From PETER OKORE, Umuahia
Catholic Bishops in the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province of Nigeria, have used their two-day prayer meeting at Umuahia Diocesan Secretariat, Abia state to say that the only hope for Nigeria, after the 2023 general elections, is for the judiciary and the INEC to rise up to the challenges of the polls and rescue the ailing democratic experiment in the country.
In their 6-point communiqué, signed by the Chairman, who is the Archbishop of Owerri Province, Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji and secretary, Most Rev. Augustine N. Echema, the Bishop of Aba Diocese, the clergymen noted that “what our people badly needed early this year was a transparent electoral process that would match their enthusiasm for a new democratic dispensation and provide renewed hope and confidence in our political process. But unfortunately this was not to be. Instead, the results of the last elections can hardly be considered as reflecting the overall will of the people; and are still being contested till date.”
According to the observations of the clerics:“The 2023 Presidential, National Assembly and Gubernatorial elections had many pitfalls. Many people had trusted the repeated assurances by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deliver a credible electoral process; namely, to come up with an impartial standard for screening candidates, to organize the logistics for conducting free and fair elections, to transmit voting results electronically from polling stations in real time, to eliminate cases of ballot stuffing and vote stealing, etc. Sadly enough, the electoral process was riddled by irregularities.
“INEC and some of the political actors dashed the hopes of our people. And this continues to darken the cloud of uncertainty and tension that has enveloped the nation”.
Having prayerfully deliberated on a number of issues of great concern to Nigeria and Nigerians under the THEME:”Moving Beyond the Present Precipice” the Bishops see the year, 2023, as a “rough year so far, for Nigerians”, saying that the year started with the promise of a fresh start for our nation, especially, with the transition to a new democratic dispensation.
They declared: “Thus far, that promise has not come to fruition. Over the last couple of months, Nigerians have continued to battle poverty, misery, high cost of living, and inflationary pressures exacerbated by the ripple effects of government policies. Nigerians had not fully recovered from the shocks of the controversial Naira redesign policy that crippled businesses and made life and access to one’s own funds so difficult for many. When the removal of the subsidy on petroleum products came into effect, then the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also announced the unification of all segments of the foreign exchange market as part of efforts to engender transparency in the markets and boost investors’ confidence. These policies may have been made with the right intentions, but their sudden and poor implementation has resulted in a situation where so much hardship had been unleashed on the people: Many families can no longer afford, even one full meal per day, the cost of transportation has skyrocketed, the prices of foodstuffs and other essential commodities have become astronomical.
“The ugly sight of our people toiling under excruciating economic conditions is not only frightening but heartbreaking. Though the Federal Government has announced a series of “palliative” measures to mitigate the impact of these policies, many Nigerians are still not feeling any relief from their worsening situations”.
On the worsening Insecurity in the country, the clerics regretted that in the midst of these hard economic realities, Nigerians have seen their freedom to move about and hustle for their daily needs hampered by a rising insecurity that has led to scores of deaths of innocent citizens, members of the security personnel, traditional rulers, priests and religious, elected officials and government workers.
The Bishops noted that the number of violent crimes such as kidnappings, ritual killings, carjacking, ethnic clashes, armed banditry and the like, have increased and become commonplace experiences in the different parts of the country.
On the indiscriminate sit-at-home orders in the South-East geo-political zone of the country by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, which have so far disrupted lives, paralyzed economic, educational and commercial activities,the Catholic bishops recalled their earlier call on the people responsible, to sheathe their swords and come together to agree on the way forward for our region; insisting that this time “we want to repeat this appeal again with more urgency”.
Hear them:”The resort to violence can never be condoned, nor can it be expected to bring any lasting solution to the needs of our people. The South-East is extolled as the commercial hub of the nation. Unfortunately, traders in the region today are compelled to stay at home on Mondays, usually the busiest day of the week and the most productive for some. Events like traditional weddings, new yam festivals, funerals, Christmas and Easter celebrations, when our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora usually return home to be with their loved ones, are now being boycotted, with people prioritizing their security. The damage to our local economies, and to the culture and mental health of our people, can never be fully quantified”.
The Bishops further expressed alarm at what they described as “the rate at which our young people are relapsing into neo-paganism”, saying “they are lured into fetish rituals in their quest for money, for demonic powers and false assurances of protection.
“In the same neopagan spirit, some even create their own rituals and cults with similar intent to intimidate others, and as a cover for other criminal activities. Using the cover of the revival of our Traditional Religion and culture, some of our intellectuals are attacking Christianity as if Christianity is the cause of our present woes. Unfortunately this cannot be a way forward for our youths and our society”.
All-in-all the bishops are of the view that in the face of these disheartening events, experiences and challenges,” we cannot throw- up our hands and surrender to despair. “We still see several lines of encouragement and hope to build upon. We still see patriotic Nigerians, across different ethnic and religious affiliations, yearning for and demanding a better Nigeria for all of us on the basis of equity, justice and peace. These citizens trooped out, as never before, to register for elections and to collect their Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC), particularly the youths. There were many first-time voters who joyfully participated in the process. During the actual voting people demanded to vote, under rain and sunshine, and heroically defended their votes in the face of electoral thugs and manipulators that threatened them with violence at the polling booths. There were stories of heroism, persistence, self-sacrifices and endurance in order to ensure that their votes counted and that the elections were free, fair and credible. It is imperative that we continue to sustain and strengthen this wave of patriotism going forward.”
“As your spiritual leaders, we still call upon all the good-willed and patriotic citizens of Nigeria to continue to work for the common good of all Nigerians on that same note of equity, justice and peace. With a critical mass of caring and concerned citizens, we can overcome our present pains and liabilities, and move Nigeria forward to a better and healthier nation than it presently is. We urge all Nigerians, in their various callings and positions, to uphold the banner of integrity and good action for a new Nigeria.
“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Let us, therefore, strengthen ourselves with prayers and energize our lives with the Word of God, so that we may be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13 — 14) to eliminate and banish neo-paganism and the works of darkness and evil in our environment.”