Catholic Men’s Guild (CMG)
Church of the Assumption, Falomo, Ikoyi Lagos
Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos
PRESS STATEMENT AT THE END OF THE 2018 CONFERENCE ON THREATS TO THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IN CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA
Over the years, Christians in Nigeria, have oftentimes, faced and continue to face challenges and threats on the basis of their identity as Christians. From burning down of churches and other places of worship, acts of discrimination, terrorist and insurgent attacks, Christians have borne the brunt angst of some fundamentalists and adherents of other religions on several occasions.
This unacceptable state of affairs has exacerbated in recent years, especially with recent killing or maiming of hundreds of Christians in most parts of Nigeria, particularly in the North, by terror groups such as ‘BokoHaram’ and ‘Fulani Herdsmen’. Threats and challenges to Christians in Nigeria manifest in other forms, such as the cynical and flagrant breaches of our constitutional rights by government functionaries through policy formulation and implementation which place Nigerian Christians in disadvantaged positions vis-à-vis adherents of other faiths, in spite of the avowed secular objectives of the Nigerian Constitution; escalating poverty across Nigeria; unbridled corruption and general insecurity in the country; as well as the negative use of the Social Media. The disunity in the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), a body that was established many years ago to champion the cause of Christians and Christianity in Nigeria has further aggravated the situation.
It is to ventilate these issues, that the Catholic Men’s Guild (CMG), a body of lay married Catholic men, formed about 28 years ago; of the Catholic Church of the Assumption Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos, decided to organize a one-day conference on behalf of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos with the theme “Threats to the Christian Faith in Contemporary Nigeria.” Held on Saturday 16 June, 2018, at the MUSON Center, Onikan Lagos, the conference had in attendance over 1,600 delegates drawn from various Parishes of the Archdiocese of Lagos, as well participants from other Christian denominations.
From discussions at the interactive conference,led by informed and compelling Speakers, the following findings were made:
(a) Threats to the Christian Faith in Nigeria are both internal and external. Majority of Christians in Nigeria for instance are ill-disposed to protecting the interests of Christianity by their actions and utterances. For them, Christianity is a secondary identity, not a primary one, not a way of life. Threats from other religions can only materialize as a result of Christians’ inaction, apathy and complicity. Many of the things we call "persecution" as Christians, are actually human rights infringements. Whereas many Christians lead large corporations and occupy strategic positions in government, they prefer to fraternize more with leaders of other religions and pay little attention to Christian leaders or matters affecting Christianity. For example, Christians and Muslims have mandates by their religions to propagate their different faiths and win more converts, but Christians appear disinclined and lukewarm whereas Muslims go about their duty of spreading their faith with zeal and pinpointed focus and determination, using every opportunity and resource to do so.
(b) Christians can make greater impact in improving their position in Nigeria with better understanding of the issues in the public domain, greater organization, networking and commitment. It is misleading to simply see Islam as a threat to Christianity; rather it is the fear of bearing fidelity to Christianity that is affecting the Christians. A committed band of persons can effect change. Tools such as nonviolent disobedience to and boycotts, targeted at activities of oppressors, can force change in conduct of such oppressors.
(c) Nigeria has weak governance institutions, and the vacuum created as a result, is filled in, by manipulations of ethnicity and religion by relevant state actors. What obtains is the use and abuse of both Christianity and Islam by Nigerian power elites to achieve their selfish political and economic ends.
(d) The Constitution of Nigeria is filled with conflicting provisions on the subject of religion. It is also being inadvertently or deliberately subverted through policies by those placed in positions of governance and authority.
(e) Corruption is bigger than just graft and permeates most parties in, and tiers of government in Nigeria. Giving people positions/offices they are not qualified to occupy, or where the only qualification for a person to occupy a particular position or office, is either his/her religion or ethnic background, are also forms of corruption. These have become the pastime of most of the leaders and the led.
(f) The prevailing state of insecurity in the country has been promoted further by porosity of the country’s borders with neighboring countries. Terrorists, miscreants and such other unwanted brigands are taking advantage of these porous borders to enter and exit at will. There is therefore a compelling need to quickly design and implement a security architecture that will protect Nigeria's borders with neighboring countries in the Northern parts of the country.
