AND ON THE CURRENT NIGERIAN SITUATION1 Fr. Anthony A. Akinwale, O.P.
and Professor of Systematic Theology
This reflection is being put into writing shortly after celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s landmark Encyclical, Populorum Progressio. The Encyclical’s major contribution to humanity—to “developed and underdeveloped” countries—is to be found in its notion of authentic development. While many experts in industrialized western societies are content with seeing development as the maximization of profit and power, Pope Paul VI’s notion of authentic development prophetically calls the attention of the world to the spiritual dimension of development and refers the same development to the spiritual destiny of the human person. The human person is therefore seen as occupying the central place in matters of development. Development is what it ought to be when the good of the human person is attained within the common good. It is not just a matter of enviable economic indices such as the high value of the naira or dollar or euro, nor a matter of availability of infrastructure. Even when all these are present, authentic development would be absent until the attainment of the fulfillment of the human person within our collective self-fulfillment is ordered to its supernatural destiny. This notion of authentic development has its presuppositions and implications.
Regarding its presupposition, a Christian conviction, traceable to the Hebrew Scriptures must be borne in mind. It is the conviction that while bread—symbol of material abundance—is necessary for human existence, it is not sufficient. Our Lord captured this fact in his rebuttal to the Tempter’s proposition to turn stones into bread, a rebuttal taken from the book of Deuteronomy: “none lives on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4; Deut. 8:3). While the human need for natural fulfillment must never be denied, the insufficiency of the things of this world in themselves, and the necessity of the things of the higher world must be constantly recognized. And the psalmist’s subscription to this wise teaching is well known. While he sees wealth as blessing from God (Ps 37:19), the psalmist warns against the futility of putting trust in it.
They trust in their wealth, and boast of the profusion of their riches. No one can ever redeem himself or pay his own ransom to God, the price for himself is too high; it can never be that he will live for ever and avoid the sight of the abyss…. In prosperity people lose their good sense, they become no better than dumb animals…. Do not be overawed when someone gets rich, and lives in ever greater splendor; when he dies he will take nothing with him, his wealth will not go down with him (Ps 49:7-8.12. 16-17).
The articulation of this position is what the reader finds at the beginning of St. Augustine’s Confessions, in his words that are most probably the most often quoted: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Confessions, I,1). For the human being, rest remains elusive until it is sought and found in God. Following this insight is Thomas Aquinas’ description of the wise person as one who ardently desires to know God so as to love God (cf. Summa contra gentiles, Bk 1, chs 1-9). The wise person sees the beautiful things of this world, appreciates their beauty, but realizes that none of them can bring ultimate felicity.
The implication of the anthropocentric character and supernatural finality of this notion of authentic development is clear, and this is what inspires the reflection being presented in this paper. Since authentic development must have the fulfillment of the human person as its central focus, every violation of human dignity is an act against the attainment of authentic development. Violation of human dignity takes the form of abbreviation of our common humanity and results in the alienation of the human person. Since the fulfillment of the human person is in the attainment of his or her spiritual destiny, every act that disorientates the human person from God is to the detriment of authentic development because it is inimical to the fulfillment of the human person.
The paper is divided into three sections. In the first section, I shall attempt a theological inquiry into the roots of human rights violation. In the second section, I shall itemize and analyze indices of such violation within the Nigerian polity. The third section will reflect on the Church as sign and instrument of restoration of all things in Christ in the current Nigerian situation.
A Theological Inquiry into the Roots of Human Rights Violation
Creation is God’s goodness and love putting order in formlessness and bringing something out of nothing. The divinely inspired writer of the story thought it necessary to portray God as an artist, affirming, confirming and admiring the beauty of his own work, of the universe he has made “God saw that it was good.” We are familiar with this formulaic refrain in the creation narrative found in the first chapter of the book of Genesis: “God said let there be…. and there was…..and God saw that it was very good.” Augustine of Hippo unveils the meaning of this refrain.
