Statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) on the State of the Nation.
Since the return of democracy in the last 18 years, Nigeria has made some progress towards national integration and social development. Even with all the problems and challenges, the ardent hope and concern of every Nigerian or group is to reap the good fruits of democracy. We are, however, saddened to see and hear some persons now fanning the embers of disunity and war, no matter how genuine their grievances may be.
There seems to be a demonstration of deep-seated anger by some ethnic, regional and religious groups over various issues in our nation, which are provoking these unhelpful solutions. This is indeed unfortunate and regrettable. We should learn from our past experience of the very tragic civil war which ended about fifty years ago, with the destruction of a huge number of lives and property and the effects of which can still be seen around until this day.
Without doubt, the last two years of Nigeria’s national life has seen an upsurge of ethnic and regional agitations which have added to the political, religious, ethnic and social tension already being experienced in the nation. The murderous aggression of various groups, the agitations and denunciations and the fierce arguments in favour or against restructuring Nigeria, etc., portray Nigeria as a troubled nation in which many segments of the population feel excluded or marginalized. Clearly, all is not well.
Every responsible citizen of this country must be concerned that this fire that is gathering momentum be not allowed to spread. It must be quenched before it consumes all of us in one way or another. We therefore condemn whatever threatens our unity as one people while calling for just and fair means of attending to various demands and agitations.
It is not secret to anyone that the present Nigerian situation does not appear to hold great promise for the young generation. This is caused by the monumental scale of greed and corruption among our elders, elite or political class which continues to anger the youths. The grievances of the youths are not totally misplaced. Democracy is strengthened when the political class, the elite and elders can negotiate and achieve a consensus that guarantees national cohesion and a sense of belonging for all.
However, individuals and groups who feel marginalized or oppressed should not take undue advantage of the freedom of expression by making inflammatory statements that could threaten the very unity and survival of the country. It must also be noted that freedom of expression includes respect for those who do not agree with us just as no one has the right to infringe on the rights of others. Thus, while making their legitimate demands, aggrieved citizens should have respect for constituted authorities and the laws of the land.
It must be noted that all Nigerians are equal before the law. The Nigerian Constitution does not concede to any individual or group the right or the power to determine where any Nigerian may live or work or acquire property.
We, again admit that not all is well with our country, politically, economically and socially. Hunger and anger, religious bigotry and ethnic hate have indeed created a climate of fear and anxiety. The solution however is not to be found in aggravating the already tense situation by making uncontrolled or imprudent statements that could plunge the country into war or a very serious crisis.
We call on the Federal Government, on its part to take decisive action to contain the excesses of those making these hate speeches and threats from the different parts of the country. Those who undermine our peaceful coexistence should be held accountable and our security agencies must not be indifferent to the actions and utterances of such persons.
The call to restructure Nigeria for more efficient economic and political governance is in order. This will make it easier for geo-political units to determine their economic and political interests or priorities according to their peculiar situations, of course, under a truly Federal system of government. Nigeria as a country belongs to all of us. It is not the property of some powerful individuals or any ethnic group. It is very sad that after having come this far in our democratic experience, one group or association would threaten to expel another group from a section of the country or another group threatens to forcefully leave a nation that we are all struggling to build together. Building a nation takes time, collective hard work, dedication and patience.
Government at the State, Federal and Local Government levels must take responsibility for the lapses caused by self-centered attitudes and practices in governance by political officials. This is a real threat to our cherished values of justice and equity and creates a spirit of great disillusionment among the citizens. Those political leaders, tribal war mongers, religious extremists, etc., who continue to manipulate Nigeria’s destiny to suit their own purposes should desist forthwith. They should know that the failure of the Nigerian State is also their collective failure and history will hold them responsible for their roles.
Enough of this drum beat of war. War is an ill wind that blows no one any good. We must engage in more constructive forms of communication and dialogue within a democratic framework that rejects prejudice, intolerance or the exhibition of a sense of superiority over others. Our collective efforts must henceforth inspire hope and build trust and confidence among our people. We are aware that there can never be a perfect country, but trusting God, and blessed with millions of people who practise religion, everyone must make the needed sacrifices, based on the love for our dear country and all Nigerians.
Finally, we condemn the heinous, unfortunate and tragic incident of the massacre of worshippers at St Philip’s Catholic Church Ozubulu, Anambra State by some criminal persons. While we pray for the repose of the souls of those who have met their untimely death, we call on the federal and state governments to ensure that these criminals are identified, arrested and punished.
We wish our country well; and we pray that all citizens, whether in low or high offices, in private or public work, will always judiciously, prudently and honestly use the abundant blessings God has bestowed on us for the good of all – the young, the old, the sick, the poor, the jobless, the distressed, the frustrated, etc. We pray for the conversion of the evil-minded Nigerians who deliberately cause pain either by hoarding resources meant for all or by violently inflicting physical pain and agony on fellow Nigerians. All this can be avoided if there is good governance, free from corruption, nepotism, and if we entrench a culture of the equitable distribution of all our God-given abundant resources, transcending the narrow confines of partisan religious, ethnic or political considerations.
Most Rev Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, President, CBCN
Most Rev William Avenya, Secretary, CBCN