A Communiqué issued at the end of the First Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the CSN Resource Centre, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Durumi, Abuja, 11 to 17 February 2023.
We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, held our First Plenary Meeting for the year at the CSN Resource Centre, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Durumi, Abuja, from 11 to 17 of February 2023. Having prayerfully reflected on issues affecting the Church and the Nigerian State, we now issue this Communiqué:
2. INDICES OF GOOD GOVERNANCE
The Catholic Church continues to insist that government has a constitutional and statutory duty of protecting human rights and securing basic justice for all. Society, as a whole, is responsible for building up the common good, and the role of government is to guarantee the minimum conditions that make human rights and justice possible. If the primary purpose of party campaigns is to win elections, then the justifiable end is good governance.
Chapter IV of our Constitution on Fundamental Rights is very clear on what constitutes an aspect of good governance, namely, protection of the rights to life, human dignity, liberty, fair hearing, and so on. Despite the many failures of our leaders to ensure good governance, we still nurture and sustain the hope of a democracy that will usher in a renewed era of social justice, equity, peace, and prosperity. These fundamental rights are further enhanced in the rights that are enshrined in Chapter II of our Constitution, such as the rights to health, education, basic amenities, et cetera. Unfortunately, these rights are not justiciable and cannot be enforced in the law courts, thereby leaving the enjoyment of these rights to the whims and caprices of the people in power. As shepherds, we call for a legislative review of Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution, in such a way as to make the provisions justiciable and enforceable. This will go a long way to nurture and sustain good governance.
3. SOME CHALLENGES FACING OUR COUNTRY
i) Worsening Insecurity in our Nation
Increased insecurity has continued to haunt our nation. The Boko Haram insurgents, herdsmen militia, bandits, and the so-called unknown gunmen have continued to unleash terror in different parts of the country. Some communities have been sacked and their inhabitants displaced as a result of the activities of some criminals and some government security agents. Hundreds of lives have been lost in very brutal circumstances and many more have been maimed. Some of our Church personnel have been victims of abduction and killing. Kidnapping for ransom is on the increase such that nowhere seems safe. Highways, homes, and even the sacred precincts of worshipping centres are not spared. We condole with all the bereaved and pray for the eternal repose of the deceased. While we continue to call on governments to stand up to their primary responsibility of safeguarding the lives and property of Nigerians, we enjoin all to strengthen security measures in their homes and institutions. We call on all citizens to be law-abiding, and vigilant, and to shun all forms of violence and criminality.
ii) The Challenging Economy in our Nation and its Effects on the Citizens
Our crumbling national economy has continued to make life difficult and hard for our people. As the value of the Naira continues to decline, the high cost of goods and services, including food items, continues to soar. Still more, the flawed implementation of the cash swap policy, which resulted in a cash crunch, has added to the ordeal, hunger, anger, and frustration of the people. Again, on account of the persisting fuel scarcity, our people spend many hours in long queues under harsh conditions trying to buy fuel at exorbitant prices. As a result of high unemployment and hard-biting economic conditions, many of our brothers and sisters wallow in abject poverty, and many either flee the nation in search of better living conditions or resort to crime and begging to survive. This situation is further compounded by the growing debt burden that is mortgaging our future and that of upcoming generations. We, therefore, urge Federal Government and its relevant agencies to immediately increase the circulation of new Naira notes and make and implement adequate monetary and other relevant policies that will reduce the suffering and hardship experienced by our people. We admonish those who collaborate in hoarding the new currency and petroleum products to desist from such a dastardly act. We laud the citizens for their bravery in the face of the hard situation while we thank the President for approving the extended use of the old N200 notes. Furthermore, governments need to provides enabling environment for the creation of more jobs by both the government and the private sector.
4. CITIZENS’ PARTICIPATION AND GOOD CHOICES
Participation is at the core of the realization of the common good, which good governance serves. Indeed, citizens’ participation is a key element of a good governance structure. We, the Bishops, have continued to voice out the need for Nigerians to be more involved and be part of the decisions over what happens in our society. As enshrined in various sections of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, the right to political participation is a human right. The Church teaches that responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in the political process is a moral obligation (CCC, nos. 1913-1915).
One of the potent instruments of participation in the political life of a country is the choice of its leaders. In the face of the daunting challenges facing our nation, we should not give in to hopelessness and despair, or compromise our values in such a manner as to come up with leaders who are neither intended by God nor truly elected by the people. We, as citizens, must learn to make the right choices for good governance to thrive and be sustained. We, therefore, urge one and all to be more conscious of the kind of choices that they make in their life, especially, as we approach another critical period in our political history.
5. THE GENERAL ELECTIONS 2023
The 2023 General Elections are around the corner. As we wrote in our recent Pastoral Letter on the 2023 Elections in Nigeria, “these upcoming elections provide us with yet another opportunity in our national history to choose leaders capable of governing for the common good” (p.1). This is now the time to reject evil, greater or lesser, and wisely choose good and capable candidates at all levels. Our votes are precious; we must use them well. We encourage all eligible citizens to come out en masse to vote for God-fearing, honest, vibrant, and transparent leaders for a better Nigeria.
