A CALL TO NIGERIANS FOR A TRUE CONVERSION OF HEARTS
A CALL TO NIGERIANS FOR A TRUE CONVERSION OF HEARTS
AN OPENING ADDRESS AT THE CBCN SECOND PLENARY MEETING AT THE CATHOLIC PASTORAL CENTRE, PORT HARCOURT, 12TH SEPTEMBER, 2015, BY MOST REV. IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, ARCHBISHOP OF JOS AND PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA.
We the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria are happy to be hosted for our second plenary meeting for 2015 through the collaborative effort of the Dioceses of Calabar Ecclesiastical Province. For this we are very grateful. We equally appreciate the very warm welcome of our immediate hosts, Most Rev. Camillus Etukudo and his people of Port Harcourt Diocese and we ask the Lord to bless all the work you have done to prepare for our conference (especially by erecting your modern and impressive Pastoral Centre in record time for this very meeting). Congratulations!
As an update, we wish to inform all that Most Rev. Wilfred Anagbe Chikpa, CMF, has taken canonical possession of the Diocese of Makurdi to replace Most Rev. Athanasius Usuh upon his retirement. Most Rev. Denis Chidi Isizoh has been ordained as the Auxiliary Bishop of Onitsha. We welcome him to the family of Catholic Bishops in Nigeria. Most Rev. Francis Alonge, Most Rev. Julius Adelakun and Most Rev Michael Olatunji Fagun celebrated their eightieth birthday anniversaries. Many happy returns and good health to them all. Archbishop Joseph Edra Ukpo marked his sacerdotal Golden Jubilee. Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji celebrated his Episcopal Silver Jubilee. Congratulations! We announce the good news that the Veritas University Abuja was one of the nine out of twenty Private Universities that received full operational license from the Nigeria University Commission, NUC, on August 13, 2005. We thank and praise the good Lord for all this.
Kindly pray for Bishop Malachy Goltok of Bauchi Diocese who passed on after our first plenary. May his gentle soul and the souls of brother Bishops who have departed rest in perfect peace. Amen.
As a Church, we continue to pray and preach that Nigerians should be altruistic and patriotic rather than being selfish and narcissistic. The tendency to promote, defend and protect narrow personal economic, regional, political and religious interests have been responsible for our unstable national journey of “one step forward and many steps backward.”
With a new administration in our nation, we have another window of opportunity and we hope we shall achieve the positive change that has become a national mantra. I wish to again hereby invite Nigerians not merely to “change” but also to have a “conversion of heart”, because change without interior conversion is only cosmetic and superficial. Our wasted opportunities must be recovered. This should include every Nigerian, and not only those in government. The good news is that there is a growing demand by Nigerians for higher economic and political performance accompanied with high ethical standards. Our weak sense of patriotism that has made it difficult to be the giant that we say we are will hopefully be reawakened. Our numerous blessings from God have been very badly misused and mismanaged since independence, causing so much economic, infrastructural decay and social retardation especially to the most vulnerable among us.
Thankfully, there seems today to be a strong feeling of nationalism across ethnic, religious and political divides that Nigeria should overcome the vicious circle of corruption, epileptic power supply, unemployment, insecurity, decaying social infrastructure, dishonesty in private and public dealings. Also, there is a feeling that a new Nigeria is emerging where leaders with integrity and followers must demonstrate sincerity, good will and selflessness.
I therefore seize this moment to call everyone to conversion on the following levels:
We need social/economic, attitudinal conversion by which government/public money is no longer seen as free money to be plundered and the taxes collected by struggling Nigerians wasted on frivolities by a few leaders. We all know that oil, our common, very important source of revenue could have made Nigeria an economic oasis, but due to improper management it has rather impoverished some groups, created tension, suspicion and heightened corrupt practices.
We need political conversion, by which politics of bitterness, do or die attitude, money and god-father syndrome give way to the politics of principles, good governance accountability and social development. We must renounce the practice through which in elections, losers are pronounced winners and winners, losers a situation in which politics is seen as a lucrative business for achieving a luxurious and extravagant life style at the expense of millions of impoverished Nigerians.
