Posted on: 2014-04-02

One Year in the Storm
Pope Francis turned a year in office last week on 13th March. He is, by any length, a man in the eye of the storm. At the time he assumed office the Catholic Church was in the midst of a whirlwind of allegations, calumny and misdemeanour. When Pope Benedict resigned from office, provoking a tsunami of emotions worldwide, many, especially in the media, wrote the Church off as a dying institution. The undertakers of public, religious and cultural analysis put the Church on their to-do list. Then the Cardinals elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Latin American pope, the first of the Jesuit religious order and the first pope ever to take the name Francis. With his unusual ways and teachings, he has made so much difference within a year! Thank God for this Pope leading the Church again in humble simplicity, accommodation of the poor and joyful service in evangelization! To the Pope of social justice and charity for sinners, we say, ad multos annos.
Matters arising
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, held its first conference for 2014 at Abuja; the theme of the conference “Church and State Partnership in Providing Quality Education for the Nigerian People”, was chosen because of the deep concern of the church for Nigeria’s paradoxical situation. Blessed with immense resources, Nigeria’s education sector has degenerated over the years. Endowed with huge human, economic and natural resources, Nigeria has no business wallowing in the kind of institutional ineptitude and policy somersault often found in its education sector. Given the complicity of the general populace with the poor quality of leadership around the country, the Bishops propose the restoration of quality education as the engine for growing a discerning citizenry with the requisite intellectual and moral qualities for sustainable development.
Request in Public Interest
In his opening address at the conference, the President of the CBCN, Most Reverend Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, archbishop of Jos, said: “Motivated by our patriotic desire to give the best to the children and youth of this country, we desire the revival of sincere partnership in education between Government and genuine private managers of education….we seize this auspicious occasion to request that schools taken from religious bodies and other voluntary organizations be returned, accompanied by reasonable financial assistance from the annual budget for education, to enable us educate the children/youth who, even though may be in our private schools, are also citizens of this country. This would be a matter of justice rather than a favour”. Obviously, this is a request made only in public interest.
Consensus from the high places
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the Senate President, David Mark, who both attended the opening ceremony, agreed that realistic solutions need to be urgently found to the collapse of education in the country. The president commended the Catholic Church for investing in and providing quality education for the citizenry even after the unjust takeover of their former institutions. In his words: “Some of the best schools nationwide are now run by the Church again. Throughout our history, the products of your schools have excelled in society and in different fields of endeavor” Both dignitaries confirmed the need for government/Church partnership declaring that robust dialogue and partnership will provide the kind of education that will boost national competitive capacity, power and development. Senator Mark admitted that the strategy of the takeover of schools by government in the 70s in Nigeria, purported as a means of eliminating class or ethnicity, was wrong. Both attributed the colossal loss of moral values and discipline largely to that singular decision.
Administrative double-speak
Such glowing, complementary words are hardly ever wanting from Nigerian politicians who deliver politically correct speeches with very scant intention of matching words with action. Indeed Nigerian leaders often exercise authority in paradox. The government for example, recently granted a visa to a fundamentalist Islamic preacher Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilail Phillips, to come and preach in Nigeria. This is a preacher with such a bad reputation for religious extremism that he has been banned from the United States of America, the United Kingdom other civilized countries of the world. How this preacher’s coming to Nigeria at this critical period enhances the educational or spiritual life of Nigerians is the kind of puzzle which only government magic can justify, and that is only one example.
Who feels it Knows It.
I spent hours at the conference in conversation with the Catholic Bishop of Maiduguri, Most Reverend Oliver Dashe Doeme. Bishop Doeme’s diocese covers almost the entire area of the terrorist violence in Borno State. Of over 50 churches in his diocese only 2 were left untouched by the mayhem. He and his priests have conducted numerous funerals and accompanied dozens of families in bereavement. He queried to my hearing: “How could the government fail to see the urgency of partnership with the religious organizations in education in order to instil quality and good morals? Why would a government so concerned about security grant a visa to a man like Dr. Abu Phillips to visit Nigeria at this time?” I could answer neither. He did by himself. With a wry smile on his face he said to me: “Perhaps it is because only he who feels it, knows it. Our decision makers are too detached from those who are actually in harm’s way. Were they themselves or their children constantly in the eye of the storm they would be far more sensitive to the plight of the defenceless people of Nigeria.