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Ihedioha calls on the Church to rise in the nation’s leadership recruitment

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The former deputy speaker of the nation’s House of Representatives,Rt.Hon Emeka Ihedioha, on Saturday at the St Peters Cathederal,Owerienta in Abia state during the 2018 Diocesan synod of the Anglican Communion presented his thought on nation building and the role of the Church.

The Peoples Democratic Party guber hopeful in Imo State in his dialogue pointed out that church has greater role in nation building especially in the recruitment process of leadership in our nation.

Continuing,he emphasized that the right leadership to drive prosperity into any nation must have a mix of right principles and temperament, ideal for nation building.

He said:“the role of the church in nation building is clearly defined. The Church does not exist in a vacuum or in isolation of the State. The individuals that come to Church either on Sunday services or weekly programmes are the same people holding various positions of authority in government or part of the society that encourages them. 

“The Nigerian church, with its huge human resources, in terms of membership, who are committed and display strong reverence to church leadership, coupled with the overwhelming influence of some of these church leaders on political leadership, the church stands a good chance of influencing policy directions that could provide the most needed building blocks that would facilitate the process of nation building” states Ihedioha. 

Read the full Text:

A KEYNOTE ADDRESS, TITLED, “THE CHURCH AND NATION BUILDING”, DELIVERED BY RT. HON. EMEKA IHEDIOHA CON, KSC, FORMER DEPUTY SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, AT THE 2018 DIOCESAN SYNOD OF THE DIOCESE OF THE ISIALA NGWA SOUTH, CHURCH OF NIGERIA ANGLICAN COMMUNION , AT ST. PETER’S CATHEDRAL OWERRINTA, ABIA STATE ON 12th MAY, 2018.

INTRODUCTION

I thank Your Lordship, The Rt. Rev. Isaac C. Nwaobia and the Synod Organizing Committee of this Diocese, for finding me worthy to deliver the keynote address of this synod. May God continue to bless your endeavours.  

My presence here today is significant to me because it steers some profound sense of nostalgia. I had the privilege to commence my secondary school education here at St Ephraims Secondary School, Owerrinta, in 1976 and St. Peters was my Church, for five years.

It is even fitting that this Synod is holding after the commemoration of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, at which he instructed His followers to remain in Jerusalem and await the Paraclete which He will send to “teach them all things.” So this assemblage is in a way like the gathering of the followers in the “upper room with one accord, in prayer and supplication” as they awaited the descent of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost, which we shall joyfully celebrate on Sunday, May 20.

I have been tasked to address issues relating to the role of the church in nation building. This topic is germane and timely, particularly as the leadership recruitment process in Nigeria has again commenced, and the role of the church in ensuring that the right leadership that will exhibit the right principles and temperament, ideal for nation building are enthroned at all levels of government. The theme of this year’s synod is again timely because many a time scholars and Church leaders attempt to draw parallel between the church and the state. 

Therefore, the need to place the issues in their proper perspective so that the Church would begin to appreciate its critical role in the nation building process and perhaps ask some critical questions if the church actually understands its role or if it has deliberately abdicated this responsibility. The expectation here is that I should endeavour to establish the nexus between the two. 

I therefore feel very privileged to appear before the people of God in spite of my own limitations to share with you my thoughts on this very important and thoughtfully chosen theme for this year’s synod. I believe the Church and the leadership will indulge my thoughts and convictions which I believe would not close the curtain on your own convictions.  Everything we are doing today is to leave Nigeria better than we found it and to find answers to the reasons Nigeria has failed to optimize her potentials.  

Permit me at this point to recall my observation during my lecture at the 2017 Synod of the Diocese of Orlu, that over time, our synods, which in the political analogy is our annual Convention, have achieved much more than addressing our spiritual needs. They have also become the fora that examine those issues that are at the core of our advancements. I noted that it has equally received unimaginable acquiescence across the wide spectrum of the Christian community in Imo State and beyond. Let me congratulate the Church for these strides. I proudly associate myself with this age long tradition of the Church of Nigeria. 

