepreneurship. So Nigeria, I must say, has got the highest number of entrepreneurs in Africa, if not in the world.
P.T.: What is the way forward?
Fr. James: For example, in the U.K., at age 16, which is the age of consent, most youths start working. They already have a job.
P.T.: Who provides the job for them?
Fr. James: They work at the post office, in big supermarkets, in care homes, in restaurants, they do all these jobs because they have been certified. The U.K. government provides that good environment for them, and they are safe, but where in Nigeria would you find these? Even someone who finishes secondary school who is going to look for work can’t earn well. Some people earn as little as N5000 or N10,000. There is no minimum wage.
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P.T.: Does this mean that the Nigerian Government has failed the youth?
Fr James: Honestly, it’s a total failure from my perspective. We need to change the calm mindset of Nigerians and the Government.
P.T.: But, a school of thought says religion is a big issue?
Fr. James: I believe the problem of religion in Nigeria boils down to law enforcement.
Fr. James: Yes, like I would say when the desirable is not available, the available becomes desirable. Religion tends to promise people peace of mind and joy, and where else will they go to find encouragement, strengths, and joy in almost all the problems in Nigeria? The Church, of course. But they seem to want to go to a place that tells them they will make money tomorrow, and they will shout Amen. That is one of the problems of religion in Nigeria people complain about. That is why I founded the ‘Faith Chat,’ where people talk about their faith and help one another without external aid.
P.T.: How have your Instagram and TikTok videos affected your personal life?
Fr. James: I must say that I derive fun shooting my videos. I desire the next person watching them to also derive pleasure from watching them. God has been such faithful people come back to appreciate God for touching their lives through these videos.
P.T.: The Catholic Church is orthodox. How do these videos affect your ministry as a Roman Catholic priest?
Fr. James: Well, the pope has been on Instagram and Twitter for quite a long time, although some Catholics themselves manage the account. When you consider Catholics as orthodox, it limits some renewal. The Church is the people of God, and the Church works with the people of God, and the Church uses every avenue to bring the people back to Jesus. That’s the mission of the Church, evangelism.
P.T.: How has the Church achieved this evangelism through social media?
Fr James: People would rather watch videos instead of reading, so the Church takes advantage of technology.
P.T.: Does this mean Nigerian Youths don’t read?
Fr. James: I am not saying that the Nigerian youths don’t read. Nigerian youths are some of the most intelligent people globally; we can see their exploits in all realms of life. If well harnessed, we would supersede even America or China.
P.T.: How have your Tik Tok videos improved learning?
Fr. James: There are different ways of learning. My tik tok videos address learning visually.
P.T.: How did the pandemic affect your ministry?
Fr. James: The pandemic and lockdown gave us a new understanding. It reminded us that we do not appreciate what we have until it is taken away from us. During the lockdown, we started YouTube masses, and we had Muslims, Indians, Chinese et. c, tune in and appreciate God.
P.T.: Why did you leave Nigeria?
Fr. James: I left Nigeria on a mission. Every priest and Christian is a missionary. It is just that some intensify their mission by going further. Some priests move from one location to another within the diocese; some are called to go farther, like Saint Paul, who had to go to Timbuktu to preach the word. My bishop chose me to go farther. That’s why I am in this small village in Scotland.
P.T.: Would you be moving to Nigeria any time soon?
Fr. James: By the grace of God, Nigeria is my home; I’m missing not being there at the moment. I am missing the joy in Nigeria. Nigerians are one of the happiest people in the world. Even though nothing should make us happy in Nigeria, Nigeria has so much joy. That is why you always see us want to come home to embrace our family. So that’s what I am missing.
P.T.: As a priest, what do you love most but miss most?
Fr. James: I love and miss my family. One other thing I love most is weddings.
P.T.: Don’t you wish to get married someday?
Fr. James: It’s not that I do not want to get married, no, but I have chosen a path. It is like a bridge. Even though I love to be married, I have chosen to make family life better by being on the other side that appreciates them, speaks to them, and helps them be better persons.
P.T.: How would you love to be remembered?
Fr. James: I would love to be remembered as a priest
P.T.: But there are so many priests?
Fr. James: I would love to be remembered for being one of them, for the sacrifices that I’ve made, and for the people that are happy and blessed through my ministry.