The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Most Rev Ignatius Kaigama, is one of Nigeria’s most respected clergymen. Currently President Episcopal Conference of West African Catholic Bishops, he was President Nigerian Bishops Conference from 2012 to 2018. He talks about the dearth of morality and its consequences in the country, the 2023 general elections, factors fuelling vaccine hesitancy among other issues in this interview with REGINA OTOKPA
Nigerians are curious to understand what you meant when you said the country is in danger of toiling all night without catching any fish in a Homily delivered recently at St. Martin of Tours Parish?
It was based on the gospel we read where Apostles Peter and his brothers were fishermen. They had gone throughout the night looking for fish but couldn’t catch any. Jesus came and asked them to put down their nets and try again and when they did, they caught an abundance of fish.
The point I was trying to make is that we are struggling a lot with different issues but we sometimes depend only on our strength, human expertise, power and the money we think we possess and can use but they do not bring the desired results.
That is why our young people are still without the jobs that they should have all over the place and these terrorist activities and criminality continue to increase.
There wouldn’t be all these things if there is fish for everybody; if there is equity, justice, fairness, if we consider every section of the country and give them a sense of belonging.
When it comes to the youth we deploy the use of the resources available very equitably to use and then when it comes to things that will make the country better and we are able to do them without cutting of corners, then there will be fairness, things will flow, there will be happiness, there will be fish for everybody and we won’t have to struggle too much. So the absence of that is what causes us to be doing so much but getting so little and then we suffer the consequences of all these ills that affect us.
We wake up every day to see different forms of evil, immorality, wickedness brewing all over the place. Does this mean parents and the church are not doing enough?
Most parents do a lot and the church by vocation is taught to teach the right way, the ways of God and righteousness. All these things are being done, but the secular and worldly influence seems to be quite strong and the society is such that even parents who take good care of their children are surprised that the children go to school and come back with all kinds of manners.
This is due to the influence of modern media and technology that is not of God. That is why even if you give your child the best education, take them to the best schools they still come back with deficiencies.
We struggle to build, expand churches but the moral teachings are not imbibed enthusiastically like the worldly values, so people are more concerned about worldly affluence, getting riches and prosperity of all kinds. It’s all about the material possessions so even when we do the best we can you find that we are still not getting it right
There are cases of ritual killings, kidnapping; someone takes fellow human beings and keep them in the bush asking for millions of naira or so much. What can the church do about that?
We can only condemn the act, advise them that it is not good, but then maybe they are pushed by socio-economic or political circumstances and you don’t have that power to stop them so dutifully parents who diligently take care of their family will definitely give the best instructions to their children, and the churches that really matter not those established as businesses, will be able to teach the right things. We play our part but there are so many defects and secular interests that the people, especially the young people, are tempted to go along with the ways of the world rather than the way of the Lord.
What are those defects?
I advocate a return to our core values either in the traditions we have or even in the religions we practice. These could not just be nominal declarations, we are Christians we are Muslims we are ready to fight for anything that touches our religion but we are not ready to fight for the values, we are not ready to defend the values and integrity of our respective religions.
I think we need to see religion in the correct perspective, and practice it in the best manner possible. As for the government, good governance has always been a problem in this country. We get leaders who clamor for power only to get there to help themselves, their families, their immediate constituencies, ethnic group, or religious groups.
It’s not about the common good of all Nigerians where the children, the youth, the teenagers, the men and the women can very happily say we have enjoyed this or that or where we distribute things whether scholarship, recruitment into any government position or admission that you just do with equity and do it with justice and fairness, this is missing.
If we don’t get these things worked out, we will continue going round in circles, developmental progress will not come and these small countries around us; Niger, Chad, Benin Republican will overtake us because we are a huge country blessed with so much more human and natural resources, but we fail to use these properly.
Even though the influence of society seems to be so strong, what do you propose could be the way out?
We need to return to God, our governance must really be about the people for the people and indeed, sacrifices must be made by leaders in the presidency, National Assembly, the local government and state government. They should all put the people first and sacrifice when they come into leadership position, but it is the reverse and that is why we suffer
As the 2023 elections draw closer, we have seen quite a number of persons showing interest. Do you think we have selfless leaders queuing up as it is right now?
Many people who have been there, recycled, are just coming up again to tell us they have something to offer. If for the many years they have been there some have even gotten older, you wonder how much they have to contribute. I don’t want that.
If you want to look at it critically where is the new initiative? Where are the young people with vision, with patriotism and love for this country? Where are they, among all those clamoring to be president governors? Only those who have the money, who have the content, the influence and who have been there a long time can be heard.
There is no young person who is coming without money that can be allowed even near the place where politics happens so how can they be changed, transition?
It is just impossible so we end up with the same people. It is like a broken record, we keep repeating ourselves and it is only God that can deliver us, and how I wish our elders who have tried their hands in politics for many years and nothing seems to have changed for the better will decide to allow something else something different like allowing more young people, groom young people who are selfless, not full of prejudices, ethnic or religious bias have a shot at it or better still, allow the women who have been not allowed to participate because again, they don’t have the money, they don’t have the influence.