BACKGROUND

The concepts of nation, nationhood and nation building are very nebulous. This explains the confusion in the debates over time among scholars on the actuality of the concepts. In my opinion, it is vital to situate our discourse within the realm of realism than in abstraction. I therefore plead you to indulge me, to speak on Nigeria where the debate on nation building has been a reoccurring one.

Nigeria is a country of approximately 190 million people according to the latest estimates by the National Population Commission. According to research there are about 250 identifiable ethnic groups and an estimated 520 languages in Nigeria.

In 1914 these ethnic groups were forced into marriage by Lord Frederick Lugard, ostensibly for administrative and exploitative convenience, with little or no regards to their complex cultural and linguistic heterogeneity. This he did without first interrogating their compatibility and without laying a clear and global framework for its sustainability. It is 104 years after that colonial adventure and 58 years after independence, yet inter-tribal wars and agitations for separation continue to be the order of the day, while primordial ethnic cleavages define the allocation of state-surplus and positions.    

Then the questions are; What is a nation? What is nationhood? What is nation-building? Has Nigeria achieved nationhood? These are crucial questions which we should answer first before we begin to establish the role of the church in the process of nation building.

WHAT IS A NATION?

Essentially, the debates on the appropriate definition of a nation and conditions for a nation to be so called, have over the period been consumed in confusion. According to dictionary.com, “a nation is a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory”. Global Policy Forum, defined a nation as “ a large group of people with strong bonds of identity- an imagined community”. There are several others, but one that struggled to elaborately attempt a convincing definition is The Law Dictionary, that stated inter alia, “a people, aggregation of men, existing in the form of an organized jural society, inhabiting a distinct portion of the earth, speaking the same language, using the same customs, possessing historic continuity and distinguished from other groups by racial origin and characteristics but not necessarily living under the same government or sovereignty”.

From the above definitions, it is again clear that scholars have not been able to pigeon-hole a nation into an acceptable global definition. The only area of convergence in the definitions is the interpretation of a nation from the understanding of cultural and linguistic contiguity rather than the consideration of the principles of territorial contiguity and sovereignty, which current understanding have made us to believe. It is therefore evident that the classical understanding of a nation is clearly not absolute but relative and evidently not contemplated or configured in the contemporary understanding of the term.

If we are to take the classical definition of the term to the bank, it is therefore evident that Nigeria as a country is not anywhere near a nation, if we take into consideration, our cultural and linguistic configuration and the fact that these elements are still well pronounced, treasured and a tool for the elites’ negotiations for social and economic progression within the larger Nigerian state. No elite is therefore prepared to diminish the relevance of these stereotypes because they are convenient tools for placing social demands and associated privileges and for strengthening sense of entitlements.

WHAT IS NATIONHOOD?

Just like attempting to conceptualize a nation which ended us in confusion, the conceptualization of nationhood, also has its own diverse interpretations. Scholars only attempt to interpret it insitu, i.e in situation where they perceived that it has occurred. However, nationhood is an accomplishment, through conscious and deliberate efforts of the citizens. It could be considered as a process of diminishing the fetters of cultural hybridity to build a nation that guarantees every individual citizen, equal opportunities and no inhibitions to self-actualization, within the bounds of the law. Essentially, nationhood entails the accomplishment of a consciousness of common purpose and identity that transcends the boundaries of cultural diversities.

In the course of conducting a research in preparation for this assignment, indeed, you took me back to school and I wish to thank you for that opportunity. I discovered an interesting story of Malaysia, one of the most prosperous countries in the world, which shares the same historical circumstances with Nigeria. 

