Aniagwu: Catholic priests have become endangered species in Nigeria
Rt. Rev. Msgr. (Dr.) John Aniagwu is the parish priest of St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Ikeja and the Vicar – General of the Metropolitan See of Lagos Archdiocese. In this interview with OBIRE ONAKEMU, he speaks on the state of the nation, lamenting the escalating assault on the church, especially the Catholic Church, and declaring that Catholic priests have become an endangered species with the recent murder of Rev. Fr. Isaac Achi in Niger State amid many others that were killed in cold blood in the country since January 2022 till date. Besides, he speaks on political governance and the forthcoming general elections.
What is your comment on the nation as at today?
The state of the nation is very unhealthy. It is afflicted with many different kinds of marriages. A lot of things are not going right for the country. The economy is in a very bad shape resulting in serious hardship, pains, sufferings, hunger and starvation for the people of our nation.
We all know about the situation in higher institutions – the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike that bedevilled our country for quite a long time before it was called off. The worst of all is the insecurity. People lives are not save anywhere – not in their own homes, not on the roads when they are travelling. The country has really become an unsafe place; everybody goes about now with fears and trepidation. We don’t know where an attack can come from and when. So, the nation as at today is really in a very bad state. And I can say that life in Nigeria today is short and brutal. So, this is not a Nigeria that one used to know; this is not a Nigeria that one wish to live in.
There seems to be escalating assault on the church, especially the Catholic Church, with the recent burning of Rev. Fr. Isaac Achi in Niger State. What do you have to say about this?
I really can’t explain why we have a persistent attack on the Catholic Church in particular. A few months ago, that was last year, one of our priests was killed in Kaduna State. And a few days ago, Rev. Fr. Isaac Achi was martyred in Niger State. We have really lost count of Catholic priests that were killed in cold blood in this country since last year January till date. I am yet to understand why all these are happening! Why the Catholic Church? Whom have we offended? What have we done?
As far as I know, we have not attacked anybody and we have not been violent. So, why are they attacking us? Why all these onslaught? Indeed, it has never been like this before. It used to be that Catholic priests were protected species, but now, we are an endangered species! And sometimes, we wondered whether it has to do with our principled position on our leaders, with regard to the affairs of the nation because our leaders, the Bishops in particular, have always come out strongly to call out those in authority to speak truth to power. And I ask myself whether it is the reason we are being attacked. May be agents of the government are seeking revenge for our refusal to buckle under pressure to accept what is not acceptable. I ask myself, can that be the reason? I don’t know! Or could it be that the Catholic Church is the mother church of all the Christian churches, so if you want to attack Christians, you attack the mother. Go to the big fish and attack the big fish! There may be many reasons I don’t really know, but nobody has come out to say why we have been target of attack.
What is your opinion about the directive by Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawale, that indigenes should acquire guns and defend themselves against bandits and insurgents?
That will create a lot of chaos in the country; it will lead to a state of complete anarchy and there will be an unprecedented escalation of violence. Rather, what I would ask for is that we should have state police. Let every state has its own police to provide security in it’s area. If we have state police and the state police in every state are sufficiently equipped, there will be no need for individuals to carry arms. The state police will take care of that. The present arrangement is completely unsatisfactory.
What do you think should be the basic component for a sustainable governance structure of a country like Nigeria?
Undoubtedly, everything boils down to leadership. If only we have the right kind of leaders, our country will begin to make progress. We can see that in other countries like Rwanda or Ghana. When you have good leaders, responsible and responsive leaders, leaders who truly care about the people they govern and the country will begin to move forward. At this point in time, we have leaders who are irresponsible and insensible, and who don’t care about the welfare of the people that they govern. So, we need to change that and change the narrative through these 2023 general elections. Shine your eyes and don’t be deceived by dubious politicians who have nothing to offer. If only we have the right kind of leadership, Nigeria will fly.
What other things must we put in place for Nigeria to run as a united nation?
As I said, everything boils down to right leadership. If we have leaders that point us in the right direction, everything else will be taken care of. For now, I cannot make any other prescriptions because if we have the right kind of leaders, they will do what is right by the economics, security and education but as it is, we don’t have them. If we have the right kind of leaders, we would not have the kind of crass nepotism that we have been exposed to over the past seven years.
If only the right leaders are in place in these past seven years, everybody would have been taken care of and brought on board. There will be no discrimination against certain sections of the country. The kind of references that come out of the current leaders about certain sections of the country is very toxic, very toxic for that matter. When leaders will be saying terrible things about certain sections of the country that they are supposed to be governing. It is not right! So, once we have the right kind of leadership at all levels of government, everything will get well. Though there is no end to problems, even countries with good leaders still have criminals. There will always be criminals, but at least, the level will be drastically reduced. When peoples’ needs are meant, sufficiently meant, there will be very little criminality. But when you don’t even give people their basic needs, the tendency for people to indulge in criminality is higher.
What is your comment on the monetisation of the nation’s electoral process as at today?
It is very sad but thank be to God. There are at least a few political parties that have not resorted to monetisation. The two major political parties, APC and PDP, have monetised everything. That is very wrong. If you ask somebody to pay N100 million just to get nomination form, that means you are going to exploit a lot of people. You are going to exploit the university professors, the professionals who cannot come up with that kind of money. Only people who have made their money through dubious means can come up with that kind of amount. And these are the kind of people that we don’t really want to come anywhere near leadership. And so, it is a very sad thing!
