President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, has opened up on the forthcoming general elections, saying that what the CBCN is concerned about is that things are done peacefully.
Bishop Kaigama who spoke with Saturday Sun Correspondent AIDOGHIE PAULINUS in Abuja, also touched on the meeting between Catholic Bishops and the Presidential Candidates of All Progressives Congress, Major-Gen Mohammadu Buhari.
Is the CBCN not worried about the poll shit and the insinuation that the elections may not even hold?
Initially, everyone was wondering why the shift, but with hindsight now, you can see that there are good reasons to have allowed the shift because things are presently done with a better spirit I can say. Before the changes in the dates for the elections, it was such paranoia, a kind of apprehension in the air. You could feel palpable fear, anxiety, and people running helter-skelter, relocating to their hometowns because of fear of what could erupt during the elections. So, the shift was somehow a blessing in disguise namely: it cools down political tempers and people are now reflecting with more calmness and rationally assessing the situation.
We, as bishops, could see. We were able to interact with more people, for instance, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). We were able to interact with him and had useful discussions about our country, Nigeria, and the different issues that affect the citizens of this country. And you can see that we were able to pray along with the President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and we could hear from him and he could hear from us. So, these are all the positive aspects of the change of dates and I am told that more people have acquired their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) and hopefully, there is a better spirit and we shall have a very good, peaceful and very orderly elections.
Do you nurse any fear about the elections, most importantly, the presidential election?
There is always the aspect of worry and concern if people don’t do their homework. If the security agencies do what they should do correctly, honestly and with the fear of God, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman and his commissioners, including other officials are honest and do exactly what they were put there to do and there is a common platform, equal for everybody to contest election and we are not being pressurized by any group or any person, definitely, the elections will be done and people will accept the results. But when there are perceived injustice and the use of undue advantages over others and so on, you trigger a lot of crisis and that is what we don’t want to see or have.
The meeting between you and the APC presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari recently which you called ‘Episcopal Town Hall Conversation with Representatives of the CBCN at whose instance did the meeting hold?
The presidential candidate of the APC asked to have a meeting with u.s. And we are Nigerians, we are Catholic Bishops and he is also a good Nigerian. So, we say well, let Nigerians who are good and mean well for meet. We gave a date that was convenient for us because we were meeting in Abuja. Not all the bishops, but a representative. That is, the administrative board of the Bishops’ Conference was meeting in Abuja we asked them to come and see us and he came with his team. We had a very useful interaction, civilized interaction, friendly and charitable. That is the way it should be between Nigerians and not to be afraid because of religious, political or ethnic differences.
Apart from what we read in the media, what were the behind-the-scene discussions with Buhari?
There was no discussion in secret. We were very frank and I think the discussions were very cordial. We asked questions and he answered. We raised issues of security, issues of corruption and issues of the high tension that we are experiencing on account of the elections and so on, and what he will do to make a difference if he becomes the president. We prayed that God’s will may be done.
We are not campaigning or working for any particular political party or candidate. We mean well for every candidate or political party. Let them present their manifestos, let them sell what they have to Nigerians and Nigerians are people of wisdom. They will know who has something to offer and when it comes to voting, they will do the right thing. Ours is to educate them and conscientize them, which we are doing very effectively,
Buhari had during the meeting said he had no personal religious agenda and he would not support any move by anybody or group of persons to either Christianize or Islamize Nigeria, Do you believe him?
I don’t have to doubt somebody of that status who is meeting a number of bishops and Archbishops who represent a very significant segment of the society in Nigeria. I don’t have to doubt him at all. If he is able to articulate these before us and do so, I think it will be unfair to begin to nurse a kind of doubt. I believe him when he says exactly hat he said.
After the meeting, some thought the Catholic Bishops we know not to be partisan, may have endorsed Buhari. What is your take on this?
That is unfortunate because we lack that political maturity. In a civilized conduct, you are ready to engage anybody who requests for your attention. That is exactly what we are doing. But because people are politically immature in this country and see democracy in a different context, they misread everything. Nowadays, if you cough, they are going to interpret that cough as something. If somebody sees you with a broom today, they will think you are this. If somebody sees you protecting yourself with an umbrella, then you are that.
In that case, there is just no way out. So, whatever the Bishops do at this point, it is going to be misinterpreted politically. But that is not an issue to us. We do what we feel is right. We meet the people we think we have the freedom to interact with and we discuss issues that are for the common good of Nigerians. .