The sorry state of life in Nigeria today is sad as well as scary. The poor are on the verge of losing their humanity, the rich are drowning, and the ignorant are turning to nonentities while the learned are getting confused. People are subjected to live like animals. The Mediterranean Sea has continued to swallow our youths. Our environment has become a rendezvous for the jobless. The jobless have become beggars, beggars have become lunatics. Lunatics have become kidnappers and kidnappers are ironically becoming the cream of the society. Insecurity is worsening. Probity has taken a leave of absence. Our age-long values are becoming meaningless. Role models are disappearing. Aghast and alarmed we watch our beloved country completely collapsing with no remedy in view.
The yearning for a better Nigeria has given rise to the mushrooming of political and religious parties, all with the promise of making the lives of the masses better. Despite all the religious and political mega promises and wishes, the darkness thickens, the tear expands and the road gets muddier. Ironically, the diagnosis of our malady is not unknown, the remedies are not also hidden in an unknown dungeon. The fundamental problem is: Who will bell the cat? Who has the courage to confront the socio-political and economic rampaging tide in this country and turn things around for it’s over 170 million suffering people? The hopes and aspirations of many Nigerians is that the country becomes like one of the powerful countries in Europe or North America. These have, however, never asked themselves what the advanced countries did to achieve development and what they do to sustain it that we, Nigerians, do not do or what we do that impoverishes us that they do not do? Or do we think that they were successful through wishful thinking, magic or miracle?
The Europe we know today, for instance, was once a poor continent. Before the Christianisation of Europe, Europeans had no hospitals (as we have them today). There were hardly schools. Majority of the people lived on farming and hunting. With the coming of the Catholic missionaries, the tides began to change in Europe. With the Christianisation of Western Europe, a new promising age started to rise in the horizon. The Church built not only churches and monasteries but also paved way for the economic development of Europe. This would not have been possible without the roles played by priests and religious both foreign and indigenous. The numerous priests and nuns that were scattered all around the continent became the major catalysts for European civilization.
The priests and nuns saw to the establishment of schools, hospitals, universities, vocational training centres and so on. They introduced mechanised farming for the teaming agrarian population. Even the first breweries were established by monks in their monasteries, and these have continued to house the best breweries till date. They taught women home management and a diversity of handiworks. They educated people on almost all aspects of life including table etiquettes and mannerism. The Church ushered in the socio-economic revolution in Europe that completely transformed Europe and rescued it from the throes of poverty.
Owing to the work done by the missionaries in Europe, priests were loved and admired by everyone. They became not only the teachers of the word of God but also of the general way of life. They became the most important people in every community. It was therefore logical that the priesthood and the religious life assumed enviable positions. Every family wanted that one of their children become a priest or a nun. Within a period of hundred years, monasteries and convents were overpopulated. Owing to the work and invaluable position of priests and nuns in the spiritual and material development of the communities in Europe, the vocation boom, which followed the Christianisation of Europe, was never seen as a problem but rather as a blessing. The opportunity was utilized to the fullest.
Priests and nuns were strategically scattered all over the nooks and crannies of Europe, in diverse institutions and establishments. Hence, not all priests were working in parishes. Some worked in the hospitals, some in the breweries, bookshops, carpentry, and so on. Everyone worked according to his ability and capability and in this way helped the poor European masses to learn new ways of survival and development.
Within a short time, through the ingenuity of these zealous priests and nuns, the present civilised Europe was born. Hence, as from the 19th century, during the democratisation of Europe, the government inherited and solidified the achievements of these brave men and women of faith. It is therefore not surprising that most European laws and government policies are purely based on Christian ethos. What can the Church hierarchy in Nigeria, priests and religious learn from this impact of the missionising Church on the development of Europe? The Church can change the face of our country, if it so will.
The worst mistake we will make is to believe that our national sickness that is responsible for our social malady and economic tsunami would just fizzle out with time. According to the law of science, a body that is in motion will continue to be in motion unless waged by a stronger force. However, we cannot change the tide of things in the country through physical force or war but through the introduction of a healthy mindset, a psychological positive force.
