The Nigerian bishops’ conference issued a blistering criticism of the country’s government on Thursday, as bishops said government leaders have not addressed the country’s ongoing violence or Nigeria’s flagging economy.
The rebuke came ahead of federal elections in Nigeria - which has one of the largest Catholic populations in the world - as bishops have criticized the country’s ruling party for fielding a president ticket without a Christian candidate.
The bishops’ message came at the end of a plenary meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN); the meeting began Sept. 8 and formally concludes Friday.
Heightened insecurity, Nigeria’s poor economy
“The threshold of a new dawn in Nigeria” - the CBCN text issued Thursday - focused on two challenges: heightened insecurity in the country and Nigeria’s poor economy.
In both cases, the bishops said the government of President Muhammadu Buhari failed to protect Nigerians from poverty and violence.
“We continue to decry the worsening state of insecurity in our nation as well as activities of terrorists and insurgents, kidnappers and bandits. Armed robbery and cybercrimes have continued unabated.”
“Attacks on travellers and worshippers in Churches and other places of worship have become too frequent,” the bishops wrote, noting a Pentecost Sunday attack on a parish that left 41 dead and more than 70 injured.
The bishops said Nigeria’s government has not done enough to address anti-Christian terrorism.
“Regrettably, the government has not lived up to its duties with regard to security. We observe that even when suspects have been arrested, there is not even diligent prosecution of the culprits of these nefarious acts, thereby leaving the citizenry helpless and despairing.”
“We continue to call on civil authorities to stand up to their constitutional responsibility of safeguarding the lives and property of Nigerians,” the bishopss wrote.
On Nigeria’s economy, the bishops said inflation and spiraling government debt have made a bad situation worse — and escalated the emigration of educated young Nigerians from their country.
“Owing to mismanagement and a failing economy with an ever increasing debt burden, there is poverty and hunger in our land, in spite of our huge human and natural resources. Spiraling inflation, high costs of goods and services, soaring unemployment, crude oil theft and non-functioning refineries have inflicted untold hardship on the citizens,” they wrote Thursday.
“Furthermore, governments have resorted to unnecessary borrowing, jeopardising the well-being of the present and future generations - this poor state of our economy has led to the mass migration of our human capital, especially professional and skilled labourers, fleeing the nation in search of greener pastures.”
The Church, politics and the common good
Addressing a country where Christians face massive unemployment, the loss of property from terrorism, and persistent unprosecuted acts of violence, the bishops emphasized that Christians are not powerless to effect change.
“All citizens need to know, right from childhood, that they are stakeholders in the political affairs of their country; that they are actors and not mere spectators. Only when the people are enlightened to take cognisance of their duties to the nation and their rights in it can they escape the servitude of political manipulation and ignorance in their electoral habits,” the bishops demanded.
Nigeria’s bishops stressed a vision of politics centered on the Catholic sense of the common good, drawing from themes emphasized in the Second Vatican Council and the social documents of recent popes.
“The Church teaches that politics is for the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance and the source of its inherent legitimacy. As such, political authority has to be exercised within the limits of the moral order and directed towards the common good,” they wrote.
“Out of respect for all God’s children, the Church does not identify with nor is she to bound to any political party. Nevertheless, the Church is not indifferent or neutral to the formation and activities of the political community.”
While a growing number of Nigerian Christians have expressed disaffection from political activity, especially in the country’s predominantly Muslim northern regions, the bishops urged Catholics to get involved in public life.
They urged “Catholic lay faithful, especially those with talents for the difficult yet noble art of politics or whose talents in this matter can be developed, to prepare themselves for it and, forgetting their convenience and material interests, to engage in political activity in pursuance of the common good and the establishment of the moral order.”
Lay people should “accept as their divine vocation the task of sanctifying the world like leaven from within,” the bishops added.
The 'future of the nation'
The bishops’ conference did not make specific mention of candidates in the February 2023 presidential election. But the bishops’ statement stressed the importance of free and fair elections - an emphasis that observers will take as a criticism of Buhari, who is frequently accused by democracy advocates of election rigging and voter intimidation.
The bishops also pushed for more transparency in the election process.
“We acknowledge the president’s commitment to ensuring a level playing ground for all candidates in the [2023 elections,” the bishops wrote.
“Furthermore, we commend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for its innovations, especially in the area of technology, to ensure free, fair and credible elections. We, however, enjoin the Commission to ensure that this technology is transparently deployed, in order to increase the confidence of the people in the electoral process” they maintained.
In remarks likely to be taken as a criticism of Buhari’s APC party, the bishops said that “politics is a noble vocation. We, therefore, encourage all politicians to uphold the values of integrity and decency. We strongly condemn as unlawful and sinful all forms of vote-selling and buying and advise all politicians and voters to refrain from doing so.”
“While it is not our responsibility as religious leaders to dictate to political parties the choices of their presidential, vice presidential and other candidates, we have the duty to advise the citizenry to bear in mind the implications of these choices while electing the next set of leaders.
“We, therefore, renew our call on all our faithful, laity and clergy alike, to come out en masse to vote for people of unassailable integrity, who have the good character, capacity and track record to lead our nation out of the present socio-political and economic doldrums, irrespective of party, religious and ethnic affiliations,” the bishops wrote.
“It is through the right political choices that our current situation can be ameliorated.”