OPENING ADDRESS AT THE FIRST PLENARY OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA, (CBCN) ON MARCH 9TH 2014, BY MOST REV. IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, ARCHBISHOP OF JOS AND PRESIDENT, CBCN.
Investing effectively in education in Nigeria is an imperative. This explains why the theme of our first Plenary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for this year is “Church and State partnership in providing quality education for the Nigerian people”. Partnership between Government and voluntary agencies, especially the Church, worked very well in Nigeria in the past. But for some puzzling reasons, schools were taken over by the Federal Government in the 1970s and since then, the mutual harmonious promotion of integral education (cf 1 Thess. 5:23) by the government and religious organizations has suffered a serious setback.
Motivated by our patriotic desire to give the best to the children and youth of this country, we desire the revival of sincere partnership in education between government and genuine private managers of education. We are so far encouraged by some State Governments who have seen the wisdom in partnering especially with religious organizations to improve educational standards. A few commendable examples of such partnership, even though in various degrees, are those of Benue State (where salaries of teachers in mission or private schools are paid and grants given for infrastructural development), and Anambra State (where the Governor has donated billions of Naira towards the rebuilding of mission and other voluntary agency schools). Other States engaged in some level of partnership are Delta, Lagos, Ekiti, Plateau, Ondo, Imo and Ebonyi.
For the umpteenth time, we seize this auspicious occasion to request that schools taken from religious bodies and other voluntary organizations be returned, accompanied by reasonable financial assistance from the annual budget for education, to enable us educate the children/youth who, even though may be in our private schools, are citizens of this country. This would be a matter of justice rather than a favour. Assistance could also be given to bodies with proven good educational management antecedents to build and run new schools which should meet the criteria set by government, since the duty of providing education should be a shared responsibility between Government and others who have the capacity. In respect of schools requested to be returned, arrangements should be made well before hand for the rehabilitation of the dilapidated structures and a proper negotiation made about the place and welfare of teachers of such schools.
We commend individuals and groups who genuinely provide education in Nigeria with the sole intention of improving the educational future of our youths and not merely as a commercial venture. We are happy to note that VERITAS University (Catholic University of Nigeria), Abuja is making good progress through the help of Dioceses, some Church Societies and individuals. Structures at the permanent site at Bwari continue to develop and some students have commenced studies there while the rest of the students in Obehie Campus, Abia State, will soon relocate to Abuja, by God’s grace and by the goodwill of some of you whom we have approached for help. The President, His Excellency, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has also been asked to please provide the needed structures in Veritias University. We prayerfully wait for Mr. President’s positive response. We are determined as a Conference to have a world-class University. We thank the few people who have helped out so far and hope that those who made promises will soon fulfill them. We are still waiting, but the costs of building unfortunately do not wait for us.
We accompany the Nigeria National Conference or Dialogue, due to commence soon with our prayers. May the spirit of reconciliation and understanding inspire all the delegates and others who participate in it. If approached in the right spirit, the dialogue could help address matters of national significance for the common good of Nigeria and Nigerians. It should not be mainly concerned about debating or agitating for sectional or regional interests, exclusive rights to resources or even the division of the country. More pressing issues in educational, medical or infrastructural development, if well addressed will render all these agitations unnecessary. The Conference should truly be concerned about fundamental issues such as how to make our public and civil service officials more accountable, more selfless and more devoted to duties. It should ask serious questions and make recommendations about youth social welfare, welfare of pensioners; study how to neutralize an environment saturated with the toxic culture of corruption, the ungodly struggle for political power, the exorbitant cost of governance and above all, to evolve effective strategies to avoid the embarrassing terrorist situation brought about by some factors perhaps previously neglected.
