Christians And The NPRC

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Christians and The National Political Reform Conference
 

By

 

Emmanuel Gbonigi

Rt. Reverend Emmanuel Gbonig, former Anglican Bishop of Akure Diocese presented this paper at the University of Ibadan, on March 15, 2005.

 

 

March 15, 2005

 

 

I greet all of you in the holy name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. May His enabling grace continue to be your strength.

 

Please, accept my sincere appreciation and thanks for choosing me out of very many others, clerical and lay, to give this lecture. I realise that there are many people who are capable of doing a better job of the topic than I can do. Nonetheless, you have invited me because you love me in the Lord. I thank you very much.

 

I am fascinated by the way you couch the topic for this lecture: "What Christians should expect and demand from the National Political Reform Conference."
I highlight the words "Christians," "should", "expect," and "demand." For me, the word "should" in this context implies that whatever we agree to expect and demand are our inalienable rights, that is, things we cannot give away, and no one must take away from us. Also, the combination of the words "expect" and "demand" means that our inalienable rights belong to us by the grace of God and by virtue of our citizenship of our country Nigeria.

 

Like our salaries, wages and contract sums for jobs fully and satisfactorily executed, there are certain facilities that belong to us by virtue of our citizenship. We need not beg or crave for such political, social and economic facilities. So, whenever they are not forthcoming normally, we have the duty to demand for them.

 

We now turn to the first of the underlined words: "Christians."
Who are the Christians? Simply put, Christians are the members of the Church. This definition of the word "Christians" raises another question: What is the Church? The Church is the fellowship of all peoples, men, women boys and girls who believe in Jesus Christ as the third Person of the Godhead, and put their trust in Him as their personal Lord and Saviour. They are the peoples all over the world who, by repentance and faith, have accepted God's offer of grace to be His children and servants in the world. They are the fellowship of people who, by God's wonderful grace, have special relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ and who, in deep appreciation and humble gratitude to God, yield Him absolute obedience, undivided, loyalty, and unconditional allegiance. In the Church catechism, we are taught that by a believer's baptism, which is the rite by which he or she is received into the fellowship of Christ Body - the Church - the believer becomes "a child of God and an inheritor of the Kingdom of God."


What does what we have said so far about what the Church really is have to do with our topic? It is this, that the Church is the physical and visible presence of Christ here on earth. It is to remind us that Jesus created His Church for the purpose of continuing His earthly ministry which He started and completed through His incarnation. His earthly ministry of preaching, teaching and healing. He established the Church in order to consummate, to make perfect, the salvation of humankind He came to accomplish in the world. In publishing what we might call the manifesto of His earthly ministry, Jesus said "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken hearted, and to announce that captives shall be released, and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him" (Luke 4: 18 & 19).

 

Having accomplished the task by His death and resurrection, and just before He ascended into heaven, He commissioned His disciples to go and do precisely what He had done which was to preach and heal. He had earlier said: I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have done: He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the father (John 14: 10). The point we are trying to make here is that it is the same ministry Christ came to the world to fulfill that the Church has been commanded to continue. As someone has stated, the Church was redeemed in order to redeem the world.

 

Therefore, to ask what Christians in Nigerians should expect and demand from the National Political Reform Conference is to ask what Christ expects from the conference. And because Jesus Christ and the Father are one (John 10:30), we are in effect asking what God wills the conference to produce for the total welfare of all Nigerians.

 

Here is a list of what I am convinced Nigerian Christians irrespective of their denominational affiliations should demand from the conference:
 

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The establishment of a conducive atmosphere, which will engender righteousness and justice throughout our country.

 

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Upholding of the rule of law that is universally recognised.

 

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Devolution of power from the Center to the Regions
 

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True federal system.

 

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Resource control by the Regions
 

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Maintenance of the Secular Nature of our Corporate Existence
 

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Rotational Presidency.

 

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Respect for Women's Rights
 

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Abolition of "federal character" system in our national educational institutions.

 

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Amalgamation of all nationalities broken up by the present political arrangements.

 

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Freedom of Speech.

 

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Independent Candidates at all Elections
We will now take the demands listed above one by one, hoping that what is said in this lecture will provoke lively discussion.

 

The establishment of a conducive atmosphere, which will engender righteousness and justice throughout our country:
It is noteworthy that righteousness and justice are often mentioned together in the Old Testament. For instance, "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of this throne," that is, God's throne (Psalm 97:2b) "I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line" (Isaiah 28:17). Righteousness is the opposite of sinfulness. It is the opposite of wrong, misdeed, crime, wrongdoing, wickedness and evil. No country, no people can live in tranquillity in an atmosphere of sin. All the efforts of the Church through preaching, teaching and righteous living would avail little if the political environment is made deliberate sinful as it has been in our country. As long as people go into politics primarily to get position in order to get possession, to get power and quick material wealth, our social and moral life would remain morally decadent. Politicians in positions of leadership have to lead by example in order to set a high moral standard for others to follow. Their failure to do so enthrones unrighteousness, and we are taught in the Bible that "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" (Proverbs 14: 34). It connotes moral uprightness, virtue and godliness.

