The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, Ignatius Kaigama, talks to FRIDAY OLOKOR about the state of the nation, insecurity, economic challenges, and the controversy surrounding the adoption of a muslim-muslim ticket by the ruling All Progressives Congress ahead of the 2023 general elections
Nigeria appears to be divided along ethnic and religious lines owing to the Muslim-Muslim ticket adopted by the All Progressives Congress for the 2023 presidential election. What do you make out of it sir?
Well, I am not a politician and I don’t intend to be one ever but I see things that are going on about religion in Nigeria as an unnecessary distraction. If we are facing politics and we want the dividends of politics in a democracy, we should face it but to bring in religion and to allow people to distract us, factionalise and then destabilise (us) is really quite unfortunate. Mine is to pray for people, to bless people, and create harmony among people of different groups, political, religious, and ethnic, when I see that the work I have done over the years, for over 40years as a Catholic priest, is being demolished by unnecessary political distractions, it makes me sad and I think it is an unfortunate situation.
Other nations are making remarkable progress; they have displayed certain religions and they are making progress. Why will our religion make us fight one another and retrogress instead of progress? Why are we so over-sensitive about religion, and when it comes to religion, we suspend rational reasoning, we suspend mature reflection and logic, and then we are very emotional. It is quite sad. Well, I am not going to comment on any political party. All that we have built to create harmony, to create unity between groups, especially between Christianity and Islam, the dominant religions in Nigeria, we have spent time, energy, and resources to create this favourable, hospitable environment, have begun to evaporate because of these unnecessary political distractions.
We understand that by political permutations, in 1993 when (the later MKO) Abiola ran with (Babagana) Kinkigbe – both Muslims – the country was not as divided as it is now and it appears that it is on the premise the APC relied on and Nigeria appears to be have been polarised and there are fears that if the issue of religion is not addressed, Nigeria may be thrown into chaos before 2023. What do you think should be done to rectified this anomaly?
Well, religion is a hot issue in Nigeria and people are so hypersensitive when it comes to issues of religion, and we should know that our lives in Nigeria are driven by religious considerations and religious values. People wear them in the market, on the farm, on the streets, wherever. Religion matters to them, religion is their hope amid poverty, amid social deprivation, so any sensitive politician, any politician who can defend the spirit of Nigeria will make sure that whatever is being planned, religious sensitivity must be included. This is quite important and if political parties want a balanced nation, a nation where people live peacefully and happily, I think it is playing the ostrich to imagine that you can do it just purely based on political criteria. You will have to consider who the people are, what their interests are, and what their sensitivity is; but to ignore this, is playing into a dangerous zone. And religion matters in Nigeria, we cannot pretend, we cannot ignore these facts.
So I am calling on all political parties, not only the APC or whichever group, all political parties to religious sensitivity. It is a hot issue; it is a very sensitive issue and to ignore it is tantamount to saying that the country should be polarised, factionalised according to religion, and not one people, one nation. Let’s go the way of unity, harmony, peace, justice, of fairness in whatever we do, whether it is politics; do it with a God-fearing disposition. Don’t manipulate. Don’t control the electoral system, don’t control the security or manipulate them, let there be fairness, honesty, and transparency; when the winners win and when the losers lose, they should be able to say we accept.
What do you think is wrong?
So, if we ask me what has gone wrong, I don’t know. Those governing us should get us the solutions and the answers; those who are either in the presidency, the National Assembly, or state assemblies, are being paid very huge salaries to keep us safe. What are they doing then, not to talk of the security agents that are there? I imagine there is so much being spent to keep them, even if they complain of lack of funds, there is still a huge expenditure on our security system. And even I am told, at the federal and state levels, they receive what they call security votes. I am told these are very huge sums of money that are not accountable to the public and yet we are experiencing these terrible happenings – attacks, killings, and these kinds of behaviours. When shall we catch up with these developed and advanced nations? Why are we always retrogressing? Why is it always bad news about us?
And I think this is where the politicians will have to do a lot and that is why we are saying perhaps we have had it for too long and too bad, now there is a need for a new dispensation, people with good political will, people with honest dispositions, people from the North and the South, from the East and the West, that can transcend narrow ethnic and religious sentiment and say something is wrong with this country, our country is sick, our country has problems, we must overcome these problems and get to the roots of this matter.
What are your thoughts about the level of insecurity in the country?
We are already living in fear; people cannot travel freely. People cannot move from Abuja to Kaduna in a relaxed manner. People are afraid of what will happen to them; even within the same city, you can hear that one area of Abuja is attacked. This is happening in the Federal Capital Territory. So, how do you talk of 2023 when, right now, we are suffering terrible security challenges? So, something new has to be done, something different and I hope that our politicians will see this. This is a democracy. This is not a monarchy. This is a democracy and democracy should be democratic.
