MESSAGE OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA TO THE NATION AT HER GOLDEN JUBILEE OF INDEPENDENCE
We, members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, after a week of prayerful reflection during our Second Plenary Meeting at the Equity Resort Hotels, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, September 11 – 18, 2010, present this special message to the nation in view of the Golden Jubilee celebration of our country, Nigeria, on October 1, 2010. We will in due course issue a joint Pastoral Letter to mark this historic occasion.
- JUBILEE – A PERIOD OF THANKSGIVING
The Jubilee is a period of thanksgiving. We thank God for His fidelity to us Nigerians. We thank Him that Nigeria is still one nation, despite manifold conflicts and unrests that have punctuated our history. Nigeria, with a population of about 150 million, is the most populous nation of black people anywhere in the world with rich and diverse languages and cultures.
We thank God for endowing our land and people with much human and natural resources. Nigerians are hardworking, resilient and enterprising people who have given the world geniuses in many fields of endeavour. The industry, commitment and excellence displayed by many of our citizens, both at home and abroad, are blessings to make our nation proud and thankful to God.
Nigeria is also blessed with good vegetation and benign climate. The land treasures vast mineral deposits, making Nigeria ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’. In many parts of Nigeria, religious freedom and freedom of worship are respected. Our democratic dispensation accommodates and continues to nurture other ideals, such as freedom of the press, expression and association. For all these and many more, we thank God Almighty. To Him be glory, honour and praise, for ever and ever. Amen.
In biblical tradition, a Jubilee evokes human response to divine favours. It also promotes social justice, forgiveness and reconciliation, option for the poor, cancellation of debts, release of prisoners, concerns for the Common Good, solidarity and peace.
In the apostolic times, fifty days after the resurrection (at the Feast of the Jubilee), the Church experienced its first Pentecost (cf. Acts of the Apostles, Ch. 2) – a moment of great renewal and strength. We urge that Nigeria’s 50th anniversary of Independence be marked by deep reflection and profound renewal. We, therefore, pray for a New Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit at this national jubilee to renew our land.
- THE NEED FOR A CHANGE OF HEART
The last fifty years in Nigeria have been a period of mixed blessings. While God has blessed us with abundant resources, our resources have not been sufficiently developed in this period, much less put to the benefits of all Nigerians. Instead, our resources are constantly being dissipated ‘through acts of injustice, bribery and corruption, as a result of which many of our people are hungry, sick, ignorant and defenceless.’ The result is that the educational and healthcare systems are at best limping, our roads and high-ways are in a state of collapse, the electricity-supply is epileptic and soaring unemployment.
The rate of profligacy with which some politicians and public officers fritter away public funds is alarming. Whopping sums of public funds are approved as salaries and allowances for top government officials and members of National Assembly. Amidst grinding poverty and distress of the vast majority, billions of public funds are looted through inflation of contracts and questionable projects. Along with this is the allocation of staggering funds as security votes which are not only unaccounted for, but used more for self-fortification and self-perpetuation in power by some leaders of the three tiers of government. Such financial waste drains the nation’s resources, wrecks ethical and moral orientation of our youth, sidetracks the purpose of public service, and mortgages our future. Posterity will judge and condemn us if we do not collectively rise against this evil trend.
It follows that to rebrand Nigeria, every Nigerian should profoundly undergo a change of heart. Leaders should have the requisite integrity to govern the people.
- THE NEED FOR FREEDOM
This Jubilee calls for the liberation of prisoners. The prisons are overcrowded due to inmates who are detainees awaiting trials or have overstayed the number of years they would have served if sentenced. We call for a special prerogative of mercy through their release. There is need for reform and upgrade of the entire criminal justice system, namely, the police, the court and the prisons, so that inefficiency and corruption are eliminated within the system for the desired standards of the international community.
- SECURITY AGENCIES
No nation can prosper in an atmosphere of insecurity as we experience across our nation, especially from the menace of armed-robbery, kidnapping and assassination. We therefore commend all efforts towards reforms in the police force and other security agencies to weed out corrupt tendencies, particularly at check-points across the nation which largely contribute in further damaging our corporate image. There is the need for continued formal and informal training of the security agencies and providing equipment which will enable them to respond rapidly and adequately to new challenges posed in modern times by criminals, especially kidnappers.
