Nigeria in need of quality and visionary leadership — Martins
His Grace, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins is the Archbishop of Lagos. He turned 59 recently. The event was marked with a press conference in Lagos, where he spoke on his birthday and state of the nation. Ijeoma Thomas-Odia reports.
So, how would you react to the security situation in the country?
Since the beginning of this year, there has been an unprecedented resurgence of terrorist activities of the so-called herdsmen. There have been killing, raping and destruction of life and property, as well as kidnapping, ritual killings and other criminal acts. All these led to the unprecedented nationwide prayerful and peaceful procession held by Catholics and other people of goodwill all over the country on May 22, 2018. This was the first time that such mass action would take place on the instruction of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and it was preceded by requiem masses celebrated across the country for the repose of souls of the priests and lay faithful of Makurdi Diocese that were buried on that day. They were victims of herdsmen’s activities, carried out in a most sacrilegious and annoying manner during Mass.
The Church sounded it loud and clear that all human life is sacred; each human life is a gift from God that no one has right to terminate and so, we once again called upon the Federal Government to do the needful to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians, irrespective of their religion or ethnic origin. Reports have it that two persons returning from the funeral Mass on that May 22 were again killed by suspected herdsmen. Also, on Sunday, May 27, 2018, gun-totting men attacked Sacred Heart Minor Seminary, Jalingo Diocese around 11.30pm and shot one of the priests working there on the leg and injured several others. According to information, they were not allowed to graze their cattle in the compound.
In recent times, many lives have been reported lost in Zamfara, Adamawa and Kaduna States as a result of suspected herdsmen attacks. This is unacceptable! How long are we going to endure these killings? The President must discharge himself to the problem by taking all necessary steps to bring the terrorists to book and neutralise them, so that Nigerians can once again breathe a wave of fresh air. He needs to charge security agencies to step up on their act, as well as sanction those who flout his instructions.
The governor wasn’t around to receive you at the Lagos State secretariat, Alausa, on the day of the protest. How did you feel about this?
The whole thing was done in a shabby manner. There was a feeling of disappointment and anger, which left negative moods behind. We had earlier sent information about our coming and requested to have an audience with the governor. So, we were all very disappointed when we got there, only to be left standing on the tarmacs and sidewalks, as if we were school children. This is more so because we conducted the exercise in a very peaceful manner. There were no incidences to indicate that we were a group to be feared. That is why we were very disappointed, but in spite of that provocation, our people remained calm and disciplined.
However, I must add that since that time, the Lagos State government, through different people, have been trying to right the wrongs. We expected that they would have invited some of us to a meeting to express their mind, rather than dishing out that kind of treatment to us.
2019 general election is around the corner. What is your admonition to Christians?
There is a saying that ‘evil thrives when good people stay aloof.’ Over the years, we have watched our national wealth plundered by some who have been given the position of leadership. A few of them are holding the wealth of our nation in their hands. Since Vatican II, Catholic lay faithful in particular have been encouraged to take active part in politics. They should seek to serve in political offices and bring values of the faith to bear on the nation’s political activities. The Church hierarchy has the responsibility of providing support, as well as injecting new values into politics and our national life.
So, our participation should not end with voting; it should also include making efforts to seek elective positions in government. Indeed, all patriotic Nigerians, people of goodwill, professionals, technocrats and entrepreneurs must come together and provide a more credible alternative political framework to salvage this country that is so much in need of quality and visionary leadership.
What is your advice to Nigerian youths, especially at this critical time in the country’s history?
With the signing of the ‘Not-Too-Young-To-Run’ bill into law, we must take that as a step in the right direction, even if one feels that it may be a token that takes more than a bill to make it take effect. We must continue to insist that the care of youths needs to be taken more seriously than we are doing presently. In recent times, we have seen a massive drift of young men and women leaving the shores of this nation through dangerous and almost suicidal routes. Many have perished in the desert and on the seas. Many are still under different forms of slavery in countries where they have been marooned.
I thank God and commend government and NGOs that have helped to repatriate some of them back home. However, it is not enough to bring them back home; it is also necessary that steps be taken to give them a new lease of life by providing them with the environment that would enhance their welfare and make them productive citizens. In recent times, we have seen many of them engage in drug abuse and the latest being the abuse of codeine. Of course, other drugs are also being abused just as we have hard drugs, which are also destroying lives of young people. We need to address the situation of hopelessness that drives young people into this destructives habit and save the nation’s future.
How do you feel at 59?
I am full of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel a sense of gratitude to God for the gift of life that He has given me, and the privilege of remaining alive to mark the beginning of a new year in this world, and serving in His vineyard as a priest, who has the ministry of a bishop. On the other hand, I feel a sense of sadness about living in our world, especially in our country, where life has presently become so cheap. It is a big struggle to live decently and without fear and anxiety. When I ponder on the hardship being faced by fellow Nigerians and the fact that the vast majority still lives in fear, in abject poverty and all manner of danger such as intimidation, rape, destruction of property and even death in the hands of marauding terrorists, especially in the remote parts of the country; I feel a lot of pain, distress and anger.
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