When the works thus begun had been formed and perfected, God saw that it was good. For He found His works pleasing, in keeping with the benevolence by which He was pleased to create them. There are, it should be noted, two purposes in God’s love of His creation: first, that it may exist, and secondly, that it may abide. Hence, that there might exist an object to abide, the Spirit of God was stirring above the waters. That it might abide, God saw that it was good. And what is said of the light is said of all the works. For some abide in the most exalted holiness next to God, transcending all the changes of time; but others abide according to the determinations of their time, while the beauty of the ages is unfolded by the coming and passing of things.2 The narrative tells of a God who did not create one but many different things. And, explaining the multitude and distinction in creation, Thomas Aquinas has this to say:
the distinction and multitude of things come from the intention of the first agent, who is God. For he brought things into being in order that his goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because his goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, he produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided; and hence the whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly, and represents it better than any single creature whatever.3
God’s work of creation was the communication of his goodness and love to each creature he has made. But none of God’s creatures is a perfect recipient of divine goodness. Not being a perfect recipient means not one creature would suffice in representing God’s goodness. Variety in creation was necessary for representing divine goodness. The beauty of creation was in its variety and order. There was beauty in each thing God created, and there was beauty in the whole of creation itself. There was beauty in particularity, in diversity, and in the entirety of creation. “God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen 1:31). God saw that each thing was good, and God saw that all things were good. There was harmony in the diversity that God willed in creation.
Within this diversity, there was also inequality, and even this inequality, said Aquinas, comes from divine wisdom for the sake of perfection of the universe.
It must be said that as the wisdom of God is the cause of the distinction of things, so the same wisdom is the cause of their inequality….as the divine wisdom is the cause of the distinction of things for the sake of the perfection of the universe so it is the cause of inequality. For the universe would not be perfect if only one grade of goodness were found in things.4
Each individual represents a grade of goodness within its species, and this gradation of goodness adds beauty to the world.
All this may not sound well in our thoroughly, or pretentiously, egalitarian world. However, one may be able to get a confirmation from art that variety, distinction and inequality contribute to the good of order in which the beauty of the work of art consists. The fact that the goalkeeper does not have the skills of a striker, while the striker does not have the skills of a goalkeeper does point to variety and inequality. But added up, they contribute to the beauty and strength of the team.
The Genesis happy story of a well-ordered world of variety was tragically punctuated by the Fall. Failing to appreciate the divinely-willed beauty in cosmic diversity and distinction, seduced by the proposition of the Tempter that they could create a better world ordered according to their own laws—in fact, ordered according to themselves, for they thought they could become law—human beings disrupted the order of and thus dissented from divine wisdom. In the harmonious arrangement of original justice, rightness of relation was to take the form of the subjection of other creatures to human beings, and of human beings to God. God had placed human beings above other creatures by creating them in his image and likeness. Their mandate to dominate the earth was a mandate of stewardship. It was mandatory to be accountable to God in the use of the things of this world. Freedom to use them was extensive, yet it ended at the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Soon came violation of this order, which was a violation of God’s right to will the universe to be according to his wisdom. In a way that re-echoes Anselm of Canterbury’s Cur Deus homo, one could say that the sin of origin was a failed but tragic attempt on the part of human beings to violate God’s honour, just as the honour of the artist is violated by distorting the beauty of his work. The disobedience of Adam and Eve treated God with contempt in an attempt to create or recreate the universe according to man’s design of self-love. Augustine would thus describe sin as “self-love to the point of treating God with contempt” (amor sui iusque ad contemptum Dei), requiring “love of God to the point of treating the self with contempt” (amor Dei iusque ad contemptum sui). From the moment God’s rights were violated in disobedience, human beings lost sight of God. Becoming ignorant of who God is, they resorted to the false religion of idolatry. The self in fact became the idol, so that this idolatry took the form of autolatry (self-worship). The tendency to maximize power, profit and pleasure in pursuit of the illusion of self-fulfillment outside the common good would lead to all the conflicts of race, of classes, or gender, of culture of religion etc. Disconnection from God by autolatry was disconnection from the source of life and love. Hatred and death began their reign. Man’s attempt to steal God’s honour by force led to false religion manifested in ignorance of God. Ignorance of God and ignorance of man and his neighbor go hand in hand. Violation of God’s own rights takes the form of abbreviation of the same rights and results in alienation from God. Corruption of religion, which is prevalent in contemporary Nigeria, is abbreviation of God’s own rights. And when God’s rights are violated by corrupt religion human rights are also affected.
Indices of Violation of Human Dignity Within the Nigerian Polity Violation of human dignity takes the form of abbreviation of our common humanity and results in the alienation of the human person. Any affront to human dignity is an obstacle on the path to authentic development. Attitudes and policies that militate against personal and collective fulfillment in the actualization of personal and collective potentials are inimical to development. Ours is the challenge to see the link between violation of human dignity, which remains rampant in Nigeria despite her “democratic profession” or pretension, and the lingering problem of under-development. In response to this challenge, a number of pertinent and overlapping preliminary questions need to be addressed with candor and sobriety.
