As usual, Nigerians are doing what they do best: making themselves the laughing stock of the rest of the world, behaving like spoilt brats of a rich but irresponsible father, or like players in a game with no rules and no referee, a game in a field of moral free fall. Perhaps by way of a metaphor, that is really a summary of our condition. Those who have held the nation to ransom, non-state actors constituting themselves into a calumnious conspiratorial tag team of sorcerers’ apprentices believe that what they cannot have, no one can have. They are prepared to drag the nation down with them even if they do not know where they are going. We are forced to ask ourselves the timeless question, how did we get here and indeed, where are we?
The froth has come to the top: Nigeria’s broth of deceit and opportunism masquerading as politics has triggered a diarrhea with dire consequences for the public space. Except we concede that we are a cursed nation, it is difficult to fathom how we could have ended up where we are now, a nation in a permanent stupor and always unable to celebrate its victories not to talk of avoiding its sorrows. How did we leave so many doors open that a small coterie of nondescript individuals with neither known addresses nor antecedents suddenly took centre stage?
A first time visitor to our country in the last few weeks would think they have crashed into a party organised by drunken criminals who, in their bouts of raucous inebriation have resorted to a serious brawl with self-injuries while overturning tables and food, destroying both glasses and plates. Given the huge opportunities and resources, is this where we should be? My people, what has God not done for us?
Suddenly, the nation seems to have come unhinged. Across the country, sounds of very irresponsible and provocative utterances fill the air. The media lapped it all up and by giving these adult urchins publicity, created the impression that the end of our nation had arrived. And yet, the late Chinua Achebe warned his Igbo people in general and Nigeria in particular of the consequences of the men with ideas leaving the stage to the money-miss-road ragamuffins, men and women with no records of service or achievement, men and women who elsewhere should be in jail taking up the stage and doing what they know best, creating a maelstrom, ratcheting up the volume of vitriol and creating a discordant orchestra of artistic chaos. My people, what has God not done for us?
But while all this was going on, look at the other side, the abode of reason, rationality and integrity. Look at what has happened to us in England. In one fell swoop, seven of our sons and daughters were elected into the British Parliament, an unprecedented feat in the history of Democracy anywhere in the world. The following week, England won the Under 21 World Cup with the assistance of three young men of Nigerian descent. In the same England, just a few months back, our son created history by winning the World Heavy Weight Boxing title. Talk about the colony striking back! My people, what has God not done for us?
Within the same kingdom, across the sea to Ireland, one of our favourite sons was also making history. After about a hundred years, the Vatican announced the appointment of the first African as the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Okolo to Ireland, the land of our missionary ancestors. After a hundred years, Rome announced the appointment of a Nigerian-born Most Rev. Dr. Eusebius Chinekezi Manugwu, as pioneer Bishop of Port-Gentil, in Gabon. After almost a hundred years one of our daughters is now Editor of the Harvard Law Review. Almost on a monthly basis, Nigeria has continued to receive news of the spectacular achievements of our children who are breaking academic records in America and Europe, feats that few people from any developing country have achieved. They are daily breaking the glass ceilings and scaling walls that racism and colonialism had erected for the black man. In almost every corner of the world, wherever black achievement is mentioned, if there are two names, both or one must be a Nigerian. My people, what has God not done for us?
We parade the best writers with the greatest world recognition for any one country in the developing world. Our sons and daughters have won some of the most prestigious international awards there are in various fields of Art, Science, Sports and almost everything. Our Medical personnel, Lawyers, Engineers, Professors, Scientists are in the most prestigious laboratories all over the world. It will be difficult to find any good University or institution of research and learning anywhere in the world that does not have Nigerians as their brightest and best teachers or students. So, what is going on? Are we under a tragic spell? My people, what has God not done for us?
When I look at our country, I feel a sense of both shame and pity not for myself but for our teeming millions who simply want to be left to do what ordinary human beings have come to take for granted elsewhere: get married, raise a family, live in peace and prepare the next generation. Is this too much the ordinary citizens of Nigeria to ask? We have become the butt of jokes around the continent and the world. Those who brought education to us are in awe of our intellectual capacity and they hide their jealousy by accusing us of being loud and arrogant. Our cousins on the continent, most of whom we have sent technical assistance to and tried to share our wealth with, look on us as a threat. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, as in the world of international diplomacy on the global stage, they never fail to collude with others to subvert our global ambitions and leadership claims. Where did we go wrong? My people, what has God not done for us?
Today, we stand on the crossroads of shame and seeming despair. An energetic and brilliant generation of young Nigeria, roaring to take their place in the public stage are held back by a political class which prefers to feed its gargantuan appetite. Governance has become a massive fraud and a heinous crime scene. The easy question is to ask, how do we get out of this self-inflicted mess where we continue to feed our children yesterday’s barf?
This is the world to which the young priests being ordained today are going into. This is the world that the next generation of our young people growing up are coming into. How should today’s priest be prepared to respond to the social questions of the time?
While all this is going on at a national political scene, we in the Catholic Church also have our own sad drama that has been playing out in Ahiara for the last five years. In Ahiara, the devil has had his day. Now it is the turn of God to have His way. This is not the time for judgment of condemnation. It is a time for those who have ears to adjust them so that they can listen to the voice of from the gentle breeze as Elijah did (1 Kgs 19:12). I am glad that a prayer for Ahiara is circulating among Catholics. Please recite the prayer. The devil cannot be more powerful than the prayers of faithful Catholics around the country and the world. We commit Ahiara Diocese and its entire people to our Blessed Mother. May she, the patron of Priests intercede for our brothers and sisters.
It is clear that we as a Church are not free from the cobwebs of confusion that adorn our society. Whether we call the events under question ethnicity or faithlessness or greed, the fact is that our society is in deep trouble. And here is the challenge of the Catholic priesthood. This is where I want to challenge all of us who are Priests especially to sit up and confront the rut in our society by really and truly being signs of contradiction, signs of hope amidst this despair. We can only do this if we free ourselves from the temptations of material power. I want to focus my thoughts on the Priests because even if our people are broken and injured as individuals or families, we are called to be their healers. But to play our roles, we must disengage from the blind material pursuit that has rendered our mission ineffective. For, as Chaucer said: If gold rusts, what will iron do?