Catholic Archbishop in Nigeria Defends Decision to Accept Government Award amid Criticism

Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama conferred alongside over 400 other Nigerians and foreigners, with the 2022 National Honours Award in the West African country. Credit: Abuja Archdiocese

The Catholic Archbishop of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese has responded to those criticizing his decision to receive the state commendation for his “loyalty and patriotism to the country”, noting that the award was bestowed upon him by Nigerians who have trust in him and not the country’s President.

Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama was reportedly conferred, alongside over 400 other Nigerians and foreigners, with the 2022 National Honours Award in the West African country.

In an October 21 report, the Nigerian Archbishop said that while many people had congratulated him for the award, there were those who felt that he should have declined the recognition citing the country’s deplorable state.

Explaining his decision to accept the recognition, however, Archbishop Kaigama noted that the ward is not for his personal glory but that it ignites in him the fire to speak even more to authority.

“Following the unexpected news that I was among those to be conferred with the 2022 National Honours Award, many felicitated with me, while a very few egged me on to reject the offer,” Archbishop Kaigama said.


He added, highlighting the criticism he had received, “Someone commented on the social media before I received the award: ‘Why is the bishop collecting the award in a country where hunger, insecurity, killing is the order of the day; who will tell the government the truth?’ After I received the award someone queried: ‘If you had rejected this, even politely, would you not have made a huge statement that you are on the side of the people?’”

In response to the criticism, the Catholic Archbishop wrote, “The award is not for my personal glory but it will certainly provide an opportunity on the platform of the “honoured” to speak to those authorities I can reach in favor of those trampled upon and the voiceless. In any case, the best award for me still remains the Catholic priesthood which the Lord has called me to over forty years ago.”

The 64-year-old Local Ordinary of Abuja who started his Episcopal Ministry in April 1995 as the Bishop of Jalingo Diocese in Nigeria said he found it baffling that those who wanted him to refuse the state recognition had not gone all the way to abscond government goodies.

“If those Nigerians urging that the awards be declined should be logical with their sentiments to the end, it means that they will equally reject the national budget presented recently by the President and refuse to accept the benefits flowing from the financial entitlements for their respective States or refuse to use federal facilities or infrastructure simply because they perceive that the government has not done well,” he said.

According to the Catholic Archbishop, to reject the national award based on the issues of injustice, insecurity, lack of essential amenities, is equivalent to distancing oneself from what he refers to as “project Nigeria”.

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He urges Nigerians not to give up on their country “no matter how deficient or defective it may be,” noting that such disillusionment means “cursing the darkness instead of lighting a candle.”

“For selfish and sentimental reasons we cannot throw away the baby with the bath water, as some disgruntled Nigerians would like us to do,” he said, and added, “No matter how bad our country may be, I will stay here by the grace of God, work in it, and identify closely with those who suffer, while doing my spiritual and pastoral best to challenge the system that breeds corruption and bad governance.”

Archbishop Kaigama recalled that the Nigerian National Honours were instituted to be conferred every year upon Nigerians and friends of Nigeria, “To appreciate their loyalty and patriotism to the country. To reward the selfless service, the individuals have rendered. To further encourage the people recognized, to do more excellent work and meritorious services for the nation.”

The awards, he explained, are often conferred on the recipients by the Federal Government of Nigeria following a rigorous screening by the National Awards Committee and a careful security background check by the State Security Service.

“My understanding is that this is Nigeria’s award, not the President’s, to deserving citizens, not because they are the best Nigerians, but that they are seen as people who have contributed in some modest ways to the development and progress of the country, and so, perceived to be models for present and future generations,” the Archbishop of Abuja said.


He further explained that his recognition was not the first time that an award of such nature was being conferred on a member of the higher clerical rank of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, noting, “Late Dominic Cardinal Ekandem, Late Archbishop Gabriel Ganaka, Late Archbishop Brian Usanga, received awards from various governments, as well as Francis Cardinal Arinze, Anthony Cardinal Okogie and John Cardinal Onaiyekan.”

“In receiving this award, therefore, I have no inhibitions as to the greater good it portends for boosting my dialogue and reconciliation efforts and programmes. I do so to honor the poor and the marginalized I encounter every day in the society and especially, to lift the morale of those of my grassroots constituency,” he said.

The Archbishop who has been at the helm of Abuja Archdiocese since his installation in November 2019 expressed humility on receiving the state commendation, saying that it bestowed upon him the responsibility to work more towards peace and reconciliation in the country that is experiencing rising inter-ethnic and religious-based violence.

He admitted that he had been caught by surprise at the recognition, saying, “The trajectory of the story of my life is full of surprises. This award is, no doubt, one of them. As a matter of fact, I am yet to decipher who actually submitted my name for consideration.”

“Nonetheless, I am sure, it (award) will put me in a better stead to further project the message of peace, dialogue and reconciliation which our country desperately needs and which I have been preaching over the years, especially when I was Bishop of Jalingo, Archbishop of Jos and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria as well as when until recently I was the President of the Reunion of the Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA),” Archbishop Kaigama said.

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Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.