We need moral conversion whereby we do not practice external, religious piety while condoning extortion by security agents on the high way, the embarrassment of our international visitors with greedy and corrupt demands and activities at international airports or borders and ports, where illegal/harmful items are allowed into the country as long as the owners can pay sufficient bribes. Enough of the antics of psychedelic, manipulative religious leaders who pontificate on morality but see nothing wrong in scandalously enriching themselves and corruptly supporting those who mismanage our public affairs and then rob our country blind.
We need spiritual conversion where religion is not all about money-making, prosperity or determined by the wealth of a religious leader. We know that some preachers centre their message on making their followers astoundingly and miraculously rich and insist that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessings, because God is not a poor God, instead of focusing on true worship, fraternity and the common good. It is perhaps only in Nigeria that a comedian, a singer, a shrewd business person, a motivational speaker, a house wife, a politician or an ex civil servant can wake up and declare himself or herself a “man” or “woman” of God, i.e a religious leader.
We need judicial conversion, a situation where we shall have courageous judges who judge wrong and right with the fear of God. Dt. 2:16-17 : I charge your judges, “Listen to complaints among your kinsmen, and administer true justice to both parties even if one of them is an alien. In rendering judgment, do not consider who a person is; give ear to the lowly and to the great alike, fearing no man, for judgment is God’s”. Prophet Micah in chapter 3 warns leaders and rulers to abhor injustice, crying out that the leaders of Zion pervert all that is right; render judgment for a bribe, her priests give decisions for a salary, her prophets divine for money!
The problems that stare us in the face are multidimensional. We need to fast, pray and repent so that God will have mercy on us. Nineveh escaped calamity because all the people repented from their wickedness from the biggest to the smallest including their beasts (cf. Jonah 3:5-10). Nigerians need not go back to the days of Noah when the behaviour of men and women were characterized by evil and wickedness (cf. 6:5-6). We urgently need individual and collective repentance and conversion of hearts.
How does one explain the fact that schools and hospitals now embark on prolonged strikes with so much intellectual and physical casualties before they get what they ask for? It was reported that soldiers fighting terrorism were not well equipped to fight the terrorists because corruption by their superiors denied the soldiers’ of moral boosters and the required weapons. Even though there appears to be a marginal improvement in power supply, it still remains epileptic in many places. We hope to see the end of government contracts awarded at very inflated rates to the advantage of the awardees while the contract jobs are very poorly executed. Does it not shock us that one person in Nigeria can steal money that he and generations after him or her cannot exhaust? This is wicked and callous greed!
Happily, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has decided to provide moral leadership and has identified corruption as the monster that must be dealt a fatal blow. The President said we must kill corruption before corruption kills us. He is dead right. While big time corrupt Nigerians have held the nation hostage for years, the small scale corrupt Nigerians have not helped matters by engaging in preventable acts of petty corruption. We must be resolute in the challenge of fighting corruption in every form and to a standstill.
Corruption has polluted the minds of even the child in the primary school as he or she has to worry about bringing something to bribe the teacher! Students worry about sleeping with their teachers to obtain good grades! Parents buy grades or patronize “miracle exam centers” for their children. It is common knowledge that a lot of extortion goes on in recruitment for our security agencies.
The setting up of an anti corruption team by the Buhari administration is highly commendable. No country is spared the poison of corruption but others believe that our brand of corruption is peculiar – it is ostentatious, blatant, crude, inconsiderate and inhuman. Of course, this is not to say that any form of corruption is acceptable! A successful fight against corruption invites Nigerians to become tribe-blind, religion-blind, politics-blind and region-blind.
While we are concerned with corrupt practices in our country, we should not forget that there are hundreds of thousands of honest, talented and hard working Nigerians here and abroad. Nigerians are among the world’s best brain in medicine, engineering, academics, business, etc. Those driven to commit crimes or illegally migrate abroad in very dangerous circumstances do so out of frustration because of our very badly mismanaged patrimony and social set up.
