Earlier this month, the bishops of Nigeria met with the president, Muhammadu Buhari.
Here is the address given on the occasion by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, president of the Nigerian episcopal conference.
On behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), we the Archbishops and members of the Administrative Board, the highest decision making body of our Conference are here in person to congratulate you our President on your election as the leader of our great country and to express our solidarity and willingness to collaborate with you and with your administration in which we see hope for a greater Nigeria.
We recall with great delight your speech in February 2015 as a presidential candidate to us, the Catholic Bishops, which had the theme: “One Nation Bound in Freedom, Peace, Unity and Love”, in which you re-affirmed your commitment towards ensuring that Nigeria remains a multi-religious state where every individual is free to practice his or her religion of choice.
1: CHURCH-STATE COLLABORATION IN THE RECONSTRUCTION OF POST BOKO HARAM NIGERIA.
We commend your efforts in the fight against Boko Haram and against corruption. We encourage that justice be done according to the rule of law, with no sacred cows to be spared. These two monsters which you are tackling pretty well have threatened to destabilize Nigeria and to cripple our national growth and development. Although many people have been killed, many others rendered homeless and are without adequate means of livelihood, we commend you for being quite successful so far in repelling the insurgence from decimating Nigeria by halting its further advance.
Our Conference, using our Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria , CCFN, and our Justice, Peace and Development Commission (JDPC) have been doing what is within our limits to bring relief to the displaced persons. Notably, the Catholic Bishops of Maiduguri and Yola as well as Bishops in other parts of the country have hosted large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons. The CBCN sent a delegation to Cameroun with substantial relief materials to give succor to thousands of Nigerians taking refuge there. Some of our priests are currently residing there with the refugees to give them hope and spiritual/pastoral support. We hope your government and our Conference will continue to collaborate in respect of caring for the displaced persons. So we ask that whatever measures are being put in place by the government for rehabilitation and reconstruction we who have been involved from the beginning will be brought on board to share the concrete experience we have of what these our brothers and sisters have been going through. We believe that picking up the pieces of the havoc by Boko Haram will require that all hands be on deck. We would like a wider discussion on the issue of our partnership with State Governments in matters of the rehabilitation of the displaced persons and the reconstruction of their communities.
2: FARMERS/HERDSMEN CONFLICTS AND KILLINGS IN ALMOST ALL ZONES OF OUR COUNTRY.
The Agatu killings, the Nimbo killings and many other killings in Benue, Taraba, Nassarawa, Ondo, Edo, Delta and elsewhere should be seriously investigated, with the perpetrators unmasked and decisively dealt with. Our people cannot continue to live in perpetual fear of attacks by fellow Nigerians with criminal intent. Happily, we understand that you have ordered some investigations into the Agatu and Nimbo killings. For a more permanent peace between herdsmen and farmers in our country, some streamlining is necessary for the good of the cattle rearers in the North and for the welfare of farmers in the South and elsewhere in Nigeria.
Cattle ranches should be created in states known for cattle breeding, with adequate water and fodder provided and nurtured. Farmland for root crops and other plants should be protected for their specific products in states known for such. This will reduce or eliminate clashes stemming from trespassing. We certainly need these two sectors to supplement our near-total dependence on oil. But the fact that armed attacks and wanton killings have become a national threat, it should be declared an insurgency and treated as such, with the aim of dislodging the insurgents from occupied communities by the security/military operatives.
3: CHURCH/STATE PARTNERSHIP IN EDUCATION.
We believe that the national and State Governments have a duty, and in some cases have actually committed themselves by law, to fund the education of all children, from Primary 1 to JSS 3. In fact this is in the Federal New Policy on Education, under the 6-3-3-4 scheme. We wish to humbly remind your administration what you owe to all children, not only those in public schools. We are also demanding that children under our care who are citizens of our great country, in our faith- based institutions should enjoy similar privileges and not suffer any form of deprivation or discrimination because they happen to be in institutions run by faith-based organizations. There was a time when a healthy relationship existed between government and faith-based organizations in running schools and health institutions. Today, all sorts of levies are slammed on our institutions and the children. Instead of supporting faith-based institutions as is done in other countries, we experience what seems to suggest that mission schools are some sort of unhealthy competitors and the students are less Nigerian than those in public schools. As a way of improving holistic education we plead with the government to generously co-fund education/ health care of faith-based organizations while insisting that high standards be maintained. The government support for non-state actors should be increased against the background that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require broad partnerships and the government alone cannot achieve the vision of the SDGs.
Our Catholic schools are more than private schools in the conventional sense; they are ‘Mission Schools’. The schools were not founded as profit-oriented establishments even if beneficiaries have to pay for services for the provision of quality education and the development of the institutions. Moreover, Catholic Mission Schools are not discriminatory. In addition, some children and wards of parents and guardians who cannot afford such quality education that the Mission schools render are also enrolled at the expense of the Church.
4: FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE DIFFICULTY OF GETTING LAND APPROVAL FOR CHRISTIAN RELGIOUS PURPOSES IN SOME PARTS OF THE NORTH
Your Excellency, we still recall in your speech, your firm commitment towards ensuring the right of Nigerians to their religious beliefs, which includes and not limited to, the right to erect places of worship. We bring to your notice that sad enough, Christians are still unable to erect places of worship in Federal Universities in the northern states. After forty years, Usman Dan Fodio and Bayero Universities, for example, have out-rightly denied Christians access to lands already allocated in the plans for the erection of Churches, in spite of there being so many mosques built by the university authorities. Similarly, it is such a herculean task for Christians to obtain certificates of occupancy to build Churches in some northern States. We urge you to kindly encourage State governments to kindly enforce the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution.
5: THE ECONOMIC SITUATION: OUR PEOPLE ARE GROANING.
The harsh economic situation in which our people are living presently is being felt everywhere. In many States, workers are worrying about their monthly salaries, many pensioners are crying for many months for unpaid pensions, while so many self-employed and non-employed persons and family dependents are groaning for their daily meal. As we thank you for the bail-out funds to cushion this hardship in various States, we urge you to ensure that these monies are used mainly to take care of salaries, pensions and their basic human needs.
6: CONCLUSION: OUR PATRIOTIC ASPIRATIONS AND COMMITMENT
Your Excellency, we are genuinely concerned about turning our country around and committed to helping this government make this happen. The issues mentioned above are nagging areas of concern for us as leaders of the Catholic Church. What we say applies to the Christian community in general. National stability and cohesion remain sore points against the backdrop of the indiscriminate loss of human lives in Nigeria. Life which is sacred is being taken at the whims and caprices of criminals or religiously confused or misguided individuals and groups. It is no good news for us and for our national image that people are kidnapped or killed without the slightest compunction.
Your Excellency, please be assured of our fervent prayers as you and your team struggle to overcome the multi-dimensional challenges facing us in the country. With God all things are possible. We remain optimistic that things can only get better. We are aware that to eat an omelet the egg must first be broken. We pray that the current economic hardships being faced by Nigerians due to the decline in oil prices and based on the desire to reposition things is temporary and hopefully, Nigerians will soon smile, based on the repeated assurances from you. We wish you a happy, peaceful and fruitful tenure and once again, please always count on our support for the common good of our country.
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama
Catholic Archbishop of Jos
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria
May 2, 2016
Text was obtained by Aid to the Church in Need-USA
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