- ‘Act Fast and Fix Nigeria’
At a time when people readily argue that some so-called men of God speak from both sides of their mouths, these ones have always proved to be different. They are known for their integrity and fearlessness in commenting on happenings within the polity. Therefore, it was the classical Catholic Bishops that converged at the seat of government on May 2, 2016 to tell President Muhammadu Buhari issues they feel concerned about since the change of government on May 29, 2015. AMOS TAUNA digs up what the August visitors to the Aso Villa unveiled to PMB.
For many Nigerians, Monday May 2, 2016 was just like any other day but for top officials of the the seat of power, it remains a memorable day as the palatial First Lady Hall of Aso Rock Presidential Villa played host to some eminent guests. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) are not know to just pontificate on issues for the sake of it particularly when it has to do with governance just as they do not like playing to the gallery. And in order to sound like some alarmists, they as spiritual leaders requested for a closed door session with President Muhammadu Buhari over what insiders described as an ‘objective assessment’ of the nation’s affairs since the All Progressive Congress (APC), assumed the reins of government, with the defeat of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in April 2015 presidential poll.
Why Meeting Was Delayed
Information pieced together by Forefront in Abuja indicated that the meeting ought to have taken place earlier, but the CBCN opted for more time to further assess the direction of the APC-led government that rode to power on the mantra of change. Accordingly, the needed time led to things being on hold temporarily for a more auspicious time.
However, with the administration’s one year anniversary approaching and with the increasing spate of attacks by suspected herdsmen in various parts of the country and reported siege on a Cardinal while attending an occasion in Edo State added to some other factors that informed the convocation of the May 2, for the hold no bare meeting.
An insider equally told Forefront that an interesting shocker from the Bishops came by way of their reservations that only a few of the president’s men were present at the meeting held behind closed doors. These were Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal and Senior Adviser to the President on Media, Femi Adesina. After the exchange of banters and felicitations with the Catholic red necks, the session rolled off into serious business of the day a few minutes after 9pm.
Leading the very distinguished delegation was the President of CBCN, the no nonsense Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, who is also the Archbishop of Jos and was ably supported by the and outspoken Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan; erudite Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah; Archbishop of Benin City, Augustine Akubeze; and Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Godfrey Onah. Others on the team were Felix Alaba Job, Anthony Obina; Valerian Okeke; Gabriel Abegunrin; Matthew Ndagoso; John Nyiring; Camilius Umoh; Ralph Madu; Lucius Ugorji; William Ayenya; and John Okoye.
The Catholic shepherds’ audience with President Buhari, less than a month to his first year anniversary in office, was considered by political pundits as a suitable avenue to pointedly tell Mr. President what his appointees and aides are not likely to tell him directly. And considering the status symbol of the Catholic Bishops in the polity and the Catholic Church’s suspension of its membership in the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), many believe that Buhari as a Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) enjoyed the support of the Catholic leaders who were visibly no longer favourably disposed to former President Goodluck Jonathan’s continued stay in office.
Forefront gathered from CBCN’s sources that the Clerics’ posture was founded on what most Nigerians and even the global community perceived as visionless governance by the former Bayelsa helmsman that not only opened doors but encouraged an unprecedented corruption within the system. The Catholic Bishops it was gathered knew from the onset that it would be total disaster if required support was garnered for the return of Jonathan, who ascended the presidency by default following the death of Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in May 2010.
Another credible source told Forefront that the Catholics had a running battle with other groups within the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), who truncated Onaiyekan’s aspiration for a second term as CAN’s President. “The withdrawal of CBCN from CAN dealt a deadly blow on the harmony hitherto existing in the Christendom and severed the unity of purpose and strength to act as a body with a common position.
But with the man whom they believed the responsibility of transparent leadership has been bestowed on mounting the saddle, the top echelon of the Catholic clerics never missed the opportunity to tell President Buhari what should be done to salvage the ship of state that from every available clue seems headed for a deep plunge if not quickly checked and managed.
Bishops were quoted to have told the President that campaigns were over and therefore the urgent need for a focused attention in addressing the drifting economy. Not many supporters and leaders of the governing APC had thought Nigeria would be where it is today. The Bishops noted that apart from job losses and persistent talks about clear absence of economic policy direction to provide a roadmap on how to bring the nation’s economy out of the woods, stressing that the frightening uncertainties hinged on fears that insecurity and sufferings were slowly pushing the nation down the slippery slope of self-destruct.
More worrisome, the Bishops observed that the Buhari government has been unconsciously reduced to an outfit mainly programmed for fighting corruption, instead of concentrating on governance and resolving critical issues threatening the nation with the aim of boosting the citizens’ confidence in good governance and effective service delivery by government.
Specifically, the Bishops noted that the government was yet to kick-start any serious economic policy implementation and roadmap on how to tackle some of the major problems confronting the nation and assessing the importunate confusion that has so far trailed the APC-led government, the Bishops told President Buhari that there was an urgent need for him to properly articulate the economic policy of the government and the way forward for the expected new-look Nigeria of our dreams and that of generations unborn.
