Communique at the End of the Second Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN)
at the Diocesan Conference Centre, Bishop’s Court, Effurun, Delta State, September 11-19, 2014.
We, the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, held our Second Plenary Meeting for the Year 2014 at the Diocesan Conference Centre, Bishop’s Court, Effurun, Delta State. Having prayerfully reflected on issues affecting the Church and our country, we now present our communiqué.
- Some Events in the Church
We rejoice with Bishop Martin Olorunmolu of Lokoja Diocese and Bishop John Afareha of Warri Diocese and their Catholic Faithful for respectively celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the Erection of their Ecclesiastical circumscriptions. We welcome and congratulate Msgr. Simon Faddoul, the first Apostolic Exarch, appointed by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to direct the new Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction created for Catholics of the Maronite Rites in West and Central Africa. We pray that his mission may encourage the Lebanese communities in Nigeria in their Christian witness. In June, two new Bishops were ordained, namely, Most Rev. Michael Gokum for the new Diocese of Pankshin and Most Rev. Peter Kayode Odetoyinbo for Abeokuta Diocese. In August, Msgr. Jonas Benson Okoye was ordained the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka. We look forward to the installation of Bishop John Ayah as the Bishop of Uyo on 20th of September, 2014, who also continues to serve as the Apostolic Administrator of his former jurisdiction, the Diocese of Ogoja. Msgr. Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe will be consecrated the Coadjutor Bishop of Makurdi on 4th of October, 2014. We welcome the new Counsellor to the Apostolic Nunciature in Abuja, Msgr. Javier Domingo Fernandez González. We congratulate all those mentioned here and pray for the success of their respective assignments.
With deep appreciation of a life dedicated to God and His people, we announce the glorious exit of the Bishop Emeritus of Awka, Most Rev. Simon Akwali Okafor, who died on 29th of August, 2014, and will be buried on 7th of October, 2014.
- Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family
Pope Francis has announced the event of the Extraordinary General Assembly on the family taking place in Rome from 5th to 19th of October, 2014. The Synod will, among other things, discuss the challenges families face in the modern world. Let us continue to pray for our families to be more the sanctuaries of life and love, the irreplaceable and basic school of humanity. We urge you to pray for the success of the Synod. We call on Dioceses to intensify their pastoral care for the families through adequate marriage preparations; support for the young and elderly couples; those in mixed marriages; irregular marriages (de facto unions); families in crises; the separated and the divorced and remarried persons; as well as singles.
- Education Summit
We happily announce the Second National Catholic Education Summit scheduled for 28th to 31st of October, 2014, at the Women Development Centre, Abuja. We once again reiterate our willingness to continue to partner with the Government at all levels in the provision of Quality Education for our children. At our First Plenary Assembly for this 2014 in Abuja, we made this declaration and looked at the success stories and challenges in areas where partnership is established. In that same conference, we acknowledged the return of schools from some State Governments. We are still expecting other States to emulate this gesture.
- Veritas University, Abuja (VUNA)
It is heartwarming to communicate that the long awaited movement of Veritas University of Nigeria Abuja (VUNA) to the permanent campus is being actualized by the commencement of full academic activities at all relevant levels in September 2014. We continue to call on the members of the Laity and people of good will to support the initiative of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria. We use this opportunity to invite you to the Second Convocation ceremony to hold at the permanent campus in Bwari, Abuja, on the 28th of October, 2014.
- Insecurity in our Country
There is, today, a widespread feeling of fear, due to insecurity in the land. Nigerians do not feel safe in their homes, at work, on the highways, at the airports, seaports, in the schools and even within the hallowed precincts of places of worship. There is an unprecedented rise in violent crimes and the alarming new dimension of organized terrorist activities, particularly in the North Eastern part of the country. The brutality and callousness with which people are killed, abducted and maimed, has assumed a frightening dimension. Many people across the country, but especially in the North Eastern part of the country have been forced out of their ancestral homes, and are rendered to the status of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who now live in inhuman conditions, like in the caves, on the mountains and in the forest. Many others have become slaves and prisoners to the terrorist group called Boko Haram and Fulani Armed Herdsmen.
We condemn violence on whatever excuse, and from whatever direction. We condemn it, above all, when the perpetrators blasphemously and fraudulently claim religious justifications for their actions. We deeply regret and condemn in strong terms, the wanton loss of life and property caused by the armed group called Boko Haram. We offer our deepest condolences to all the bereaved and our sympathies to all those who have suffered grave injuries and losses. We further call on the Government of this country to ensure prompt restoration of peace and order in all the troubled parts of the country. Government and good-spirited individuals should also take immediate steps in providing relief materials to the victims. However, we encourage that this gesture should be done with the best of intentions and not to be turned into avenue for political gains and self gratification.
