Catholic Bishops’ Communique
(An Invitation to Action for National Harmony and Peace)
A Communiqué issued at the end of the Second Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at Pinnacle Guest Inn and Resort, Sokoto, Sokoto State, 6-14 September 2018.
We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, held our Second Plenary Meeting for the year at Pinnacle Guest Inn and Resort, Sokoto, Sokoto State from 6 to 14 September, 2018. Having prayerfully reflected on the issues affecting the Church and our Country, we now issue this Communiqué.
2. DO NOT BE AFRAID
As people of faith, we believe in the abiding presence of God and his faithfulness. As we read in the Scriptures: “He will not leave you nor forsake you, do not be afraid, and do not be discouraged” (Deut 31:8). When the disciples of Jesus were threatened by the raging storms and their boat was sinking, Jesus appeared and reassured them saying: “Do not be afraid” (John 6:20). In another context, Jesus promised his disciples: “I am with you always to the end of time” (Matt: 28:20). These assurances are still relevant in our time. In the face of the prevailing crisis, tensions and anxiety, we invite all Nigerians to put their trust in God, while working hard to build a harmonious and peaceful nation.
3. THE STATE OF THE NATION
Persistent Violence and Insecurity
We have in our past communiqués and other statements condemned the spate of violence and high level of insecurity in our land. Yet, to our greatest dismay, these have continued unabated. We observe with deep sadness show unarmed Nigerians are brutally slaughtered, owing to religious and political differences, boundary disputes, and other such reasons. We equally observe that Government is often slow in responding to these violent occurrences and often allows many of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to go unpunished, thus creating a culture of impunity. We totally condemn these killings and call on Government to defend the life and property of every Nigerian citizen. Furthermore, we strongly appeal that the thousands of our internally displaced compatriots be helped to return to their homes and their land restored to them as quickly as possible.
THE IMPERATIVE OF GOOD GOVERNANCE AND RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE
Although political parties are the platforms through which people seek political offices, political office holders ought to know that they are to provide services for the entire citizenry, irrespective of political, religious or ethnic affiliations. They equally have an inescapable duty of providing good governance. In keeping with the provisions of our Constitution regarding freedom of religion, we continue to urge Governments at all levels to respect the rights of citizens and groups to practise their religions unhindered. In this spirit, Governments should make it possible for religious groups to acquire land for the building of places of worship, schools, hospitals and social welfare facilities whenever the need arises. At the same time, we enjoin everyone to avoid acts of religious fanaticism in order to promote peaceful co-existence and harmony. Religion is a matter of conviction, not coercion.
THE RULE OF LAW AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
We note that the rule of law connotes equality of all under the law, seeks the protection of fundamental rights of citizens, and guards against abuse of power. Accordingly, individuals, groups and Governments shall submit to, obey and be regulated by the laws of the land, and not by any arbitrary action. We recognize the role of Governments at all levels in providing policies for national development, in the areas of economy, politics, provision of social amenities, security, etc. Nevertheless, we hold that all forms of pursuit of national interest should be guided by the rule of law and respect for human dignity and development. We continually encourage the legislatures to enact good laws and abrogate bad ones, so as to ensure order, safety, good conduct and safeguard the Common Good. We also enjoin the judiciary not to allow itself to be used as an instrument of subjugation, oppression, discrimination, and injustice.
2019 GENERAL ELECTIONS
As we look forward to the elections of 2019, we refuse to give up on our hope for a great, prosperous and peaceful nation. For our dreams to be achieved, we must embrace a new way of governing ourselves. There is need for genuine repentance and sincere moral transformation. We encourage all registered voters to ensure that they are equipped with their voter’s card, reject and denounce the illegal practices of selling and buying of votes. Despite the deception and defections, Nigerian voters must be wise enough to show some of our politicians, who may have so much to hide, that “they can run, but they cannot hide.”
It is the right of Nigerians to fully participate in the electoral process without intimidation and violence. The responsibility for this lies on all of us. We demand that the choice of the electorate, once made, be respected by all. Although elections are not enough to enthrone good governance, they are an important stage in that project. And unless we get our electoral process right, elections in Nigeria will only become expensive cosmetic exercises that legitimize corruption and ineptitude.
THE RELEASE OF LEAH SHARIBU AND OTHERS IN CAPTIVITY
We demand that the Federal Government secure the unconditional release of Leah Sharibu. She is still being held captive because she refused to denounce her Christian faith. We further demand that the Federal Government ensure the safe release of the remaining Chibok girls and all other persons in captivity against their will. We urge their families to remain hopeful and steadfast in prayers, while assuring them of our prayers as well.
4. THE CHURCH AND THE YOUTH
His Holiness Pope Francis has called for the Synod of the Bishops on the Youth. The Church is very much aware that young people, with their challenges and opportunities, are not only the future of the Church but much more, present resources in the Church and the larger society. We therefore urge them to continue to distinguish themselves with manifest good values and thus make a remarkable impact on the Church and the society. During our first plenary meeting for this year, we paid special attention to the need for promoting entrepreneurship among our young people. We followed up on this with other pastoral initiatives in our Dioceses directed towards the youth. These culminated in the National Youth Day, which was held in Calabar, 7 to 12 August 2018, with more than 7000 young people in attendance. We invite all to be attentive to the aspirations of the young people, especially those among them who are poor, internally displaced, victims of exploitation, orphans, and migrants. We are saddened by the evils of human trafficking, slavery, drug abuse, war, disease, disability, and illiteracy and shall continue to work for their eradication, especially among our youth.
5. TRYING TIMES FOR THE CHURCH
These are indeed very trying times in the life of the Church. There have been some scandals caused by the clergy as a result of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in parts of the world. No doubt, these have traumatised many people. Since the beginning of these crises, successive Popes over the years have expressed regret and sorrow. They have also apologized to all those affected. We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, fully identify with these sentiments and actions of the Popes. We reaffirm our commitment to priestly celibacy and chastity as well as our unity with the universal Church under the Holy Father. As Church, we must see in all these scandals a wakeup call to stand up for the truth and grow stronger in witnessing to the Kingdom of God.