I shall single out the following: the question of the rights of the citizen, the national question, and the leadership question. In fact, if the question of civil rights are to be addressed, the national question and the leadership question will need to be addressed. To gloss over or trivialize these questions is to fail to cooperate with God in the work of restoration that needs to take place in Nigeria and Africa.5
The Dignity and Rights of the Citizen as a Human Being
The fact that government remains the largest employer of labor, despite highly publicized “economic reforms”, is itself a violation of the rights of the citizen as a human being. It is a well known secret that the bulk of Nigeria’s income comes from the petroleum sector, from the sale of crude oil, to be precise. The vesting of all mineral resources in the hands of the federal government by Nigeria’s 1999 Federal Constitution is a violation of the rights of the citizen. In practical terms, the wealth of Nigeria is not in the hands of its people but in the hands of the government. This makes the government more powerful than the people. Whereas authentic development requires the participation of the people, when they are deprived of their rights because their human dignity is ignored, they are reduced to the status of passive and helpless spectators standing by while their destiny is being decided by a ubiquitous and overbearing government that lays false claims to omniscience and omnipotence. Hence, successive governments, and their functionaries, in an attitude of paternalistic condescension, act as masters of the people they are paid to serve by arrogating to themselves the exclusive right to define and adopt what constitutes good policies with neither dialogue nor consultation with the people. Pope John Paul II describes the consequence of this kind of policy.
It should be noted that in today's world, among other rights, the right of economic initiative is often suppressed. Yet it is a right which is important not only for the individual but also for the common good. Experience shows us that the denial of this right, or its limitation in the name of an alleged “equality” of everyone in society, diminishes, or in practice absolutely destroys the spirit of initiative, that is to say the creative subjectivity of the citizen. As a consequence, there arises, not so much a true equality as a “leveling down.” In the place of creative initiative there appears passivity, dependence and submission to the bureaucratic apparatus which, as the only “ordering” and “decision-making” body—if not also the “owner”—of the entire totality of goods and the means of production, puts everyone in a position of almost absolute dependence, which is similar to the traditional dependence of the worker-proletarian in capitalism. This provokes a sense of frustration or desperation and predisposes people to opt out of national life, impelling many to emigrate and also favoring a form of “psychological” emigration (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 15).
Deprived of the right of economic initiative, Africans migrate in large numbers to countries where this same right is protected. Since the economy is still largely in the control of the state, the temptation of subordinating the citizen to the state has shown itself to be irresistible to the point of contempt of the citizen by government and its functionaries. It has to be said, in consonance with Catholic social teaching, that the state is meant to be at the service of the human person, not the other way round. The human person is not a tool in the hands of the state, a pawn on the chessboard of seekers and holders of political offices in the land. For the human being is never a tool but a person. Employers of labor, in the public and private sectors, must not reduce the worker to a mere tool for making profit.
The purpose of the state or government is to constitute and preserve the totality of its territory as an environment in which the dignity of every man and woman is respected so that citizens can participate with men and women within and beyond the borders of states in the inter-subjective task of authentic development.6 But in Nigeria, despite its avowed policy of liberalization and privatization of the economy, government and its parastatals are yet to create an environment that is conducive for legitimate private enterprise which is needed for authentic development. Failure to create a suitable environment for investors is eminently exemplified in the near total breakdown of the energy sector, the corrupt, ineffective, unreliable and unfriendly security agents like the police, the near total impossibility of mobility since roads and the aviation sector are in states of disrepair, and the corruption and incompetence of government in the management of the affairs of the country. With factories closing down, and with foreign and indigenous investors scared away, unemployment rate has led to a high wave of crime. The casualty in all this is the worker who is either unemployed, under-employed or employed in very poor conditions. But not only employers of labor, labor unions too, and quite often, adopt policies and strategies that work against the interest of the worker because they fail to respect the dignity of the worker, and, by so doing, work against the attainment of authentic development. That is why one cannot speak of the dignity of human labor without treating the issue of recurrent strike actions in the Nigerian labor market.
Catholic social teaching affirms that there are just strike actions, and workers have the right to go on strike. Yet, it must be emphasized that the worker’s right to strike imposes some duties on the worker, and, as Pope John Paul II made it clear, the method of using strike or work stoppage by unions to pursue the just rights of workers is legitimate only within the limits of certain conditions.