No nation can meaningfully develop or prosper in an atmosphere of insecurity. Many Nigerians are traumatized, given the menace of Boko Haram and other social upheavals, such that the basis for cooperation, exchange and hope for a great nation is obliterated. Nigeria needs healing and restoration.
- Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)
The Ebola disease is a source of worry to all people, all over the world. We highly commend the Federal Government for the action taken to stop the deadly Virus from further spreading to other parts of the country. We also note the efforts of some western countries for stepping up action in search of adequate medical treatment. We appreciate the Medical experts and the Press for their efforts of disseminating adequate information on this matter. We call on all Nigerians to carry out periodic medical checkups. We recommend a healthy pattern of living to contain its spread and transmission. In the absence of a known cure, we have joined other Nigerians in the fight against this deadly virus and have imposed on ourselves certain discipline in our worship as precautionary measures. We pray for healing of all those infected by the virus. We commend those who have died as a result of the disease to the bosom of God, our Heavenly Father.
- Religious Freedom
We profoundly affirm the right to religious freedom and free expression as entrenched in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This right does not stop with freedom to choose, practice and express one’s faith which is fatally denied in some parts of our nation, but includes the opportunity to contribute to the building up of the society as free partners in progress. This presupposes public recognition and respect for authentic religious values that meet the human deepest concerns, capable of furnishing ethical motivation for personal and social responsibilities.
We will continue to express our willingness for dialogue and collaboration with other Christians and other religious bodies for harmony and progress of our country and the good of humanity. We request that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) to work closely to ensure coexistence that guarantees access to, and safety in places of worship.
- The 2015 General Elections
In 2015, Nigerians will once again have the opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to vote. Leaders will be elected to govern the affairs of our Nation. Efforts made over the years to avoid irregularities in the polling have not been perfect. As prophets of God, it is our duty to remind all political aspirants/candidates that they are public servants sworn to provide the electorate with legitimate needs.
We call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to improve on its electoral responsibilities in the forthcoming elections in order to fully guarantee the rights of citizens to elect leaders of their choice. Nigerians will then have opportunity to showcase their growth in electoral process that truly ensures free, fair, durable and credible elections.
In the same manner, we call on Nigerians to have a change of mentality, inspired by the sense of common good, equity, justice and peace. We call on the government at all levels to provide the enabling environment for everyone to exercise this fundamental right without fear, favour and intimidation. Let us eschew the unwholesome activities that usually characterize our electioneering process, such as thuggery, maiming, murder, bullying, and violence of any kind, which are an affront to the dignity of the human person. More so, rigging of votes steals away the peoples’ mandate, causing disharmony and conflict.
- Patriotism, Unity, and Peace of our Nation
The journey to nationhood may be long and tortuous, but it is possible with courage and determination. The country’s unity is on trial due to corruption, waves of criminality, and terrorism. Corruption is ferociously destroying the fabric of our society. Generally, there is cynical abuse of power in governance with impunity, to the extent that the rights of citizens are constantly violated. When good governance is absent, patriotism is hardly possible or sustainable. Ethnicity is generally blamed as the bane of our journey to nationhood. It is known, however, that good governance contributes to turn ethnicity into a rich asset for mutual exchange, healthy rivalry, cooperation and solidarity.
Nigeria needs leaders with courage, vision and an authentic sense of patriotism, with political will to change the pattern of life of our society. Leaders should set examples of stewardship, accountability and transparency, in order to be trustworthy custodians of our land.
- 2014 National Conference
We thank God that we gathered to discuss some of the challenges facing us a nation. At the beginning of the National Conference, we sent our solidarity greetings and prayers to Nigerians and participants at the Conference. We commended the objective aimed at strengthening national unity, democratic governance and laying a stronger foundation for development. The Conference which began in March and concluded in August 2014, provided Nigerians in their diversity of ethnicity, religious persuasions and political affiliations, the opportunity to openly discuss the problems stunting our development as a Nation. Once again, Nigerians were able to sit together and through concerted effort, they discussed openly and agreed on a charter for national reconciliation, integration and transformation.
We pray for the moral courage and political will needed by our leaders to examine and seriously consider the resolutions in the Report of the Conference, for the good and development of our nation.
