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June 18, 2018

Religious Intolerance Must Stop – Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins

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My dear people of God, distinguished gentlemen of the press, it is with great joy and happiness that I welcome you all to this Press Briefing marking the 4th year anniversary of my enthronement as the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos.

As you all know, four years ago, precisely on 4th August 2013, it pleased the Almighty to avail me the privilege of being enthroned as the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, after fourteen years of service as the Bishop of Abeokuta. The past four years, I must say, have been quite challenging even as it has been interesting in many respect. In the first instance, Lagos, by virtue of its cosmopolitan nature and being home to over three million Catholics, it is expected to be a pacesetter in the life and practice of Catholicism not only in Nigeria but Africa as a whole.

At such an occasion as this, it is only natural for one to thank the Almighty God who out of his benevolence has bestowed on us the privilege of leading his people these past years and for the little we have been able to accomplish. My sincere appreciation goes to God the Father, our Creator, God the son, our redeemer and High Priest, who, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Nigeria, has continued to fortify us with love in our chequered journey through life and God the Holy Spirit who has been the inspirer of all good thoughts and plans. The Holy Trinity and our Mother Mary have assisted us in ensuring a steady growth in our faith and apostolate and in our continuous adherence to the teachings of the Mother Church in our Archdiocese.

To all the Clergy, my-co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord, I am grateful for your continuous support and unwavering sense of commitment for the spiritual growth of God’s people under your care. I acknowledge the good works of the various Religious Congregations working in the Archdiocese, even as I salute the cooperation, courage and dedication of the entire lay faithful of the Archdiocese these past four years. My prayer to you all is that may the good Lord grant us the grace to continue to persevere in our service to him till the very end. Amen.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we are all living witnesses to the alarming trend of events in our country Nigeria. Only two months earlier, we met at this same venue and proffered few antidotes to some of the challenges facing our great country Nigeria. Today, it is regrettable that, rather than moving forward in progress, we are still struggling to find our footings. And so, permit me once more to make some comments on the present state of the nation.

 

*Call for Restructuring*

In recent times there has been renewed call for a restructuring of the country in order that it may be a true federation. I cannot but concur. The federal structure that we have practiced over the years, has not been truly federal and it has only succeeded in making the so-called federating units to be dependent on the centre that doles out money accruing mainly from the sale of oil rather than encouraging them to develop their potentials. How long would we allow this to continue? I believe that we have no justifiable reason to be in this state of recession that we have found ourselves in. It is very shameful that despite all the gifts that nature has so graciously bestowed us with; we are still being categorized amongst the poor countries of the world. It is most unfortunate that our universities, polytechnics and Colleges of Education chun out millions of highly skilled youths each year only for most of them to end up as Okada riders and street hawkers.  Is it not shameful that over twenty states have been unable to pay their workers salaries for months now? How long will this continue? This is the time to tell ourselves the gospel truth by calling a spade a spade. Let us look beyond partisan politics and do the needful by restructuring this country in the part of true federalism so that each of the federating units can develop at its own pace, unencumbered.

 

*Reducing the High Cost of Governance*

One of the major burdens strangulating this country is the unnecessary high cost of governance. A large portion of our annual budget is being spent in paying the bloated salaries and allowances of numerous political office holders to the detriment of the long suffering workers who barely earn enough to take care of themselves and their families. We have said it over and over again that there is dire need for a drastic reduction of the salaries and allowances of our political office holders, starting from the president, his vice, the governors, ministers, senators, house of assembly members up to Local Government Chairmen and Counsellors. They must be ready to make sacrifices to move the nation forward. The present arrangement where so much salaries, allowances and pensions are given to present and past political leaders at the detriment of the masses, is lopsided, unjust and not a true reflection of the porous state of our economy. I believe sincerely that the present administration owes us all a responsibility to continue to make efforts to cut down on all its excessive expenses in line with present realities.

 

*Religious Intolerance Must Stop*

It is an acknowledged fact that Nigeria is a secular state that allows people of different religious inclination to worship their creator in the way and manner they deem fit without infringing on the rights and freedom of worship of others. Unfortunately, recent attacks of Christians in the North by some suspected Islamic fundamentalists leaves a sore taste in the mouth of peace loving people of this country. A situation whereby people, for no justifiable reason, attack Churches at will, chase away worshippers and destroy properties, is totally unacceptable in a country like ours that is supposed to promote religious tolerance. While we urge the Islamic leaders in the Northern part of the country to caution their followers and encourage them to show more love and tolerance for their Christians brothers and sisters, we equally call on the law enforcement agencies and the federal government to show more commitment in safeguarding the lives and properties across the country. For Christians, especially those living in the North, please be cautious, be vigilant and most importantly, be prayerful.

