Catholic bishops’ conference of nigeria pastoral letters and communiques 1960-2002


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Joint Pastoral Letter of the Nigerian Hierarchy. October 1st 1960
At a great moment like the present joy floods the hearts of the people of Nigeria. The Catholic Church rejoices in the national happiness and prays God’s blessings on the happiness of all the people. And the Church joins in the independence celebrations with all the splendor and solemnity of her liturgy.

Independence has been much struggled for and eagerly awaited. The years have been long during which elite groups have sought to foster a widespread consciousness of national distinctiveness and struggled to prove that the Nigerian people of the country had both the right and the ability to direct their own affairs. Freedom is going to mean a great deal to Nigeria. Only a free people can look other peoples in the face; only an atmosphere of freedom makes possible the blossoming of those social institutions and cultural efforts that express the genius of a people; only a free country can adequately develop its internal economic resources and make its contribution towards the building of world economy and social order. In short, freedom alters the mental climate of a country and inspires the pursuit of spiritual and material greatness.

The Catholic Church’s Pride in Her Contribution to Nigeria’s Progress.

The Catholic Church assures the people of Nigeria that her efforts will be constant to defend and further the freedom that has been won, to make independence in all aspects real and not something held only in name. In this context it does not seem out of place to say that the Church is proud that her contribution to educate and her work of drawing together into one social body people from all parts of the country have been a small factor in the achievement of


Now that Nigeria has reached independence the Catholic Church intends with God’s help and under His guidance to go on contributing to the spiritual and material progress of the state. This Pastoral Letter itself is meant to help Catholics and others as they reflect on some of the important religious and social issues that confront the country. It may be asked why the Catholic Church should take a stand on social issues as well as on directly religious ones. The answer is simple, Saint Augustine wrote many centuries ago that ‘the life of a saint is a social one’. Since we live together and follow out Christ’s command to love one another as he has loved us and to do to others as we would have them do to us, our religious duty to love and to be just overflows into spheres like the political and the economic. Such considerations prompted Pope Leo XIII to write in Rerum Novarum: ‘In the present letter the responsibility of the apostolic office urges us to treat the question (the condition of the working classes) of set purposes and detail, in order that no misapprehension may exist as to the principles which truth and justice dictate for its settlement’. It is not the function of the Church, as a later Pope, Pius XI, pointed out in the Encyclical, Divini Redemptoris, to propound a definite technical system in the sphere of social economies. But it is the function of the Church to state principles of truth and justice and keep them before men’s minds by informing public opinion and never fearing to speak for the moral conscience of the country. Hence we take this opportunity to say what views the Catholic Church holds on some of the important issues that face Nigeria. The nation will grow in resolving these issues. The Church wants to help all she can in that growth. She has at heart the good of all her children.

The Glories of the Ancient African Church Renewed.

But before we move on to other questions we will do well to recall at this stage of our letter some aspects, past and present of the African Church. In the early centuries Africa gave popes to the Church and the Church flourished in the continent in spite of persecution and tyranny. North Africa in particular was one of the great Christian intellectual centres. Saint Augustine came from there and he was only the most outstanding of many great thinkers. As the centuries went on the Christian tradition in Africa suffered much adversity but was never extinguished. And when we mention this great past we cannot overlook the missionaries who planted the Church in Nigeria in the area of Benin in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. For a variety of reasons their effort perished. But now, in these our times the work of the early Christians of Benin has come to a fruition that in their days was only delayed. And the rapid spread and the high quality of the faith of our people today suggest that the glories of the early African Church are being renewed in our own country as well as in other parts of the continent.

The missionaries who in the last century brought the Church back to Nigeria were few in number and they had little in the way of worldly goods. But what eased their burden and made their work prosper was the spirit of the people who received them. The people took them to their hearts and willingly learned the gospel of Christ from them. It is little wonder that today sons and daughters of the country work side by side as Bishops, priests and religious, with the successors of their earlier missionaries. Great progress has indeed been made and the Church has taken root. ‘See how yonder earth gives promise of spring, how the garden seeds give promise of flower! And the Lord God will make good His promise for all the world to see; a springtime of deliverance and renown’ (Isaias 61: 11). Within a foreseeable future the great aim of missionary work will have been realised in Nigeria: a Church, ruled and guided by a Nigerian hierarchy and clergy, and strong in spiritual life of its members. And this Church will contribute to the life of the Catholic Church in other parts of Africa and of the world.