Workers should be assured the right to strike, without being subjected to personal penal sanctions for taking part in a strike. While admitting that it is a legitimate means, we must at the same time emphasize that a strike remains, in a sense, an extreme means. It must not be abused especially for “political” purposes. Furthermore, it must never be forgotten that, when essential community services are in question, they must in every case be ensured, if necessary, by means of appropriate legislation. Abuse of the strike weapon can lead to the paralysis of the whole of socioeconomic life, and this is contrary to the requirements of the common good of society, which also corresponds to the properly understood nature of work itself (Laborem Exercens, n. 20).
Strikes are tools for ensuring that the dignity of the worker is not violated by employers of labor. But not only must the strike be just, its modalities and timing must also be just. It would seem the President of the Nigerian Labor Congress, Abdulwaheed Omar missed this differentiation of vital importance.
The Guardian, on June 19, 2007 quoted Omar as giving the following directives just before a strike action: “All offices, ports, banks, petrol stations and business premises will be shut down. All schools, airports, official and semi-official business premises will be closed. Vehicles particularly commercial ones are to be off the roads.” And more: “These strikes and protests are planned to be peaceful. However, any bank, fuel station, factory or office that defies the directive of the Nigerian people will be fully responsible for its action. We advise parents and guardians not to send their children to school as teachers have given a firm commitment that they will not teach. School children should therefore not be allowed to roam the streets, that may be unsafe.”
A number of questions come to mind: (i) is a directive of the leadership of the NLC a “directive of the Nigerian people”? Has the NLC leadership the right to restrict the movement of Nigerians? Does the NLC have the right to shut down banks, fuel stations, factories and business premises in the private sector in what is supposed to be a democratic polity? One may understand the case of state-run schools. But does the NLC have the right to shut down private schools? At the time of the strike action, some students were writing exams, does the NLC have the right to stop students from going to write their exams? Is it fair to ask the market woman who relies on a daily income to stay at home while the leadership of the NLC gets paid for organizing strikes?
At the heart of democracy is freedom. That is why a democracy in which there is no room for dissenting voices is a fake democracy. In an authentic democracy, while everyone has the right to go on strike, no one has the right to force everyone to go on strike according to his own time and modalities. The worker has a right to strike. Labour unions exist to ensure that the dignity of labor is respected by employers of labor. But by virtue of a constitutional guarantee of freedom of association, neither membership of labor unions nor participation in all the activities of the union is obligatory. It is a violation of the constitutional rights of the citizen to compel him or her to take part in or support a strike action. The worker has the right to refuse to be part of a strike action. Not to recognize this right, which is what the Nigerian Labor Congress and many other labor unions have done, is to violate the dignity of labor through the violation of the rights of Nigerian citizens.
At all times, the dignity of the worker, the common good, and the health of the economy must always be respected, not one without any of the other two. If you care for the worker then you must care for the economy and you must care for the common good. If you care for the economy then you must care for the worker and for the common good. And if you care for the common good then you must care for the worker and for the economy. While it is undeniably the function of workers’ unions to ensure that the rights of the worker are respected, it is equally the case that the welfare of the worker is jeopardized when the economy is threatened by strategically unwise strike actions. And while it is the duty of those who govern the polity to work for the common good, this same common good is at stake when the economy and the worker are not given their due rights.
I must not fail to point out that at the time this reflection is being written, an obnoxious and illegal policy of the National Universities Commission (NUC) is being implemented which brings back sad memories of the illegitimate confiscation of Catholic schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Justifying itself as wanting to put sanity in the Nigerian university system, the NUC published an advertorial in some national dailies on September 22, 2006 declaring some affiliate schools illegal. It then states:
Federal Government policy also allows universities, at the discretion of their senates, to contract affiliation with religious training institutions only for purposes of strengthening provision of the latter for qualifications for pastoral purposes but not for use in secular appointments nor as entry qualifications to secular higher education (Emphasis added to show implication).