 

What is true of righteousness is also true of justice. Justice is the prerequisite for people. It is the opposite of unfairness, inequity, discrimination, oppression, bias, prejudice, partnership, partiality, favouritism, wrong. In short, it is sin. Injustice is the delicate subtle or even forceful depriving people of their rights. It is a wicked act. No one who is denied his or her right can be happy, and where there is unhappiness, there can be no peace. No justice, no peace is, therefore, a truism. Justice should pervade our political and social life in order to enjoy good governance. We need an atmosphere of peace in order to work together to achieve a strong economy and material prosperity that God wills for His people. But there can be no peace without justice. We must demand from the conference a constitution that will create a conducive atmosphere for righteousness and justice. We must insist on a constitution that will make money politics very unattractive but which will encourage those whose desire in coming into politics is to serve the people diligently, sacrificially and faithfully.

 

The area of justice deserves special emphasis, particularly because of our past bitter experiences of religious persecution. Christians in Nigeria demand that the NPRC ensure that the new constitution that will emerge from the confab contains laws against religious riots, maiming, arson and destruction of properties. The law must spell out in very clear terms adequate compensation that must be paid to victims of any riots based on religious ethnic or tribal animosity. Spouses, children and other dependants of anyone killed by religious or ethnic fanatics should become the full responsibility of the government. The responsibility must include standard feeding, clothing, housing, education up to tertiary institution, and other basic necessities of life. The compensations must include places of worship.

 

The Upholding of the Rules of Law that is Universally Recognised:


We, as citizens of our country, should demand from the ongoing National Political Reform Conference that strict adherence to laid down Rules of Law be entrenched in our constitution. Hitherto, our top government leaders have been very inconsistent in their observation of Rules of Law. They do so selectively. The handling of Zamfara State's adoption of Sharia legal system, the scandalous events we have in Anambra State; and the heartless refusal to release legitimate allocations to Lagos State Local Governments for such a long time by the President are examples of discrimination practice of the Rules of Law, especially by the Federal Government. This is sickening and, therefore, must change.

 

Devolution of Power from the center to the regions or states:


The present situation in which the 36 states of our country, with a population of about 120 million people, have to go to Abuja for monthly allocation of funds and several other activities is ridiculous and disgusting. This political arrangement is riddled with various problems, difficulties, dangers and corrupt practices. It has made the situation whereby thousands of Local Government workers in Lagos State are denied their salaries and allowances possible. This point is closely connected with point number two above. We demand that the new constitution that will emanate from the ongoing conference will put an end to putting almost all the powers in the hand of the central government.

 

True Federal System:


What I call true federal system is the kind of federal government we had immediately after we gained our political independence from Britain in 1960. I remember that under that arrangement, our country was divided into three regions. Each of the regions had considerable autonomy or self-government. The federal government had, for example, an embassy in London, while each of the three regions had consulates. The federal government took charge of the subjects on the exclusive list, such as foreign affairs, defense, immigration, and monetary subjects. The other subjects were on what they called concurrent list. The system enabled the regions to plan their affairs and to develop at their own pace without any hindrance by the central government. The rate of development of the old Western Religion under the able leadership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo is a case in point. Each of the regions had its own parliamentary system. That was, indeed, a golden period in the history of our country. So, we are duty bound to demand a return to it. Our present large population makes true federalism an imperative.

 

Resource Management:


I deliberately use the term "management" rather than "control" because "resource control" seems to have taken on a politically offensive meaning in some circles. The NPRC owe us the duty of taking a firm decision that will enable each Region or State to be in charge of the natural resources in their areas. Each Region or State will legislate how they would manage the resources effectively and pay adequate tax to the central government to enable it perform its assigned duties for the benefit of the whole country. The present practice, whereby the Federal Government controls all the resources of a large country like ours, is wrong and unproductive to strengthen our economy. It must yield place for local management, which will be far more beneficial for all Nigerians.

 

Maintenance of the Secular Nature of our Corporate Existence:


We demand that the Conference ensures that our new constitution contains very clear clause on our secular nature. This is highly necessary because we are a multi-religious people. We must avoid adopting one of the three main religions, that is, Christianity, Islam, and African Traditional Religions, as a national religion. To do so or anything that resembles it at all would endanger our corporate existence. We demand that the States that have adopted the Sharia legal system over and above the Common Law to drop it since they are integral part of our country. Our religious pluralism must be recognised and respected.

