• Fraternity, governance, sub-regional problems, stocktaking, RECOWA new 3-year road map top agenda
• Fraternity, social friendship are the ways to build a better, more just and peaceful world – President Buhari
• Leaders of the region must therefore use political power to create good governance – RECOWA’s President
• In the face of myriad problems bedeviling our countries we must guard against the ‘culture of walls’ – CBCN’s President
• We need the voice of the Church against the hardship occasioned by man’s inhumanity – SAN
The 4th General Assembly of the Reunion of the Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA) opened on Tuesday at the ECOWAS Parliament, Abuja, Nigeria. Most Rev. (Dr.) Ignatius Kaigama, President, RECOWA, who also doubles as Archbishop of Abuja while delivering his address said the essence of the 4th General Assembly of the Catholic Bishops in West Africa, “united by the same mission, the same vision and a common goal within a single organ of pastoral collegiality, the Reunion of the Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA) is to pray, to reflect and to take stock of the activities carried out by RECOWA, in order to design the roadmap for the next three years.”
The Opening ceremony graced by top ranking clerics, high-level government officials and lay leaders provided a good platform of collaboration on issues relating to brotherhood, peace, security, as well as good governance in the ECOWAS sub-region to resolving the myriad of economic, political and security issues. Archbishop Kaigama said the theme of the 4th Plenary Assembly tagged, “Fratelli Tutti: Path to Brotherhood and Sustainable Peace in West Africa” was influenced by the encyclical letter of Pope Francis, which challenges everyone to inculcate the culture of “fraternal relationships, rethinking, finding or rebuilding the “WE”.
He said, “The theme calls us all to the conversion of our being and our actions for a true fraternity and a sincere peace; it invites leaders to see governance in terms of service, and for all of us to be conscious of the question posed to Cain in Genesis 4:9, “where is your brother? “We know that in our region of West Africa, political governance in many cases is unfortunately not about service based on charity, justice, truth and transparency. We also face issues of youth unemployment, religious and ethnic crises, climate change, land grabbing; diseases even more deadly than the Covid-19 pandemic, money spent on arms instead of using it to remedy the crippling effect of hunger and to foster development; terrorist attacks, kidnappers’ menace, corruption, etc.
“On the positive side, our region has a lot to offer the world, from the spiritual, economic, cultural, agro ecological and biodiversity points of view.” He urged leaders to shun all forms of self-absorption, as well as religious, ethnic and political interests. “Leaders of the region must therefore use political power to create good governance rather than for personal advancement or allow religious, ethnic, economic or political interests to subordinate the common good. Leaders must enthrone merit, share resources equitably, and do away with the virus of corruption and self centredness.”
For the craze for miracles which had resulted in so many social challenges in the West African sub-region to be surmounted, RECOWA President charged religious leaders to stop preaching about quick prosperity and miracles. This admonitions which reflected in the current situation in some countries in the sub-region where quest for materialism as evident in the rising corruption and kidnapping cases, were also noted by the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, as he also called for better fraternal relationships between the Christians and Muslims. Most Rev. (Dr.) Kaigama said, “In the realm of religion, we must practice true religion by improving the quality of our spiritual lives, which must manifest in good deeds such as the care of orphans, widows, the poor and marginalized, youths (cf. James 1:27), and not focusing on quick prosperity and miracles; neither should we succumb to the temptation of agitating for the appointment of priests and bishops based on ethnic considerations.
“Christian and Muslim leaders must go beyond courteous formalities to employ practical measures to foster Muslim/Christian dialogue instead of media confrontation, or even mutual physical hostility. We must look out for the interest of one another (cf. Phil. 2:3).” Looking inwards, he urged the Bishops to be committed to exemplary leadership and strive to “smell like the sheep” they are pasturing as he encouraged them to continue to speak truth to power on behalf of the voiceless masses. The Church must speak. The Church is not obligated to pray for the sick, but to also advocate for access to better health care and affordable health care services.
The Church is not only obligated to pray for the poor, but to seek redress from broken systems that lead to poverty. The Church must speak for realistic minimum wage. Archbishop Kaigama said, “Without becoming politically partisan, our prophetic voices must continue to ring out on behalf of the voiceless multitude suffering. We do not pretend that we have the solutions to the multidimensional political, security and social problems. The Church can only continue to play her role in educating the consciences of Christians, non-Christians and people of good will in our society. “In the encyclical Deus Caritas Est no. 28, Pope Benddict XVI taught that the Church should not take on the political battle to create a more just society, replacing the State, yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” “But our goals of unity and integration have always been thwarted not just by concerns of individual sovereignty of our nations, but also by internal crisis and social conflicts in our nations and around the borders.
Today, our region is passing through a season of considerable political, economic and social turmoil. Terrorism and violent banditry afflict many of our nations, and especially in the Sahel. “In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic many of our economies have been weakened, while unemployment has escalated and poverty has deepened. Since 2017, there have been 12 military coups in Africa and half of them have occurred since 2020. “Historically in times like these, parochial prejudices are heightened and the fabric of cohesion becomes frayed as people retreat into ethnic, religious and other nativist camps. Those that do not speak our language or subscribe to our faith come under great suspicion and they soon become scapegoats for all our challenges.