The clergymen it was further gathered expressed fears and worries over the rising spate of attacks by suspected herdsmen that have not only decimated some communities but also created frightening spectre of insecurity and likely hopelessness among Nigerians and therefore charged the APC-led administration to quickly douse the tension and move fast to stave off further attacks on some of the communities by the rampaging herdsmen.
Calling on the president to, as a matter of urgent national importance, deploy security personnel to arrest the worsening security situation in some parts of the country following the constant clashes between the herdsmen and local farmers, the Bishops warned that if Nigerians could not put up with the excuses of the former administration, the expectations are high that the citizenry want for quick fixes that would provide respite for people and communities that have come under heavy attacks by the rampage herders.
For them, the obvious threat posed by the herdsmen and their rampageous cattle, was capable of igniting tension and broadening the frontiers of religious divides which Nigeria’s adversaries can easily deploy to create a deep gulf of disunity among the citizens.
Accordingly, the CBCN advised that the security agencies should be tasked to unmask the faces behind these deadly attacks by herdsmen as such development would assure the affected communities and others of the safety and security of their lives and property.
“Nearly a year, we have seen the Nigerian military carry the attack to the stronghold of Boko Haram. The North-east that was once the base of the insurgents has been taken over by the Nigerian military. If we can do that, then the Nigerian government can work towards achieving such a feat in dealing with threat posed by herdsmen,” the Catholic Bishops were quoted to have told the president.
Another source privy to discussions at the meeting, said the Bishops pointedly told President Buhari that the security challenges brought about by the herders’ attacks pose grave dangers to the nation’s unity and therefore urged the APC government to spare no efforts in tackling the wanton and avoidable killings and destruction of lives and property by the wandering herdsmen.
For them, permanent peace between herdsmen and farmers in our country is possible with some streamlining done for the overall good and welfare of the farmers and herders across the country. In this wise, the Clergies explained that, “Cattle ranches should be created in states known for cattle breeding, with adequate water and fodder provided and nurtured. Farmland for root crops and other plants should be protected from their specific products in states known for such. This will reduce or eliminate clashes stemming from trespassing.”
Militancy In Niger Delta
Closely associated with the herdsmen’s attacks is its potential and likely connection to opening flood gates for resumed militancy in the country, especially in the Niger Delta and this also occupied the front burner at the session.
Insisting the development may not be far from economic sabotage despite frivolous excuses in some quarters about fighting a cause so that government can give the people a good life, the Bishops warned that the emergence of groups like the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and others with the penchant of returning to the creeks for a renewed round of confrontation with government portends an ignominious signals of darker days ahead in the polity.
State Government And Churches In The North
Not ready to allow any burning issue slip from their address to PMB, the CBNC told him how difficult it is for the Church to obtain land for purposes of building structures in certain states across the North parts of the country. According to them, it is quite disturbing that Christians do not have freedom and liberty of enjoying land allocations to put up places of worship in most federal universities within the north. They mentioned as typical examples, the Usman Dan Fodio and Bayero Universities that in over forty years have deliberately deprived Christians of access to lands already allocated in the plans for churches. Regrettably, this is happening against the backdrop that so many mosques have been built by the university authorities.
Furthermore, the difficulties in obtaining Certificates of Occupancy (C of O) to establish churches in some northern States also came up as one of the sore points raised with the President at the summit. Their plea therefore is for the federal government to ensure that the states do not continue to observe in breach the freedom of worship, religion and association as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution,
A dependable source at the meeting hinted that after listening with rapt attention to his guests’ full download of their state of the nation’s presentation, it was a somber President Buhari that meticulously took the clerics on a journey to explain the depth of rot inherited by the administration and measures being taken to address the situation.
Acknowledging there was no pretence about the fact that Nigerians are currently exposed to severe hardship and suffering in the land, the President assured them that his administration is working round the clock to ensure the country is fully back on the path of socio-economic growth and development.
The source said; “Not wanting to be accused of engaging the blame game, President Buhari pleaded with the Bishops that he inherited almost a collapsed country where corruption had taken the centre stage with impunity.”
With dwindling resources as a result of falling crude oil prices in the international market, the President further explained to the clerics that not attacking the virus of corruption amounted to killing the country in instalment.
“No matter the good policy you may evolve in this country, if you refuse to tackle corruption, nothing can be achieved. The government is doing all its best to put the country on the tracks of development. However, we are cautious not to do the wrong thing. We want to get things right and move fast to resolve issues plaguing the Nigerian state. After this one year, I can assure you that the administration will move fast in providing succour to Nigerians,” Buhari was quoted to had assured the Bishops just as he reassured that nation’s security forces are leaving no stone unturned to unearth the roots of frequent herdsmen attacks in various communities in across the country.
And as the Catholic Generals departed the meeting venue after pouring out their minds on issues affecting the country since President Buhari took over the reins of governance, not a few are still pondering on how the administration can harness existing potential and resources to turn the tables against forces standing to derail the nation’s steady march to greatness from the inglorious past of being a “Fantastically corrupt nation”, according to Prime Minister David Cameroon of Britain.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN June 2016