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How the Church is 'sharing in Nigeria's agony'

Veritas University - also called The Catholic University of Nigeria - in Abuja. Courtesy photo.

Boko Haram terrorists stormed a Nigerian army checkpoint July 29 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, in a gun battle that saw one soldier killed and others injured.

As terrorists attacked from all sides, soldiers fought back against Islamic militants, who pushed toward a security forces barricade near Zuma Rock.

While the terrorists were repelled, attacks from Islamic militants have become more common in recent weeks in Nigeria’s capital region.

As the capital becomes more unsafe from terror attacks, public and private institutions in Abuja have closed their doors and shuttered their fences, as government security experts have warned them to close.

Among those institutions is Veritas University – also known as the Catholic University of Nigeria. The university, founded by the Nigerian bishops’ conference in 2002, is regarded as one of the premier teaching institutions in Nigeria.

In an exclusive interview, Father Hycinth Eme Ichoku - an economist, and the vice-chancellor of Veritas University - talked with The Pillar about security, education, and Nigeria’s upcoming elections.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Father Hycinth Eme Ichoku. Credit: Veritas University.

Attacks in Abuja have forced your institution to close, along with other schools in Nigeria’s capital. What does that portend for the future of education in Nigeria?

It’s regrettable that Abuja, the seat of government in Nigeria, is facing security breaches from the Boko Haram terrorists, which has forced the government to order the closure of schools in Abuja.

Veritas University as an institution did not experience any attack, but the security situation around the city was very tense, particularly in late July, and that warranted the closure of schools.

However, except for the 100 level students, Veritas University had concluded the second semester examinations and most students in 200-400 levels were already on vacation before the situation deteriorated.

Nevertheless, we had to take proactive measure to ask the remaining students on campus to vacate. Otherwise, normal activities have been going on the university.

It’s very unfortunate, of course, for this to happen in any part of Nigeria, more unfortunate still, that it is happening in Abuja, the seat of government.

It is not only that it is endangering the present education system in the country, but it is affecting the capacity of our children to catch up with their peers in other countries.

Some Nigerians have begun to argue that the security situation across the country signals a gradual collapse of the government, making Nigeria a failed state. What are your thoughts?

Of course, it is quite embarrassing witnessing the current level of insecurity across the country - for a government that came to power on the promise of providing security as a cardinal objective and government that is headed by a retired military general.

We can’t say that the government has collapsed, but citizens are quite appalled by the ineffectiveness of the government to arrest this ugly situation.

There are fears that the upcoming 2023 elections will be delayed because of the security threats posed by terrorism.

Do you share that concern?

There are definitely concerns about the 2023 elections that are just around the corner - if the government does not step up to deal decisively with the security situation.

The jihadists are certainly going to be emboldened to disrupt the elections if drastic measures are not taken to stop their activities. Without improved security, I worry that Nigerians may be too scared to come out and cast their votes. Without the elections, the democratic institutions will of course fail and the country will relapse to anarchy.

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You’re a leader in the Church in Nigeria; Veritas University is an important Catholic university.

What is the Catholic Church doing to reverse trend of kidnapping of priests and persecution of Christians in the country? Is there hope for Christians?

It is sad that priests have become soft targets for kidnappers and terrorists and many of them have been killed or kidnapped. This has left the Church in Nigeria bleeding physically and spiritually.

But many of our citizens are also passing through this same experience. Many are being kidnapped and are either killed or rescued after their relatives have paid huge amounts as ransom. Still others are killed even after their relations have paid ransom.

So the Church, in a very practical way, is sharing the experience, and the agonies of the citizens and her members in the larger society.

Unfortunately, the Church is not in command of the security forces of the country. It has no military or police or any such agent.

The role I see the Church playing is to pray, and also galvanize the citizens to demand for better security and better governance from the constitutionally responsible institutions.

Many church organizations, the bishops, and clergy, not just of the Catholic Church but all other churches, are speaking up against the atrocities we witness on daily basis.

But even if you shout to the heavens, are your shouts able to wake a dead horse? [Editors’ note: “Can you wake a dead horse,” is a Nigerian idiom which means there is very little a person can do about a bad situation.]

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