Nobody attacks their priests, their men of God, their women of God; nobody should be doing that but that we can do it in Nigeria means the level of degeneration has gone so deep and that is why we must ask questions. The priest who is there, the Catholic priest, is not a politician. Anybody who goes into politics as a Catholic priest is suspended. That means we don’t allow ourselves to be involved in partisan politics. Our business is to preach love, preach holiness, teach people about forgiveness, how to pray, teach people how to be charitable, how to practice justice, and how to allow peace to reign. This is our job but then we are now targets of criminals and the unfortunate thing is that nobody can tell you who the culprit is.
Nowhere in the world can you find such attacks on religious people; you know Nigeria is leading and again we try to surpass people in everything. In poverty, I am told we are leading; we are the poverty capital of the world, even insecurity now, even if you talk to the closest neighbours, Niger, Togo, Benin, whatever they are laughing at us; why can’t we just maintain ourselves. So, these are things that we can’t explain. My priests are very unsafe. They can’t go into the villages. They can’t bring help and that hope the people are looking for. Now, we have people who are deprived of modern facilities, and amenities. They are poor. They have nothing. We are their hope. We are their inspiration and they see us. I have just come to Abuja.
Some clerics have lamented that they have become endangered species, with the rising cases of kidnapping and killings. What is your opinion on that?
Should priests be considered an endangered species? Are priests considered criminals for preaching love, peace, harmony, holiness, and forgiveness? Are priests suddenly enemies? And this is happening again and again and there is no sign that something is being done, at least, to our knowledge. Nobody comes to tell us what steps they are taking or that they are with us in solidarity and so on. No, we are left on our own. When our priest is kidnapped, we are left on our own. When our priest is killed, we are left on our own. We ask the question: Where are our leaders, where are our rulers?
The Academic Staff Union of Universities has been on strike for several months, bringing teaching and learning to a halt. How worrisome is the situation?
It is a tragedy. As I asked, why do we excel in everything wrong in this country? We are talking about the education of present and future generations and we are excelling in crippling their educational advancement. For several months, students have been at home and that doesn’t seem to prick the conscience of our leaders. They go on to take their monthly salary. National Assembly members go on to receive their salary and their entitlements; the same with the states assemblies, and the same with the local governments but nobody cares about the young people, the hope of our nation, and the future of our nation. Nobody cares.
Why do you think the government has not shown enough concern in this matter?
If they care, for God’s sake, why should it take so long to settle the issues that will create a conducive environment of studies for our young people? I don’t know what the lecturers are asking that is beyond the reach of Nigeria. For God’s sake, that some consensus cannot be arrived at to let our children go back to school, is inflicting damage on the young people; it is terrible.
Many Nigerians have advocated restructuring. Do you think that can quell the crises in the country?
There have been a lot of national conferences; people were brought from different parts of the country to brainstorm, strategise, and so on and nothing came out of it. So, what can we say, that maybe again something of that nature should be organised to give Nigerians the sense of belonging that every part of this country wants and that the resources of this country are met for every Nigerian and if there are positions to be given out, it is for every Nigerian, if people are to be recruited into the security organisations, they are to be admitted into good schools, they have to benefit from scholarship schemes, they have to get palliatives for anything, they should extend to the core Nigerians.
So, let’s adopt the report of the last national conference, and if there is a need again to assemble Nigerians and make sure that people are represented and let’s see what can come out of this. People should make suggestions. This is not a monarchy; I keep saying it is a democracy, even if they are talking about what is off, allow them to talk, perhaps something good can come out of it. I just hope our people will realise that this is a democracy and no group or individuals should hijack the destiny of Nigeria by manipulating everything political, everything that is good for Nigeria.
So I will continue to pray for Nigeria; that is my duty. If you are asking me about politics I don’t know what to say but then one thing I am sure of is that I will continue praying.
There is persistent fuel scarcity and the prices of goods and services are getting higher. Do you think the government has done well in that area and what should be done to our refineries?
Fuel scarcity affects everything. When there is fuel scarcity even the little tubers of yam that are sold are affected. The prices of everything go up. So, that we produce oil in great quantities as our major source of income, and yet don’t have enough for our people is quite tragic. The question that people are asking me outside is: Why is it that you have food sitting in front of us and we cannot reach it or cannot enjoy it?
What is wrong with getting the refineries working? If we starve ourselves and sacrifice, all those who receive fat salaries and say, “Look, in one year, let’s just dedicate it to put our refineries in place and get them working,” fuel will flow and when fuel is flowing, transportation cost reduces and inevitably the cost of various things will come down. It could be a lack of political will, a lack of genuine patriotism, or the lack of that empathy for Nigerians who are suffering because all those who should give us these things are comfortable. They don’t know what fuel scarcity is, they don’t know what the lack of electricity is, they don’t know what suffering at the hospital is because they fly abroad, and they don’t know the pains that people are suffering. So, until we get leaders that have a deep sense of empathy, I am not talking of sympathy, empathy that they identify with the people and feel the pains of the people, we will continue to move around in circles. God will, in His greatness, give us these leaders and we are hoping that this will be sooner than later.