Dear people of God, Malaysia is a country of an estimated 30million people, per capita income estimate in 2018 is $30,430, estimated export in 2017 was $175.7 billion and economic growth in 2017 was 5.9%. The country is only 3 years older than Nigeria and was equally a British territory. Malaysia has the same ethnic configuration like Nigeria. It is made up of 60 ethnic groups consisting of 54% Malays, 25% Chinese, 8% Indians and 12% indigenous groups. There are equally diverse religions practiced. Muslims constitute 61.3%, Buddhists 19.8%, Christians 9.2%, Hinduists 6.3% and Traditional Chinese religions 1.3%.  Now, despite all these configurations, why has Malaysia become a model of democracy, stability and economic success story? This is presumably the crux of our discourse. 

In the course of this research, I also discovered that Malaysia, confronted with common problems, developed a collective national memory of several years of shared history and common worldview, experiences and shared common vision and optimism about the future.  Remarkably, Malaysia’s education system fostered a common national consciousness that transcends ethnic, linguistic, religious and parochial identities. The education system has also attempted to foster the internalization of values and behaviours that support a healthy multicultural society, fostering mutual understanding and regard for fundamental rights.   

In essence, if the Malaysian experience squarely fits our interpretation of nationhood, then our dear country, Nigeria, is very far from any imagined approximation of nationhood. Here lies the problem. Must we continue in this direction? 

WHAT IS NATION BUILDING?

Nationhood is not absolute as we earlier noted. It is a continuum. It is however, relative in the sense that some nations with similar historical and cultural experiences are at different stages in their journey to nationhood and the question is; why are there disparities? 

The differences constitute what I term as process of nation building. Nation building is therefore a process towards nationhood; a conscious state of affairs where the mosaic of identity is galvanized to build a true national identity, anchored on the preservation of fundamental rights of all citizens.

WHITHER NIGERIA’S NATIONHOOD?

In my introductory remarks, I did draw our attention to our numerical statistics. Like any other country in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is far from being homogeneous which is in fact a major character of post-colonial states globally or what could rightly be interpreted as a variety of fundamentally contrasting nationalities. 

My dear brethren, to fully understand the fundamental obstacles in our journey of nation building, it is vital to thoroughly interrogate the concept of ethnicity. It will give us an idea of the extent it has strangulated the accomplishment of true national cohesion. According to Coser and Larsen (1976), ethnic groups constitute segments of larger societies whose members are thought, by them or others, to have a common culture, and who, in addition, participate in shared activities in which the common origin and culture are significant ingredients. 

A Nigerian scholar well known for his well-documented research on ethnicity, Prof. Okwudibia Nnoli, defined ethnic groups as social formation, distinguished by communal character of their boundaries like language and culture. What is important in this discourse is not actually the definition of ethnicity but the operationalization of it that has fettered our strive for nationhood. To this end, Prof. Osaghae puts ethnicity squarely into perspective, opining that ethnicity is more of a political phenomenon than cultural because, it is more of a political weapon that adequately served the post–colonial African elites who perceived it as an instrument of political competition within the space of ethnic competition for allocation of surpluses or values.

In the conclusion of Prof. Eme Ekekwe, ethnicity is more of a reality that flowed from the ideologies and myths invented by the elites to consolidate their parcels of influence or to gain advantage in diverse competitive socio-political and economic space. It is therefore this politicization of ethnicity that has led to the democratic breakdown and socio-economic failures and by extension, to loss of lives in Nigeria. 

But, it is however troubling that unlike Malaysia, the country we earlier mentioned; Nigeria has been unable to manage her diversities. Rather, successive regimes have continued to escalate these divisions, which have come to its height under the present APC administration, where virtually all the key security agencies in the country are being headed by people of same religious inclination and where major political positions are allocated to people from a certain section of the country. 

At present, there is heightened state of intolerance among the component ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, accelerated primitive greed among the populace due to lack of sense of collective entitlement to our commonwealth and the attendant moral bankruptcy. At the same time, government has over time not pursued policies that have been helpful in fostering sense of national unity but rather, has escalated intolerance and restiveness.   