- Conclusion: The Lord Comforts His People! (Isaiah 40:1)
Our faith in God may be painfully undergoing some tests. Certain situations in our lives might surely be described as extreme. The threat of the pandemics of HIV-AIDS compounds with Ebola Virus Disease, just as the issues of armed robbery and kidnapping with Boko Haram savagery. In all of these, we should not, however, give up, but believe in God for whom nothing is impossible. Jesus Christ is our great Physician and Redeemer, who in his victory over the powers of darkness and evil, did not eliminate suffering nor did he explain every evil, but rather exposed the devil and cautioned against its deceits, revealing the power of God, whom alone is to be feared. By willingly enduring his passion and death, Jesus gave human suffering its redemptive meaning, removed the fear of death, ushering in the hope of the resurrection (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-5:5). He promised his presence, healing and blessings to the weary and the overburdened (Matt 11:28). He consoles us so that we might with the same comfort meet and offer to others in their times of tribulation (2 Cor 1:4). Paradoxically, we are helped by moments of weakness and suffering to draw closer to God – the solid and lasting foundation of our existence – and to discover His mercy, love and power (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-12). We must let Christ’s word of consolation penetrate, illumine, purify and convert our interior, so that a new humanity may be born in us for the endurance of Christian hope. We call on all to be fervent in prayers to the God of consolation and hope for the restoration of our land. For this reason, we invite everyone to a National Rosary Prayer Pilgrimage in the National Christian Centre, Abuja on 13th to14th of November, 2014.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of consolation, be our model and intercessor, especially in this trying period of our country.
Most Rev. Ignatius Ayau KAIGAMA
Archbishop of Jos, President
Most Rev. William A. AVENYA
Bishop of Gboko, Secretary
The Data of Forgiveness
The most important ingredient in today’s media economy is data. The amount of data available determines how much and how long we can work or play on the internet. Currently, many of the service providers offer unlimited data plans but we know that those “unlimited” plans are not always unlimited. Sometimes, your download speed can get slowed down when you cross a certain point. Today, however, Jesus gives us the divine model of an unlimited plan. It is the unlimited bundle of compassion and forgiveness which never gets slowed downed shut down for maintenance. The theme for this week is that we must learn to forgive without limits no matter the injury committed against us.
In Matthew’s Gospel, today’s teaching on unlimited forgiveness comes after Jesus had told his disciples the parable of the wandering sheep, so it is plausible that some would have wondered among themselves how many times a good shepherd should go after the same sheep if it keeps wandering away. In those days, people believed that forgiveness was limited to three times only – a fourth transgression was not to be forgiven. So, by asking Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother, Peter was probably aiming to increase the limit to seven times. And Jesus makes it clear that we are to forgive others, “not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22).That means we must dispense an unlimited data bundle of mercy.
In Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of a debt we could never pay. Sin is an offence against God and a direct rebellion against his authority and creation. The debt of 10,000 talents mentioned in today’s parable symbolizes the magnitude of the offence that sin causes in God’s eyes, but he is always willing to forgive without limits. However, we can easily cut ourselves off from God’s river of mercy when we refuse to forgive others. We end up restraining God’s mercy and putting ourselves under strict justice. To unfold his mercy without compromising his justice, God leaves each person free to choose between the two. If we insist on strict justice when we are offended, we bring God’s strict justice upon ourselves. But if we offer an unlimited bundle of mercy to others, we draw God’s unlimited data of forgiveness upon ourselves.
The secret to forming a forgiving heart lies in recognizing the evil of our sin and the immensity of God’s goodness in forgiving us. Until we see the ugliness of our ingratitude and selfishness, we will never appreciate the generosity of God’s forgiveness. Let us examine ourselves now to see how much forgiveness we are giving. Is there someone we still cannot forgive even after they have expressed sorrow for their actions? Have we judged someone too harshly because of something they said or did that we did not particularly like? How many times have we failed to help somebody because we are still dwelling on an injury that we suffered many years ago? How many times have we treated someone differently based on preconceived notions or stereotypes? These are some of the factors that shackle us like chains and that disrupt the unlimited data of divine grace in our lives. When we close ourselves off to people or dismiss them based on our preconceptions, mistaken judgments, and prejudices, not only do we make them suffer, we suffer as well.
