Interactive session of Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama with the Media
30th July, 2020, Abuja
Gentlemen of the Press.
I welcome you all to this interactive session, my first since I became the substantive Catholic Archbishop of Abuja.
Please, permit me to commend and thank you from the depth of my heart for your collaboration so far. I appreciate your use of the powerful instruments of social communication to enlighten Nigerians and to amplify our messages of hope and courage especially as the deadly coronavirus continues its devastating attacks on us without discrimination. Please, keep up the good work. These are challenging and frightening times, so, all hands must be on deck for us to succeed.
It might interest you to know that this year, to the glory of God, I celebrated the 39th anniversary of my ordination as a Catholic priest, the 25th anniversary of ordination as a Bishop and tomorrow, 31st July, God willing, I shall celebrate my 62nd birthday, also being the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, my Patron Saint. Coincidences don’t just happen, God allows them. I therefore thank God for His grace and mercy and for these and for other significant milestones in the journey of my life.
I officially concluded my pastoral assignment in the Archdiocese of Jos, where I served for very close to twenty years, at the end of March 2020, on account of my appointment by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to succeed John Cardinal Onaiyekan as the Archbishop of Abuja. I finally arrived to start my work in earnest during the very tense period of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, when almost everyone was wearing a face mask. It has been difficult for me to get to know people at close quarters, let alone put a name or identity on them.
Considering that public worship in Abuja was suspended and movements were restricted, we immediately embarked on measures to attend to the material and spiritual needs of our people with renewed efforts to identify with those in the peripheries of the Federal Capital Territory.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left some indelible lessons for Nigeria and the world at large:
1. With the advent of the pandemic, it became obvious that our medical facilities are highly insufficient to cater for emergencies like this; they are also below standard and need to be upgraded. Ideally, well equipped and functional medical facilities should be available and accessible in all the 774 Local Government Areas of our nation. We must resolve, as a country, to make access to health care possible for all.
2. In the same vein, the educational facilities in many of our public schools and institutions are not in line with global best practices. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools globally to switch to online learning. Nigeria must not be left behind. A targeted response is a matter of urgency. Education should be given a high priority by government, even though educating our students in the present circumstance will not be easy. It is good news that the Government is allowing the exit classes to resume and to sit for their final exams. All precautionary measures against COVID-19 must however be put in place. I believe strongly that the needed funds could come from the generous donations received, part sacrifice of salaries and earnings, savings from the humongous cost of governance, part of funds lavishly used by political parties before and during elections, recovered “looted” funds etc. These could be used to improve or create structures for our students in public, private and faith based schools so that their academic life is not truncated. We cannot afford the adverse consequences of leaving our students idle for such an undetermined period of time.
3. The COVID-19 pandemic has led us to the realization that we are not masters of our own fate. Ultimately, our lives are in God’s hands, which means far better hands than our own! In the midst of all the harshness the pandemic poses, perhaps we might feel a gentle nudge that will help dispel the illusion that we are in control.
God wants us to draw good lessons out of the evil of COVID-19 pandemic:
i. Nigeria is blessed with enormous natural and human resources and should be very ready at such critical times to provide and efficiently distribute palliatives to the poor and needy.
ii. Our politics must be further refined, to include high principles and values and must become an offer of self to serve the people.
iii. The social cancer of corruption must give way for Nigeria to speed up her journey to join the league of developed nations. Well intentioned anti-corruption agencies like the ICPC and EFCC do not appear to have performed optimally, with the allegations of high level corruption in the news.
iv. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to repent of our sins. Our God is giving us a second chance to begin again. If we sincerely repent and turn to Him, just as He forgave the people of Nineveh (cf. Jonah 4:11), He will forgive and heal us. We should not be blind to our personal sins and the sins of the world.
Let us turn the positive experiences being garnered during this pandemic, like the sense of solidarity, selflessness and community into policy and practice and be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
The all too familiar bad news about social maladies such as embezzlement of public funds, kidnapping, banditry, militancy, unemployment, cybercrime, immorality, violence and killings are still with us. We must ask the question whether all these leave our youths with any decent future.
Dear fellow citizens, we can certainly do something differently and positively for Nigeria and Nigerians. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Let us all take that little but significant step forward. Thank you.