By Sam Eyoboka
A FORMER President of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, Ignatius Ayau Kaigama was Archbishop of Jos until recently when Pope Francis named him Archbishop Coadjutor of Abuja. Born in Kona, Taraba, the Catholic Prelate studied for the priesthood at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Jos with further studies in theology in Rome. He was ordained on June 6, 1981. He attended the Pontifical Gregorian University, earning a doctorate in theology in 1991. Kaigama was President of NBCN from 2012 to 2018 and President of the Episcopal Conference of West African Catholic Bishops. He is also the Chairman of the Plateau State-convened ‘Interreligious Committee for Peace’. Together with the late Emir of Wase, Alhaji Haruna Abdullahi, he has been involved in promoting mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims. With an intimidating resume, especially on inter-religious issues, there’s no better-qualified person to speak on the topic of ‘Sharia versus Democracy’ and, in this interview, the Catholic Prelate did not disappoint. Excerpts:
What’s your perspective on the insecurity in the nation today?
The insecurity is a great thing of concern to every Nigerian now. Left, right, centre, backward and forward, you encounter situations of insecurity. It is multi-dimensional. So we are very concerned and we are people of the grassroots. In grassroots, people live in villages, in communities, in farms, and they realize they cannot be free on their farms again. We realize that travellers are not sure of arriving their destinations well because there could be criminal attacks on the road, there could be kidnappers. So it’s quite disturbing even at home where you think you are comfortable with your family, somebody can just come at a very odd hour or in the day time and get you out and start asking for ransom if you are lucky. If you are not lucky, they kill you. When you take the issue of security, Boko Haram in the North-East, they are there and you hear reports of attacks in a manner that is quite surprising because sometimes we are told they can be quite destructive even on soldiers. You must have heard about the constant kidnappings and killings going on in different parts of the country. It is a virus that is spreading, and I don’t think that we have gotten the right antidote or therapy to decrease the virus which is quite disturbing. Even as a religious leader, we are conscious that our people are expected, sometimes, to gather for religious functions, sometimes in the day time, sometimes in the night time, and if there is no guaranteed security, they are always very anxious, fearful and concerned that anything could happen. This is going to also take away from the quality of worship and religious services: when people are gathered and they are not sure whether they will get out of the church or mosque and return home in safety. The scenario is quite disturbing!
I also get so embarrassed when I travel abroad and they are the ones telling me about how insecure Nigeria is; they go on to provide a litany of cases of insecurity.
A Catholic priest was kidnapped and killed and the news spread throughout the whole world. The Catholic Church has a population of over 1.3 billion people in the world and we have many sympathizers also. So when there is a kidnap of a priest, it goes a long way in destroying our image and portraying us as an unserious country; a country that is incapable of hosting visitors who will either come for tourism, business or just because they like our country. Apart from reverend fathers, many also have been kidnapped and killed. It’s worrisome and we hope that the authorities will do their best to restore the dignity of this country and to guarantee Nigerians and non-Nigerians, visitors and residents that we are safe.
Will you say that the current government is addressing the situation?
Well, they tell us they are. It’s not what the government says, it’s what we see, it’s what we feel, it’s what we experience. This is the important aspect because an official report can say all is well, it depends on what perspective they are saying that. Are they saying it from the perspective of mere reports they have received from people in the field? Are they saying it from the comfort of the environment they are surrounding? Or are they saying it because they have seen for themselves, especially the poor and marginalized people in the rural area? Are they saying it because they have had an encounter with them and therefore they draw their conclusions? It depends on who is talking. I’m talking to you as a priest who is with the people at the grassroots. I can tell you from experience and from what I have seen by myself that there is a problem but then you get an official report, whether it is police or security report that says that all is well.
I have seen a situation where in a crisis or conflict and maybe five people were killed and they will tell you “no it’s just one person that was killed”. This is not correct because they just depend on report that could be biased or prejudiced. I’m not sure whether we are having the real picture. I always advise that they should go beyond the traditional structure to get credible and authentic information because, sometimes, you will have stakeholders who will volunteer real information about situations but when you just limit yourself to the structure of government, every government official will like to tell the President what they want him to know, and then official decisions are taken based on that. I’m not saying the reports of such personnel are not useful but they should be able to go beyond that to ensure that they are getting report that is objective and unbiased.
A lot of people are so agitated in this country to the extent that some young Nigerians are already talking about revolution. Is that the way to go?
It depends on their definition of revolution. I’ve always spoken about a mental revolution, a revolution of mentality, a moral revolution. It doesn’t have to be a violent political revolution that will throw us into confusion. The greatest revolution begins with the individual, that I say to myself that I am going to be different; I’m going to do things differently. I say to myself, ‘God, please give me the spirit to be a changed and transformed person, give me the spirit to be a patriotic Nigerian, honest and hardworking Nigerian’. That revolution is greater than any other revolution. When I talk about revolution, it’s not just about change of government, we will like government to do better, we will like government to improve on the economic life of the people and also in terms of security, we will like government to uphold the promises they made during their official swearing-in. It is a duty they owe us. But concerning the diversity in this country, religious, ethnic, cultural, we must be careful when we talk about revolution: it is in a manner that is going to impact positively and not to create chaos or anarchy but I keep saying a revolution must start with the individual. And then if there’s a change of mentality, change of attitude, we become less greedy, we see government money and you don’t misuse it, you don’t practice nepotism or favoritism, you work for the common good of Nigerians wherever they may be or come from, whatever religion or tribe they belong to, we make that revolution absolutely. I think that is the first type of revolution we should work at.
Do you also believe that there is a grand design to Islamize this nation?
That is always like antiphon. I remember even when the President was campaigning, one of his addresses to us representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference, that was on his first attempt at presidency, we asked him this question and he told us that was not true. We asked him that people keep saying that you are aspiring to be President because you have the ambition of Islamizing the nation and working things in favor of Islam when you become President and he told us it’s absolutely not true and we believed him. I think it’s left for him to see that there is balance. This country is divided almost between Christians and Muslims. Whatever is being done there must be a sensibility, there must be a serious awareness on how to balance some things; is it a distribution of political offices? Is it the armed forces or security agencies and so on? There must be a comprehensive inclusiveness so that everybody should be a part of this country and perhaps that patriotism will begin to develop. But when a southerner becomes a President and just to take care of southerners, we are not one country yet. Similarly, when a northerner becomes President and his priority is just to take care of northerners….We ought to be one nation, one people, one country. It is a futile project to Islamize or Christianize the whole of Nigeria, we are over 200 million. God is not unwise to allow diversity. I hope that we can examine our mental, moral revolution.
It’s quite annoying when I travel out and we see financial discipline, transparency and then you come here and it’s just like a way of life. You award a contract and that contract is just like a donation to somebody. During elections, we were told that people were distributing money openly and nobody could do anything about that. It’s considered a culture now, it’s accepted. Something is wrong. The small ones in primary and secondary schools are imbibing this culture. When you give a child N1, 000 to buy something, he has thoughts of ways to squeeze something for himself. I don’t know how we are going to do it, maybe we need some blood transfusion to remove that bad blood and replace it with something better.
For us in the religious circle, we are promoting orderliness, honesty, hard work and yet the society has more money even by very crooked means. The more you take from government, the more you are given chieftaincy titles and respected in church because you give plenty money. They don’t ask where this money comes from. So we have a huge problem. There’s a need for a drastic change of mentality for Nigeria to assume her rightful position among the advanced countries of the world.
Such has given rise to National Christian Elders Forum which believes that it is as a result of contending ideologies. They are of the opinion that Sharia and democracy are always strange bed-fellows. Do you subscribe to this?
Sharia is not a Nigerian law. It is an exclusive legal matter dealing with the mosques, and that is a private matter and it affects only Muslims. We Christians have our laws and, for instance, the Catholic Church has the Canon laws and we cannot impose that on any other person other than Catholics. So this is how it should be. Democracy is about all of us put together. But anything that has to do with only a section of the population should be treated as such. Democracy is about promoting good governance, all of us will join hands to make sure it works. When people are elected into positions of authority, they should not be thinking about promoting narrow, parochial religious views or sentiments instead of reasoning in doing their work. Whether as a Muslim or Christian, if you are in the position of authority, it’s a call to serve Nigeria. When we get our thinking right and our mentality is correct, I tell you this nation will surprise the rest of the world. What is holding us back is this parochial, self-centred, egocentric, dishonest attitude and the desire to acquire illegally and illegitimately and not serving the common man. We think of ourselves as better than others.
In English, we use ‘you and I’, but in Nigerian mentality and expression it is ‘I and you.’ That’s the problem with us, I first, then you come later. We need a change of attitude; we need an overhaul of mental, spiritual, moral orientation.
Are you talking about restructuring the nation now?
Well, if that’s meant to happen, then why not? People have different ways of understanding restructure. If restructure means there’s a kind of loose federation, then it means that the regions have some sort of autonomy on what to do with themselves. Under the one federal, even if the resources are available, we use it in a manner that it’s not just about themselves again but there’s some percentage that happens to be a Federal Government and to bless others who may not be as blessed as they are. We are talking about security issues now. I have heard a lot of complaints from some governors who claim that they are officially the security chiefs of their states but in reality they are not because when there is a crisis or there’s need for the police or the army to do something, they will tell you, no, they are waiting for orders. You find that they don’t even have control over the police or the army who are in their jurisdiction.
Those are the things we must look at and see how they can be done in a manner that creates that division of labor. We are not as many as the Americans, so why can’t we do something that will work. Let us sit down and carefully, without sentiments, work out what we really want our restructuring to be in a way that it doesn’t impoverish one side and enrich the other. When you say take it all because it belongs to us, that is where there is a problem, it’s even a moral problem.
Agitations for restructuring are growing louder by the day because we appear to be more divided now. What is the way forward?
It’s sad that what our fathers fought for, the independence of Nigeria, with the hope that after the assumption of power by our people, by now we should have gone far. It’s just a matter of one step forward and three steps backwards. It has always been like that. I think the vision of our forefathers was, take power from the colonial masters and then we build on it using our indigenous structures, cultural values and enriching democracy in a way that we can compare favorably with others but unfortunately greed, dishonesty, self-centeredness came into play and, before you knew, there was power tussle and they are ready to kill, undermine one another and this is why we are where we are.
The foundation was not solid and we have been building more and more on this foundation and that is why we don’t experience any serious growth. When you hear of building collapse, it is because of faulty foundation. This is how we are collapsing. When you hear of crisis here, killings and attacks here, it’s just because there’s something wrong with our foundation and we are not ready to redo it, not ready to get the correct people. Let’s go back and seek ways how can we rectify it? Everybody comes forward and says “it is my time now, my brothers and sisters will chop, my region will chop” and that is all we spend our time doing. We are deceiving ourselves. We need true Nigerians who can lead us without this narrow ethnic, religious and political difference.
Do we still have such people in this country today?
We have them but they are not allowed to get there. Take the best minds in our universities and people, who have promises, they cannot get anywhere. Even if they manage to get in, they get corrupted by the system and before you know it, they are even worse than those who were there. The country is in need of total overhauling and a transformation. We have credible Nigerians in the U.S and other countries. Nigerians are everywhere with great minds but when they come home, they meet terrible things like going to the hospitals where equipment are old school: the drugs meant for the poor people have been diverted. Something is obviously wrong, no need for finger-pointing and blame games. Let us all collectively agree we have done wrong and let’s resolve to do better and invoke God and beg Him to show us the way forward so that we can live as patriotic citizens and brothers and sisters.