We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its officials to ensure that their conducts in the entire electoral process are transparent, honest, and beyond reproach. We continue to enjoin the Commission to make sure that the newly adopted technologies for accreditation, transmission, and collation, are transparently and sincerely deployed and not manipulated to give false results. We equally call on the law enforcement agents, whose primary duty is to enforce law and order and ensure the protection of persons and materials during the elections, to efficiently and professionally carry out their responsibilities without fear, favour, or partiality. In the same manner, we advise our youths not to allow themselves to be used as thugs and agents of disruption and violence before, during, and after the elections. We, at the same time, enjoin voters to ensure that proper counting is done before the transmission of the results.
One ugly and unfortunate phenomenon that has characterized the electoral contests in our nation is that of vote buying and selling, aimed at frustrating and compromising the free choice of the people. We vehemently continue to condemn this practice and urge all politicians and the electorate to avoid this unlawful and sinful practice and embrace the values of human dignity, integrity, and decency in order to have free, fair, and credible elections. We acknowledge the important role of both national and international observers in safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process and the promotion of its greater openness and transparency. We call on all those engaged in this task to eschew every trace of bias and partisanship in discharging their duties.
The Judiciary is an important institution in the settlement of electoral disputes in our nation. The significance of this role has continued to rise to the point that it seems no election is complete and determined without the pronouncement of the courts. Unfortunately, this role sometimes results in the abuse of judicial power and office wherein unconscionable orders are made, which mock the electoral process and the general will of the electorate. No doubt, this not only compromises the essence of democratic competition but also leads to loss of confidence in the Judiciary. We, therefore, encourage all judges and lawyers to, once again see themselves as ministers in the temple of truth and justice, and work to make the Judiciary the ‘last hope of the common man’.
6. THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA IN GOOD GOVERNANCE
The media have a crucial role to play in entrenching good and democratic governance, by providing the necessary information that empowers the citizens not only to engage the political class in debates on the issues that affect their lives, but also, to exercise their democratic choices and make informed decisions about public issues (Inter Mirifica, nn.3-5; Communio et Progressio, n. 87). The Media also function as watchdog by engaging in investigative journalism, which holds political officials and the citizens accountable in the use of public patrimony (Aetatis Novae, n. 14, par. 2). We call on the Media practitioners and owners, not only to seek but to speak the truth with a clear conscience, desisting from the sensational journalism presently being promoted, largely through fake news, violence, inflammatory and divisive remarks. We also urge all citizens to be very discerning and circumspect about news being peddled in the social media. (Pope Francis, Letter to SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communications, 2022). Furthermore, we call upon Governments at all levels to ensure free and independent media that will help to achieve good governance and responsible citizenship.
7. NEWS FROM THE CHURCH
We thank God for the successful visits of the Holy Father to the Democratic Republic of Congo, (31 January to 3 February 2023) and South Sudan (3 to 5 February 2023). We hope and pray that these visits will have lasting impact not only on these two nations but on the entire African Continent. In the same vein, we pray for an end to the war in Ukraine and other parts of the world. We equally pray for the victims of the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. With gratitude to God for a life well spent, we remember our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, who passed on 31 December 2022 and was laid to rest on 6 January 2023. May he continue to rest in perfect peace. Amen.
Since our last Plenary Meeting in Orlu, Imo State, in September 2022, the Church in Nigeria has been blessed with two additional Diocesan Bishops, Most Rev. Michael Kalu Ukpong, Umuahia Diocese (installed on 2 February 2023) and Most Rev. Anthony Ovayero Ewherido, Warri Diocese (ordained and installed on 9 February 2023). We felicitate with them and pray for the grace to shepherd the flock of God entrusted to their pastoral care. In the same vein, we thank the Holy Father for creating Wukari Diocese on 14 December 2022 and congratulate Msgr. Mark Maigida Nzukwein, appointed as its pioneer Bishop. We look forward to his Episcopal Ordination on 13 April 2023. We equally received with joy, the most recent announcement of the Creation of Aguleri Diocese with Most Reverend Denis Chidi Isizoh as its first Bishop. Furthermore, we rejoice with Most Rev. Peter Kayode Odetoyinbo and the entire Faithful of Abeokuta Diocese on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the Erection of their Diocese. Likewise, we are grateful to God for Most. Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, Metropolitan Archbishop of Lagos, and the pioneer Bishop of Abeokuta, who recently clocked 25 years in the Episcopate.
8. CONCLUSION: PRAYING FOR FREE, FAIR, AND PEACEFUL ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA
Providentially, the General Elections 2023 fall within the Season of Lent, which summons us all to repent of our sins, to retreat from our evil ways, and to amend our personal and corporate lives (Matthew 6:1-8; 16-18). Prominent in the Season of Lent is the demand for more intense prayer, and fasting not only from food and drink but also from the evils that destroy human and social life. In the spirit of the season, we continue to pray as we say: God our Father, grant us the wisdom to identify what is good and the courage to make the right choices. As we keep our eyes open and our minds alert, inspire in us the will to vote solely for the common good of our nation; fill our electoral umpires with the spirit of patriotism, justice, and fairness; enable us to embrace and usher in a new dawn in our country Nigeria, where citizens’ participation becomes the hallmark of institutional accountability and economic emancipation. We pray God to bless us with leaders with integrity and nobility while we hope and work for a brighter, more peaceful, and prosperous Nigeria. Mother Mary, Queen of Nigeria, intercede for us. Amen.
Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru UGORJI
Archbishop of Owerri
Most Rev. Donatus A. OGUN, OSA
Bishop of Uromi
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).