What is even more painful is that when it comes to election time, these people impoverish the electorate so much. They impoverish their fellow citizens deliberately! At election times, they would come to offer them peanuts, give them N1, 000 to solicit for their votes. There is also the issue of rampant vote buying. That act is very much there. We have seen it in Ekiti State and it is going to happen in these general elections unless something is done about it. It is sad. They impoverish the people and make them so impotent that they are dependent on the nonsense of the little amounts that politicians will give them come election time.
With that kind of approach to things, we are not practising democracy, we are practising budocracy, which is government by the rich for the rich. Thankfully, we have a few other parties that have not resortted to money politics. Let’s see whether those ones will come up on top and change the narrative for good.
How do you think the nation can curb incessant strike by ASUU?
The way to do it is to fund education adequately. If you don’t fund education, you will continue to have strike. The UNESCO established that for any nation to develop, you must commit at least 26 per cent of the annual budget to education. Nigeria does not give even 10 per cent to education. Education is not cheap; you have to commit funds. And so, it is lack of funds that is causing the problems. What is the salary of a professor in Nigeria compared to a politician? These people are not being well treated. If you go to the universities, what are the facilities there for teaching and learning? The public universities, when it comes to facilities, cannot be compared with some of our private universities. So, the bottom line is funding adequately. It is not happening now, our educational system is grossly underfunded and that is why we have persistent strike by ASUU, NASU and all others. All of them are striking at different times because the whole thing is insufficient funding.
Now, if only we want ASUU to put an end to this incessant crises in the sector, the country must decide to fund our education to the tune of at least 20 per cent of our annual budget and not the current pittance that they are giving to education –5 per cent, 6 per cent, 7 per cent. You cannot have a good education with that kind of funding. If we don’t fund education, we are going to remain perpetually backward and underdeveloped. If we really want to move this country forward from its axis and propel it unto outer space, there is need to give education adequate funding.
And Nigeria is not going to develop until we educate our people. We need an educated population for any nation to advance. As it is now, countries like Rwanda, Ghana are well ahead of us, not to talk of South Africa. Why? It is education. We have so many Nigerian students going to school in Ghana. Many of them! Why should that be? So, there is every need to fund education adequately.
What is your advice for political office holders and leaders in APC, PDP, LP and others ahead of the 2023 general elections?
I don’t have any advice for them; they can do what they like. I am only advising the electorate to go there and vote sensibly.
They should be able to assess the candidate and vote for credible ones. I’m not only talking of the presidential election but also that of the lower levels – governorship and local government. Choose people that we know are out to serve us and not to serve themselves. People who genuinely want to serve the interests and the needs of Nigerians and not those who want to come again to bulldoze us and steal our common wealth.
Do Christians, including Catholics support Muslim – Muslim presidential ticket of APC?
From all indications, everybody has seen the position taken by the Catholic Church. We don’t support it! And I, as an individual, I don’t support it because it discriminates against Christians, marginalising the Christains, particularly those in the North. This is not 1993; things were different in 1993. In 1993, we did not have the politicisation of religions as we have now. Right now, in Nigeria, religion is highly, heavily politised! That is the case! ln 1993, Christians voted massively for a Muslim – Muslim ticket but that was a different kind of Nigeria. The water has been completely muddled or mudded now. So many things had happened. We didn’t have Sharia in 1993, we didn’t have herdsmen, marauders killing Christians, we didn’t have people abducting priests and killing them in 1993, we didn’t have Christians being slaughtered in their hundreds in the Middle Belt, Kaduna State and other places.
So, what obtained in 1993 cannot obtain now! Right now, the Christians particularly in the Northern parts of Nigeria need to be reassured that they are still part and parcel of this country. In 1993, nobody was talking about Islamisation agenda, but today, that is the issue. There is an evident sign of an attempt to Islamise Nigeria. For those reasons, a Muslim-Muslim ticket is unacceptable. Similarly, a Christian – Christian ticket will be unacceptable. We have to recognise that there are two dominant religions in Nigeria. There are other religions. They too have the rights to exist! But the fact of the matter is that the two prominent ones are Christianity and lslam.
These two groups need to be recognised and need to be brought on board in selecting the leaders for our country. We don’t have Muslim – Muslim tickets and Christian – Christian tickets in the states where you have the predominant. For instance, in the North, several states are Muslim – Muslim tickets where the majority of them are Muslims. And you to the South East, you have Christian – Christian tickets because Muslims are not all that many there. And the South-South is the same thing. But once it comes to the nation as a whole, a Muslim-Muslim ticket is not ideal. It is not the best for the country at this time and doesn’t augur well for the unity of our nation.
How would you end this interview?
I would conclude with an appeal that l had already made to the electorate – that is for Nigerians to participate massively in this year’s elections. They should get their PVC, go out to vote and vote according to their consciences. Nobody should vote because of money; nobody should votes based on any kind of sentiment of any tribe, ethnic group and nobody should sell their vote. We shouldn’t vote based on religion; if somebody is the right kind of person to run our country, vote for the person. Let us give the opportunity. We have eleven playing fields. Every candidate who comes out for an election should be given what he or she is entitled to, so as to have a free and fair election.