But it does not have to be that way. Jesus came to free us from and the burden of sin and unhappiness. Forgiveness is like mercury, which runs away when it is held tightly in the hand but is preserved by keeping the palm open. When we lose forgiveness, we lose the ability to give and to receive love because love is the foundation of forgiveness. And since God is the foundation of love, whoever refuses to forgive automatically rejects the love of God. This is the essence of today’s parable and it is highlighted by the contrast between what was owed by each man. The wicked slave owed his master some 10000 talents. In gold terms, that is 350 tons and at today’s price, he owed his master USD21.8 billion. This was way more than King Solomon made in a year which was 666 talents of gold or USD1.45 billion in today’s value (cf. I Kings 10:14). So, this unforgiving servant owed his master what no individual could never payback. In contrast, his fellow servant owed him the equivalent of one talent of gold or USD2.1 million; so a man who was forgiven $21.8b could not let go of $2.1m, and his wickedness landed him in the hands of torturers.
Dear friends, forgiveness is an act of compassion which is expressed in the free choice to pardon one another’s shortcomings every day, and to also pardon ourselves for own mistakes Forgiveness transcends the fear of being wounded again; it is a deliberate act in imitation of the redemptive work of Jesus, the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, and the loving kindness of the Father. The whole point of today’s parable is that our Father in heaven will do the same to anyone who refuses to forgive others. Whoever refuses to forgive is doomed to a life of bitterness, and as the ugly trend continues, the person ends up building invisible walls of resentment around themselves, thereby blocking off not just one’s relationships with other people but with God as well. Forgiveness is not just an emotional expression or a sense of righteousness; it means being merciful not only when there is an explanation or apology, or a promise of amendment from the offender, but even when the offence is deliberate, and the offender is adamant. Forgiveness is a precious gift of grace, which does not depend on the worthiness of the receiver. Forgiveness is what we called to do, and the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us in that regard. Amen.
Imo Deputy Governor’s giant strides towards revitalizing agriculture
By Joy Opara
The increasing cost of Agricultural products in Imo State in recent times has continued to be a major source of concern to the citizens of the state.
A critical appraisal of the development of Agriculture in this state reveals that successive governments had neglected this major sector of the economy, over three decades now, and this has adversely affected the revenue of government.
In line with the vision of the “shared prosperity” government of the Hope Uzodinma administration, the revolution of agriculture is among its cardinal programmes for which a high powered committee (on agricultural master plan for Imo State) has been set up.
For the purpose of resuscitating all moribund agricultural industries and facilities in the state, it is not surprising that this committee is headed by a world class Professor of Agriculture and Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku.
The need to diversify the economy cannot be over-emphasized. It is a well known fact that there is no better and more sustainable means of diversifying the economy than through agriculture. It would be recalled that after the inauguration of his committee, the deputy governor went into action, first by visiting all moribund agricultural facilities in the state, which included Adapalm in Ohaji/ Egbema LGA, Avutu Poultry farm in Avutu, Obowo LGA, Songhai farms, Okigwe road, Owerri, ADP farms in Nekede, Owerri West. Others are Acharaubo farms in Emekuku, Owerri North, Imo Rubber Plantation in Obiti, Ohaji/ Egbema, amongst others.
Prof. Njoku in one of his speeches during the tour described agriculture as the economic base of most countries of the world. Considering the dwindling oil revenue, he said it should be a source of worry to people of good conscience that the vision of our founding fathers to generate revenue, food security, economic advancement, industrialization, employment and eradication of poverty was destroyed by successive governments.
The Deputy Governor, who not only is acknowledged as one of the greatest professors of Animal Science, a renowned Agriculturist and former Vice Chancellor of a leading University of Agriculture, the Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, made it clear that the present government led by Governor Hope Uzodinma is desirous to return agriculture to its former glory.
The Ikeduru-born technocrat and farmer per-excellence said that the 3R Mantra of this administration namely: Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery is a base for making the dream of Imo State as the food basket of the nation come true.
Noting that government is a continuum, the deputy governor promised that his committee will build upon what is already on ground by rehabilitating the ones that could be rehabilitated and bringing in new facilities where necessary to ensure that the passion of the governor towards agricultural revival is achieved.
Meanwhile, in most of the establishments visited by the committee, it was discovered that indigenes of the communities had badly encroached into the lands and converted them to personal use. Investigations by the committee revealed that agents of some past governments in the state connived with the communities to make it possible, for their personal aggrandizement.
The deputy governor, whose humility has become legendary pledged his total support to the Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma whom he described as God sent to right all that were done wrong by the previous administrations in the state. He called on all to give this administration the needed support to rewrite the history of Imo State in gold, especially the agricultural sector.
Child Abuse: A case of betrayal of reciprocal trust
By Christian Uzoukwu
Some years ago, while as a kid, I fell out with my father due to an occasion of sheer disobedience and on that very day, I was given no food and was ultimately battered by hunger. Child abuse includes both acts of commission and omission on the part of parents, guardians as well as care-givers.