We need people who would bring us back to the track. We need people who will set the ball rolling in the right direction. We need people who will put the interest of the generality of Nigeria above their personal interests in order to come out of our current problem. The teachers in schools, who are battling with poor remuneration and non-payment of salaries, have perhaps little or no opportunity to achieve this. The policemen who as a result of poor salaries and munition have been rendered paupers and beggars cannot do this. The politician who is still paying his Godfathers and who finds himself in an age-long corrupt political system might find it difficult to break the jinx and is probably not ready to attempt it. The soldiers who only obey the last order from the corrupt and self-serving highest authority may not equally be disposed to do this. The jobless youths whose poor economic lives have rubbed off their humanity and sense of decency and who are at the beck and call of political gangsters are surely not in the position to bring this change. But priests and nuns who have sacrificed everything, “who belong to everybody and to nobody,” whose vows have nailed to the person of Jesus, the saviour, can do this, especially under the good and inspiring leadership of their bishops. And luckily we have them in big numbers in Nigeria! They were the ones who did it for Europeans. What they did in Europe could be repeated in Nigeria.
It is time we stopped seeing vocation boom as a problem. Large number of priests and religious were needed to develop a blueprint that saw to the development of Europe. Without the big numbers, perhaps, the Church might not have succeeded in playing the role it played in the development of Europe. Every priest must not be a parish priest and not everyone should be placed in-charge of schools. Priests or religious could become directors of farm settlements, where not only crops would be grown in a mechanised way but also where farmers could be trained on the modern way of animal husbandry. Priests could also work in mechanic workshops with the view of leading the youths to engage in developing their talents, securing their future and developing their environment. Experience has shown that some parish priests would have fared better as mechanics or in other handicrafts. In this field his priestly aroma will continue to spread its fragrance and win souls for Christ. Through the diversity of priestly and religious engagements, there would equally be a diversity of means of evangelisation. As mechanics, for example, such priests could set a pace that might improve the way of doing the work of mechanics. Priests could work as cloth weavers, and by so doing teach our teaming population how to weave cloths. Priests could work as engineers, lecturers, doctors, miners, transport managers, diocesan company directors, bakers, architects, bankers and so on. Their singular role would not be to make money but to set the pace that would redefine these professions, to restore their inherent dignity and to make them attractive and more productive. All this means that they should therefore acquire the necessary knowledge and qualification in these diverse professions.
The major difference between a developed nation and an underdeveloped or under-developing nation is that professions that produce millionaires in developed nations are despised in the developing countries. In our country today, professions like masonry, bricklaying, painting, carpentry, motor mechanic, blacksmith, postman, artistry, sculpture, secretarial jobs, taxi driving, bus driving, salesgirls (men/women) job, farming, gold smith, bicycle or motorcycle repairing, and so on, are gradually petering away. These professions are treated with disdain and meant for the underdogs of the society and when people take it up at all, they are badly remunerated and underpaid and consequently discouraged. Funny still, those who still consider these professions worth doing lack the patience and the dexterity they deserve. Professions that have produced famous world citizens have been robbed of their dignity in our country. One scarcely finds these professionals in Nigeria and yet millions are jobless. Yet thousands of youths are crossing the Atlantic Ocean in search of the same jobs. Well-to-do Nigerians are now resorting to hiring these professionals from the neighbouring African countries. There is indeed confusion in the land.
Priests and religious could therefore help to redirect the misdirected orientation of our young generation by engaging in these jobs themselves just like their counterparts in Europe did and ennoble and dignify them. Through the principle of “Laborareestorare” (to work is to the pray) and “Ora et Labora” (Pray and work) the numerous European nuns and monks were not only able to give dignity to all professions but trained a lot of people in these jobs. There should be centres for training for all professions. These should help Nigerians once more to discover the dignity in every profession and to pursue them. The number of people who attend universities could be reduced by these vocational schools. It is of no use that one becomes a university graduate spends his entire life searching for non-existent jobs. This is where the bishops, superiors of religious congregations, abbots and abbesses have a major contribution to make.
The Church in Nigeria has the potentials to take our nation to the desired heights. She remains the most connected, networked and interlinked institution in Nigeria today, even more than the Federal government. She brings more Nigerians together than any other institution. Her organisational structure of station – parish – diocese – province – Catholic bishops’ conference, makes it the most suitable agent of positive change in Nigeria. There is no part of the country where she is not represented. Besides, the faith, trust and goodwill the Church enjoys from the people are not enjoyed by any other institution in Nigeria.
Obviously, the Church in Nigeria owns many schools presently and some state governments have returned some of the schools the federal government took away from her after the civil war. But the question is how many of these schools have such a standard that could turn them into agents of change? If all of them would become agents of change, with the addition of new vocational schools, one could hope for a brighter future.