 

*Creating Employment Through Agriculture*

No country that practices mono-economy can survive these present hard times. This also applies to our country Nigeria. We thank God that this present administration has since resolved to look beyond oil and explore other ways of diversifying our economy such as solid mineral exploration and agriculture. Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State in particular deserve some commendations for taking the bull by the horn through his recent exportation of vegetables being cultivated in large quantity in his state. Other States can take a cue from this by exploring the possibilities of exporting some of their major agricultural products to earn hard currencies. We have done it before in the past and I see no reason why we cannot do so again. In addition, I believe it is time the various state governments begin to consider the possibility of creating jobs for our unemployed youths in the agriculture sector. We have lots of fertile lands across the length and breadth of the entire country that can be well utilized for high breeding agricultural products.

 

*Federal Appointments and Equity*

A look at most of the major appointments made so far by the present administration leaves much to be desired. A situation where a good number of the ‘juicy’ appointments tends to favour a particular section of the country, gives one the impression that there are no competent hands in other parts. Our constitution has already provided that appointments made by the president should be national in outlook to reflect equity and fair play. Some of the present agitations across the country stem out of the fear (real or perceived) that the present administration has not been able to carry the various ethnic groups along, particularly those from the South East and South-South.

 

*No Immunity for Lawmakers*

The National Assembly as the second tier of government play an indispensable role in passing laws that would help deepen our democracy. Because of the important role of this tier of government, it is expected that those to occupy the hallowed chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives, should be men and women of impeccable character hence they are always referred to as Distinguished Senators and ‘Honourables’. But in recent times, some of the unruly drama emanating from these hallowed chambers gives one cause for concern. The controversial trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the allegation of falsification of documents against him  and his deputy Senator Ike Ekweremandu and the alleged Budget padding, amongst several others, have only subjected the law makers to even more public scrutiny. In addition to all these, the recent agitations by some of the law makers that the immunity clause be extended to them throughout their stay in office is taken the matter too far. For a group of people expected to exhibit high moral ethical standards and integrity in their conducts, one wonders the rationale in their seeking for immunity. We believe such a call is unfounded and unnecessary at this point in time. Rather, they should join hands with the president and the judiciary to get the country out of the woods.

 

*Building A stronger Nation*

The task of rebuilding the country is one that must be tackled with all sense of responsibility and diligence. It is now obvious to all that our constitution must be revisited to take care of grey areas that impede on our collective progress as a nation. At this period, more than ever, our leaders must show more sincerity and commitment to bridge the gap of sectionalism, ethnicity and religious intolerance that are being fanned across the Niger, to the creeks of the South-South, the middle-belt and parts of the North. We have said it severally that this present administration must as a matter of urgency revisit some of the recommendations of the last sovereign conference irrespective of identities of the conveners. There are quite a number of far-reaching recommendations there-in that can help put a lasting halt to the incessant infractions being experienced in all sectors of our national life. We cannot continue to allow politics as it is now being played to keep on dividing our nation and stalling our youths from discovering and fulfilling their God-given talents.

 

*Conclusion*

There is still so much to say. The incessant killings by Fulani herdsmen is still rife, so also the threats by the Avengers and other self-acclaimed freedom fighters. It is gladsome to note that this government is finally considering releasing Nnamdi Kanu, Henry Okah and others in other to broker peace. No sacrifice is too much to be made for the continuous peaceful existence of this country. We owe our children and generations unborn the responsibility of building a great nation where every citizen can live in peace and given the enablement to contribute meaningfully to the growth and development of the larger society. This can only happen when our leaders resolve to shun corruption in high places and do all within the law to promote justice, equity and the rule of law at all times. The press, also has a big role to play in this respect by ensuring that the truth and nothing but the truth are reported at all times, irrespective of whose ox is gored. I pray that this comes to pass in our time. Amen. God bless Nigeria.

 

Thank you all for listening.


 

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