Take for instance, the allocation of resources in the 2017/18 budget proposal, the South East has ranked least back-to-back in the allocation of capital votes. While infrastructure in the South East have continued to deteriorate, that of other sections of the country have continued to receive attention. While peaceful agitations in the South East for rightful accommodation within the Nigerian state was received with high-handedness to the extent of being branded as terrorism, the Fulani herdsmen who have ran berserk, killing and maiming innocent people in the South and North Central regions are treated as sacred cows with veiled condemnation, without appropriate action being taken. These kinds of deliberate policies of government, particularly under the present regime, have not been helpful in fostering nation building.

My dear people of God, in Nigeria, ethnicity is essentially glamorised and treasured because for the elites, it is a tool of bargaining and therefore should be preserved. But most troubling is the fact that whereas the masses, irrespective of their ethnic groups, suffer the consequences of ethnicity, the elites who promote it for selfish reasons for their acceleration on the social –political and economic ladder within the state, do not approximate in any way to ethnic or group interest but for themselves. Therefore, whenever the issue of nation building is vehemently canvassed, the elites become lethargic and viciously compromising.  It is therefore difficult to talk of nation building under this circumstance of sheer nepotism, unevenness and shrewd contempt, unless there is a consensus that the time is ripe for it. 

THE CHURCH AND NATION BUILDING

Nation building entails the process of establishing a nation where rule of law is supreme and citizens of every shade within the comity of the ethnic groups that make up the State express a sense of commitment of a common purpose, destiny and future anchored on the inalienable principles of equity and justice. 

My dear brothers and sister, I would like to ask these questions and pause a while for your responses. Are we satisfied with the state of affairs in our country, Nigeria? Are we prepared to build a nation where every citizen is treated equally with equal right to self-actualization within the Nigerian State? If we are all dissatisfied with our situation, then the first necessary step is to build a consensus around the understanding that we are dissatisfied and desirous of building a nation on shared values and national identity under the rule of law. 

The role of the church in nation building is clearly defined. The Church does not exist in a vacuum or in isolation of the State. The individuals that come to Church either on Sunday services or weekly programmes are the same people holding various positions of authority in government or part of the society that encourages them. 

The Nigerian church, with its huge human resources, in terms of membership, who are committed and display strong reverence to church leadership, coupled with the overwhelming influence of some of these church leaders on political leadership, the church stands a good chance of influencing policy directions that could provide the most needed building blocks that would facilitate the process of nation building. 

In the medieval times and even in the classical times, there was little distinction between the Church and the State. The State was run by the Church and the Church had therefore tremendous influence over how the societies were run. Today, times have changed but nothing still has fundamentally diminished the role or influence of the Church in the affairs of the State.

Considering the unique position of reverence that the Church occupies in the affairs of the society, particularly in Nigeria, it is not difficult for the Church to become the nucleus for coalescing the principles that would spearhead the evolution of the nationhood that we all desire.

Please permit me the liberty to share some information I stumbled upon in the course of my research. It is interesting and I think its helpful for the church to appreciate their unique position in the process of nation building. 

In 2014, President Benigno Aquino III, 15th President of the Philippines, wanted desperately to extend his tenure and weaken the country’s Supreme Court. He defied every advice from well-meaning persons around the globe to jettison such reprehensible adventure that had the potentials of plunging the fragile country into unimaginable political crises. However, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the CBCP President wrote a letter, I quote “that the CBCP was against amending the constitution if its reasons are derived from wrong premise. I cannot lend support to constitutional amendment that will only benefit those who are in position or a “one office-holder” or “a class of persons.” That statement from the revered gentleman sealed the fate of the President’s constitutional amendment adventure and saved the country from avoidable crisis.  

Notably, the Archbishop did not acquiesce with the President because of the high office he occupied neither did he consider the possible patronage which he could achieve or the possible punitive consequences of his position. He did not falter when duty called, because he wouldn’t have a congregation to minister to in the event of war. Interestingly, today, democracy and good governance is gradually taking roots in that Asian country. There are several other instances but time will not permit me to continue.

My dear people of God, is the Church playing that sacred role in Nigeria towards building nationhood or have we compromised or acquiesced with our traducers? Our conversation therefore should not centre around the role of the Church in nation building, that is already cut out, but should interrogate to what extent the Church has performed this role. Has the Church significantly played its part? 