In the medieval Europe, the normal and vocational schools owned by parishes contributed immensely in the transformation of Europe. We could make our parishes homes for societal change. Every parish should be known for something. Most of our parishes are in the rural areas yet very many of them do not have even farmlands. If the Catholic Church in Nigeria, for instance, would completely rid all her schools of examination malpractices, use her own uncorrupted standard to admit students into their own universities and then insist on discipline, hard work and merit, the products of her schools and universities would be enough to transform this country in a very short time.
Rural parishes should not only have farmlands but institutions/places where farmers are trained. Farming is not just about the cultivation of land. It includes fishery, snail farming, animal husbandry, growing beehives and so on. Parishes could have shops for shoe making, weaving of cloths, tapping, assembling and processing of palm wine. We could help discover how else we could tap, process and preserve the palm wine. Palm wine could be bottled and gin could also be further produced from it. These could be exported.
The Church could in this way help in the development of our nation. Hence, the boom we experience today in priestly and religious vocation should be seen as a blessing and not a curse and therefore be adequately utilised. The emphasis should be on quality formation irrespective of the number rather than bemoaning the increase in numbers. If hundred candidates are qualified, hundred should be ordained or professed because they will all be needed in the new development-driving vision. New models and schemes in priestly formation to prepare future priests and religious for this task of transformative evangelization should be developed and adopted. Priests and religious should be trained in all these aspects of human endeavor, each according to his potentials and natural inclinations, and should become agents of civilisation. The Lord of harvest would need this great number because, ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’ We need only to understand what he means by ‚harvest’.
In the face of biting poverty, lack of basic human amenities, lack of jobs and a decent living what should the people do? As the Church begins to accept the burden of developing the socio-economic life of Nigerians, the people should not just fold their hands and watch. Nigerians have watched and waited for too long. More delay will drive us to extinction.
Communities should therefore come together to form development unions. These unions should collaborate in building the society, beginning from their own communities. Communities should not wait for the government in the task of building roads and maintaining them, installing electricity, providing pipe-borne water, building schools, hospitals and so on. Experience has shown that it does not pay. They must not begin at once to construct a 20 Kilometer road. They could begin with the construction of drainages, patching potholes, cutting grass, or by constructing a one kilometer road. After all, we had in the past the famous ‘Ndịọruụzọ’, who maintained our rural roads.
Enough of selfishness! It is funny that many of us build mansions and yet there is no road to these mansions. Many buy cars that worth several millions of Naira but there is no road to drive these cars. Everyone thinks about himself and his immediate family. But this attitude contradicts our famous work and survival principles, ‘ụmụnnabụike,’ ‘igwebuike’ and ‘ibuanyịdanda.’ Thus, we can only make progress and surmount our poverty when we work in collaboration with one another as ụmụnna. There cannot be any meaningful security if all of us are not secured. Wealth increases fear and kills joy if enjoyed by just a few. One cannot be truly healthy if one is the only person that has access to healthcare, for instance. We are just like a pot of soup being cooked in the same pot. All the ingredients in the pot contribute in making the soup. Maggi cannot decide to work alone; neither can Ogiri decide not to do anything with Achi. We could also compare the society to an airplane. The aircraft can only take off when all the parts are in agreement otherwise it can never take off and if does, of course we know already what the consequences would be. It must crash. And that is exactly our situation. Everyone is being selfish. Nothing works again. And we are crashing. We must therefore work together.
One place I would tell you that Nigerians have done so well in the face of present economic situation is on the area of praying. We have prayed but is that enough? Prayers without good works will never be productive. We pray and at the same time work against our prayer. This is a time to work and work well and pray and pray well. This is a time to come together otherwise we perish. How many people have been kidnapped in the last 10 Years? How many have been murdered? How many have been raped? How many have been robbed? How many have been threatened? How many die on road accidents? How many die on daily basis owing to lack of basic amenities like water, hospitals, roads, electricity? How many more will die? How many are being abused and harassed by those who should protect them? For how long are we going to live in this situation? We have to come together and the time is now. It is either we move together or we perish together. We have to put hands together so that the country of our desire will be achieved. “If you think that, you are not part of the solution, you are then part of the problem.” Every one of us has something to offer. The society of our dream must be built by us, or it will forever remain a mere dream.
The Writer, Rev. Fr. Angelo Chidi Unegbu Is a priest of Catholic Diocese of Okigwe Imo State. He Lives in Germany.