• Composes prayer for free, fair, credible and peaceful elections
• Charges Parishes to create more room for dialogue, participation
• Tasks Clergy, religious to take the lead in the catechetical formation
As political campaigns kick off in preparation for the 2023 General Elections, the Catholic Bishops have charged government to provide the enabling environment for citizens to exercise their franchise devoid of violence, intimidation, vote buying and vote selling. According to the Ecclesial body, these electoral anomalies harm the democratic process as they contribute to depriving citizens the freedom to make informed choices at elections, by making the process less credible. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) made this assertion in a statement issued at the end of the 3rd National Pastoral Congress held between November 8 and 11, 2022 at Benin City and jointly signed by its President and Secretary, Most Rev. Lucia Iwejuru Ugorgi and Most Rev. Donatus Aihmiosion Ogun, OSA. Noting that elected officials who emerge from such a defective electoral process, have the additional moral burden of credibility while in office, the Bishops urged citizens to use their PVCs to vote candidates of credibility and integrity who have demonstrated the capacity to pilot the affairs of this nation in a responsible and corrupt-free manner. The statement read in parts, “The electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), should ensure that the electoral process is just, transparent, open, free, fair and credible.
INEC, as a genuine umpire, must be neutral and objective and not favour any party but apply the laws and principles to all in a fair and equitable manner. “Government should provide adequate security to enable the citizens come out and exercise their franchise. In addition, campaigns should be idea-based devoid of bitterness and unhealthy rivalry. Political candidates for the election should avail citizens of their electoral manifestoes, including strategies for achieving set goals and objectives. The practice of promising the electorate lofty objectives to be pursued by political office holders that look good on paper but only to be jettisoned after such candidates win election has become the common experience of many Nigerians. “It is hoped that political office holders would support their manifestoes with strategies to achieve set targets and actually pursue those goals when elected into office. Holding political office holders accountable is the collective responsibility of all citizens. On this, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should play active roles through advocacy and enlightenment. “As agreed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the last meeting in Orlu, Imo State in September 2022, that at the end of this third Pastoral Congress a prayer will be composed for free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in our country in 2023, the bishops have composed the said prayers which should be said in all dioceses, parishes and families from now to the time of elections.” The Bishops decried the poor state of the economy. They said, “Despite several efforts by Government, the economy is not in good shape. Citizens are not seeing much improvement in their daily lives but a decline in their purchasing power.
“The costs of staple food like rice, yam and garri have skyrocketed. Power supply is still epileptic. Fuel is sold at far above the official pump rates in many parts of the country. This should not be happening in a country that is the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world. The CBCN implored government to devise a strategy that makes fuel and other petroleum products available, accessible and affordable. The Bishops applauded government’s policy of Naira redesign, aimed at curbing inflation and fighting corruption and terrorism, describing the initiative as a lofty idea. They however noted that the Naira redesign alone cannot provide the needed reprieve in the economy and confront the hydra-headed problems of corruption and terrorism. The Bishops advised, “A redesigned naira must necessarily be accompanied by strong institutional frameworks and laws such as an effective policing system, tracking and timely prosecution of corrupt persons and strengthening the security agencies to properly police Nigeria’s borders to prevent the influx of armed bandits from other countries.” On ecological concerns in respect of flooding and other environmental hazards, the Bishops recommended, “We, as a people, should take advantage of the ongoing 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt and replicate the positive recommendations in Nigeria. This is because there are still serious ecological concerns in our country, for example, the monumental flooding, which has caused untold hardships on the people leading to the destruction of lives and properties is largely as a result of lack of care for our environment.
“We call on Government at all levels to take concrete steps in responding to these challenges. We advocate for a more effective and efficient emergency response strategy, the construction of more dams all over the country while overhauling and expanding the capacity of the dams available at the moment for better water management. We earnestly urge all Nigerians to embrace healthy lifestyle and environmentally friendly attitudes in disposing of wastes arising from human activities.” In pursuance of the multi-year synodal process, the Catholic Bishops enjoined parishes to create more room for genuine dialogue that facilitates attentiveness, listening and harmony, stressing that the Synodality has listening and dialogue as its core essential components. The statement read in parts, “Faith comes through hearing (Rom 10:17). Listening, therefore, is a necessary prerequisite for faith development. It is an integral part of synodality, for it is only by hearing that we discern properly as a Church. At the different levels of the Church, the pastors and the people are to cultivate an attitude of patience, attentiveness to and respect for the views of others. “This attitude paves the way for genuine dialogue.
We call for a well-represented pastoral council in all parishes as a way of creating space, more room for dialogue and participation. In a synodal Church, ways must be devised by which those in the periphery such as the non-literate, materially poor and the quiet members of the Church can be heard. No doubt, wars, dissension, bitterness and acrimony can be avoided by embracing the power of listening and dialogue.” The Bishops charged the clergy, religious and lay faithful to engage in continuous catechetical formation stressing that it is at the heart of the growth and development of the Christian life. The prelates demanded for a well-developed programme, which should include a curriculum on Catholic education for mission schools to achieve a lasting catechetical formation that would not end with the reception of the sacrament but initiate a process that should accompany the Catholic all through life. “This is not only desirable, but a necessity for effective Christian witnessing”, they stressed. The statement further read in parts, “In pursuance of this ideal, all hands must be on deck. Bishops, Priests and Religious are to take the lead in the catechetical formation of the faithful. As their immediate collaborators, catechists are to be adequately trained and justly remunerated, while parents, on their part, are to ensure the initial catechetical formation of their wards backed up by exemplary Christian lifestyle.
CBCN in the statement tasked government at all levels and corporate bodies to devise ways to create jobs for the youths both in the formal and informal sectors and invest more in them for national development as they also frowned at discrimination of the disabled. According to the ecclesial body, the high rate of joblessness among the youths creates restiveness and may contribute to aggravating the insecurity plaguing the nation. According to them, creation of jobs can expedite, if the enabling environment is guaranteed, such as stable power, stable currency, support for medium scale industries, supporting innovation and innovativeness. The Bishops also called on the youths to be responsible citizens shunning indolence, violence, political thuggery and other vices. People with disability are full members of the Church and society. “Their place, presence and participation are invaluable. Many people with disability still suffer from discrimination (social, psychological, material). We, as a Church, are committed to working to ensure that people with disability are able to worship in our Churches without hindrance. Government, on her own part, should make adequate provisions for the infrastructure that supports people with disability in places such as schools, banks, hospitals, parks, supermarkets, shopping malls, cinemas, amongst others and also create the enabling environment that makes it possible for them to be meaningfully engaged,” they stated.
On a final note CBCN also called for enhanced dialogical relations with other faiths such as Muslims and practitioners of the African Traditional Religion. “As a Church, we continue to promote dialogical relations with other faiths such as Muslims and practitioners of the African Traditional Religion. Despite our differences in the faiths we profess, we can and should embark on joint initiatives in the service of the common good. In the spirit of cooperation and co-responsibility, we can and should necessarily unite for the common cause of fighting corruption, ethnocentrism, terrorism and banditry, social injustice, poverty, drug abuse; fostering good governance and free, fair and credible elections. Our purposeful unity thus help in promoting security, peace and understanding in our communities and nation; protecting the sanctity of our places of worship in the face of wanton destruction at the slightest provocation; safeguarding the environment and caring for those in need.”