Groups keep complaining of marginalization or discrimination, using ethnicity, religion or region as reasons. I believe that even if we made every state a country today, there could still be claims of discrimination and marginalization. Even if resources found in particular areas were left to the exclusive use of such areas what guarantee is there that there will be equity? The example of South Sudan is a case in point. The culture of corruption which has become so deeply entrenched will not allow equity or justice to prevail. What we need is correct attitudinal change, by being other-centred rather than self-centred and allowing our work ethics and general outlook to be dictated by selflessness and not by narrow religious or ethnic convictions. We must patriotically defend Nigerian interests using the cherished values of our cultures and religions. The elections of 2015 should be about how Nigeria and Nigerians can become better and not what politicians stand to gain from the huge resources only waiting to be accessed by them. We pray for a political campaign that is free of “political abracadabra”, aiming to win at all costs. Elections characterized by false alarms, needless court cases, hostile reaction of losers, the arrogance and insensitivity of winners, misuse of incumbency powers, etc cannot catapult us into a political paradise. Electoral officials, security agents and the electorate must approach elections with a strictly godly conscience, upholding the rule of law not succumbing to financial inducements, god father or god mother pressure or even robbery of votes.
We wish to congratulate Pope Francis whose first anniversary of election as Pope is on the 13th of March. We are often overjoyed when we hear Christians, non-Christians and even atheists talk so favourably and warmly about our Pope. We are solidly behind Pope Francis as he tries in words and deeds to present Christ to the world. We wish the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI very good health. We wait eagerly for the canonization of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII. More showers of blessings are sure to fall on the Catholic Church and indeed the whole world through Christ our Lord.
Kindly permit me at this point to congratulate the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, His Excellency, Most Rev. Augustine Kasujja, on his appointment by Pope Francis on the 12th of December 2013 as Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). Our new Archbishop of Ibadan, Most Rev. Gabriel Abegunrin has been installed. We offer him our congratulations and most profoundly thank Archbishop Felix Alaba Job for holding the position of Pastor and father for decades in Ibadan with great merit. Happy retirement! Congratulations, seventy times to John Cardinal Onaiyekan on his 70th birthday. Bishop Matthew Kukah has been appointed the Chancellor of the Nassarawa State University. We congratulate him and assure him of our prayers. The Godfrey Okoye University Enugu has appointed and installed the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Most Rev. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, its Chancellor. Best wishes of goodwill to the University. We also congratulate the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious (NCWR) for a remarkable celebration in Onitsha, of it s fifty years and for all the Religious have done towards evangelization in Nigeria.
We look forward to the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which Pope Francis has called in October with the theme: “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization”. As preparation, the Nigerian Church will organize from June 5th to 7th, a National programme in Abuja on the family with specific emphasis on Pro-life issues. We plead with all Dioceses to cooperate and to fully participate in the event, please. In line with our determination to improve educational standards, we have scheduled the 2nd National Catholic Education Summit to hold from the 28th to 31st October.
We congratulate Nigeria on the centenary of her amalgamation and thank God for the good that this great nation has brought to us all. For our omissions, commissions and lapses, we beg God for pardon and promise to work for a more united Nigeria. We admonish our leaders at the Local Government, State or Federal levels to always put the citizens first. When the CBCN sent a letter commending President Goodluck Jonathan on the stand against same-sex union or “marriage”, we did so to uphold the age-long biblical and traditional morality of our people that marriage has always been a union between a man and a woman. Same-sex unions or so-called “marriages” are alien to us and we resist the idea but we will always extend the compassion of Christ to men and women with a biological orientation that is gay or lesbian and defend their rights just as we have consistently defended the rights of all persons discriminated against. It is a mischievous and faulty generalization to reason that because we resist same-sex “marriage” we differ from our Pope who has said, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Our compassion for the weak, the marginalized and those who suffer discrimination is unwavering and uncompromising. We minister to all. Those individuals, pressure groups and governments from abroad who are very anxious to fight for the rights of gays in Nigeria should first help us deal with the menacing activities of terrorists who claim that it is their right to kill and destroy, and have caused so many deaths of innocent Nigerians. We stand for the promotion and protection of human rights which are consistent with our religious and cultural values. Legalizing same-sex “marriage” will only open the flood gates to so many moral issues that can seriously compromise our African culture and becloud our evangelization efforts in Nigeria. We know too well what the consequences could be. Nigerian Catholics do not hate men and women who are of biologically gay orientation, but strongly affirm that gay unions or “marriages” are simply not in conformity with our Christian theology or traditional Nigerian morality.
Let me conclude by praying that our Conference with our activities and our prayers may remain determined to bring greater progress to the Church and our beloved nation, Amen. We ask the intercession of our Blessed Mother and the direction of the Holy Spirit as we hereby declare the CBCN first plenary session for 2014 open.