We urge that those in the past or in the present who are genuinely identified to have stolen or recklessly used the national wealth be compelled to make comprehensive restitution, but this should be effected lawfully, without witch hunting or political vendetta. It should not matter wether those guilty are our friends, brothers, co-religionists, political associates or from our States. They should be made to reveal where they have invested or stashed their corrupt takings, repent and bring them back to Nigeria. In addition to the mantra “bring back our girls” we say as well, “BRING BACK OUR WEALTH”. This latter one should not be as difficult as the former. We ay not be able to yet identify those who took our girls but most Nigerians believe that we do know some of those who stole our wealth. Nigerians, including those in the opposition parties, must join President Buhari’s crusade against corruption. Let us all be transparent and accountable even in little things of everyday life.
Returning to the encroaching LGBT lobby and the subject of “same-sex unions”, the CBCN has emphatically and repeatedly said that it contradicts our cultural and religious norms of marriage which are defined as the union of man and woman (cf. Gn 2:24). What the CBCN supported, blessed and commended in our letter of 21st January, 2015 to former president Goodluck Jonathan was because the Nigerian government upheld the dignity and sanctity of marriage even in the face of all sorts of pressure from foreign governments and international bodies to impose this on our country. The issue is a hypersensitive one and touches on our moral, cultural and spiritual nerves. We were worried about a culture that would distort our understanding of marriage and family. The CBCN was far from advocating jail terms for homosexuals! The CBCN saw that there was an attempted invasion or even usurpation of our moral, cultural and spiritual space by those who work to impose “same-sex union” on our peoples. We were informed that people at the highest level of government were being economically cajoled by foreign organizations to legislate in favour of “same sex union”. We felt our moral pillars were being shaken, social fibers being attacked and cultural roots in danger of being dried up. When the federal government resisted the attempt to impose this culture on us by legislating against “same-sex unions”, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria felt a sense of great relief and issued a statement to affirm Government’s decision. This has been mischievously and deliberately reported as our asking government to jail people with different sexual orientations. We hereby again emphatically deny that misleading position. We simply did our duty to prevent the spread of a culture (gay and lesbian) that is alien to us. In any case, since that legislation, no one has brought to our attention the fact that anyone has been convicted, persecuted or sent to jail. If there are any such people they should confide in us and see what the pastorally-charitable response from the Nigerian Bishops would be. As with other pastoral cases, we shall provide a pastoral response for such people. Those who are said to flee the country seeking asylum elsewhere do so for other undisclosed reasons, certainly not because of their persecution as gays or lesbians. The Catholic Bishops always try to rescue people from jail not to send them there. Our communiques since 1960 show that we stand on the side of justice and charity and would never support the flagrant violation of people’s rights. It is a great absurdity to accuse the Nigerian Bishops of supporting sending people to jail! Our stand was and is “no to same sex union” and “no to spreading of the homosexual culture” which can only complicate our struggle to uphold traditional/ religious/moral values in our country. Our commitment to providing justice to those whose rights are unfairly violated is unwavering. The Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis calls us even now to do more.
Let me finally call us all to pray even harder for the success of the imminent Synod on the Family that all the forces and winds blowing today against marriage and family life may only serve to call the Church to greater vigilance and pastoral solicitude for the sheep entrusted to her. Our prayers must also cover all our Consecrated people in whose interest the current Special Year has been declared. May the good Lord renew them all in body and spirit.
My dear brothers and sisters, fellow citizens of Nigeria, let us intensify prayers for our dear country that God give every citizen a new heart and renew the face of Nigeria so that Nigeria can rise and shine like a brilliant star among the comity of nations, to the glory of God.
Let me through the intercession of our Blessed Mother conclude by asking God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to abide with us throughout this conference and in the confidence of God’s presence with us, I now humbly declare our 2nd Plenary meeting for 2015 open.