Catholic thinkers teach that the state like the family is natural to men. Just as the family is natural to men. Just as the family form of society must exist if men are to reproduce themselves in a human way, the political form of society or the state must exist if they are to live together in a grouping that is more than rudimentary. We can make this clearer by explaining that men work together in the state to achieve a three-fold end: (1) they pursue together a common ideal of temporal well-being; (2) they adopt means to maintain internal order as they pursue their ideal; (3) they take measures to safeguard the community from attacks by non-members. We shall comment briefly on each of these ends.

The first end is meaningful and important because men joined with one another in a political community, can carry out many human achievements; they can live fuller lives than they could as isolated individuals or as members of sub-state groups. We can understand this point when we reflect on the kind of general co-operation that is needed in a country to develop higher education on a large scale, maintain postal services and communications and co-ordinate economic activities. The second end is secured through the administration of the courts and the work of the police. The third end obliges a state to keep up an army that is able to defend the community.

The Perfect Temporal Society

From what we have been saying it is clear that the state is founded on the need that men have an ordered co-operation that enables them to live freely and well together. It is the perfect temporal society. But if the state is to achieve its ends, it must have the necessary organs. The chief of these is political authority or government. It is made up of those members of the state who unify and direct the energies of all the members as they pursue their ends together. Without authority a state is not possible; without adequate authority a state is subject to disorder and weakness. From its function of directing energies in a coordinated way the government derives its power to command, and when it is necessary, to use force to back up its commands. And if a government has the right to guide and to command, those who come under this command and benefit from this guidance are obliged to obey its just directives. Political obedience is a serious duty for citizens. Saint Paul wrote to the first Christians: ‘Thou must needs, then, be submissive, not only for fear of punishment, but in conscience. It is for this same reason that you pay taxes; magistrates are in God’s service…Pay every man, then, his due; taxes, if it be taxes; customs, if it be customs; respect and honour, if it be respect and honour’ (Romans, 13: 5-7).

The Government Exists for the People

But if the state exists as an association to enable men to pursue their temporal common good and if authority in the state exists to unify and stimulate men’s efforts, it follows that the scope of political authority (we usually call it the power of the state) is determined by that function. Hence: (1) authority is entitled to all the powers it needs to promote the general welfare of the people; (2) it has no power in those spheres that do not come under association for the common good, and so it must respect the functions of other societies such as the family and the Church; (3) in pursuing its ends and it must not use means that are intrinsically wrong.

An understanding of the first of these points allows us to accept a positive notion of state action and to reject the laissez-faire liberal view that the state exists only to safeguard law and order and property. Rather is it true that to ensure that its members live together in a properly human way the state needs normally to adopt very positive means: among such means are furthering education, setting up hospitals, regulating conditions of factory work, providing for unemployment relief, stimulating investment and planning economic co-ordination. In a country like Nigeria the relative scarcity of private enterprise and capital may mean that for some time to come the state will have to enter into economic and social spheres that in more technically advanced countries are left to private enterprise. Our second conclusion from the function of political authority explains why we reject both a rigid socialism that denies people the right to own property privately and a totalitarian statism that refuses to respect the rights of parents and of social bodies other than the state. Institutions like the family and private property derive from the nature of men; they make it possible for men to seek human ends and find human fulfillment. The state may regulate such institutions in view of the common good. But it cannot eliminate or supersede them. The third and last point may be dealt with briefly and easily. While the end and last point may be dealt with briefly and easily. While the end of the state justifies all good means needed to achieve it, not even a good end will justify the use of an evil means. Hence means like murder, lying propaganda of individuals and minorities can have no place in the proper functioning of the state. We can sum up much of this teaching in citing Pope Pius XII: ‘No one of good-will and vision will think of refusing the state, in the exceptional condition of the world today, correspondingly wider and exceptional rights to meet popular needs. But even in such emergencies, the moral law, established by God, demands that lawlessness of each measure and its real necessity be scrutinized with the greatest rigour according to the standards of the common good’ (Summi Pontificatus).

