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Towards Mature Nationhood

Towards Mature Nationhood
A Communiqué Issued at the end of the Second Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the Bishop Kelly Pastoral Centre, Benin City, Benin, Nigeria
September 12-16 2005

1. Preamble

We, the members of the Catholic BishopsConference of Nigeria, held our Second Plenary Meeting for the year 2005 at the Bishop Kelly Pastoral Centre, Benin City, from September 12 to 16, 2005. Having prayerfully reflected on and discussed the situation of the Church and our country, we issued the following communiqué.

2. Long Live the Pope

Since our last meeting in Abuja in February 2005, the Church and indeed the entire world witnessed the glorious departure of Pope John Paul II and the successful election of Pope Benedict XVI. While we continue to pray for the repose of the late Pope who had great affection for Nigerians demonstrated by his two pastoral visits to our country, we pray for his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, that God may assist him to provide an even greater spiritual leadership to the Church and the world at large.
We rejoice at the appointment of the Coadjutor Bishop of Okigwe, Most Rev. Solomon Amanchukwu Amatu, former Auxiliary Bishop of Awka, and congratulate the Diocese of Okigwe and its Bishop, Most Rev. Anthony Ilonu, on the development. On July 8, 2005, a new diocese of Awgu was created out of the Diocese of Enugu. We congratulate the Bishop-elect, Rt. Rev. Msgr. John Ifeanyichukwu Okoye, whose Episcopal Ordination is fixed for September 29, 2005. We thank the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, for these favours and wish the prelates Gods blessing in their new responsibilities.

3. Twentieth World Youth Day

Representatives of the Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria (C.Y.O.N.) joined other youth from around the world in celebrating the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, from 16 - 21 August 2005 with the theme, We have come to worship him(Matt. 2:2). The event brought a glimmer of hope to sustain our various local initiatives on behalf of the youth. We are not relenting in our commitment to educate and empower the youth who are the future of the Church and our nation. We continue to call on the government, other institutions and organizations to reassess and strengthen their various programmes on behalf of the youth, as well as create an environment which favours their growth and maturity.

4. Developments in Our Nation

We thank God who granted us Nigerians the opportunity to meet and talk during the National Political Reforms Conference (February 21 to July 11, 2005) in Abuja, with the objective to strengthen unity, good neighbourliness, and usher in good governance and economic prosperity. We hope that elements of the report that are for the welfare of our country will be boldly and courageously implemented.
We acknowledge the positive aspects of Government policy on privatisation to foster greater investment, good management, supervision, production, and availability of goods and services. In the same vein, we laud the ongoing efforts to approve more private universities to provide greater opportunities for the education of the citizens. We hope that Government would also relax its restrictions on private ownership of the electronic media by religious bodies for greater freedom of expression and for better education of Nigerians.

5. Preparations for the 2007 Elections

The year 2007 is important for our democracy, since it will give Nigerians another opportunity to go to the polls to elect their political leaders. In accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the final tenure of the president and most of the state governors will come to an end by the year 2007. A new set of political leaders will therefore emerge. We urge President Olusegun Obasanjo to use the remainder of his term in office to render a long-lasting service to the nation by leaving behind a more decent political structure that will curb the tragic illegalities and blatant criminalities of the past, as well as ensure free and fair elections.
Nigerians should stand up against god-fatherismand other dubious devices that disenfranchise the electorate. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be made and seen to be truly independent. The Election Tribunals should be reorganized in such a way as to dispose of the cases brought before them with minimal delay. We, Nigerians, need to bear in mind that our destiny as a nation and as individuals depends largely on the kind of people that we elect into leadership positions. Unscrupulous and corrupt groups and individuals should not be allowed access to such positions. More good and honest men and women who are endowed with wisdom and management ability need to offer themselves for the service of the common good and seek election into political offices, upheld by Gods grace and truth. The electorate should demand an account of the past and present activities of political candidates that they vote for, instead of complaining in apathy and resignation.
Civic education should be provided at all levels of our national life to enlighten the citizens on their political rights and obligations. The Justice, Development and Peace Commission of the Church will implement a programme we have designed for this purpose to empower people to exercise and stand firm on their rights.

