A glance at the contemporary social, political and pastoral developments in Nigeria and beyond provide us with ample agenda for discussion, resolution and action at this plenary of the CBCN, being generously hosted by the Ecclesiastical Province of Ibadan in Akure. The meeting of the Catholic Bishops of the Regional Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA) in Accra, Ghana (Feb. 22, 2016) focused on Evangelization, Development and Family. A World meeting of families was held in Philadelphia, USA. While a conference on The Family in Africa, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: in the Light of the Gospel” organized by the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar in Angola. The National Catholic Festival of Arts and Culture (NACAFAC) 2016 was held in Benin City and the national meeting of families took place in Lagos. The World Youth Day was recently celebrated in Poland and only last week an International Conference on the Evil of Human Trafficking, was held in Abuja. Our VERITAS Catholic University has always been a subject of regular conversation. We have so much to talk and pray about. May God bless our deliberations.
We note with gratitude the sacrifice made by the Dioceses of Ibadan Province, (Ibadan, Oshogbo, Ekiti, Oyo and Ondo) and their benefactors to host the CBCN and appreciate the cordial relationship between the Church and the State government which has facilitated the construction of the beautiful road we followed to come to this venue. Kudos to Bishop Jude Arogundade and his people for this wonderful pastoral centre. May God bless the Church and people in Ibadan Province. May God provide more resources for the .government of Ondo State so that the people will continue to enjoy the dividends of democracy and experience greater infrastructural progress and social welfare.
We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, are here as usual to pray, to interface with one another and to objectively reflect on issues of Church and State. What is paramount to us is the spiritual and also the material welfare of our people in Nigeria. We pray for more graces to face our spiritual tasks with greater dedication as we urge all those involved in pastoral ministry to be genuine in service and truthful in directing our people to see and embrace religion as a genuine tool for peace and development and to teach the urgent necessity for peace with God and peace with fellow Nigerians.
We feel duty bound, as grass roots leaders, to listen to the cries of our people especially the poor, orphans, pensioners, widows, prisoners, ex-prisoners, unemployed youths, crime victims, etc. and to prophetically address them. We are not unaware of the serious impact of the economic recession on Nigerians as we see and interact with hundreds of people thronging our Churches and offices daily to ask for support to feed, pay medical bills, rents and other basic necessities. During this year declared by Pope Francis as the Year of Mercy a lot more can be done by individuals, religious bodies and government to radiate mercy to the poor and needy and to improve the lot of our citizens. We appreciate the tremendous work of our Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN) and the Justice, Peace and Development Commission (JDPC), the St Vincent de Paul groups and indeed other charitable organizations who have demonstrated the sensitivity of the Church in Nigeria towards the plight of the poor and needy.
As part of our prophetic role as the shepherds of our people, the Catholic Bishops paid a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari on May 2nd, 2016 to pray for him to succeed in his administration and to assure him of our togetherness, moral, spiritual support and readiness to advice. We commended Mr. President on the success of his administration over the Boko Haram insurgency and his rekindling more awareness that corruption is evil, anti-people and responsible for our economic and social retrogression. We also raised issues with him about the consistent attacks by herdsmen, the subtle religious discrimination in some parts of the North, the grazing controversy generating negative reactions, the danger of tribal and religious intolerance, the appalling plight of internally displaced people and the need for a coordinated approach in resettling and rehabilitating them. The President did listen to us.
While we thank God for the measure of peace we still enjoy in most parts of our nation, we worry however that we continue to witness a culture of smear campaign and sometimes unhealthy agitations. There is a jaundiced political evaluation of issues where some feel there is some witch hunting going on! The reckless use of political advantage (the syndrome of “it is now our turn”) and the politics of irrational opposition (pull him/her down syndrome) seem to dominate our political mentality. We keep exchanging and apportioning blames instead of genuinely searching together ways to liberate Nigerians from the economic predicaments we are facing, to promote mutual trust, to build peaceful living together and to close ranks to confront evil people who sow discord and misery in our land.
Even those in authority agree that life is getting harder, rougher and tougher. What is not happening is a concerted approach by both those in government and those in the opposition towards a solution. We must admit that some of us, who are charged with and should be custodians of our common welfare, have been very careless and reckless in the use of public funds which have been subordinated to personal, ethnic or religious selfish interests. When I travelled on the 9th Mile Onitsha federal high way recently, the road was like a stretch of fishing ponds! These are some of the things that make people feel the sense of exclusion. It should be realized that this country is made up of North, South, East and West. Our multi ethnic and multi religious make up calls for sensitivity in planning and execution of projects, appointments, recruitment into the vital organs of government etc. Many have observed that some recent appointments do not reflect the geopolitical/religious balance in a nation where in the absence of any reliably documented statistical evidence it has been estimated to be 40% Christians and 40% Muslims while 20 percent goes to the Traditional Worshippers and others.
When former President Jonathan lost election, the Catholic Bishops were among the very few who paid him a visit to applaud his accepting defeat without bitter resentment or a violent struggle, and to encourage him. Before that, we gave Buhari as presidential aspirant a chance to talk with us before the elections (which unfortunately some saw as political partisanship of the Catholic Church). They did not care to know about the crucial issues we discussed about Nigeria or that we had similar discussions with President Goodluck Jonathan and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku for the common good of our country. When Buhari became our President, in line with the injunction of Rom 13 “to respect all those in authority,” we went to the Presidential Villa twelve months later to assure him of our support, because we care about Nigeria and Nigerians. We drew his attention to the fate of the internally displaced people due to the militant attacks of Boko Haram, herdsmen and others. We shall continue to offer good counsel and admonition where and when necessary.