A Good Christian must be a Good Citizen

We want to insist that in the eyes of the Church the state is an institution that is natural to men. Nobody can be a true member of the Church who is not a good citizen of the state. An important part of the moral effort of the Church goes towards ensuring that Christians are upright and intelligent members of the political community. The Church also respects the autonomy of the state because she has her own sphere and has no desire to enter into the sphere of the state. Sometimes questions touch on mixed sphere that concerns both Church and state. None of these questions however is such that goodwill and mutual co-operation will not settle without difficulty or delay. But if the Church insists that she has no desire to violate the integrity of the order of the state or to play any role in party politics, she does exhort her members to toke a living interest and active part in political affairs, national and local. The health of the country’s political life depends on the part that good citizens play. Upright and devoted Christians, loyal to their country and self- sacrificing in their pursuit of the common good, have a great deal to offer to the political and social development of Nigeria.

Up to the present we have been discussing the nature of the state. We need to relate such discussion to the concrete social situation in Nigeria. This situation holds many rich possibilities and presents certain problems. The possibilities and problems centre largely around the unity of the country and its socio-economic development.


Right from the start it is well to recognise that Nigerian unity includes a great deal of diversity. The country is one state. But it includes many nations. Each one of the several large groupings in our multi-national state possesses a language and traditions that are its own; each people owns a certain group loyalty; and the members of each ethnic group have a natural tendency to associate with one another, even when they are away from their state of origin. It is because of the language and tradition that each one of them inherits and the kinship their members feel with one another that we have preferred to call the larger ethnic grouping ‘nations’- ‘tribe’ is no longer properly relevant as present-day description of our peoples. It is perfectly legitimate to suggest that the future development of Nigeria should respect the different national traditions of our people. However, above the fellowship of these particular traditions stands for greater fellowship of the state. Nigerians, especially the country’s leaders, must primarily look to the common well-being of all the members of the political community. Fortunately recent years have seen steady growth in an over-all Nigerian nationalism that has cut across ethnic divisions and that has drawn our people together. The citizens have become conscious of themselves as a people who possess a unity that vastly outweighs differences. Hence we can speak of Nigeria as a nation as well as a state. This unity owes much of its geographical boundaries to a colonial past. Nonetheless Nigeria is now forming into a great united country with a sense of distinctiveness and of mission and with the conviction that it has its own particular contribution to offer both to Africa and to the world.

However for some years to come we shall have to face problems that arise from the great extent of the country and from the diversity of our peoples. We shall solve these problems best by facing them candidly and not by ignoring them. 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 ends. Fortunately up to the present our political leaders have largely resisted such temptations. We trust that they will continue their present efforts to develop their parties on a country-wide. We insist that no Catholic can with a good conscience indulge in a policy that sets one section of the state against another –‘tribalism’ as this attitude is usually called. Catholic Church is justly proud that she has made into one family of God people from all parts of Nigeria. Since she is herself a universal society that includes in her fold cultures and peoples from all parts of the world, she has been ideally suited to fostering the unity in diversity that we want in Nigeria. She wishes to go on making a contribution to the building up of Nigeria fellowship. And this fellowship is going to be all the richer because whose diversity offers mutual stimulus and the exchange of cultural riches of varied kinds.

The unity and tolerance that we are advocating among the different ethnic group that make up Nigeria we want to see exist also among the major political parties. The latter play an important part in recruiting and training political leadership; they are meant to translate social and economic issues into terms that people understand; and they give an assurance to the groups that they represent that their interests are not being overlooked. We are comforted by the way our leaders have co-operated with one another up to the present. We hope that they will continue to avoid the kind of envenomed hostility that might injure the fabric of constitutional rule. Furthermore, we express the strong hope that once a government comes into power either at the centre or in the regions it will decisively reject the temptation to victimise those areas that have voted against it. Political tolerance alone will allow all the talent that the country possesses to be used in a co-ordinated way in resolving the problems that lie ahead.


