A NEW NIGERIA IS POSSIBLE
2ND NATIONAL LAITY COUNCIL CONFERENCE, KEYNOTE ADDRESS, BY MOST REV. IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, ARCHBISHOP OF JOS AND PRESIDENT OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA, JOS, 10TH JANUARY, 2014
THEME: A NEW NIGERIA IS POSIBLE
I welcome you in two capacities. First of all, as the Archbishop of Jos I urge you to enjoy our “winter” and the peace that flows from here despite what you hear in the news about Plateau State. We admit that we have our challenges but they are not insurmountable. All hands are on deck to see that Jos retains the popular sobriquet, “home of peace and tourism”. Feel free in Jos and be able to tell the good news when you return from this conference that the Jos metropolis and indeed a vast part of Plateau State are booming with life and activity.
Secondly, I welcome you as president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria. This meeting gladdens the hearts of Catholic Bishops in Nigeria as we see your effort to foster ecclesial unity and understanding and a deepening of the faith. Men and women of faith like you sacrificing so much time, energy and resources to come together is a visible testimony of your commitment as Catholics to see that the Church continues the onward march to progress and that the spiritual and social doctrines of the Church can impact positively on national endeavours.
A New Nigeria is Possible
After welcoming you, I wish to laud your choice of topic: A New Nigeria is Possible. Some, even among us have given up that a renewed Nigeria; a politically stable Nigeria, a technologically advanced Nigeria with a vibrant economy that serves the needs of the people is still possible. Many observe that most Nigerians are crushed by overwhelming poverty in the midst of plenty, weighed down by political recklessness and misuse of resources. To hope that all will be well one day and that there is light at the end of the tunnel is a product of deep faith. I therefore commend your courage, patriotic disposition and unbridled optimism. We have no country other than this nation and we must be proud of it and work selflessly and tirelessly to sustain it and make it truly the giant of Africa, not in name but in reality. Our people say that no matter how tasteless your mother’s soup may be, it is still your mother’s soup and it tastes good. We have often fallen into the habit of cutting the nose of Nigeria to spite her face, as a result of which we suffer indignity, ridicule and harassment in the international community. Some Nigerian media and social analysts project Nigerian affairs so negatively that you would think that only bad things happen in this great country and by this, we offer our detractors the ammunition to fire at us, to rubbish our efforts and to dampen our national pride. Can we keep count of how many world class scientists, doctors, engineers, computer experts, sportsmen and women of Nigerian origin abound in America and Europe? We have a lot to offer ourselves and the world. All we need to do is to concentrate well and do things for the love of Nigeria and Nigerians.
We have been told of an imminent collapse of the nation in 2015 by political prophets of doom. On our part, after having celebrated 100 years of oneness, we are full of optimism that we have a nation “bound in freedom, peace and unity”. Despite our optimism, we have some among us who are trying very hard to cause the disintegration of our nation. We have a core of hardened religious fanatics who see nothing good in contemporary Nigeria and are doing everything to create a situation of chaos, anarchy and doom. We have many politicians who love themselves so much that all they specialize in is how to use public resources to advance their hedonistic lifestyles; they are blinded from providing political dividends and become absorbed in their narrow and selfish interests. They can kill, maim, assassinate character and squander the patrimony of Nigeria if only to defend and sustain their political interests. We also have the abracadabra leaders of religion who choose not to lead people to truth or eternal salvation, but specialize in deceit, narcissistic practices and personality cult by attracting attention to themselves rather than to God. Pecuniary considerations and prosperity are their primary motives. They employ secular tactics and psychological tricks to woo people to themselves and keep in suspense the gullible poor and some fetish rich who support their luxurious lifestyle in the pretext that they are “men of God”. Such false prophets are hardly concerned about true religion which teaches people to love neighbours, to act with justice and to walk humbly with God (cf. Micah 6:8). They are more concerned about being socially visible and materially successful. Our greatest undoings according to late Chinua Achebe are corruption, bad leadership and ethnicity. Today, I add religious fundamentalism and a host of others such as regional chauvinism, political rascality and insensitivity and the syndrome of “I, me and myself”.
Change of Attitude: An Imperative
Attitudinal change is what we need most to bring about a new Nigeria. I was in Brazil for the World Youth Day in July last year. The government and people of Brazil were nervously anxious and did all in their power to welcome visitors and to make them feel at home in a manner that visitors would return home full of good stories. Brazilians volunteered in their thousands to ensure that all went well. Over three million youths from all parts of the world assembled, and yet all went smoothly, not because the police were beating up people or soldiers went around with guns to intimidate people, but because there was a national consciousness, cultural pride, patriotic disposition that subordinated their interests to the interests of the visitors. They served and sacrificed for others. In our country, the notion of the common good is minimal. Things are done to attract dividends to oneself or one’s religious or ethnic group. Very few people who work in the civil or public service are ready to offer their all in serving their people. The issue is often what they can get out of the system. Those of you with the experience of arriving Nigerian airports or sea ports can tell how greedy pairs of eyes follow you everywhere as if to say, “What have you for us?” Such people behave as if they are not paid to serve. This attitude cuts across, from religious places of worship to academic institutions, security agencies to the civil service, and business men/women, students and even children are not spared this syndrome. If this attitude does not change our determination to grow Nigeria to a new reality will be a mirage. One may ask here what has become of “rebranding Nigeria”, very well propagated by Dora Akunyili? What of Buhari/ Idiabong’s war against indiscipline and the ethical reorientation of MAMSER?
