Nigeria “tottering at the brinks, this election is decisive”: Cardinal in Lenten Message

Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke of Nigeria’s Ekwulobia Diocese. Credit: Courtesy Photo

A Nigerian Cardinal has, in his message for Lent 2023, reflected on the General elections in Nigeria scheduled for February 25, saying the West African country is “tottering at the brinks” and the polls are “decisive.”

In the message issued, Monday, February 20, Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke urges Nigerians to “seek both the kingdom of God and the political kingdom”.

“Never have I seen an election in which many Nigerians, especially the youth, are as invested as in the forthcoming one,” Cardinal Okpaleke says in reference to the general elections that will see the Nigerian electoral elect the President, the Vice President, members of the Senate, and those of the House of Representatives. 

The 2023 Gubernatorial elections have been scheduled to take place on March 11.

The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia in Nigeria adds, “It seems that people woke up to the reality that their wellbeing is tied to the wellbeing of the society at large, and that decisions by those entrusted with political positions have a ripple effect for good or ill.”


“The worsening socio-economic and cultural situation contributed to this mass mobilization,” the Nigerian Cardinal says, and adds, “Nigeria is tottering at the brinks and this election is decisive. There is little or no room for error.”

Cardinal Okpaleke underscores the need for the electorate in the West African nation to decide wisely as they cast their votes on February 25, and highlighted qualities that need to be considered. 

“A wrong decision spells doom for the citizenry. There is therefore a consciousness across religious, ethnic, geo-political and even party lines, that vision, competence, character, credibility and track record are to count most in this election,” he says.

The Nigerian Catholic Church leader who was among the 21 Cardinals named on May 29 further says, “In sum, this election has shown that elections are not inconsequential events. Their outcome determines so much in the life and history of the people.”

“The people can only have it good when persons of character are elected and entrusted with their affairs, as affirmed in the Book of Proverb (29:2) and acknowledged by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in the Communiqué issued after her meeting in February 2023,” he said in reference to the statement following their February 11 – 17 Plenary Assembly in which the Catholic Church leaders also called for the re-examination of Chapter II of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution and the immediate increase of the circulation of the new Naira notes.

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In his February 20 Lenten message, Cardinal Okpaleke describes as “divine providence” the beginning of the Season of Lent and the general elections, which are happening the same week.

The Bishop of Ekwulobia makes reference to Ghana’s pioneer leader, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who turned Jesus’ statement into “seek you first the political kingdom and every other thing will be added unto you.”  

“Understandably, Nkrumah and other nationalists were fighting for the self-rule of the colonized peoples of Africa and thought that all they needed was the political kingdom, to have black people in charge of their own affairs,” the Nigerian Cardinal says.

He continues, “But, having practiced self-rule for more than half a century, it has become clear that having a leader with the same colour of skin as oneself, the same language, from the same ethnic group etc., does not automatically translate into good governance.”

“There is still need for leaders, and followers, who are committed to righteousness and to values represented by the kingdom of God. So, we must seek both the kingdom of God and the political kingdom,” Cardinal Okpaleke says.


He explains, “Values of the kingdom of God transform us and prepare us to make the political kingdom one in which justice, peace and prosperity will reign.”

“Like the Nigerian election, the Lenten period calls us to decision,” he further says, and continues, “Ash Wednesday not only invites us to decide to make the best of the Lenten Season but the season challenges us in the words of Moses: ‘today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster’ (Deut 30:15) or in those of Joshua, ‘today you must make up your minds whom you mean to serve,’ Yahweh who saved you or other gods (Joshua 24:15).”

He further says, “The Lenten period is an invitation to all to choose to serve God who in Jesus Christ, out of love, suffered, died and was raised to life, for us and for our salvation, as we recite in the Creed.”

“If we choose to do this, then we must embrace a life of love for all, commitment to the good of all, especially the poor, the disadvantaged, the lowly and the despised,” he further says.

Cardinal Okpaleke adds, “If we decide to choose life in God, we are called upon to present our hearts to God in prayer to be transformed; to strive at self-conquest so that we become persons of character not easily distracted by selfish desires; and to invest our energy and resources in making life better for everybody.”

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“This will not only lead to individual transformation but also to the transformation of our communities,” he says, noting that it is by “seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness that we become the kind of persons who can build up a political kingdom of life, love, truth, justice and prosperity for us.” 

“As we are marked with the Ash and reminded that dust we are and to dust shall we return, may we realize the great privilege God has given us to contribute in shaping history,” the Nigerian Cardinal says.

The Catholic Church leader who resigned in 2018 following sustained opposition to his Episcopal appointment for Nigeria’s Ahiara Diocese adds, “As we clamor for and decide to vote for vision, competence, character, credibility and track record in the coming election, let us be ready also to aspire and strive to become persons of vision, character, competence who over time will have track records of commitment to the common good.”

“This Lenten season can be the starting point or a milestone to energize us to make more effort,” Cardinal Okpaleke says in his February 20 Lenten Message.

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.