As for the body of Christ in Nigeria we need a serious introspection on the prayer of the Lord Jesus and to do more towards Christian unity as enjoined by the apostle Paul in I Cor. 1:10. The Churches in Nigeria must do a proper X-ray, an interior search, a critical self-analysis of where we Christians have failed and do a sincere act of repentance. We need to see how and where we have failed to radiate the light of Christ. Could the problem be from the fact that people suddenly become “pastors” without a proper calling or serious training: their only qualification being that they are eloquent motivational speakers and gifted actors? Is it because preaching is focused too much on material prosperity and not spiritual salvation? Prosperity preaching is like an assault tantamount to a robbery of spiritual values. The emphasis of such preachers is not about freedom from slavery to sin to become Christ-like in unconditional loving, rather there is undue concentration on triumphing over enemies, ladies getting husbands, people getting rich, fighting witches and wizards, experiencing miracles, etc., with very little emphasis on correct attitudinal behavior or the burning desire for eternal life. Economic lack is seen as a sign of God’s rejection. What a warped theology, far removed from the spirit and life of Jesus Christ in the Bible!
What can Christians do to recover the dignity of Christianity being ridiculed and bastardized by fake pastors and persons ill prepared for Christian leadership founding Churches with ridiculous names? A few days ago one Prof. Yusufu Turarki speaking to a group of Christians observed that “The Church is plagued by divisions, there are splinter groups working against each other, lack of unity and stiff competitions have also overwhelmed the church”. (Cf. “Peace and unity in the body of Christ” cf. Daily Sun Monday, August 29, 2016, p. 13.
Religion is so crucial to the existence of Nigeria. We, the people of religion, must work together to direct our members to reflect in their lives the true positive values of their religions which help to build rather than destroy, gather rather than scatter. Unfortunately, compromises have been made even by spiritual leaders for material gains, which explains why leadership even in some religious circles is seen not as a service but as a passport to material prosperity. Some religious leaders contribute in heating up the system by unsolicited prophecies of alarm and doom. Some Christian and Muslim leaders often demonstrate by their unedifying verbal exchange that the existence of “one nation bound in freedom and love” matters less to them as long as they promote their religious agenda. I pray that our dialogue can go beyond the level of mere cordiality; that we should be able to seriously put issues that cause conflicts or tension between Christians and Muslims on the table and the front burner for discussion. Why should we be killing ourselves or destroying hard earned means of livelihood in the name of religion?
When everyone sticks to his or her ways and says “this is the teaching of my religion and I am prepared to die for it” it offers little hope for sincere dialogue. We pray one day to overcome the unhealthy rivalries between Nigerian Christians and Muslims, the spirit of competition, suspicion, negativity, condescending postures, struggle to outdo one another even in political power sharing, etc. We need to avoid inflammatory, uncompromising and irrational utterances.
Could the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Jamaatu Nazril Islam (JNI and CAN) find common grounds and engage in objective and mature discussions on issues like inter-religious marriage, drugs among young people, prostitution ( among the 20 former prostitutes visited by Pope Francis in Rome recently, Nigeria had more numbers!), care for creation, morality, surrendering criminal members to face the law if found guilty of crime or corruption without the usual allegation of ethnic or religious victimization?
Killings in Zamfara State where eight students were said to have been burnt to death in Talata Marafa by students of Abdu Gusau Polytechnic as a reaction to alleged blasphemy was unnecessary and very sad. Where is the value of education if students, meant to be the hope of Nigeria, can kill at will? Many innocent Nigerians have been killed in similar circumstances. How long must this go on? Happily, the President condemned the act in the polytechnic as “barbaric and unacceptable”. It should not end at mere condemnation. These culprits and others before them must be brought out and punished in a manner that it serves as a deterrent to other religious bigots. We don’t usually get to know what happens to such murderers beyond the verbal condemnation.
On this note I wish to express our deep sorrow on the passing away of our brother, Bishop Athanasius Usuh of Makurdi Diocese who was buried on Friday, 29th July, 2016. May he rest perfectly in the bosom of the Lord. Amen.
Some happy developments among us however include:
Most Rev John Oyejola’s ordination and installation as the Bishop of the Diocese of Oshogbo, June 30, 2016.
Most Rev Augustine Akubeze’s 10th anniversary in the Episcopate, April 21-22, 2016.
Most Rev Donatus Ogun and the Diocese of Uromi’ s celebration of 10th anniversary of the canonical erection of the jurisdiction on April 22-23, 2016.
His Eminence Anthony Cardinal Okogie, had a double celebration of the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination and his 80th Birthday.
Most Rev Kevin Aje, emeritus Bishop of Sokoto celebrated 50 years in the priesthood. July 25, 2016.
Only last Sunday Mother Theresa was canonized. For all these immeasurable graces from above we say “Deo gratias”.
May more of such moments and occasions come our way. We ask our Lady of Fatima, the mother of peace and reconciliation whose centenary comes up next year, to intercede for the Church in Nigeria and our nation.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in the name of our God of mercy I hereby declare the 2nd CBCN plenary meeting for 2016 in Akure open.