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Head of Catholic Church in Nigeria Thankful for Support of Pope Francis amid Insurgency

Archbishop Augustine Akubeze of Nigeria's Benin City Archdiocese

The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has expressed gratitude to the Holy See for its solidarity with the country that is battling Boko Haram insurgency.

In an interview with The Catholic Herald, the weekly publication of Nigeria’s Lagos Archdiocese, Archbishop Augustine Akubeze said there has been a mutual and cordial relationship between the local Church and the Holy See through the Apostolic Nunciature in the West African nation.

In the interview published Monday, March 8, Archbishop Akubeze who has been at the helm of CBCN since 2018 also said that the relationship has been of help in addressing the plight of the suffering of the people of God in the country.

“The Holy See has been of great help to the Church in Nigeria in many ways. We are grateful to the Holy Father, and all those who assist him,” Archbishop Akubeze said.

He explained, “Several times, Pope Francis has drawn the world’s attention to the plight of the suffering poor in Nigeria. When some religious Sisters were kidnapped, the Holy Father prayed for them and called for their release. When some Priests and Lay faithful were killed in Benue State, the Holy Father prayed for them.”

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The Archbishop of Nigeria’s Benin City Archdiocese expressed his appreciation for the countless times that Pope Francis had specifically mentioned the plight of the poor in Nigeria, adding, “We will continue to strengthen our relationship with the Holy See by letting them know our present situation.”

He further said that through “private communication”, the Church in Nigeria would also suggest appropriate ways through which the Holy See can put pressure on Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to ensure that there is prosperity for Nigerians.

In the interview with the Catholic publication, Archbishop Akubeze addressed a variety of topics including goals of his leadership, experiences as CBCN President, the relationship of the body of Bishops with the Holy See, the state of Nigeria, among other contemporary issues.

Asked about the attitude of the Holy See towards the killings, kidnapping and banditry in Nigeria especially with regards to Christian communities in the North, the Nigerian Archbishop said that the Vatican keenly follows the situation in the country where he said attacks targeted Christians and Muslims alike.

“The Holy See is concerned about the killing of any human being. It is not only about the killing of Christians,” he said.

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“The Holy See spoke against the killing of Muslims in Myanmar,” he said, and added, “The oppression of any human being has always been of concern to the Holy See. In the same light, the Holy See has at several times condemned the killings of Christians in Nigeria.”

The President of CBCN noted that the “incessant” kidnapping of secondary school students in the Northern part of Nigeria was of great concern to Catholic Bishops in the country.

“The kidnap of the Chibok girls and the recent abduction of over 300 girls from Zamfara State, recently released,” the Archbishop said, “do not mean well for Nigeria.”

“We call on the abductors of the Chibok girls for their immediate release. Education is the bedrock of any development,” he said,

Nigeria is headed for “a terrible situation” should the country’s Federal Government fail to secure the release of the kidnapped girls, he cautioned.

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The government, Archbishop Akubeze stated, should also firmly assure the people in the country that such an incident as the kidnapping will not happen again.

Highlighting some of the notable experiences during his tenure as CBCN President, the Archbishop said the Conference of Bishops in Nigeria had exercised her prophetic role in speaking about the social conditions in the country.

“For the first time in the history of the Church in Nigeria, the entire Catholic Bishops led a peaceful protest march to call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to stop the killing of Nigerians,” he said, recalling the August 2020 event.

He added in reference to the peaceful protest, which the members of CBCN spearheaded, “For me this was important because we came out to protest not against a political party but against failure of Government to meet its constitutional role.”

He said that the Shepherds of the people of God in the country have spoken out against the injustices meted against Christians, North of the country.

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The Archbishop found it “heart-warming” that some Muslim leaders had been very vocal in condemning the injustices.

“I do not take pleasure in criticizing any Government in power. But I cannot be silent when the action or inaction of the Government endangers the lives of Nigerians. So, whenever, we speak because we feel that the moral hands of history will never forgive our generation for not speaking against the killing of innocent people,” he said.

He further recalled that Church leaders have, on numerous occasions, called for a change in state governance, speaking about the need to kick out leaders who are not working for the good of the people.

“I am glad that the President has come to the same conclusion we had long proposed, namely, bringing in new blood to effect radical change in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria,” the 64-year-old Nigerian Archbishop said.

He recalled his attempts to draw the world attention to the resilience of Nigerians in the face of their suffering as well as the need for the international community to speak and put pressure on the Federal Government to be more effective in fighting insurgency and other ills that bedevil the country.

The people of God in Africa’s most populous nation are tired of a dysfunctional government that is riddled with poverty, he said.

“Nigerians are seeing the increase in inflation, that does not match the increase in wages. They are seeing a naira that is growing weaker to the dollar. They are seeing depletion of our foreign reserve. They are seeing over reliance on crude oil,” the Archbishop said.

He added in reference to Nigerians, “They are tired of seeing politicians using ethnic and religious arguments to divert the attention of the people away from their lack of performance and to give them continuous cover without scrutiny.”

According to Archbishop Akubeze, the #EndSARS protest points to the reawakened collective consciousness of Nigerians to hold their leaders responsible for systemic failure of leadership in the country.

He also weighed in on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, ethnic cleansing, ethnic bigotry, cultural hegemony, among other vices, which he said go against the teachings of the Catholic Church.

He said that Church leaders in Nigeria are always keen to point out the vices, which he said, are against the African way of life.

“The Church in Nigeria has continued to speak against western pressure to impose a lifestyle that is completely incongruence with our human nature and with our culture as Africans, and more importantly with our Catholic faith,” Archbishop Akubeze told The Catholic Herald, the weekly publication of the Archdiocese of Lagos in Nigeria.