25 November 2012

Nigeria: Church and State in the Pursuit of the Common Good (I)


I want to thank the Providence Baptist Church for this kind invitation to me to speak at this august event. I feel quite privileged over the many invitations I have received and continue to receive from almost every segment of the Nigerian society, across tribe, region, tongue, faith, ideology, and so on. I want to assure you that I do not take this honour and responsibility lightly. Mr Ayodele Owoborode has proved to be an exemplary gentleman and brother in the Lord. His patience, efficiency and efficacy has been astounding. He has represented your Church very well.

You will notice that I have decided to slightly modify your topic to read: Church and State in the Pursuit of the Common Good. I will not focus on Security but rather sound a note of encouragement to our people and look more at what we can do together.

First, let me make some preliminary remarks about the state that we are in now as a nation. Although insecurity has become the common lexicon, it is important that we place things in proper perspective. I am concerned with identifying what the state and the Church can do together to address the problems that confront our nation now. The present sense of insecurity is a symptom of the larger crisis of the Nigerian state.

Let me start with a little story which has become largely anecdotal but I believe it speaks to the issues at hand. It is about passengers in a plane which got into turbulence in the skies. Naturally, every passenger began to wail and pray. Everyone held very tightly to their seat and men and women were calling on God for salvation and rescue. While all this was going on and everyone was in terror, a little seven-year old girl kept leaping and dancing on the aisle unperturbed by what other passengers saw as an impending tragedy. She looked quite calm and was totally oblivious to all the pandemonium around her. Then a woman, thinking she was just like the ordinary child, innocent and completely oblivious of all the cares in the world, pulled her aside and asked, are you not afraid? Do you not realize we are all about to die? The little girl, still in her playful mood and looking contented said to the woman: I knew that nothing will happen to the plane because I have been flying in this plane. My father is the Captain and that is why I know that nothing will happen. He is the best Captain in the world and he is my dad.

I have found this little story significant especially given that Nigerians are now literally losing their heads over the terrible and tragic crises and violence that have afflicted them from every nook and cranny. We seem to be in a permanent state of boil in our country. We have lived and survived the tears and sorrows of a civil war, lived through the violence and uncertainties of a series of military coups, armed robberies, militant extremist groups who claimed they were fighting for their people. These ethno-regional purveyors of violence such as Odu'a Peoples' Congress, Egbesu and Bakassi Boys to the various cadres of militant groups in the Niger Delta, our nation has witnessed a massive industry of violence that continues to threaten the foundations of our society. Today, Boko Haram, pitching its violence beyond the limited purview of ethnic or regional boundaries, now claims the higher grounds and has based its violence on the claims of religion, which has a more combustible but also universal claim beyond the boundaries of tribe and region.

It is important to appreciate the fact that all these violent groups have succeeded in threatening our unity because perhaps, we never have never developed a sense, a vision of what a united Nigeria might look like. This would have been the basis for building the pillars for patriotism. For, how and why is it that at every twist and turn, the elite groups of these belligerent groups were often tongue tied in identifying and outrightly condemning the violence? The Yorubas felt a sense of injustice under the Abacha regime and as such, those who ought to have spoken out, looked the other way. They were not on the streets, but they did not want to condemn those who were on the streets. Similarly, when the Egbesu Boys and other militant groups started, the elite of the Niger Delta felt, well, we have been sinned against and we may not adopt their tactics but we cannot condemn them.

Lacking the moral authority, the power elite in Nigeria made some cheap choices that continue to haunt us. First, OPC militants would have been right to think that their violence earned them a Yoruba President from the South West as a form of compensation. Now, the Niger Delta militants are also equally right to think that it was their violence that earned them a President as a form of compensation.

Against this backdrop, where then do we find the moral courage to tell Boko Haram that they are wrong in thinking that violence pays? Is this not the context in which some northerners are saying touting the notion of an Amnesty programme as one way of dealing with the Boko Haram menace? Amidst this confusion, the Nigerian elites are speaking with dirty water in their mouths, trying to pass the buck across the Niger. Should we then be surprised that Chinua Achebe's new book has stirred so much emotion across the country? I am making all these points so we can at least have a fair idea of the possible symptoms of the disease that now afflicts us.

