By MATTHEW HASSAN KUKAH
We boast of our troubles because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings acceptance and this acceptance brings hope. This hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit who is God’s gift to us (Rom 5: 4)
Although it is true that these are trying times for Nigeria, nay, the world at large, it is not true that the causes of these trials are the same for all nations. Whereas our leaders love to seek refuge from their inefficiency by assuring us that we are not alone because neither corruption nor insecurity are peculiar to us, they forget that the disease might be the same, but the causes and cures are different. Whereas corrupt government officials in atheistic China could lose their lives if found guilty of an infraction against the state in their line of duty, in Nigeria, the most religious nation in the world, these same persons could actually prolong their lives by the size of their corruption. National honours, recognition by religious and traditional leaders all go to add to the give legitimacy to corruption by the elite. But the cumulative impact of corruption has come back to haunt us as it has become clear especially in the last ten years.
How will Nigeria survive these trials? In the end, how will this endurance bring us hope and is there any chance that this hope will not disappoint us? We prayed for an end to colonial rule and it came and went. No sooner did we become independent than our hopes were dashed. Then the military came. We endured, prayed and hope that the country would return to civil rule. That too has come to pass and today, we are more sorrowful and angry than at any time in our history.
In response to the Madalla bombing, I published an appeal to Nigerians titled, Do Not Be Afraid.In it, I enjoined Nigerians to remain steadfast and firm because we will survive the murderous trials and persecutions by the agents of evil who desecrate religion by wearing a devilish mask. Now, it is time for us to look up to the meaning of the cross of Christ as symbol of the triumph of good over evil. The challenge is whether indeed we as Christians can embark on genuine personal and communal repentance and commitment to turn to the true teachings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He came that we might havelife and have it to the full(Jn. 10: 10). The humiliation and scandal of His death is the guarantee that all who die in Him will have eternal life (Jn. 11: 25, I Cor. 15: 22). In His cross is our hope that we Christians will understand that suffering has a meaning in God’s plans. At a time when Christians are made to believe that suffering is an aberration, we need to pray that God helps us to understand and appreciate its purifying effects in our lives as individuals and as a nation. We have seen the end of slavery and in our own times, the end of apartheid. In each case, the people become stronger.
To be sure, these are tough times for Christians in Nigeria. There is no doubt that the negligence of successive Government has created a climate of impunity in which Christians have continued to feel trapped in many parts their own country especially in the some northern states. Over the years, the federal and state governments have looked the other way as our Churches gradually became objects of desecration and target practice by a band of miscreants and criminal youths who claim to be Muslims. Our priests have been slaughtered from Kaduna to Maiduguri, thousands of innocent Christians have been trapped and murdered in their churches and homes. Their places of worship and their properties have been destroyed while the governments of Nigeria continued to fiddle and fritter away the opportunity for national cohesion. The incompetence of governments has opened up a vacuum where criminals wear a religious mask.
Rather than feel under siege or threatened, we Christians must arise to the fact that these are the trials that bring forth endurance. It is sad to hear Christians sound as if Jesus made a mistake by offering a higher goal than the murderers and arsonists can understand. Faced with protracted injustice and violence, I hear some Christians wonder what Jesus meant when He said: You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap you on the left as well (Mk 5: 38-9). Some Christians have sought to moderate their thoughts by claiming that after offering their two cheeks which have been struck by the enemy, it is time that we must feel justified to seek revenge. Others claim that these criminals must be taught a lesson so that they do not think that they have a monopoly of violence.
The anger and the frustrations of our people are understandable especially against the backdrop of an incompetent state which has lost its ability to apprehend and punish criminals. But, as the late Rev Martin Luther King said, It is only the love of Jesus that is capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. It was well after His executioners had completed their work that they acknowledged that, Truly, this was indeed the Son of God (Mt. 27: 54). Mahatma Gandhi who preached non-violence was not a Christian. Rev. Martin Luther King or a Nelson Mandela, his disciples embraced non-violence and in the end, they all have triumphed and left the world a memorable legacy that years of violence and vengeance could not produce.
Forgiveness and good neighbourliness have always been part of our lives as Africans before evil crept into our lives, dividing us into Christians and Muslimsrather than brothers and sisters. Easter gives us Christians a chance to preach this message because we are Christians not because of what anyone else believes or thinks.