Living in Peace
In the past, people of different religions, ethnic and political affiliations lived in peace and harmony in Nigeria. Even today, people still generally live in peace in most parts of Nigeria. Nevertheless, there is some level of distrust and mutual suspicion based on ethnic and religious considerations. The heightened religious fanaticism and ethnic violence have created the impression that there is conflict between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. While one cannot say that there is war between Christians and Muslims, it cannot be said that all is well between the adherents of these two main religions in Nigeria. We have witnessed violent conflicts, destruction and tragic loss of lives over trivial issues. The peace that religion should provide is being replaced with hatred, jealousy, malicious and calculated attempts to outdo the other. Killing in the name of God as is currently done by Boko Haram, is ignorantly believed to pave the way to paradise! It must be mentioned however that most of the conflicts in Nigeria which manifest as religious crises often have their roots in social causes outside religion.
The Way Forward
- As people of faith who believe that a new Nigeria is possible, we are called to rise and shine (cf. Is 60:1) and be in the vanguard of good service to the nation through maintenance of law and order and the entrenchment of honesty in all our dealings whether private or official.
- Those in leadership positions must resolve to see themselves as servants who have been entrusted with the duty of managing the resources of the nation for the good of the people and so must ensure the equitable distribution of resources and social amenities without discrimination based on politics or ethnicity.
- Our conduct must blend with the values of our religion. In the political arena and in public service, Christians must be the salt and light (cf. Mt. 5:13-15). The witness to faith is an imperative. I advise you to read the social teachings of the Church.
- The poor, the young, aged and marginalized must be at the heart of government programmes and policies. Why should the rich be stockpiling for the generations yet unborn and the poor are excluded in every plan? Pope Francis in chapter four of the Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, stresses the importance of the social dimension of evangelization and the advancement of the cause of the poor (cf. no. 178). The inclusion of the poor in our national economic planning, budget and policies is not an optional extra. The leaders must respond to the cry of the poor through providing proper healthcare, education, employment and social security. Poverty alleviation must go together with greed alleviation.
- Economic policies must translate into tangible results. Sound policies are not enough. Wastage and hyper-inflated contracts eat up what should go to the people at the bottom. Every citizen should have a right to minimum and acceptable condition of survival with dignity. Inequality is the root of social ills.
- Politicians should ensure that politics is without bitterness. Godfathers and money bag politicians who collude with security agents and electoral officials to rig elections and impose candidates must refrain from this because this is what creates pockets of rebellion and violence. Elections must be free, fair and carried out with the fear of God. The electorate must choose only those who can promote human dignity/rights, protect and provide for the poor and ensure justice for all.
- The culture of killings, robbery, kidnapping, assuming an alarming proportion must stop.
My dear people of God, I would like to conclude by reminding you that the mission of Christ which we all share by virtue of our baptism is that the good news is not to be restricted to the private sphere or the inner sanctum of personal life as if it only prepares souls for heaven without positive influence on the socio-political life. We have a duty to change the world with the values of our religion and leave their world better than we found it. The Church cannot remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice and the rights of the poor. Whether it is about our youths, the unemployed, widows, pensioners or those suffering legal injustice; the hungry, the sick, etc, Pope Francis admonishes that “We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends to listen to them….” (The Joy of the Gospel, 198). As we approach the mythical political year 2015, we ask God to give us more politicians at the local government, state and national levels in Nigeria who will always and everywhere seek the good of the people and through the exercise of political office show unwavering solidarity with the poor by making their own the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to harbour the harbourless, to visit the sick, to visit the prisoners and bury the dead.
I hope that the National Conference (or is it Dialogue?) will be a genuine dialogue. A mere Conference will just end up as an academic exercise but dialogue can be a product of the heart where issues are discussed with love and objectivity – from religion to terrorism, equitable distribution of resources to political balance, improvement of infrastructure to electoral correctness. I hope the Conference will keep in mind what the Indian sage Mahatma Ghandi listed as the seven deadly social sins: politics without principles, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice.
The new Nigeria of our dream will only emerge when men and women like you do your part and every Nigerian becomes jealous about safeguarding our national heritage, appreciating our cultural diversity and utilizing our economic blessings for the benefit of all rather than a few. I urge you as men and women of faith to integrate the gospel values into your daily life and witness to Christ while you work. Let me end by commending the Laity Council of Nigeria for the many decades of preaching the gospel of unity and peace and your laudable concrete activities in the Church and in the families that have helped in building and transforming this nation. Please continue in this spirit as the road is still long and rough. With faith in God and hope in the good to come in our country Nigeria, I hereby declare the 42nd National Laity Council open.