The panic in our land continues to spread like some wild fire and it seems that by the time it is all over, no one knows where we will start. I drove through Owerri a few days ago. The traffic was heavy and when I asked the driver why traffic should be so heavy on a Saturday in Owerri, he said: A lot of our people have been returning home from the North and now, everywhere is so tight and we are looking like Lagos now. I got the forlorn feeling from listening to him that he was speaking of his own kith and kin with a distant echo, a kind of feeling that says, we do not have enough space, why are you coming back again to deprive us of our space? No one knows the consequences of prices going up and the tensions that might arise from all these.

There is a lot of internal movement and businesses are shutting down or relocating from the North. This includes some really diehard businessmen and women who have lived the greater part of their lives in the Northern states. Internally, we are suffering because my friends keep welcoming me with some level of pity and sympathy as if my new address now is the Golan Heights. So, even internally, we have lost the narrative, that is, as things stand, we do not even have enough confidence in ourselves about what is happening to our country and us as a people. People in the south are speaking to their brethren in the North as if to say, If you choose to remain the North, you are on your own. While all this goes on, our country is becoming increasingly estranged from the rest of the world with investors and visitors having doubts about the security of the country.

The external image of Nigeria is even more problematic. Even at the best of times, we have hardly had some good publicity, no thanks to the fact that the country itself does not have the faintest idea how to market itself or define how others should see us. I doubt that the Presidency, the Ministries of Internal and Foreign Affairs have a clear narrative about how they want Nigerians to see their country and how they want other nations to see them. This is a very important part of our lives as citizens and the future of our country. Sadly, these things have not been taken seriously.

Rather, billions of naira and millions of dollars are occasionally wasted on ill conceived, ill defined, useless and fruitless propaganda. We have been on a wild goose chase with such products as, Heart of Africa and then a Re-branding programme. Millions of dollars later, we have neither a heart nor a brand! Rather than trying carefully to craft a clear message, the Federal and State Governments are spending money on useless propaganda of questionable efficacy. We cannot define ourselves as a nation. We only respond to how other people define us. Clearly, what we read daily in our newspapers does not reflect who we are, and what we now see or feel of ourselves is not who we are. Yet, the challenges of identity and community reconstruction will require that we do more than we are prepared to understand or even appreciate.

We are watching as our collective identities and sense of community are being seared as with a red-hot iron of anger and hatred. We are now unsure of our past, we are fumbling and fidgeting about the present and dreading the future. I ask, for us as Christians, should we not be courageous enough to tell the world that our Father is the Captain of this ship that is tottering. Should we not think about the One who has asked us to be still because He is God? (Ps 46: 10) Should we not be thinking about God who said when all this begins to happen, know that your liberation is near at hand? (Lk. 12:28) Should we not return to St. Paul and ask, If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31) Even when it seems as if our boat of state is threatened, should we not recall that the one who calmed the storm (Mt. 8:26) can also calm the storm of our nation? To address these issues in detail, let me identify a few ideas that I think we should look at closely.

First, there is a lot of lamentation over the situation in Nigeria and perhaps understandably, the focus has been on what government has done or not done, is doing or not doing and so on. Ordinary citizens are frustrated, exhausted and disheartened. Basic Political Science is clear about the fact that the security of citizens, the building of a good society are at the heart of why governments exist. Therefore, if they fail to meet these needs, it is natural that citizens will express their disaffection and dissatisfaction in various means including the adoption of violent means to settle scores as individuals or communities. This is what has brought us to where we are today. This is neither the time nor place to trade blames and I think the most important thing is for us all to focus on how best we can redeem our society. Therefore, I will turn my attention to identifying ten different areas where I think Church and state must join hands in order to create a stable society.

1: The restoration of rule of Law, Security and Order:

The need to create a political order is imperative. It is built on the notion that a political order creates the conditions for stability which in turn accentuates the attainment of the common good based on the adoption of shared values. We all require security but it is important to appreciate the fact that it is not given to anyone as a gift. The duty and responsibility of government is to provide the infrastructure for the attainment of security. This is why we have the laws of the land, the Courts, the security agencies, the Police and the Prisons where those who infringe upon the law and is found guilty is put away to make society safe.

Draft of a Lecture delivered at the Providence Baptist Church, Lagos on November 17th, 20122 by Rt. Rev. Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese.

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