- THE SPATE OF KIDNAPPING
There is a spate of kidnapping in the country which inflicts terror in our society and untold trauma to victims. Kidnapping is sinful, wicked and attracts divine wrath. The menace dents our national image and creates an unfavourable climate for economic growth. Due to the social upheavals thus engendered, foreign entrepreneurs may refuse to invest in Nigeria. We sympathize with the victims of the kidnappers and their relatives. To the kidnappers themselves, we say: repent form your atrocity and avert God’s wrath! Communities should proffer information to expose the evil networks of these criminals. Government should proactively fight criminality by ensuring the smooth running of academic institutions to fully engage students, create job opportunities for the teeming youths, and have social welfare packages for those unemployed.
- SPIRIT OF PATRIOTISM
For nation-building, Nigerians should imbibe the spirit of patriotism. Patriotism is a virtue that does not fall from above, but is cultivated and nurtured in and by citizens. Patriotism grows with respect to the degree of participation of the citizens in electing their leaders, participation in the governance of their respective communities, the level of civility exercised in the process, as well as the sensitivity with which elected officials treat the citizens. The spirit of patriotism is further enhanced through an integrated development program founded on principles of human rights, Common Good, solidarity and subsidiarity. Government should adequately remunerate senior citizens at their retirement who served our fatherland by promptly paying their pensions and gratuities.
The differences and varieties found in people, languages and cultures should in this process be harnessed as assets for nation building, instead of being exploited by greedy and unpatriotic people. Christians and Muslims, should for patriotic ideal pursue initiatives which widen the path of equal respect, harmony and collaboration. Christians and Muslims in Nigeria will collaborate in nation building if they are genuine devotees of their religions who imbibe the positive values in the respective religions, such as love, compassion, justice and peace. It is the constitutional responsibility of the government to intervene in states where people are denied the right to erect places of religious worship.
- SUSTAINABLE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM
At 50, our nation must cherish and provide for her youth who are more than half the population. Nigeria should rise to the challenge of giving her children a dignified condition of living. Nigeria has resources to train her citizens through a sustainable and systematic educational process for legitimate self-determination and empowerment. We call on state governments and the respective chapters of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) with regard to non-implementation of the ASUU/Federal Government agreement, to meaningful dialogue which will finally resolve the current impasse. We reiterate our call for the total return of our schools and for adequate Government grant-in-aid to support our ongoing efforts in the education of our people.
- THE 2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS
Nigerians will soon go to the polls to elect their leaders. The 2011 general elections are crucial for the progress and stability of our nation. The elections are providential for Nigerians at this milestone of our history to elect the leaders to lead us to the land of promise. The period will test the level of the democratic spirit we have so far imbibed in our journey to nationhood. We have learnt since the democratic dispensation that economic development depends on democratic advancement that derives from a good electoral process. Therefore, free and fair elections should commence at the party primaries so that the best political aspirants might emerge as party candidates for elections. We urge all Nigerians who have reached the age of voting to register and to vote in the next elections for candidates of their choice. We must go beyond tribal, party, religious or gender affiliations, to vote with our conscience for only honest, patriotic and selfless people.
The President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and the Independent National Electoral Commission should ensure that there is a credible, fair and transparent electoral process. We must all ensure that every vote is counted and that every vote counts. A good electoral process should begin with a good Voters’ Registration exercise that accredits all eligible voters. As Church, through the Justice, Development and Peace/ Caritas Nigeria, we shall continue to propagate the Church’s Social Teaching, political literacy, civic education programs, and engage in election monitoring.
- THE CHALLENGE OF THE CHURCH AT THIS PERIOD
While we thank God for a dynamic and expanding local Church, we are challenged by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to intensify the missionary mandate of our Church both within Nigeria and to the world at large, so that the Gospel might penetrate the depths of the human hearts and reach other nations.
We shall contribute our utmost best in the building of our nation through preaching and apostolate, especially the formation of youth. We commit ourselves to intensify catechesis which deepens the fear of God that informs genuine wisdom and progress, educates in moral and social values, and shields our people from superstitions, negative ideologies and foreign perversions.
We acknowledge that unless the Lord builds the house, in vain does the workman labour (Psalm 126/ 127). There is no doubt that Nigerians still have difficult and enormous tasks ahead in the comity of prosperous nations. Our leaders need the political will which in the present context calls for heroism. Our citizens need to recover confidence in themselves and work with their leaders in hope for a better future. These are reasons for our nation to turn to God for help at this 50th anniversary of the birth of her sovereignty. At her beginning in 1960, Nigeria was entrusted to the Blessed Mary, Queen of Nigeria and Mother of the Church. To her, we turn at this moment imploring her that she might advocate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our leaders and people. We call on all to observe a Day of prayer and fasting for this purpose on Friday, September 24th, 2010.
Mary, Queen of Nigeria, pray for us!
Given this day, September 17, 2010.