And ethnic, religious and separatist conflicts are rife. “In all of these, the idea of an integrated peaceful and prosperous sub-region seems almost impossible. Peace cannot reign in our region if it does not first reign in our communities and countries. Which is why I think that the theme of this summit is especially apt. “Fratelli Tutti: Path to Build Brotherhood and Sustainable Peace in West Africa.” These were the summations of remarks by President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo (SAN), at the opening ceremony of General Assembly of RECOWA. Buhari lauded the theme of the Conference. In his remarks, he said, “Fratelli Tutti is the powerful notion on which His Holiness Pope Francis anchors his most recent Encyclical- titled Fratelli Tutti-The concept of the brotherhood of all humanity.” He noted: “The idea that fraternity and social friendship are the ways to build a better, more just and peaceful world with the commitment of all people and institutions.
The Encyclical proposes some of the boldest and most radical ideas on securing human unity, peace and security. In the despair and bleakness of the times, these ideas that offer hope and renewal are much needed. “By offering concrete prescriptions on building brotherhood and sustainable peace anywhere, the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti rightly takes the position that this is not merely the business of governments and political institutions; it must also be anchored on our civil societies of which the faith communities are an important constituency.” Buhari called on the Catholic Bishops to keep speaking truth to power and extend their messages to the growing numbers of violent non-state actors. The President noted, “The Government of Nigeria remains committed to collaborating with the Church and all well-meaning actors in promoting peace and security.”
He added that over the years, the Church has modeled profound approaches in challenging the impunity of some state actors and errant power. Buhari expressed hope that the Bishops would conceptualize ways of bringing the full weight of the immense moral authority they possess upon their nations and in the sub-region as a whole. “It is evident that we cannot create fraternity and harmony in West Africa without our faith communities,” he stressed. In his remarks, Most Rev. (Dr.) Lucius Ugorji, President of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), charged the international community to team up and collectively develop new strategies to tackle global problems. According to him, “Global problems demand global response and action in the spirit of co-responsibility, cooperation and collaboration. “Thus, in the face of myriads of problems bedeviling our countries today, such as poor governance, human rights abuse, poverty, unemployment, ethnocentrism, terrorism and organised crimes, human trafficking, organ trafficking, illegal arms trafficking, international debt burden, drug abuse, migration and the like, we must guide against the ‘culture of walls’ or ‘culture of indifference’.
“These socio-political and socio-cultural problems threaten peace and impede development in our different countries. They demand that we come together in solidarity as a human family to address them.” Speaking in same vein, Mr. Damian Dodo SAN, Chairman of the opening ceremony bemoaned the state of the West African region. He said, “Like many regions of the world, the West African region is embroiled in a crisis of terrorism, pandemics, hunger and untold hardship. Generally speaking, our people are hungry and distressed.
They are dehumanised and traumatised. Our youths seem to find no hope at home and are exposed to very suicidal adventures on the high sea searching for a life.” Dodo affirmed that the theme of the plenary assembly is very apt given the growing evil, ignorance, pains, hunger and suffering in our society today, which are primarily caused by man’s inhumanity to man. “Without a doubt, at the root of all the woes that plague our region and Africa are loss of respect for human dignity, selfishness, inordinate ambition for power and abuse of it, distorted sense of the sacred and the loss of the sense of service,” he stated.
The Chairman of the occasion said the West African sub-region needs the strong voice of the Church to restore hope to the despairing, to bring in positivity where negativity seems enthroned, love where hate exists, and fairness where prejudice reigns. He said, “We need the voice of the Church against the hardship occasioned by man’s inhumanity to man, the poor, the marginalised, and the indigent of the West African region.
This voice is needed to call our governments to the consciousness of brotherhood to the people they ‘rule’. A call to build brotherhood means a move away from self-aggrandizement and insensitivity to the plight of the common man. “The West African region continues to struggle under the weight of neocolonialism many years after gaining independence. We need the strong voice of the Church to reawaken us to our brotherhood of sincere hard work and discipline towards achieving greatness, not the get-rich-quick syndrome. I believe that the unified voice of the Bishops of West Africa will bring about these great things because we are each other’s business.”
Most Rev. Antonio Filipazzi, Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria and ECOWAS President, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou felicitated with the RECOWA. The opening ceremony also featured remarks by the ECOWAS President, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, among others. Also at the opening ceremony of RECOWA’s 4th plenary assembly that had in attendance over 250 Bishops, were Mr. Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Federal Ministers such as Geoffrey Onyema (Foreign Affairs), Dame Pauline Tallen (Women Affairs), Dr. Chris Nigige (Labour, Employment and Productivity), Godswill Akpabio (Niger Delta). George Akume (Special Duties), and Godwin Agba (Power).
So far, RECOWA has held three plenary assemblies – on January 24, 2012, in Yamoussoukro in Côte d’Ivoire; February 23, 2016, in Accra in Ghana; and May 14, 2019, in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.