Remarkably, the South East is predominantly Christians and interestingly our people are very religious. We record significant number of Church attendance every Sunday and on weekly programmes or Crusades. The Governors, Legislators, Commissioners, Local Government Chairmen, Advisers, Executive Assistants and sundry appointees of government, including civil servants, all go to one church or the other. In these same States where all these people are committed members of the Church, government contracts not duly completed are paid for in full; civil servants are owed several months of salary; pensioners are owed years of arrears; nepotism reigns supreme; allocation of projects are concentrated in one section of the state; people are denied employment or appointment because of the particular areas in the State or country where they come from. 

Yet, on Sundays these people that perpetrate these crimes, occupy the front rows in our Churches and make huge donations. These same people are part of millions that flock annual religious gatherings; revivals, crusades, adorations, special anointing services, crossover nights etc. Yet, greed, corruption, nepotism, injustice and impunity reign supreme in both high and low places. 

These same people that sit in the front rows in our churches because they are in authority, pull down libraries where our children could read and become successful, only to erect chapels in self –glorification. They invite men of God to dedicate and put a seal of authority on impunity and they (men of God) conclude to have played their role in nation building. I disagree with you.   

Let me point out one ugly part of the saga. Bishops, Pastors and other men of God are always quick to pour anointing oil on these wicked opportunists and society influencers that have made our journey to nationhood tortuous and seemingly unrealizable. Our men of God are not quick in admonishing them where they err but are quick to accept their tainted donations and profusely pray for them. How many you can summon the moral courage to speak to power? 

Many men of God are like Jonah in Jonah 1 vs 1-2 , I read “ Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying –Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city , and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me” Did Jonah carry out the assignment? No! He ran away. But God had mercy on him because he slept few days in the belly of the fish. For some of our Men of God, God may not show same mercy. Therefore, I admonish you to be like Samuel who in 1 Samuel 13 vs 13 made it clear to Saul without fear that, “thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee; for now would the Lord establish thy Kingdom upon Israel forever”. 

You cannot be a Pastor and your flock is devouring our commonwealth or committing atrocities against the people they are supposed to serve and you keep quite. How is a nation built? Is it not by the sweat of men of honour and courage? 

I hear loudly now that homosexuality is creeping into the Church of Nigeria. This Satanic act cannot be treated with kid gloves. The world and indeed concerned Anglicans like me are hopeful that any culprit must be disgraced and banished from the Church and Priesthood. As agents of God, the chosen ones, must be seen to lead by example.

Your Lordship, I must however commend the recent courage so far shown by some men of God who have summoned the audacity to speak truth to power. If all men of God should perceive nation building from one perspective as that of moulding the psychology of men and women towards the basic principles of love, sense of moderation, sense of justice and sense of common purpose, I think the journey of nation building would be less problematic. 

CONCLUSION

In the beginning, I did mention that this synod would not have come at any better time than now when the leadership recruitment process has begun. The Church has a role to play and must recognise it so. We have been on this route for 58 tortuous years and there appears to be no end in sight for this fractured State, Nigeria. It requires selflessness, courage and sacrifice for anyone or institution to champion the clamour for a better society in the face of anti-people administration that is intolerant to constructive criticisms and public opinion. Only an institution like the Church can fit into this beat. It is a moral responsibility.  Whereby it fails, then the Church may one day not have followers to minister to, unless it is prepared to reach them at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.

The Church must recognise that she is a critical stakeholder in the nation building process and must be seen to be on top of it. As the moral compass of the society, it is my humble belief that if the Church performs her role deliberately and conscientiously, we could in no distant time, achieve our nationhood. This will be determined by how well we mobilize the voters within our care, to vote the right candidates who understand the urgency of building a nation that could guarantee the actualization of our individual and collective destiny. There is no better time for a people to be determined and more resolute in their choice of leadership recruitment process than now. 

I thank you once again for the privilege and most importantly for listening.

 

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