In other words, according to this cited but not quoted “Federal Government policy”, even if the affiliation of Catholic seminaries to some universities is not illegal, degrees obtained through such affiliations, awarded by the Senate of the affiliating universities, after fulfilling all academic requirements specified by the university at the point of entry, and after satisfying more than is required by the curriculum of the affiliating university, can neither be used for secular appointment nor can it be used for admission into post-graduate studies. In concrete terms, an abbreviated bachelor’s degree becomes the terminus ad quem for priests, ex-seminarians, women religious and other graduates of religious institutions. The policy in question amounts to a gross violation of the civil rights of graduates of seminaries and Catholic institutes in Nigeria. It discriminates on the grounds of religions and is in clear contravention of Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution. Moreover, by making such a policy, and by implementing it, the NUC has maximized its powers beyond what is specified in its enabling Decree n.1 of 1974 signed by Gen. Yakubu Gowon and amended in 1993 by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.7
The National Question
Closely tied to the question of civil rights is the national question which is posed in many an African country. The arbitrary partition of Africa by European colonial powers at the Berlin Conference of 1870 created states without securing the consent of peoples of diverse linguistic affinities and cultural affiliations which make them up. The consequence has been the creation of states held together at gunpoint instead of nations. A nation is an association of people of shared ideals. In Nigeria, as in many African countries, the peoples are yet to identify any ideal that commands their consensus. That poses the national question, and the way it is addressed manifests respect or disrespect towards people of certain ethnic affiliations. Concretely, it is the question of whether or not an African can have all of his or her rights as a citizen acknowledged, protected and respected outside the boundaries of ancestral homeland even when he or she is still within the geographical boundary of the country whose passport he or she carries? Does the Nigerian citizen have rights and duties always and everywhere within Nigeria? While the question in the previous subsection of the essay concerns the rights of the citizen as a human being, here it is a question of the rights of the citizen as citizen.
The status of the African continent as a collection of under-developed countries located within the same geographical vicinity is not the result of the inferiority of the African intellect vis-à-vis the Asian or Caucasian intellect. It is largely traceable to disregard for human dignity visited on the African by Africans and non-Africans. So much has been said and written on the lingering effects of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, on western colonialism and imperialism, and on the debt crisis. But the fact of inter and intra-African slave trade, as well as inter and intra-African tribal wars have either been ignored or glossed over by too many African scholars and commentators and their non-African sympathizers. To think that such wars are over is to fail to see reality. The Nigeria-Biafra war, the Tutsi-Hutu dichotomy in Rwanda and Burundi and the accompanying bloodletting and genocide, the Aguleri-Umuleri conflict in eastern Nigeria, and the Tiv-Junkun altercation in the middle belt and northeastern Nigeria, to mention but these, show that such wars still rage intermittently.
In southwestern Nigeria, the Yoruba civil war of the mid-19th century never ended as such.8 There was semblance of a ceasefire when British colonialists imposed a pax Britanica on the Yoruba, as they did to other city-states and empires they conquered. The acrimony that comes in the sharing of assets after every creation of new federating states in the political history of Nigeria, the Ife-Modakeke war of the early 1980s and the late 1990s show that if the conditions are met, the drumbeats of war can still be heard. Fueling these wars is a combustible ethnocentrism, or tribalism, as it is commonly called.
As I clarified on previous occasions, the problem is not ethnicity but ethnocentrism.9 The former is love of one’s ancestral home, which is a virtue. The latter is a malicious solidarity of members of the same ethnic group in an effort to pursue their interests in a way that is detrimental to the interests of people of other ethnic groups. It is a racist disposition which ignores the fact of our common humanity, the fact that what makes me and my kinsmen and kinswomen human is what makes the people of the other tribe human. Ethnocentrism occurs when one erroneously believes that one’s ethnic group is superior, others’ inferior. It is a disordered love of one’s ethnic group which motivates the use of one’s ethnic affiliation to impede the realization of the legitimate aspirations of others of different ethnic affiliation; a conspiracy within an ethnic enclave; the abbreviation of the human dignity of a person, which is ipso facto a negation and violation of human dignity and an obstacle on the path to authentic development. The human dignity of the Nigerian, and of most Africans, is abbreviated once they step out of their areas of ancestral origin. The rights of the Nigerian citizen are severely if not totally reduced once the Nigerian leaves his or her tribal homeland, even if the Nigerian is still within Nigeria. Not only that, the tribe itself has become a hideout of criminals and a place of refuge for the mediocre. If I do not perform well in my place of work and I deserve to be disciplined or dismissed, I evoke tribal sentiments telling whoever is sufficiently gullible that I am being maltreated because of my tribe. The same applies to the political office holder who is accused of looting public funds and who is to be tried. He claims it is an attempt to put a stop to his political ambition because of his tribal affiliation. Ethnic affiliation can be used to secure employment even by the incompetent, just as the same ethnic affiliation can lead to a loss of job even by the most competent.