(g) High and escalating levels of poverty in Nigeria, mean that tens of millions of citizens are affected and dispossessed of their voices; someone must fill the gap and provide them with a voice hence the concept of a ‘Liberation Theology’. Christians need better organizations and networking.
(h) There is a new revolution occasioned by the social media. The social media is morally neutral, and its output depends on the purpose to which it is deployed. It is capable of engendering good or evil. It is nonetheless an important tool for Christians to grasp and utilize to propagate our faith.
(i) The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), as a major mouthpiece for Christians in Nigeria, is not useful and effective to Christianity. CAN is more disunited now than 42 years ago when it was first established to among others, foster Christian unity.
Following from the above, the participants adopted the following Resolutions:
- Apathy, indifference, fear of standing alone or of not having enough support, to witness to the Christian Faith, are far more threats to the Christian Faith in Nigeria than external factors such as the perceived notion that other religious adherent want to overrun Christianity. There is need for less emphasis on ethnicity, and more emphasis on unity, synergy and cooperation amongst Christians and Christian-led organizations. We must fully engage our Christian brethren in government and other positions of influence to stand up for their faith.
- Christians must understand that through a seemingly ‘stealth jihad’, the knocking together of heads of Christians, the use of Christians occupying high positions in society to promote anti-Christian interests, the rendering ineffectual of CAN through cash inducements and other acts of subterfuge, the insertion of Sharia law into the Constitution, and its application in many states in the Federation, etc. are detrimental to Christian Faith.
- The importance and role of the Lay Faithful as foot soldiers, to defend the Faith can never be overemphasized. Every politician fears a crowd, and the pen remains mightier than the sword. Christians should take advantage of their numerical and diverse strengths to force change where necessary, including taking cases on constitutional and human rights abuses up to the Supreme Court for adjudication. Education on human rights should start from the home.
- Our faith as Christians gives meaning to our sufferings. To make the world a better place of peace, justice and right, is our primary mission as Christians. We must take the call of Jesus Christ to be the salt of the earth more seriously. In doing this we must put on the full Armor of God as admonished by St. Paul in Ephesians 6:6-18. Pope John Paul II also taught us to defend the Church by engaging the government through peaceful dialogues and actions, bearing in mind we have not been imbued with a spirit of timidity but of sound mind
- Nigeria needs formidable institutions and leaders who are intellectually, morally and technically competent to govern such a multi-ethnic and a multi-religious country, protect the citizens, and provide these citizens conducive environment to actualize their potentials. The pressing duty of the Church is to use her schools and pulpits to produce such leaders.
- Christians must endeavor to aspire for leadership positions and to galvanize enough support from fellow Christians to succeed in changing the culture of the nation and to overcome Christians’ feeling of indifference and helplessness amidst challenges.
- The strangulating effect of corruption on the Nigerian state can be ameliorated by a governance system that is responsive to the needs of the poor, and can reduce the pains of living on the weak and infirm. Governments at all levels are called upon to provide housing for the poor, good health facilities and a thriving macroeconomic environment. In this way, an expanding economy would create jobs, and the public monies in the hands of government functionaries would be substantially reduced.
- There are large-scale violations of Section 38(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, i.e. the denial of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of Nigerian citizens to associate and practice any religion of their choice through discriminatory practices, such as denying them building approvals or allocation of land to build their churches or mosques, even after meeting the prescribed requirements for such, in any part of Nigeria, and these practices must be proscribed by the federal government.
- The Catholic Church must return fully to CAN, and be in the vanguard of projecting Christianity. The CAN must be restructured and reinvigorated to solve the issue of disunity; the leaders must put in place mechanisms to stop the penchant of some church leaders for cash inducements. Christian preachers must detoxify their sermons and refine their religious discourse by taking academic theological education seriously.
- Christians must embrace and multiply the good available in the use of the social media, by integrating and deploying it into Christian culture and evangelization, knowing fully well, that in today’s contemporary world, the social media is an indispensable tool of communication and engagement.
SIGNED THIS 16TH DAY OF JUNE, 2018
CATHOLIC MEN’S GUILD,
CATHOLIC CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION,