Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: CAN, Catholic Church and Christian Interests

Photo: Vanguard
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor

THE recent threat by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, to pull out the umbrella body of Christians, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) may have come to many Nigerians as a surprise, given the present state of political precipitate in the country.

But to quite a number of historically-minded people, that decision or threat to quit CAN, may not have come as a total surprise, particularly when viewed in the context of the historical antecedents of the Roman Catholic Church as a tool of colonialism in Nigeria.

Basically reactionary if not conservative, the institutionalized anti-democratic structure of the church barely permits enough breathing space for innovative or progressive dogmatic ideas from their army of laity, except as found desirable to present by the divine-righteous clergy.

This was a basic factor in the apparent dearth of Roman Catholics in the arena of Nigerian nationalist struggles.

Think of the big names in Nigerian nationalism:- Herbert Macauley, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Michael Okpara, Akanu Ibiam and Dennis Osadebey, among others.

There is no gainsaying the fact that it was their protestant background and spirit which provided the key to their dogged patriotic drive in achieving political freedom for Nigeria, while their Roman Catholic contemporaries remained buried in the cassock of unquestionable obedience to White supremacy.

One fact which basically remains unquestionable is that Nigeria is a protestant nation, built and liberated with a protestant spirit. The protest-ant missions led by the Anglicans, Baptists, Method-ists and even Presbyterians had been active in Nigeria for over 40 decades before the Roman Catholics sneaked into the shores to build on an already laid protestant founda-tion.

Even in the South East Region where the Roman Catholics now constitute a drag against Igbo spirit of cultural identity and unity, they came as much later as in the West after the arrival of the protestant missions.

The Roman Catholics in the South East quite under-stand that, even though the Igbo constitute the vanguard of the church, by population and extent of influence, they could only claim contested prominence in Anambra and Imo states and, definitely not in Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi states.

In the South South Region, they still trail behind the protestant missions. In such states as Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta and Rivers, the protestant missions constitute an uncontested majority. In the Middle Belt Region today, the protestant missions remain the cemen fondu of minority and Christ-ian survivalist struggles against the ravaging Fulani imperialism.

One need not talk about the South West, where Roman Catholicism remains significantly a stranger mission. Remove the Igbo from the Roman Catholic Church in Lagos State today, the economy of the church definitely collapses.

Commonsense only requires that the Roman Catholic Church be grateful to the bearers of that protestant spirit that has so far provided the Nigerian Christendom a sense of belonging and extant spirit of assertion in a nation which even the Fulani who now claim divine-right leadership contri-buted very little in building.

For the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, CSN, to now talk of the leadership of the CAN hobnobbing with the Presiden-cy, which is incidentally led by a Christian only, smack of a hidden agenda, if not overtly a Latin conspiracy.

It is therefore quite amazing with a striking putrid sense of a quisling intention for the CSN to advance as their main reason of threatening to pull out of CAN, the alleged close-ness of the CAN leadership to the Federal Government.

What an irony of statement by a church whose devotees were "jihadly" slaughtered on a Christmas day of 2011 in a manner that only reminds one of the infamous St. Bartholom-ew massacre of the French Hugeonouts.

If their problem is all about Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor being close to President Goodluck Jonathan and nothing else, then nothing stops the Catholic bishops, either individually or collectively as an independent organization from stating their position either for or against the president, without in effect trying to put the entire Christian community into a state of quarrelsome disrepute.

Indiscreet slaughter

If at this moment of great trial of indiscreet slaughter of the Christians of this nation by the Muslim Ummah, the CAN should not be close to Presi-dent Jonathan, is it when an obvious Muslim funda-mentalist comes to power that the Christian leadership will see reason to move closer to the leadership of the country, just as the Muslim body had always done during the long tenures of their brethren? Are the Catholic Bishops, by this audacious stance, imploring the leadership of CAN to join the Jama'atul Nasril Islam in branding President Jonathan as a villain and unbeliever?

Have the Muslim Ummah of the North for whatever reason, beginning from the times of the Great Ahmadu Bello to Umar Yar'Adua attempted to divorce their religion from politics? Why must this call for division be coming from such a significant section of the Christian community as the Catholic Church at this trying moment of Christendom in Nigeria, if not for obvious mercenary objectives, which aims at dampening the spirit of positive resistance among the Christian community against the obvious danger?

It needs to be stated here that, in whatever form it might be interpreted, and at whatever cost it might appear to be, this is an unquestionable period for every Christian, both North and South, as well as Muslims in the South to stand strongly behind President Jonathan, for not only is his administration satanically besieged, both the Christians of this nation and their Muslim brethren in the South, who in effect remain unidentified as true Muslims, are jointly threatened with loss of freedom and subsequent extermination.