Jesus said to us: I tell you who hear me. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who ill-treat you (Lk 6: 27, Mt 5: 44). We are most gratified by the fact that over time, our Christian youths have continued to conduct themselves in the most peaceful manner in keeping with the laws of the land even against provocation. Till date, there is no record of any Christian youth who has ever set out to burn or destroy a mosque. Wherever anything has happened to the contrary, it has been an act of self-defense to repel these miscreants. I hope that their Muslim counterparts can learn a lesson from this and hopefully, together, our youths can become agents of peace. But we religious leaders must work hard to create environment for collaboration and avoid stoking the emblems of division and hatred through what we teach our youth. The federal government must be awake to its duty because it is its negligence that has left the public space open to scoundrels.
Sadly, our nation is still in the woods despite claims of superfluous religiosity. A climate of moral relativism and uncertainty, a blurred vision, hangs gloomily in the air. A sense of what or who is right or wrong is contested. Can any senior public officer ever go to jail in Nigeria for stealing? The answer is, it depends. Can Nigerians ever agree that the stealing of state resources is a sin? The answer is, it depends.
Do we know how anyone can get a job that they qualify for in Nigeria? The answer is, it depends. Do we know how a good man or woman can win an election in Nigeria without money or the power to corrupt the system? The answer is, it depends. How do you gain admission into a University in Nigeria? The answer is, it depends. What qualifications do you need to get a job of a contract in Nigeria? The answer is, it depends. Having secured a job, how do you retain it or get promoted? The answer is, it depends. Is there any hope that one day the Judiciary will really and truly become blind to social status and power in Nigeria? The answer is, it depends. Will Nigeria come out of this mess or ever develop a sense of shame? The answer is, it depends.
The challenge of Easter is for us to rethink the reality of our faith. Although it easy for us to say that he world is in crisis, the fact is that indeed, it is religion and the loss of its moral compass that account for this crisis. In Nigeria, we have watched over the years as those in power have seduced religion and religious leaders and have now domesticated religion. We have watched as religion has lost its moral authority, independence and capacity to speak truth to power. We have surrendered our altars to politicians and men and women of influence and power. The thunderous prophetic power of the Church is gradually becoming a whisper, with religion becoming a balm to cover the ugliness of corruption. The Church has been caught up with power and now, the hunter has become the hunted. Prayers warriors, sorcerers and prophets, for a little share of the filthy lucre are promising to arm-twist God to do the will of their clients even when they steal elections or loot the state treasury. Is it any wonder that truth has been so relativised that a culture of it depends has now emerged?
In this climate of moral relativism, can the word of God regain its power? The answer is yes, because,St Paul assured us that: The word of God is living and powerful! It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12). We must recover this power so we can cut through the clouds of doubts that have dulled our consciences. Our Christian politicians must be encouraged to make a difference in our political life. We have models and the Catholic Church has continued to point the way for Christians to make a difference in their public life.
To this end, the Catholic Church has recognized the nobility of politics as a vocation and a call to public service. In 2000, the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul 11 made St Thomas More (A Man for All Seasons) the patron saint and model of Christian politicians. Closer home, our own late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere is on his way to being beatified and presented by the Catholic Church as a model for African politicians. Against this backdrop, I want to appeal to our Christians to continue to uphold the principles of the Christian Gospel especially as it pertains to honesty, distributive justice, accountability, integrity and the pursuit of the common good. May the Lord raise up saintly politicians for us.
Finally, the simplicity of life of Jesus should be the model for us Christians especially in an environment where modesty is gradually giving way to unruly, unscrupulous and greedy quest and display of often ill-gotten wealth. We learn from Jesus how not to use power wrongly because; the one who was God did not take advantage of his equality with God but became obedient unto death (Phil 2: 8). There is a lot for us to learn from the selflessness of the early Church as we learn from their life of love and sharing. There is need to listen to the words of St James who has told us that: True and genuine religion is this, taking care of orphans and widows in their suffering and keeping oneself from being corrupted by the world (James 1: 27).
It is this insatiable greed that has destroyed our nation, created a climate of violence and chaos. In celebrating Easter, we must think of Jesus, the one who had everything but came to the world in a borrowed womb (Lk. 1:38), was born in a borrowed stable (Lk. 2:7), had no where to lay His head (Mt. 8:20, Lk. 9: 58), had His last supper on a borrowed room and table (Mk 14: 14-15), rode to Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey (Mk 11: 2-3) and even in death, was buried in a borrowed tomb (Lk. 23: 53). The Lord Himself has assured us, Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me (Jn. 14: 1).
The late American President, Benjamin Franklin said:Doing an injury puts you below your enemy. Avenging injury may make you even with him. But forgiving sets you above your enemy. May the one who forgave his killers who did not know what they were doing (Lk 23:34), grant us the grace to forgive those who have caused us untold grief and brought our nation almost to its knees. May He grant peace to those who have died in these trials and consolation to their families. Nigerians will laugh again for our Redeemer liveth. A happy and blessed Easter to you.
Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese.