REMARKS AT THE DELEGATES’ CONFERENCE OF THE FORUM OF STATE INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSIONS OF NIGERIA
AT THE CREST HOTEL, JOS, PLATEAU STATE, 8TH MAY, 2019.
BY CHAIRMAN OF THE OPENING SESSION, MOST REV. IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, APOSTOLIC ADMINISTRATOR OF JOS ARCHDIOCESE AND COADJUTOR ARCHBISHOP OF ABUJA ARCDIOCESE
Your Excellency, the Executive Governor of Plateau State and the Distinguished Guest of Honour, Rt. Hon. Barr. Simon Bako Lalong,
The Chief Host, Justice I.N. Akomas (rtd), Chairman FOSIECON,
The Host, Hon. Fabian Ari Ntung, Chairman, PLASIEC,
The Keynote Speaker, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One may wonder what an Archbishop is doing at the gathering of State electoral officers. The simple answer is that as a patriotic citizen of Nigeria the Archbishop too like many other citizens has a civic duty to contribute to good political order and to hopefully inspire in our political leaders the urgent need for good governance. Good governance does not however happen by chance. It is usually the product of well conducted elections whether at the Local Government, State or National level. The end product of a well conducted election is contentment among the citizens because of their conviction that they have leaders of their choice. The realization of this fact plays not only a small role in peaceful coexistence, but also creates the conducive atmosphere for positive, social and infrastructural development and growth.
As the chairman of the opening session of this conference, permit me to warmly welcome you to Jos, the capital of our hospitable and peaceful State. If you were concerned about little security issues you hear of in the news, arising from herdsmen and farmers conflict, be rest assured that appropriate measures have been taken. Please, feel at home. Relax and have a fruitful conference. As a major player and stakeholder in the peace project in Plateau State, I know for sure that our dynamic and conscientious Governor, the security agents and various stakeholders are doing their best to ensure that permanent peace prevails.
We who are religious leaders (without being partisan) shouldn’t be strangers or be apathetic to social or political issues that could polarize, confuse or destabilize our people. If we have a frustrated people deprived of fundamental needs, those in governance will have a disorganized people to govern and we in religion will have very great difficulties in leading people to moral transformation and spiritual salvation. The Catholic Church in particular over the centuries has been concerned about integral human and social development and urges that politics should serve the interest of the common good through the just ordering of society by good governance. In this vein, Pope Benedict XVI, stated in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love, no. 28) that “The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice cannot prevail and prosper”. This explains why some encyclicals were dedicated to social issues: Rerum Novarum (Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour), an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 addressed the conditions of the working classes, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) an encyclical issued by Pope John XXIII in 1963 emphasized human dignity, equality among all people, rights of women, nuclear non-proliferation, etc. Populorum Progressio (The Development of People), issued in 1967, stressed that the economy of the world should serve mankind and not just the few.
Deliberating on the theme, “Local Government Elections in Nigeria: Lessons learnt from the 2019 General Elections”, you will hopefully x-ray critically and objectively where progress was made and where things need to be amended or improved upon to give us election results that can stand the test of time. We are happy that the 2019 elections were generally peaceful and we can pride ourselves as still one people and one nation. We must not allow election periods to raise our political blood pressure and generate violence such that we throw caution and civility to the wind. As electoral referees, you need to build confidence and trust among the electorate that their votes count and that good results of elections can be the reason for social cohesion and harmony especially at the grass roots.
As your name carries the appellation “independent”, I wish to assure you that I will do what is within my vocational competence by fervently asking God in prayer to give you all that you need to effectively carry out your duties. Since you are constituted by the State Governments, I humbly call on Governors to support you to be truly independent and fully functional to organize, undertake and supervise all elections in the Local Government Councils within the States. Grass roots politics is a very crucial factor in ensuring peaceful coexistence. If well played and coordinated, it can spare us the uncontrollable negative reactions that culminate in crises and violence as a result of dissatisfaction with the conduct of elections. We will continue to do our part in places of worship to encourage the electorate to be peaceful and orderly and I believe this can bear positive fruits if you carry out your responsibilities with utmost sensitivity to the common good.
I commend your effort in forming an umbrella body that aims at seeking avenues that will uplift democratic practices and systems at the Local Government level. If there are mumbles and grumbles from the public as to the manner of the conduct of elections, this is your chance to clear the doubts, and to inform and enlighten Nigerians. The public may not appreciate or understand the fact that you may not have financial autonomy and that you are not in a position to easily fix election dates, etc. These bottlenecks could be responsible for not an optimal performance. I hope the citizens will understand you and the authorities in charge in the States will properly equip you to professionally execute your noble task as impartial referees of elections. With transparent, fair and well conducted elections as Pope Francis says in Evangelium Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel no. 205), we will be able to elect “politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor … and all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare”
I wish you the best in your interactive session and brain storming exercise during these days from the 8th to the 10th of May.
Have a rewarding and fruitful conference.
Thank you for your kind attention.