The next series of problems that Nigeria faces are grouped around the need to make economic progress and to improve social welfare. Any government that comes into power is now committed to improving gradually and steadily the standard of living. The spread of education and development of communications make a growing section of our people more and more aware of what results socio-economic progress can bring betterment and the example of achievements made by other under-developed countries stir the minds of many. Yet it worries us that the industrial and agricultural growth of the country is slower than is desirable. Very soon the extension of primary education will see hundreds of thousands of primary school leavers emerging into the labour market. Our economy must be able to absorb them into either industry or agriculture or we shall face a social crisis. It may well be that for our democratic system it is a race against time between the progressive raising of our standards of living and the discontent that may tempt some of our people to turn to authoritarian short-cuts.

Much of our progress can be achieved only through making sacrifices and maintaining integrity. Those who lead in political and economic activity 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, whether in the shape of expensive cars or lavish parties, 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 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 intents to have a fair share-out of its national wealth. We are also worried lest those who draw salaries from the government should go on being favoured at the expense of the vast but as yet relatively less articulate section of the country composed of the farming communities. Last of all, we hope that in the course of the industrialization of the country we shall avoid creating conditions under which vast masses of badly paid or unemployed labour 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.

Just Taxes must be Paid

All classes in the country must play their part in raising the standard of living. For that reason we insist that our people must accept just taxation as a normal way for a government to raise money. Taxes go to pay for administration, for services and for economic development. What a citizen pays returns to him in the form of real benefits. However most parts of the country have had little tradition of tax-paying. For long our economy had remained relatively unchanged and administration was carried on cheaply There was no great burden of taxation, but neither were services or industries developed very much. Now under our own rule and in a country that is growing relatively more prosperous we want welfare services and we need to stimulate economic growth. Hence it is a Christian duty to cooperate with normal taxation laws. We also remind our people that governments often have to decide selectively where certain services and developments – schools or factories, for example – can best be placed. These decisions should not arouse excessive resentment. In the long run they will lead to the good of the whole region or country. And in any case we must always be ready to undertake community effort of our own in different areas independently of governmental participation – indeed the latter often follows intelligent local endeavour.

Education: General and Technical

As we become independent we are still short of trained staff for the civil services, for commercial enterprises and for technical enterprise in agriculture and industry. One fears that up to the present much of our education has had an excessively literary bias. We are glad to see that our governments are trying to alter the emphasis. We assure them that we will do our best to cooperate in founding technical and commercial schools and in training and finding staff for such schools.

We might also add that the time has come to revise generally our entire educational system to find in better with the circumstances of the country. For too long our ideal has been based on models hastily imported from abroad. We have no wish to reject much of what has been imported. Modern Nigeria bears far too deeply the impress of Western ideology and technology to have that impress ignored or despised. But there is a great difference between accepting in our own way what the West has to give and accepting it without adequately assimilating and adapting it. A genuine effort to formulate a policy of Nigerian education that nonetheless meets the requirements of scholarship in any country will help to found a proper national self-respect. The greatest benefit of freedom is to foster a people’s self-respect. In building up an educational system that is properly adapted to the way our people think and feel and that meets the technical and commercial requirements of our own situation we shall also heal any injuries that the period of colonization has caused.
Some Evils: Bribery and Nepotism

We must adopt personal and social attitudes that are geared to our changing society in which impersonal service and a money economy have begun to dominate. Here we are faced by the twin evils of bribery and nepotism. Unless we take strong measures and unless we mobilize public opinion, we shall never stamp out these evils. We are faced, for example, with a widespread ‘dash-bribe’ system that is slowing up our economy, causing deaths on the roads and impeding efficient administration. We urge the governments to take decisive action in this grave issue. Those in official posts especially must be reminded that men who take bribes betray the trust of the nation. Bribery is a great sin that usually does injury to the poor. ‘Your often misdoing, your heinous guild, never think I am blind to it; innocence hated, the bribe taken, the poor refused their rights at the judgment seat’ (Amos 5:12. Nepotism too has its roots deep in all human nature and finds particularly favourable soil in our extended family system. We urge our Catholics to stand against these evils and to make sacrifices if need be to combat them. If each one of us remains upright in his own sphere and helps wherever possible to uphold social integrity, we should soon rid our society of defects that injure its honour and hinder its advance.

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