As a result of tribalism, the best hands are not hired for the job, and when they are hired they are not justly remunerated. Not hiring the best hands means not getting the best result, not getting the best result means jeopardizing development and mortgaging our future; the fact that such a practice has been institutionalized in the conception and implementation of the policy of “federal character” means Nigeria will always lack the services of her most competent sons and daughters. When a vital office is zoned to a particular section of the country one should not expect the services rendered by that office to be efficient. The point being made here is that the problem of under-development in Nigeria is directly related to the abbreviation or simple negation of the dignity of the Nigerian as a human person. Those rights are abbreviated or negated on the grounds of ethnic, religious or gender affiliation. In such a situation, personal and collective fulfillment cannot be attained. Discrimination is a violation of human dignity which compromises the attainment of authentic development by impeding the human person from working for his or her self-fulfillment within the framework of collective fulfillment. Such is the national question which cannot be addressed without addressing the leadership question. How Nigerians and Africans choose their leaders or are prevented from freely choosing their leaders determines the attainment or non-attainment of authentic development.10
The Leadership Question11 The Nigerian experience has clearly shown that addressing the question of leadership is a prerequisite for authentic development. The search for a credible leadership in Nigeria cannot succeed if we do not ask the right preliminary questions. This search does not begin by looking at the faces, colors, manifestos, ethnic or religious affiliations of those who commend themselves to the populace as aspirants to public office. The right preliminary question is not: how can one recognize a credible leader? That, I suggest, is probably the final question. For this search to bear good fruit, the questions that must be raised before that question are: do we need Nigeria? And, what type of Nigeria do we need? The order in which these questions are posed calls for explanation, and the explanation is found when the relationship between leadership and the vocational consciousness of a people is established.
Leadership is or ought to be at the service of the vocational consciousness of the people. A people must embark on the journey into self-understanding if it is to know the type of leadership it needs. We must know the type of people we ought to be if we are to know the type of leadership we ought to have. We must inquire about our identity and vocation before we must inquire about the identity and vocation of our leaders.
The purpose of leadership is not to take over from the people what the people can do for itself. That would be a paternalistic and condescending violation of the principle of subsidiarity, a well-known principle in Catholic social teaching proposed by Pope Pius XI in his Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno.12 Leadership exists to assist the people to realize its vocation, that is, to assist the led to become what they are called to become, to actualize their potentials. That is why a people must be conscious of its vocation and of its potentials and must have the political will to actualize those potentials if it is to have credible leaders. It must know itself and what it is called to be before it can know the kind of leadership it needs. One would need to inquire as to what type of Nigeria is needed before one can describe the type of leadership Nigeria needs. However, perhaps, as some never cease to suggest, Nigeria is not needed. So, one must ascertain the desirability or otherwise of Nigeria before one can go into further details concerning the type of Nigeria we need. Presuppositions such as these influence the choice, formulation and sequence of the three questions I shall be addressing in this part of the essay. First, is Nigeria needed? Secondly, if Nigeria is needed, what type of Nigeria is needed? And thirdly, what type of leadership is needed for the type of Nigeria that is needed? I will therefore speak on the desirability of Nigeria before offering a description of Nigeria. It is only then that I will prescribe what a Nigerian leader should be.
Whether or not the area around the Niger should remain one political jurisdiction, and, if it were to remain one, whether such jurisdiction should be of unitary, federal or confederal nature: these are questions that have never been subjected to any referendum since the Berlin Conference of 1870 and the amalgamation of northern and southern Nigeria on January 1, 1914. Nonetheless, these are recurring questions in political discourse about Nigeria. To some, it would seem that we do not need Nigeria. They often refer to what is termed “the mistake of 1914” and the problem of ethnicity. It is said that the colonization of the peoples living in what is today called Nigeria and the amalgamation of the same peoples by the British without their consent and without a treaty of union was a monumental and fraudulent imposition which engenders and renders insoluble the problem of ethnicity and, by extension, the problem of authentic development. It is contended that the various peoples were not consulted by the colonial masters, that these peoples of linguistic, cultural and religious differences have little or nothing in common and have never agreed to live as peoples of one nation. Those who find it convenient to blame all the woes of Nigeria on the amalgamation of 1914 and on ethnicity conclude that the solution to the problem of Nigeria is the dissolution of the enforced union.