6. Economic Hardship

We are happy at the news about debt relief. We urge the Government to make public the terms and conditions of the relief, and do all in its power to bring the negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion, so as to relieve the nation of the enslavement of the past and alleviate the suffering of our people.
Like most Nigerians, we are worried at the incessant increases in the price of petrol and other petroleum products. Every such increase causes untold hardship to the vast majority of our people who live at or below the poverty line. It is imperative that the government addresses this problem once and for all by, among other things, putting all our refineries back to work, so that our dependence on imported products may be reduced to the barest minimum. It is unacceptable that Nigeria, the sixth highest producer of crude oil in the world, cannot refine enough of its oil for the use of its citizens.
In designing and prosecuting its economic reform programmes, Government should consider the interest of the citizens first before those of the international financial institutions and powerful blocs of nations. Government should seek better ways and means of engaging people at the grassroots in the process.

7. National Census

In our last communiqué in February this year, we declared our support for the national census. An accurate census is necessary for a more effective management of people and resources. Given that census offers a great opportunity for gathering and classifying information, we wonder why ethnic and religious affiliations are not regarded as vital information for a national data base. These are fundamental items of personal information that are constantly demanded and invoked for all kinds of government affairs and procedures. We consider this omission grave and urge that a second look be taken at the matter before it is too late.

8. Sexuality Education and Morality

We are concerned at the recent move by the Federal Government of Nigeria to introduce at the Junior and Senior Secondary School levels, a Curriculum for Sex Education which is harmful to the ethical and moral development of the young. The curriculum does not take into full consideration the level of human development and maturity of the young. Neither does it take into consideration our African culture and tradition. We wish to point out that sexuality education is to be preferred to mere sex education, and that such education cannot be dissociated from moral principles. Sexuality education treats sex within the context of genuine human love, the family and respect for life.
Parents are the first teachers of their children in matters of sexuality. The home already provides the context of dialogue, trust, openness and respect suitable for such education. The function of the school is to support and complement this effort. Therefore, in drawing the content, design and mode of instruction, due cognizance should be taken of respect for the dignity of the human person, marriage and family life, and the sacredness of human sexuality. We demand that the government withdraw the proposed curriculum. Meanwhile, Catholic parents, teachers, youths, organizations, and other persons of goodwill should reject any programme that divorces sexuality education from the dictates of conscience and the moral order. We declare our willingness to work in partnership with the government and other stakeholders in the educational sector to draw up a more acceptable curriculum.
In view of consolidating the values of marriage and family life, marriage preparation programmes will be intensified at diocesan and parish levels.

9. Security

We are disturbed at the renewed upsurge in violent crimes and armed robbery in the country. Churches and other places of worship have also become the targets of attacks in recent times. The security agencies seem powerless to deal effectively with this menace. We call on the government to make proper provision for the security of the citizens by adequately equipping and remunerating members of the police force and other security agencies in order to enable and motivate them to properly discharge their responsibilities. There should also be concerted efforts made to address the unbearably high level of unemployment in the country. It is generally believed that many of the young people who engage in armed robbery and other violent crimes do so because they are not gainfully employed, since an idle mind is the devils workshop.

10. War Against Corruption

We commend and support the efforts that are currently being made to combat the evil of corruption in both the public and private sectors. This goes to show that our Prayer against Bribery and Corruption in Nigeriahas not been in vain. We urge all Nigerians to press on with their efforts at combating corruption until the goal of a corruption-free Nigeria is finally achieved.

11. Year of the Eucharist

The Year of the Eucharist (October 2004 October 2005) will soon come to a close with the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 2 23) in Rome on the theme "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church". We thank God for the graces we have received during this year as a Church and as a nation.
We thank God also for granting us the privilege of hosting the conclusion of the continental celebration of the Year of the Bible for Africa and Madagascar in Abuja, July 14 19, 2005. The celebration created an awareness of the centrality of the Bible in Christian faith and worship and its importance in the Christian family life.
Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, satisfies our hunger at the Breaking of Bread as our food and companion on our earthly pilgrimage. As we prepare to celebrate the 45th Anniversary of the birth of our nation on October 1, let us be renewed at the two-fold table of the Word and the Eucharist in love and unity to become effective signs and instruments of reconciliation and hope for our nation.
May our Lady of Sorrows intercede for us and our dear country, Nigeria.
Most Rev John Onaiyekan,
Archbishop of Abuja and President, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria
Most Rev Lucius Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia and Secretary, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria