THE CONSECRATION OF NIGERIA TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary the Queen of Nigeria. At Independence on October 1, 1960, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria dedicated the new nation to the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus, pleading that she who is crowned Queen of Heaven, will, as Queen of Nigeria, perpetually intercede for the unity, peace, security and prosperity of our country. Nigeria was again consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary on February 14, 1982, at a ceremony in Kaduna, during the first visit of Saint John Paul II. Thus, we recognise the Blessed Virgin Mary as the primary patron of Nigeria and celebrate the feast on October 1, each year, and St. Patrick whose feast we celebrate on March 17 each year as the secondary patron of Nigeria.
EXCERPTS FROM THE STATEMENT OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF NIGERIA ON OCTOBER 1, 1960
On October 1, 1960, the Catholic Bishops issued a joint pastoral letter titled, “THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN INDEPENDENT NIGERIA.” They described the moment as one in which joy floods the hearts of the people of Nigeria, saying that the Church joins in the independence celebrations with the splendour and solemnity of her liturgy. However, from day one, the bishops already recognised that, “for some years to come we shall have to face problems that arise from the great size of the country and from the diversity of the people…” They noted that, “There is grave danger that some groups more avid for personal power than eager for the good of the country, will seek to exploit ethnic differences for their own (selfish) ends.” And they warned that “no Catholic can with a good conscience indulge in a policy that sets one section of the state against another. In other words, no Catholic should be found guilty of what they called “tribalism!”
On the institution of social justice and equity in the new country, the bishops stated as follows in their Independence Day statement:
Much of our progress can be achieved only through making sacrifices and maintaining integrity. Those who lead in political and economic activities must take care not to let the gap between the standard of living possible to them, and the one available to the masses of the people become greater still. Discontent may easily grow if luxury… is flaunted before the eyes of people who believe that they have not enough to live on decently. Moreover, the excessive distinction between senior and junior workers (in the civil service) that we have inherited from colonial days cannot be allowed to continue. Salaries and allowances that were meant to attract personnel from abroad cannot be maintained in a society that intends to have a fair share-out of its national wealth.
Furthermore, the bishops warned that,
in the course of industrialisation of the country we shall avoid creating conditions under which vast masses of poorly paid or unemployed labourers live in our cities in desperately bad housing conditions. We at least have the opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the Industrial Revolution in Europe and elsewhere.
And on the critical place of leadership integrity for national development, they insisted that,
the key to Nigeria’s future lies especially in the hands of her leaders. To face the enormous challenges ahead we need leaders who will seek the good of the nation as a whole, and who will put the nation before the good of a particular grouping or class or their own personal good… We need leaders who are dedicated men (and women). In national and international affairs our leaders will command respect in the degree to which they manifest integrity in their deeds.
Finally, reflecting on the real essence of independence for the generality of the people, they said:
We want a proper standard of living for our people because freedom to go hungry or to be unhealthy is not freedom at all; we want economic freedom because without it political freedom is illusory and empty; we want more and better education so that our people may have freedom of intellect and the possibility of realising their cultural aspirations; we want freedom in our personal lives because freedom has to find ultimate expression on the level of the individual person; we want the freedom for our people that means living lives of virtue because sin is the greatest of servitudes; we want above all freedom to serve God because His truth alone makes us supremely free.
THE NIGERIAN PRECARIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
Today we celebrate the 63rd anniversary of our independence amidst heightened political tension, widespread insecurity, worsening economic fortunes, a barrage of litigations in our courts after the very contentious 2023 general elections, and an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy and credibility as well as trust deficit regarding many of the personalities that run our public affairs. In these unfortunate circumstances, those of us who have not given up on Nigeria; those of us who still have faith in, and are commitment to the emergence of a better country, must start asking those occupying positions of power at all levels in our country the following questions – and yes, we owe it as a duty to ask: What does it mean to belong to Nigeria? What really are the fundamental bases of our corporate existence as a nation? What do we hold in common? What do we agree should be our core national values? What are the basic rules of engagement for our common union? What is life of a poor Nigerian worth before the government? Is there really a social contract between the people and their elected or appointed leaders? And does the Nigerian state owe the people anything at all?
The Nigerian nation has been the cause of untold pain and distress for millions of innocent men, women, and children, who have been rendered incapable of achieving their potential in life simply because they were born in Nigeria and not in Senegal or in Botswana. Many have had their hope of optimal flourishing dashed and their dream of wholesome existence aborted due to what has come to be known as the “Nigerian factor.” Millions of men, women and children perished in the senseless fratricidal civil war we fought between 1967 and 1970. Millions more have been despatched to their early graves by terrorist insurgents, killer bandits, unknown gunmen, armed robbers, kidnappers, and other criminals. Many have had their precious lives wasted at the hands trigger-happy security agents, who were equipped with guns and paid to secure the lives of innocent citizens. Others have faced untimely deaths because of the absence of modern health facilities and critical emergency services that are today taken for granted in other climes. Some of these victims of crime and neglect cried and wailed until they breathed their last, but they got no help from the Nigerian government that is constitutionally obligated to guarantee their safety. Yes, for many, it has been a tale of woe, of broken promises and dashed hopes!
It is therefore clear to many thinking compatriots that the Nigerian state as presently constituted is not working for most people in this territory. If the National Bureau of Statistics agrees that over 130 Million Nigerians are living in what they call multi-dimensional poverty, at a time when our country brandishes the highest number of billionaires in Africa, and if indeed a land so richly endowed by the Almighty God could allow itself to become the poverty capital of the world, then obviously the Nigerian state is not working for the overwhelming majority of the people. As we mark the 63rd anniversary of our independence from British Colonial Rule, I join other Nigerian individuals and pressure groups who have been advocating for a re-negotiation of the terms and conditions of our union as a matter of utmost urgency and priority national imperative. This to me is the most viable path for salvaging our failing and collapsing nation.
THE CHANGES WE REQUIRE
The changes we require to bring about are not superficial, but massive, fundamental, and far-reaching. For Nigeria to work, and for our national fortunes to be radically transformed, the changes we require to bring about are not superficial, but massive, fundamental, and far-reaching changes. Yet in my view the changes we must urgently make in our polity can be summarised under three broad themes:
1. RULE OF LAW. We must build a nation where law and order reign and dispense with the widespread culture of impunity, gangsterism, and executive lawlessness, which has brought us to the deplorable state of the jungle, where life is nasty, brutish, and short, and where only the most corrupt, the most ruthless and the most beastly among us, are surviving in the short-term.
2. EQUAL CITIZENSHIP. Nigerians of all ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds as well as political affiliations, must be accorded equal opportunities in every sector of our national life. We must be made to feel that we are all included in the management of our commonwealth. We cannot continue with the exploitative and scandalous situation whereby 95% of the resources are in the hands of less than 5% of the population, who can send their children to expensive private schools and universities at home and abroad, and who regularly travel abroad for medical treatment, while abandoning public education and public health care to a state of utter decay. We cannot continue with the situation whereby the children of my driver and security guard will become drivers and “security guards” for my own children, because they had no opportunity of good education. No, we must provide equal opportunities for all Nigerian children, so that the child of nobody today can become somebody tomorrow without knowing anybody. Furthermore, we must embrace equal citizenship, and throw away the anomaly that we call “indigenship,” whereby a child born and bred in Okene, Kogi State, can live there all his life, work and pay taxes there, and he can still be denied some of the basic rights and privileges of the citizens of Kogi State, simply because his ancestors migrated from elsewhere in the country, and they had a different religion or spoke a different language.
3. A MEASURE OF SELF DETERMINATION or THE DEVOLUTION OF POWERS: We must immediately engage in the radical restructuring of our nation and trace our steps back to the federalist route negotiated by the founding fathers, and not continue to run a military style unitary system, and yet claim that we are a federal republic. We must understand that the basis of the existence of Nigeria is mutual respect for the religious, ethnic, cultural, and social diversities of all those in the union.
The 1999 Constitution appears to have vested too much power in the centre and emasculated the federating units. This constitutional blunder is tearing us apart and killing us, and therefore those in positions of power in the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government, must be pressured into immediately setting in motion the constitutional processes for rectifying these anomalies.
WE MUST CUT DOWN DRASTICALLY THE COST OF GOVERNANCE
The economic realities of today challenge us to adopt no more than six or seven viable regions or states and grant those regions or states a good measure of self-determination, thereby reducing to the barest minimum the items on the exclusive legislative list. We must cut down massively on the cost of governance by merging ministries, departments, and agencies (in a more radical manner than the Oronsaye report recommended). I consider it utterly insensitive, ridiculous and bizarre that at a time when Nigerians are groaning in dehumanising poverty and destitution, the present administration will be creating more ministries, appointing more ministers and providing more jobs for the boys in the name of special advisers and personal assistants. Such is an insult to the sensibilities of the people, and thinking Nigerians should wake up to say no to such reckless brigandage. We must cut down drastically on the perks or material benefits for public office holders, to make public offices less attractive for those who have no vocation for leadership or any sense of service for the common good, but who are only seeking to control the keys to the national treasury.
ADDRESSING THE RELIGIOUS QUESTION
We must now summon the courage to discuss openly and frankly the thorny issues of religion and state of origin, agree on what role if any religion should play in governance, and resolve on whether we want to live under a monarchical theocracy of some sort, or we want to live together as a modern federal democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious entity, founded on the principles of justice, equity, equality and mutual respect. If we are not able to resolve these thorny issues once and for all, then I fear that this country may not survive as one corporate entity for much longer, because, quite frankly, as presently constituted, I see that time is running out for Nigeria.
WE ARE SITTING ON A TIME-BOMB
Thus, as we mark our 63nd Independence Day, amidst a myriad of existential problems, including an unprecedented economic recession, resulting in massive devaluation of the life of ordinary Nigerians, and a looming general strike by the labour unions with the attendant tension across the land, I urge all of you who have not given up on the Nigerian project to challenge the present occupiers of public office at all levels – from the Local Government Councillor to the President of the country, to do something quickly to alleviate the intense suffering in the land and address the fundamental cracks in our national polity, or they should resign their positions and let other people try their hands.
The primary purpose of government is the welfare, the safety, and the security of the citizens of the country, but the party in power has been giving us excuses since 2015. We must let them know that we have no time for any further excuses, as our children are being abducted in droves by killer bandits, as security agents are being decimated in their numbers, as the abused and exploited poor are dying daily of poverty and destitution or are being sold into modern-day slavery, and as many distressed and frustrated persons are now taking their own lives in a new wave of suicidality. We are quite frankly sitting on a keg of gunpowder or a ticking time-bomb. The ship of state is sinking. We are bleeding from every part of our corporate body. To say that Nigeria is experiencing state failure is an understatement. We are on the verge of an imminent implosion or state collapse, and unless something drastic is done very quickly to ameliorate the situation, we shall end up where we are headed. And it is not a good place.
Sadly, the Nigerian political elite, including those superintending our affairs today has consistently demonstrated its utter lack of capacity to steer the Nigerian ship away from turbulent waters, towards peace and prosperity. They have failed woefully in the critical task of forging a united people from the disparate ethnic groups that populate this territory. Instead, they have callously exploited the historical or primitive ethnic and religious sentiments and antipathies among the people for selfish political and economic gain. And the Nigerian leadership conundrum has been further compounded by the very embarrassingly ominous questions of identity, integrity, and credibility, that surround a number of those who today superintend our local, state, and national affairs.
RIGHTEOUSNESS EXALTS A NATION
We read in Proverbs 14:34 that righteousness exalts a nation, but that sin is a reproach to any people. In Proverbs 29:2 we read that “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked rule the people groan.” In Proverbs 29:4 it says, “It is by justice that a king gives stability to the land.” And in Proverbs 29:18 it says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Some translations render this verse as, “Where there is no leadership integrity, the people do perish.” What this means is that leadership integrity is fundamental and critical to national development, national unity, and national peace and prosperity. This idea is very well illustrated in the history of Israel. When they had good, god-fearing leaders like Joshua, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, Jehoshaphat, Nehemiah, and Ezra, they conquered their enemies, they experienced restoration, and they enjoyed peace and prosperity. But when they had leaders who lacked integrity and the fear of God, like Saul, Jeroboam, Ahab, and Nadab, they were easily defeated by enemy forces. In one case Israel was not only conquered by their adversaries; they were enslaved and deported to Babylon for 70 years! To illustrate the point further, there is this report in Sirach 47:23-25 that,
Solomon rested with his ancestors, leaving one of his stock as his successor, the stupidest member of the nation, brainless Rehoboam, whose policy drove the nation to rebel. Next, Jeroboam son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, and set Ephraim on the way of evil; from then on, their sins multiplied so excessively as to drive them out of their country; for they tried out every kind of wickedness, until vengeance overtook them.
Recall that (as is recorded in the 12th Chapter of the 1st Book of Kings), it was Rehoboam who succeeded his father Solomon as King of Israel and Judah. When he ascended the throne, the elders of Israel went to him and complained about how hard life had been for them under King Solomon, saying, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore we beg you, lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” His counsellors advised him on how to respond to the elders with compassion, but he disregarded the advice of his counsellors, and instead told the elders that, “My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you bloody with chains.” When the elders heard the response of King Rehoboam, they resolved to separate themselves from the kingdom of David. So, they shouted: To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, O David.” This was the beginning of the disintegration of the kingdom that was united under David and Solomon.
The Nigerian state as presently constituted has all the features of a criminal enterprise. Yes, Nigeria is today being run in the form of an organised crime. We have fumbled and blundered along for 63 years, most of which have been under misguided military adventurists, punitive overlords, and clueless usurpers of political power. But we cannot survive for much longer as a corporate entity, let alone prosper in unity and peace, or take our rightful place in the comity of nations, under a bunch of scoundrels, under a syndicate of gangsters or under a criminal cabal. Some of them are known to have used the state’s instruments of coercion to shut down the voices of dissent. Some of them are known to have sponsored terrorists and killer bandits that have continued to wreak havoc in major parts of the country. Some of them are known to have recruited the so-called unknown gunmen to cause mayhem here and there in the polity. Some of them are known to have regularly mobilised drunken thugs and violent cultists to assassinate or intimidate their political opponents. And some of them are known to have looted staggering amounts from the nation’s treasury, riding exotic cars with police escort, living in palatial mansions, owning expensive properties abroad where thy often settle their immediate families, while abandoning the generality of the people to dehumanising multi-dimensional poverty and misery.
Now, what measure of progress can Nigeria possibly make in our journey towards true nationhood, as long as we remain saddled and burdened with such a syndicate of criminals superintending the affairs of our nation? What measure of progress can we possibly make in our aspirations for national development so long as we remain constricted and entrapped by the conspiracy of treasury looters and election riggers hanging around the corridors of power? What measure of progress can we make towards national unity, peace, and prosperity, as long as we remain plagued and afflicted by greedy merchants of money and prostitutes of power, whose consciences are deadened, and are therefore devoid of any ethical values or moral scruples?
NATIONS ARE BUILT FUNDAMENTALLY ON VALUES
As we celebrate the 63rd anniversary of our independence amidst an embarrassing crisis of integrity and credibility on the part of many public office holders, I wish to highlight the fact that nations are built primarily and fundamentally on values, and not on material resources, otherwise Singapore and Japan would have been in the league of the poorest nations in the world. Nation building refers to the internal, organic and dynamic process by which a society identifies, discusses, contests, and reaches consensus on shared values, principles and norms; galvanises a sense of national cohesion, consolidates a national identity, and forges a sense of common purpose and a set of common goals to which the society is oriented. Nation building is the process of moulding diverse groups into a unified cohesive, harmonious, and stable national entity with shared vision and collective mission.
Essential and of critical importance in the process of nation building is a transparently honest, visionary, self-sacrificing, and therefore legitimate and credible leadership. Such leadership assumes the role of Architects, Engineers, and Project Managers of the emergent nation. Thus, strong, stable, unified, and prosperous nations are built fundamentally on values, and experience has shown that such values are anchored on and sustained by leaders of transparent integrity and credibility, if they are to take root in the society. When however, such critical values for nation building as leadership integrity, are missing, as has been our misfortune in Nigeria, what we have is a free-for-all: intermittent conflicts and social discord, the preponderance of terrorist insurgents, killer bandits, unknown gunmen, violent cultists, the Yahoo-Yahoo and Yahoo+ phenomenon, monumental and reckless corruption, widespread impunity, and jungle-like anarchy.
Indeed, unless we want to continue deceiving ourselves, what quality of values for nation building can we expect to emerge from or be nurtured by the succession of coup plotters, rogue leaders, treasury looters, election riggers and punitive overloads that this land has endured (with only few exceptions) since independence in 1961? What manner of values for nation building can we reasonably expect from the remnants of primitive feudalism, the fraudsters and gangsters, as well as the ethnic and religious bigots who have effectively weaponised and demonised our otherwise rich ethnic and religious diversities? What measure of values for nation building can we expect from the prebendal, self-serving, cash-and-carry politics that have held sway in these climes since independence? What fashion of values for nation building can we expect to proceed from the rent seekers, the contract chasers, and the elite prostitutes of power, who rely on corrupt godfathers, unlettered witchdoctors, cult gangs and village thugs to clinch power, and who change political affiliation each time they lose elections? Yes, what kind of nation building values can we expect from the syndicate of self-perpetuating conquerors, whose primary objective in governance appears to be state capture and the permanent emasculation and pauperisation of the masses?
OUR READINGS ARE FOCUSED ON LEADERSHIP INTEGRITY
We Catholics in Nigeria mark this Independence Day with the celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, Queen of Nigeria. The readings chosen for today are principally on leadership integrity or godly leadership. What God desires is that the leaders of his people would govern with holiness and righteousness, and judge the people with integrity, resulting in such a peaceful, blissful, and glorious dispensation that “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” With the righteous leadership envisaged by Prophet Isaiah, “the cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox… They will not hurt or destroy on all God’s holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the water covers the sea” (see Isaiah 11:1-10). The Responsorial Psalm declares that in the days of the righteous king, “justice shall flourish, and great peace for ever… He will judge the people in justice, and the poor in right judgement…He shall save the needy when they cry, the poor, and those who are helpless. He will have pity on the weak and the needy and save the lives of the poor.”
JUDICIARY: A PLEA FOR SUBSTANTIAL JUSTICE
From the foregoing, I would plead with our judges and jurists to work towards the administration of substantial justice, in place of the triumph of technicalities that we are so often witnessing today. In a country that has had more than its fair share of notoriously corrupt and abusive leaders, lawyers and jurists cannot be inattentive or indifferent, nor can they feign helplessness. Instead, lawyers and jurists must use their privileged learning, their constitutional prerogative, and their privileged status in society, to stand in the gap between the distressed people of Nigeria, and those who preside over their economic, political, and social fortunes – convicting corrupt officials, condemning acts of impunity, and resisting rights violations and abuses. In a country like ours where despite our enormous natural endowments, the poor and their children are largely denied opportunities for good nourishment, quality education, decent housing, affordable public transportation, and adequate healthcare, Nigerian lawyers and jurists must capitalise on their constitutional prerogative and social standing to achieve social transformation, through creative application of the law for social change, and through a number of legal advocacy mechanisms.
Only bold affirmation of substantial justice by lawyers and jurists on behalf of the poor victims of impunity can tear down the “organised disorder” that the political and economic elite have often erected around themselves in this country. Yes, only bold affirmation of the rule of law can curb the arrogance and impunity of those who have turned the Nigerian commonweal into their personal fiefdoms and force the agents of primitive feudalism in our midst to submit to just, humane, and democratic principles of governance. On the other hand, a judicial system (including the criminal justice regime and the election petition tribunals), which betrays or undervalues the equality and the dignity of all, compromises its calling, and inadvertently sets the stage for an eventual breakdown of law and order. We recall St. Augustine’s famous dictum, that “kingdoms devoid of justice are nothing but a bunch of bandits or a gang of robbers.”
Nigerian judges ought to constantly beware of the manipulation of the technicalities of the law to ensure the dispensation of substantial justice in our courts. This is because the confidence the people repose on judges is what constitutes the foundation of the court system. It will be a tragic situation if some judges are suspected of yielding their moral authority to political influence. When there is the growing impression that smart lawyers are increasingly able to persuade jurists to exploit the technicalities of the law to exonerate corrupt rulers, rogue politicians, and greedy business tycoons, then we will begin to set the stage and lay the foundation for the coming anarchy or the revenge of the poor. And it should be noted that such revenge of the poor will not spare lawyers and judges as well as bishops and priests, who in our society are seen to belong to the privileged elite class. The French revolution (of 1792 to 1802) should continue to be taken as a bloody reminder of what dire consequences all of us who belong to the elite class will face, if we do not change our course today, and show greater commitment to upholding and defending the fundamental and inalienable rights of every human being in our society. What is called for today therefore is a measure of judicial activism by which forthright lawyers and godly judges, moved with passion for the common good and inspired by their commitment to God, will courageously engage in the necessary project of social engineering, overcoming the shackles of the literary provisions in our statutes, to ensure substantial justice in all cases.
As we plead the intercession of Mary the mother of Jesus for our ailing country, we must pay attention to the godly virtues demonstrated by the Blessed Virgin Mary for which all generations will call her blessed. They include faith, trust and submission to God, humility and generosity, service and sacrificial love, as well as purity and modesty. I imagine that in answer to our prayers, the Virgin Mary will turn to Jesus her Son as she did at Cana in Galilee and say to him: “My children in Nigeria have run out of wine. Please do something for them.” Then I imagine she would turn back, and say to us exactly what she said to the disciples of Jesus, namely, “Do whatever he tells you.” And this is why I shall end this reflection: Brothers and sisters, Nigerian leaders and citizens, take the advice of the mother of Jesus, and do whatever her Son tells you to do. You have been dinning and winning with the devil. See where your life of debauchery has led you. But our God is merciful and forgiving, and gracious in his compassion. He will restore the all years eaten by the locust, and put us back on the path of wholesome development, peace and prosperity, if today we resolve to abandon the way of sin and iniquity. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 he says, “If the people, who are called by my name, humble themselves, pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sins and heal their land.”
On this note I wish you all here, and indeed all Nigerians a Happy Independence Day Celebration.
This Independence Day Address was delivered by Rev. Fr. George Ehusani, Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, on the occasion of Nigeria’s 63rd Independence Anniversary, Sunday the 1st of October 2023