Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama heads the Archdiocese of Jos, Nigeria, and serves as the president of the country’s bishops’ conference. With the largest population is Africa, Nigeria—20 million of whose approximately 170 million citizens are Catholic—plays a pivotal role on the continent as it confronts the challenge of endemic corruption and the ongoing threat of Boko Haram. The prelate spoke Wednesday with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Q: You recently called on newly elected President Muhammadu Buharu to ensure that Nigeria remain a “multi-religious country” in which everyone is free to practice their beliefs. Is religious freedom in danger in Nigeria?
Archbishop Kaigama: The President has vowed to protect religious freedom. However, on the level of individual states—and especially in the primarily Muslim north—there is discrimination. For example, Muslim students have their own mosques, while the Christians have to hold their services in classrooms. There is religious instruction for Muslims, but what about for Christians? They do not have the same options. Furthermore, the government does not make it easy for the Christians in the north to build new churches and the Christians do not even have the authorization to buy land privately.
Christians are denied access to a Christian education because of narrow-minded religious prejudices. This means that we create people without faith, without established morals, who can be dangerous for society. We want everyone to be strengthened in their faith and religious identity, to ensure the formation of better citizens for the good of society.
Q: Your message to the president also concerned corruption and the terrorist organization Boko Haram.
Archbishop Kaigama: Both are so dangerous. They undermine the unity and the entire identity of the country. When you let Boko Haram be successful, you destabilize the country. Nigeria is then no longer Nigeria, the magnificent country that it should be. Corruption goes back much further than Boko Haram and it causes the same kind of damage. It eats its way deep into the system, prevents any kind of progress, destabilizes the work of the government and promotes suffering and hardship, which in turn give rise to violence and conflicts. And Christians are just as involved in corruption as Muslims. It is a national problem and something must be done about it.
We do believe that President Buhari is working to tackle these fundamental problems. We have long been praying for the embattled Nigeria. We also composed a prayer against corruption. We have prayed it for years and I believe that God has heard our prayers. Something is being done against corruption, and Boko Haram is being combatted. Our prayers have been answered.
Q: Vocations are booming in Nigeria. That must give you hope.
Archbishop Kaigama: We thank God for the gift of vocations. We have been blessed with vocations, our churches are full and we thank God for this. We would like to return the gift that we were given by the missionaries from Europe. The missionary work here is done and now we feel that we have something to give. The West should not be afraid to ask us for help. We are ready to help with our priests.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)