These acts have led to a lot of actual and threatened harm meted out on countless number of children. In 2014, the WHO made an estimate of 41,000 children (under the age of 15) that are victims of homicide and other related offences. This estimate, as expounded by this world body is grossly below the real figures due to the views of the society in relation to corporal punishment experienced by children. Girls are always most vulnerable to different forms of child abuse during unrests and in war-thorn territories.
Cases of child abuse can be established in some deadly human vices such as child trafficking, child labour, forced adoption as seen in the one-child policy prevalent in China. In the Asian country, women, by law are only allowed to have one child. Local governments would sometimes allow the woman to give birth and then they would take the baby away stating the mother violated the one child policy. Child traffickers, often paid by the government, would sell the children to orphanages that would arrange international adoptions worth tens of thousands of dollars, turning a profit for the government.
Other striking examples of child abuse are the various forms of violence against the girl-child which involves infanticide, sex-selective abortions, female genital mutilations (FGM), sexual initiation of virgins in some African cultures, breast ironing in some parts of Cameroon – involving the vicious use of hot stones and other tools to flatten the breast tissue of girls who have attained the age of puberty. As if those were not enough, female students are also subject to maltreatments in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is not to talk of recurring kidnapp of female students in some parts of Nigeria, as we saw in the case of Dapchi and Chibok schoolgirls.
Based on simple analysis, child abuse can be defined as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power”.
This definition by WHO also falls in line with the definition propounded by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that child abuse are acts of commission. This commission includes “words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child”, and acts of omission (neglect), meaning “the failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, or educational needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm.
In Nigeria, most cases of child abuse have become cumbersome due to the fact that these acts of abuses are regarded as mere punishments to unruly young ones and by so doing, should be justified and doesn’t call for any further discussion and/or scrutiny. According to various statistical studies and researches, child abuse is a vast societal cankerworm and has four profound tentacles viz:
Physical Abuse: this involves undue hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, burning, strangling, insertion of pepper into the eyes and pubic regions of children, maltreatments from house-help(s) and seniors at boarding/day schools, suffocating and forcing children to live in unwholesome conditions.
Sexual Abuse also includes persuading a minor into acts of sexual intercourse, exposure of the child’s private parts, production of child-related pornographic contents and actual sexual contacts with children.
Psychological Abuse of children can be seen in cases of excessive scolding, lack of proper attention that children should be receiving from their parents and guardians, destructive criticisms and destruction of a child’s personality.
Neglect of children can also lead to children dropping out of schools, begging/stealing for food and money, lack of proper medical care for minors and realities of children looking like ragamuffins.
Consequently, the causes of child abuse can be judiciously related to sex, age, personal history, societal norms, economic challenges, lack of Rights’ Protection Agencies, parents battling with traits of alcoholism and family size. These causative agents of child abuse can bring untold effects upon the society at large and these effects can be emotional, physical and psychological as the case may be, giving rise to individuals with dissociative lifestyles.
Furthermore, the treatment of individuals who have been malformed with respect to the abuses they experienced abinitio, can be a long process because it involves behavioral therapy and other forms of neoteric therapies. Treatments of psyche-related problems are not just a one-day process due to the long-lasting effects of abuses on various conscious mental activities. It is also noteworthy to point out that, prevention is always better than cure and holding fast to this true reality, entails that agencies who have the responsibility of protecting the rights of children must continue to do the needful which requires proper oversights of parent-child relationships.
To conclude this piece therefore, we must agree that untold hardships have been a great challenge for children especially in Africa and some parts of Asia. Children with long histories of abuses turn out to become societal misfits. To this end we encourage that: Children should be given a free platform to express themselves on many topical issues and issues relating to their existence.
Children should also be allowed to freely ask questions on any issue, no matter, how weird it seems to be.
Governments should make regulations outlawing societal norms and values that might amount to child abuses.
Corporal punishments by parents, guardians and care-givers should be discouraged at all levels, thereby making parents/guardians/care-givers who seem to be incorrigible, to face the full weight of justice enshrined in the law of the land.
Education system (both conventional and unconventional) in Nigeria should be able to train up young ones into becoming critical, analytical and evaluative individuals with a view of defending the vulnerable.
And again, since children are said to be leaders of tomorrow, it is pertinent to note that to secure their future, their present existence must be cherished and protected.
Christian Chimemerem Uzoukwu
08100029867 / 09025760804
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