They should just allow them and see maybe something different will come up but we are so self- centered, so greedy that it has to be the same people all the time and I tell you, we shall keep dancing on the same spot.
Do you think having a downward review of the ages of candidates who come out for elective positions could be a way out to ensure the older people and same people no longer contest for elections?
It is not really about older people not contesting power; we have tried them again and again. Everybody should have access to power if he or she qualifies as long as they are physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally fit.
They should have access to power but for long, we have focused on the elderly, those who have the money only and those who can cut corners easily.
Let’s leave it open so that the young people who don’t have one kobo, can come out and declare interest in the various political positions and they can be voted but that is not the case. It is not about denying any section or any age group political participation, a 70/80 year old person can be a very good leader just like a 30 or 35/40 year old person or young man can be a good leader.
When we get the best candidate at the time we need a leader for the country or for the state. That is what matters, let’s find out who has these qualities, who can do something and whether it is an old person or a young person it doesn’t matter.
But for now in Nigeria, we are saying the young people have been silent for so long the #EndSARs was a manifestation of this oppression and suppression of the young and not being allowed to really take part in the governance of their country and to be proud to lift their country to the highest height.
It is their time and I think they should be considered, and the young people should also be able to accept this responsibility in the right spirit with maturity and dignity.
Vaccine hesitancy remains a major issue as far as the fight against the covid- 19 pandemic is concerned despite the freewill donation by countries. How can Nigerians be made to accept these vaccines?
The manner the government or the health authorities handled this vaccine Kaigama issue created doubts in the minds of many Nigerians. They didn’t start this the right way. When you have to mobilize people in this present day Nigeria, they are people you should invite and dialogue with them, share with them what the government intends to do.
We have the grassroots the traditional rulers are there we have the religious leaders and many prominent personalities that could have been used because they command respect but no, we just heard this is happening, this is this sickness that has come upon us, money has been brought, vaccines have been donated and people asked what is the quality of these vaccines?
There was no proper enlightenment and I thought we have the national orientation agency? This is their job. When something new like this comes up they are to penetrate the nooks and crannies of this country advising and enlightening people but that doesn’t happen.
Things seem to come by decrees; this has happened, you get this. We have this money, we bought vaccines, they have donated vaccines so come and collect vaccines and if you don’t they are going to do this to you.
That is a wrong approach, you try to convince people and allow them to understand why they’re taking a particular course of action but again, with too much resources made available to take care of this particular pandemic many people have been complaining where did the resources go to in terms of palliatives, who got what, in terms of vaccines, it was not even easy in the first place to get the vaccines and now people are just not too sure; are the vaccines good? Are the vaccines healthy, are they going to be useful?
Or are they going to introduce some foreign elements into our bodies? Many, many people have propagated or made the propaganda that the vaccines are contaminated or they are going to create certain physiological or biological changes and people are living with such fears and anxieties and nothing has been made to address that. So you can see the hesitancy, the reluctance of many to accept this vaccine.
From the word go, I’ve gone ahead to take the vaccine and I have advised people to take the vaccines because I don’t believe that the government will allow some foreign persons to come and give us dangerous vaccines just to destroy us but if you ask the people to take the vaccines, they are not convinced because even when they were in need and when there was a shutdown they didn’t see any sign that government cared for them so you cannot just force this on them, you just have to keep encouraging them and enlightening them and hopefully, they will take it.
We offered over 400 hospitals and clinics of the Catholic Church in Nigeria to the government, we wanted to collaborate, work together to mobilize the people, make the centres available because we can reach out to the people, but they were grateful that we offered but nothing was done so how do you reach the grassroots?
A priest recently got suspended in one of the parishes in Lagos State for banning Igbo songs. Is the Catholic Church going to look into his concerns of alleged Igbo dominance in its activities?
Nobody has a right to ban anybody in the church; not even the Bishop or the priest. The church is a family and it belongs to all of us. Even when somebody makes a mistake, there is still a place for him or her in the church, saints and sinners are welcome into the church and it is where you correct errors when something is not right rather than yell and shout and run away, you stay and correct it from within as a family.
You cannot ban a group, their language or songs in their language in the church. It is not correct. It is not a family spirit. His concerns according to what the story said is that there is domination, but domination, in what sense?
If people have the numbers, that cannot be said to be domination. If you are in a Yoruba speaking place and there are more Yorubas in the Catholic church, you can’t become afraid they are taking over, if you are in Kaduna, and you have the indigene dominate in a particular region because that is where they come from you cannot say they are taking over everything.
It is only when they don’t allow you to pray, worship or to have access to the facilities of the church and they don’t make you feel at home, then you can shout and say I feel marginalized and you can take that up properly and it can be looked into but you don’t ban anybody, it is the house of God, we are a church and we should be seen to integrate the high and the low, the poor and the rich, the ethnic groups that come to our churches.
St. Paul tells us there is no longer a Jew, no longer Greek we are all one and therefore we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of tribe. We should think in terms of humanity, being children of God and I think that is what will show that we truly are religious people