The onerous challenge presently before every Christian is the commitment to the objective of ensuring that the Nigerian nation neither breaks up in hands of President Jonathan, nor falls into the hands of incorrigible fundamentalist anti-Christ. This is not a question of one being either a Roman Catholic or Protestant Catholic, for so far as it has been observed, not even the fire-power could discriminate against the Muslim royalty, much more between the Catholic and the protestant.

Catholic leadership

Unless the Catholic leadership will order its members to wear the Roman Catholic identity on their faces. It is a question of survival of the Nigerian nation-state, which is bound by the act of colonial providence.

The Muslim Ummah, just like the Christendom is dotted with a variegation of opposing doctrinal blocs, call it sects or denominations. Yet, when it comes to the matter of opposition against Christianity, either in form of jihad or political struggles, this obvious extant division mutually evaporates. It does not matter if one is a Sunni or Shiite. As long as the conflict relates to Christianity, all Muslims are one, and Christianity a common enemy.

The Fulani did not bring Islam to Nigeria. The Kanuris were already Muslims a century after the rise of Prophet Muhammad. Both the Hausa and the Yoruba had been Muslims for more than 200 years before the arrival of the Fulani. Yet these people have to live with an outward euphoria of a Fulani supre-macy if only for sake of common eternal objective of confronting Christianity.

It is thus a matter of, as the Igbo would say, "you first chase the fox away before turning back to blame the fowl". It is there-fore pertinent to call upon the Catholic Church to emulate this Muslim spirit of common purpose.

For the Christians of Nigeria, that fox today is the Boko Haram, and every Christian must rise up to its challenge first before washing his dirty linings in public. And one thing every Christian should not be oblivious of is that Boko Haram is there today because today Jonathan is here. Does one now say that Jonathan should go so that Boko Haram would go?

Is it therefore morally justifiable that CAN and its leadership, in order to dance to the tune of Roman Catholic lyric of non-association with the Federal Government, should stand aloof while the Federal Government alone battles the Boko Haram? These questions call for an equally moral answer from the Catholic leadership.

The CBCN, one hopes, is not by this act of open revolt, only applying the weapon of pay-back strategy in response to Pastor Oritsejafor's victory over their candidate in the last CAN election? Otherwise one does not see a functional reason for such a decision.

One thing is obvious, Pastor Oritsejafor is a man of raw protestant spirit whose tower-ing roles in the defence of Christianity in his country have not only aimed at the jugular roots of the enemies of Christianity but elevated to some appreciable extent the office of the CAN Presidency to the status of the "Pope of Nigeria".

Spirit of self confidence

There is no doubt that Pastor Oritsejafor's on-going tenure has so far elevated the once politically naïve Nigerian Christendom to a high-pitch spirit of self-confidence and the added resolve to defend their divine-right inheritance.

His Trojan Protestant spirit, unimpeded spiritual soldiery against the Babylonian forces of this nation as well as his aristotlean mastery of the fundamental challenges of leadership in such a polarized and besieged nation as Nigeria, remains unequalled in the history of CAN leadership.

It needs not to be emphasized that the Christians of this nation called Nigeria need a strong leadership which readily understands the heart-beat of the, in the same manner that the USA under-stands the eternal treachery of the al Qaeda.

Not the type of leadership that does not understand the implication of dinning and wining with the Caliphate while the blood of their flock paint the terrains of Maiduguri, Kaduna, Jos and other unsung cities, towns and villages of Northern Nigeria.

The Christians of this country in this moment of their history need a leader like Pastor Oritsejafor, who fully understands that the native Christians of Borno State who constitute about one-third the state's population are under the strong threat of exter-mination; a leader who weeps because the only female as well as the only Christian member of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, has been forcefully ejected from sitting for over one year, simply because she had the gut to protest the institutionalized maltreatment of her Christian brethren in the state.

The present security challenge in the country has gone beyond the ecclesiastical application of intellectualized dogma, least the Catholic leadership could claim the sole custodian of the necessary solution.

It is also not a question of subtle conviviality least the Catholic Church could again be called upon to apply their age-long connu-biality with Islam to resolve the impasse. It is a raw challenge which equally requires a raw confrontation with a raw leadership like Pastor Oritsejafor.

It is un-equivocally a raw challenge which solution absolutely hinges on the eternal injunct-ion of Jesus Christ, that the kingdom of God suffereth violence and by violence shall the brethren possess it.

*Dr. Tony Nwaezeigwe is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

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