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“We speak out because we do not want Nigeria to collapse”: Catholic Bishops

Catholic Bishops in Nigeria with President Muhammadu Buhari. Credit: Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Catholic Bishops in Nigeria have called on the country’s governing party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to be open to criticisms and not embark on any form of propaganda against Church leaders who, when they speak, do so for the common good, with the best interests of the nation at heart.

In their last week’s collective statement, the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) urge the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC Government “to listen to every Nigerian, both political actors in other parties, and non-political actors in Nigeria and the diaspora.”

“We speak out because we do not want Nigeria to collapse. We are not speaking out for the APC Government to fail. We are speaking out so that Nigeria will not fail. APC is not the owner of Nigeria; Nigeria is owned by Nigerians irrespective of political affiliation,” the Catholic Bishops say in their statement dated May 6 and circulated May 8.

They add, “The Catholic Church in Nigeria, through the leadership of the CBCN, has spoken several times about the need for us to ensure that our democracy works for every Nigerian and not for only a few privileged politicians or those connected to them. We have, like other Nigerians, seen broken promises made by political leaders.”

They continue, “Members of the CBCN, like other religious leaders, have spoken against what we considered Government failure concerning the constitutional obligation to protect the lives and properties of Nigerians; to work for the welfare of everyone, to protect freedom of religious expression; to protect everyone against discrimination on ethnic or religious grounds or any other forms of discrimination.”

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“Every Nigerian is a stakeholder in the affairs of the country. Every Nigerian has the right to express themselves in a manner that does not incite people to violence or chaos whenever they perceive that the elected Government is failing,” the Catholic Church leaders say.

In their collective statement signed by CBCN President, Archbishop Augustine Akubueze, the Catholic Bishops underscore the need for Federal Government to allow Nigerians to make known their respective grievances and to be open to “constructive criticism.”

“A Nigerian does not need to be a registered political party card-carrying member before speaking about the failing economy, the daily killings and kidnappings of students, older men and women; babies and infants; people being killed in IDP camps and even in their homes by insurgents,” CBCN members say.

They caution against targeting religious leaders for being vocal against injustices saying there is no need for officials in government to focus their “energy, time and resources in any form of propaganda against religious leaders who disagree with your performance.”

“There is no need to spend so much of your time trying to blackmail anyone who criticizes your Government,” the Catholic Bishops in Nigeria emphasize, and caution, “It must be clearly stated to the Federal Government that if they continue to ignore the constructive criticisms and recommendations of Nigerians from every sector, the country will collapse and become ungovernable.”

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Nigeria has been experiencing insecurity since 2009 when Boko Haram insurgency began targeted attacks with the aim of turning Africa's most populous nation into an Islamic state.

Since then, the group, one of largest Islamist groups in Africa, has been orchestrating indiscriminate terrorist attacks on various targets including religious and political groups as well as civilians.

The insecurity situation in the country has further been complicated by the involvement of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen, also referred to as the Fulani Militia, who have been clashing frequently with Christian farmers over grazing land.

In their May 6 statement, Catholic Bishops in Nigeria highlight some incidents that illustrate the gravity of challenges around insecurity in the West African country.

“Police stations are being burnt, our gallant military men and women are being killed, barracks are attacked, IDP camps are attacked, farmlands are invaded,” CBCN members bemoan.

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They go on to highlight other challenges bedeviling the country saying, “Youth unemployment is at its highest, private sectors are not giving enabling environment to thrive, and appointments to offices are not reflective of our diversities; the complaints are almost endless – could the sounds signaling a collapsing nation be louder than this?”

As a way forward, CBCN members say, “The Federal Government must be transparent with every Nigerian in the struggle to revive our economy, industrialize the nation, objectively deal with corruption and significantly reduce the high level of insecurity and unemployment.”

They urge President Buhari to, from time to time, “address the people and give an account of the state of affairs in the country.”

“Nigerians do want to hear directly from their President and hear words that are matched with actions,” the Catholic Bishops add.

They also want the Federal Government to “call for a meeting of all stakeholders to have a sincere discussion on the way forward,” adding that such discussions “must seek how to implement the much talked about restructuring and devolution of power down to the local government level.”

The members of CBCN also say that it is not out of place to call “for a security summit in whatever form it may take as long as it leads to the unity, peace, justice, progress and protection of Nigerians.”

“We must be united in the fight for our common destiny as a people. No Government leader should watch the breakdown of law and order in Nigeria,” they say, and continue, “It is our collective obligation to make Nigeria successful.”

“Let us continue to pray to God to grant the Federal Government and other State actors the wisdom and courage to bring peace and justice to every Nigerian,” the Catholic Bishops say.

“As religious people, we entrust Nigeria to the hands of God and pray that we may respond to the voice of God calling us out of this crisis. May God bless Nigeria and keep her safe,” CBCN members implore in their statement circulated May 8.