KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY ARCHBISHOP IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA AT THE 3RD ABUJA CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESAN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY ARCHBISHOP IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA AT THE 3RD ABUJA CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESAN GENERAL ASSEMBLY, HOLDING AT OUR LADY QUEEN OF NIGERIA PRO-CATHEDRAL GARKI, ABUJA, 22.09.2022
We give thanks to God Almighty for His countless graces and blessings, as I heartily welcome all of you to the 3rd annual General Assembly of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja. I welcome the Apostolic Nuncio in Nigeria, His Excellency, Most Rev. Antonio Guido Fillipazzi, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Archbishop Daniel Okoh, senior government officials, politicians and professionals in various walks of life and other distinguished personalities. I say a big welcome to all the priests and representatives of religious communities, parishes, pastoral areas, chaplaincies and Church societies/associations.
Political Consciousness and Involvement
As Nigeria prepares for general elections in the first quarter of 2023, we have chosen as the theme of our assembly, “Witness in Politics: The Role of the Catholic Faithful” believing that the next political dispensation should be about transparency, accountability and responsibility. The politics of bitterness, unhealthy personality clashes, manipulation, etc., have become deeply entrenched in our country. The inability to realize meaningful change in our socio-political and economic environment is as a result of the culture of corruption and very poor governance, coupled with untamed political, religious and ethnic sentiments. To reverse this unfortunate trend, there is the need for a complete change in the way we do politics. If the primary purpose of politicking is to win elections, then the justifiable end is to govern well. The political parties should, therefore, be forthcoming on how best they are to address the issues bedeviling our polity like insecurity, deteriorating public health and education, the current inflationary trends, resulting in high living conditions, etc. Unfortunately, we have lived for so long under politics understood as manipulation, exclusion, greed and graft. Politics in Nigeria is considered as a business and is superior to probity! We tend to elect our worst and leave out the best and seem to view elections as a matter of ethnic and religious alliances. This should be disturbing to all well-meaning citizens.
The Nature of Politics
As Catholics, we engage in politics cognizant of the fact that: firstly, politics is important because it involves the use of power for the welfare of the people. Secondly, politics is limited because we are all sinners and even our best intentions are, sometimes, tainted by sin. As a result, we must constantly seek God’s face to make the society as good and as just as we can. Thirdly, our engagement in politics flows from our Catholic Social Teachings which provide us with something valuable to contribute to society. We, therefore, call on Catholics and indeed; all Christians to be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community and the need to defend our points of view by honest methods (cf. GS 75).
The Imperative of Voting
When it comes to exercising voting power, our lay faithful have the responsibility to vote wisely and seek to be voted into public service; serving in a Christ-like manner when elected. It is not the job of the Bishops or priests to enter into partisan political debates but to encourage lay people to be part of creating just governance and policies. By voting, we are all fulfilling our calling to sanctify the society. You can’t complain about the government if you don’t vote and you do your Christian faith a great disservice by abstaining from voting. More than ever before, the Independent National Electoral Commission, with the passage of the electoral bill, is promising to ensure transparency, probity and fairness. We hope they keep to their word.
Politics for Good Governance
A Church that will not speak truth to power is not a Church that can credibly proclaim Jesus Christ, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn. 14:6). In this regard, the Catholic Church has consistently been voicing against inequality, injustice, oppression and lack of fair play in our nation, including the political arena. What is very crucial now is the search for good leaders who are able to promote what is right, what is honourable and fair and what advances the common good; leaders who are passionate about advancing the growth, progress and stability of Nigeria.
The question has to be asked, about when Nigerians will begin to see themselves as fellow citizens, united in vision and destiny despite their ethnic or religious differences. The fact of the matter is that there will never be a time in Nigeria when there are only Moslems or only Christians. We must learn to accept this fact, live with it and move on. Unless we begin to understand and accept one another more sincerely, we will never be a country at peace.
The popular assumption is that if the Fulanis are in power, they are “eating well” while the Yorubas and the Igbos are losing out, so they have to simply endure and wait until it is their turn. A typical Nigerian prefers a bad leader from his/her tribe than a good leader from another tribe. This I believe is the genesis of our problem. Little wonder, political positions in Nigeria have become fiercely contested. It is perhaps only in Nigeria that when a person is given a political appointment, he behaves hysterically as if he has won a big lottery! We must begin to take self-serving considerations off the table when it comes to politics! Merit over mediocrity is the only approach that will save our country, that is, when we elect leaders who are genuinely patriotic, experienced, competent and sincerely God-fearing.
The Christian Politician
The Church cannot fix the multidimensional problems of the nation, but in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, it points confidently and authoritatively to the only Person who can fix things well for us. The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is part of the mission given to us by Jesus Christ. The point is not necessarily that all Christians should be involved politically, they must be aware of their responsibilities in public life and play politics well, and in doing so, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love with brotherly affection; be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, live in harmony with one another; associate with the lowly; and never be conceited. (cf. Rom 12:9-16).
That Nigeria has the problem of achieving national integration is not in doubt, but all hope is not lost. As one philosopher said, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the world [Nigeria] will be clean.” Let us continue as Pope Francis urges, to seek the common good in micro and macro dimensions (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, no. 205).
I wish to conclude by thanking Sir (Barr.) Celestine Omehia, KSM, KSS, the former Governor of Rivers State for accepting to chair the opening ceremony and also Her Excellency, Mrs. Tosan Akabe, wife of the Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State, the Chairlady of the day. This has always been our desire, that whenever we converge as Catholics, our political differences and affiliations only become secondary, and we can unite with one another in faith as brothers and sisters in Christ. I must also commend the planning committee of this 3rd General Assembly, ably led by Rev. Fr. Christopher Nnubia, who dedicated their time and energy to organize the proceedings of this assembly. Our special gratitude to Dr. Chijioke Ugwuoke, Senator Ikechukwu Obiorah, Fr. George Ehusani, Dr. John Ayuba, and Hon. Christopher Ashibuogwu KSM, for accepting to share some thoughts with us during the assembly.
It is my fervent prayer that we shall return to our various parishes, pastoral areas and apostolates renewed and strengthened by the fruits of this assembly and determined to assume our civic responsibilities in service of our fatherland and to the glory of God.
We invoke the intercession of Mary our Queen and Mother, and we ask St. Thomas Moore, the patron Saint of statesmen and politicians, to guide us in these crucial times of Nigeria’s political journey, to make the best political choices.
Dear brothers and Sisters, I now declare in God’s name and to His glory, this 3rd General Assembly of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja open.