While one may not fault the opinion that Nigeria remains a state held together at gunpoint, to continue to hold colonialism, the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria and ethnicity wholly or largely responsible for the problems of Nigeria—and similar things are said about many other African countries—amounts to intellectual laziness. It is a case of wrong diagnosis leading to disastrous medication. The option of breaking up Nigeria, whether through peaceful or violent means, is costly and therefore strategically unwise. This is not because one accepts Nigeria as a fait accompli but because the strength of Nigeria as a country is actually in the diversity of its peoples and in its immense population. This diversity and immensity, if well integrated, represent good prospects for authentic development. That, I hope, helps to make a case for the continued existence of the country. But one must be clear as to what type of Nigeria is needed for authentic development.13
The type of Nigeria needed for authentic development is a Nigeria where the integration of diverse peoples is inculcated as vocational consciousness, that is, a land where diverse peoples recognize their differences but come together, despite those differences, in the awareness and appreciation of our common humanity and the conviction that such differences can actually be used to transform the country into one of the most beautiful countries in the world. What is needed is a Nigeria that is a land of integration of peoples for the development of peoples, a land where ethnic and religious diversity are accepted and celebrated as stepping-stones to national greatness. Rather than break up the country, which is the shortcut of intellectual laziness, what is needed is the awareness that, when strategically utilized, Nigeria’s diversity and immensity are choice ingredients for development which can in fact make Nigeria one of the most prosperous countries of the world.
The absence of political will to take this step is one major factor in the stagnation of Nigeria in the state of unfulfilled promise. The British recognized the political and economic advantages of a diverse and immense Nigeria. That was why they colonized such a vast expanse of land. Nigerians can do the same if they have the political will to integrate even while maintaining their diversity. Nigerians have shown themselves to be resilient and resourceful, intelligent and energetic. If and when the political will towards integration becomes present, an actualization of potentials will take place, and the world will witness the emergence of a powerful nation that will work with other African nations to uplift Africa. The alternative will be a nation and a continent left behind by other nations and continents, a people of rich cultural values living in material poverty in the midst of abundance.14
The need for integration is the need to do away with discrimination. Needed is a Nigeria where every right of every Nigerian citizen is respected everywhere in the land, a Nigeria where everywhere is home for every Nigerian. Nigeria’s potential for prosperity can be actualized if and when the leaders and the led in Nigeria do away with all forms of discrimination against Nigerians in Nigeria as well as euphemisms in our political lexicon which legitimize such discrimination. Nigeria is needed because the potentials in this land offer opportunities for the well being of the peoples who live on it. But such opportunities can only be reaped if Nigerians, leaders and led, would implement with jealous and religious devotion the provisions Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, especially the provisions of sections 42 and 43, and impose very stiff sanctions on any violation of the same provisions. For it is the right and duty of the leaders and the led to ensure that the rights and dignity of every citizen are respected and protected from internal and external aggression.15
The type of Nigeria needed determines the type of leadership that is needed. It must be a leadership that respects and promotes the dignity of the Nigerian as a human being and as a citizen. Having this type of leadership means the one thousand and one flaws of Nigeria’s elections must be corrected or at least significantly reduced so that the people’s votes will count when the votes are counted. The fraud and violence that characterize elections in Nigeria will prevent the country from forging ahead.16
Let us go back to the insight of Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio. If authentic development must place the human person at its centre, that is, his or her fulfillment within collective fulfillment, then every violation of human dignity is an impediment to authentic development. If Nigeria is a land of abysmally low human rights record, a theological reflection must not fail to identify the spiritual roots of the various forms of violation of human dignity which make it impossible for us to attain authentic development. The Christian tradition is teaching us that the explanation of what we do to each other now goes back to what was done to God in the Garden of Eden. There is a reciprocal relationship between the violation of human rights and the violation of God’s rights. If, today, human rights are violated, it is because God’s rights have been and are still being violated. And if God’s rights are violated, it is because human rights are violated.
The sin of Adam and Eve led to a four-fold alienation. There came alienation between God and the human person. Man began to hide from God. There came alienation within the human family of Adam and Eve. Earlier, in their original nakedness, they felt safe in each other’s company. Now the fear and risk of violation led to making leaves to cover their bodies. The woman craves for her husband. The husband lords it over her. That what makes the man human is what makes the woman human is denied altogether. There came alienation between the human person and the rest of creation manifest in the need to eat from the sweat of the brow having worked in the midst of thorns. And of course, alienated from God, from the rest of the human family and from the rest of creation, man’s inner peace was displaced by an inner dichotomy.17
The Church and the Restoration of All Things in Christ Things fell apart at the Fall. The restoration of all things is brought about in the person and redemptive work of Christ. The author of the letter to the Ephesians declared, with remarkable confidence, clarity and certitude, that God had made known to believers the mystery of salvation as God’s purpose hidden for all time. God’s mysterious purpose, which was determined beforehand in Christ, and which was to be implemented when the times had run their course was “to bring everything together (anakephalaiōsis) under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth” (Eph 1:10). This bringing together took the concrete form of the reconciliation of two hitherto separated races—Jews and gentiles—in the Church. The past and the present of their relationship get a generous portion of the attention of the author of the letter to the Ephesians as he wrote:
Do not forget, then, that there was a time when you who were gentiles by physical descent, termed the uncircumcised by those who speak of themselves as the circumcised by reason of a physical operation, do not forget, I say, that you were at that same time separate from Christ and excluded from the membership of Israel, aliens and without God. But now in Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far off have been brought close, by the blood of Christ. For he is the peace between us, and has made the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, by destroying in his own person the hostility….His purpose in this was, by restoring peace, to create a single New Man, out of the two of them, and through the cross to reconcile them both to God in one Body; in his own person he killed the hostility….
So you are no longer aliens or foreign visitors; you are fellow citizens with the holy people of God and part of God’s household. You are built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone (Eph 2:11-16. 19-20).
The lesson is not difficult to discern. The alienation of the past has been overcome in the person of Christ. The sad fact of division has been overtaken by the Paschal event. And the beautiful plan of the mystery of reconciliation is revealed and accomplished in the Church, the body of Christ, in whom all hostility comes to an end. In this respect, one is permitted to recall this universalist prophecy of everlasting peace in Isaiah 2:2-5.
It will happen in the final days
House of Jacob, come, let us walk in Yahweh’s light.
The Church is the mountain where all the nations of the world will gather to learn wisdom from the God of Jacob. In this Church, a new humanity is born. In her is revealed the mystery of Christ.
This mystery, as it is now revealed in the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets, was unknown to humanity in previous generations: that the gentiles how have the same inheritance and form the same Body and enjoy the same promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph 3:5-6).
In the words of Jean-Marie Tillard, the Church is the place of communion in reconciliation of a humanity torn apart into many parts.18 Using the local Church in Jerusalem described in the Acts of the Apostles as analogue of every local Church, Tillard describes this communion in reconciliation as having two faces—one face is turned to God, the other is turned to humanity. Thus, we have communion in reconciliation with God, and communion in reconciliation with humanity.
Through baptism, the Church in Jerusalem receives from God the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:37-41; also 3:19; 5:31). This forgiveness is like the mark of reconciliation (katallagé) of which God took the initiative, accomplishing what Jeremiah (31:31-34), Ezekiel (36:25-32; also Hos 2:16-22) already foresaw. Paul sees in it the supreme manifestation of agapic love (Rm 5:1-11), which goes to the point of transforming “enemies of God” (1:30) into adopted children (8:14-17; Ga 4:6). In Christ, “God was reconciling the world with himself, not counting the faults of human beings against them” (2 Cor 5:10). Apostolic teaching is “word of reconciliation” or—as an ancient witness to the text put it—“the Gospel is God’s offer of reconciliation”. Baptism in water and in the Spirit is precisely the seal of this reconciliation. Just as, at the theophany on Sinai (Deut 4:10), Yahweh offered his Covenant to the Qahal which received “his words”, at Pentecost in Jerusalem, God accomplished the Promise (Acts 2:39; 1:4; Lk 24:49), that of the gift which was germinating in this Covenant.
At baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), the community in Jerusalem becomes the community of eschatological reconciliation. In her is realized the pressing invitation which Paul would later address to the local Church in Corinth, after a letter written in tears (2 Co 2:3-4) in whom, it would seem, it never had the expected effect: “in the name of Christ, we plead with you, be reconciled with God” (2 Co 5:20). Every local Church is fundamentally place of reconciliation with God.19
But, continued Tillard, there is also the face turned toward the human community. The Church in Jerusalem is described by Lucan summaries as manifesting this face of reconciliation with humanity through a common life lived in spiritual and material communion (cf. Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37; 5:12-16). This common life is depicted by the word koinonia which, according to Philo, is the very essence of the harmony which God willed to exist in the heart of humanity but which sin has always rendered precarious or even impossible. This koinonia is a harmonious co-existence, a harmonious symphony of relations, which only God can bring about whenever he judges that this or that person merits to be saved because he or she is of pacific manners and works for concord having chosen to place his or her possessions at the usage and advantage of everyone.20 Here we have touched the New Testament inspiration of the key statement of the Second Vatican Council regarding the identity and mission of the Church. “The Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all peoples” (Lumen Gentium, 1).