 

Rotational Presidency:


There are fellow Nigerians who feel that rotational presidency is incompatible with democracy. Such people claim that since we are a democracy, our constitution should make it possible for any citizen of our country to aspire to and contest for any office or our land any time. That sounds right and incontrovertible on the surface. But a careful consideration of our federal composition dictates that we should be realistic about our national, tribal and ethnic components. We need to be objective, and do all we can to give every federating unit a sense of belonging. We must avoid carelessly riding roughshod over the interests of any part. Rather, we must try to make each federating unit comfortable, assure them that we respect their self worth, and that they are needed. Differences in population, the unfortunate practice of money politics and different forms of corruption are among the factors that would make emphasis on democracy only not helpful in our situation. Therefore, we demand that the NPRC ensure that rotational Presidency be entrenched in the new constitution we envisage.

 

Respect for Women's Rights:


Our God is the God of righteousness and justice. He wills that we are just in all our dealings with all people without bias about their gender, race, nationality, tribe, ethnicity and other human differences. The Bible teaches us that our God is the defender of women, children, widows, orphans and the downtrodden. Jesus, who is the supreme and final self-revelation of God to humankind, demonstrated God's special concern about the respect for the dignity of womanhood. We see this especially in the gospel according to St. Luke. Nigerian Christians are duty bound to demand that the NPRC ensures that due respect for women's rights and privileges are entrenched in our new constitution. We demand that the Beijing resolution of a minimum of 30% representation at all levels of governance, organisation and administration be strictly maintained. The poor representation offered to women in the ongoing conference is annoying. Even a total of 60 (36 from the states, 15 from the President's list, and 9 from youth students, NGO's etc) would have been considered too poor. Anything less than 100 women representatives out of 400 is an insult to all of us. We know that women are more honourable, morally upright and self-disciplined than men. Their contributions to the deliberations and decisions of the conference are, therefore, highly desired and necessary.

 

Abolition of "Federal "Character" in our nation's educational institutions:


The current policy for selecting boys and girls to enter Federal Government Colleges is both ridiculous and annoying. Let us take for example a situation in which two pupils in the same school sit for the same entrance examination to FGC, with one scoring a total grade of 70 per cent and the other 30 per cent, and the one who scores 30 per cent is given admission while the other is denied admission based on their areas of origin in the same country. This kind of situation is unacceptable because it is unjust. And, as we have said, where there is injustice, there can be no peace. We, therefore, demand that the obnoxious practice be abolished forthwith because our God is the God of justice. He makes justice "the measuring line" of our individual and common lives; and with HIM there is no compromise.

 

Amalgamation of all nationalities broken up by the present political set-up:


We demand that our local fragmentation of nations, tribes and ethnic groups be abolished. When the colonial powers of Europe came scrambling for Africa in the 19th Century, they broke up some nations in Southern, Central, Eastern and Western parts of the continent. They merged parts of some nations to other nations with completely different culture and traditions. The Europeans did this atrocious thing for their administrative and economic conveniences. The Yoruba nation is a case in point. Parts of the nation are in Benin Republic, Togo and other West African countries. The same unfortunate state of affairs exists within Nigeria. Again, parts of Yoruba nation are currently merged with other nationalities in Kwara, Kogi and Edo. The new constitution, which will emerge from the NPRC, must redress this painful and unhelpful scenario. It is unjust. It is oppressive. It is very saddening.

 

Freedom of Speech:


It is true that Freedom of Speech is one of the human rights contained in the so-called Constitution of 1999. That not withstanding, we Christians in Nigeria must demand it vigorously because we find from time to time that some of our rulers try to regiment how we should use the right. A current example is what President Obasanjo has been saying about our national unity as a given. That is, an assumed fact that does not lend itself to any discussion. This, to us Nigerian Christians, is another way of saying that the unity of Nigeria is a no go area for the ongoing conference. We disagree. We demand a Freedom of Speech that is full and complete. In fact, we believe that we ought to have reviewed the 1914 amalgamation forced down our throat without asking whether we needed it or not. We ought to have evaluated it, in 1960, soon after we gained our independence from the colonial masters. Again, we ought to have re-evaluated it in 1999 at the beginning of the present democratic dispensation, realising the rack and ruin the military did to our body politic for about thirty years. It would have been of great benefit for us if we had convoked an assembly on those two occasions and asked the various federating units how they felt the union was going. We ought to have asked ourselves whether the union was worth it or whether it would be better for us to call it off. In other words, we have missed two historical occasions when we ought to have made critical and honest assessment of our corporate existence with a view to deciding whether or not we should maintain it. And if yes, to decide how best to do so. We demand we do so now. While we realise that the large majority of Nigerians would support that we go on together, we see no reason why anybody should be jittery or uptight about debating it. We believe that is debating it that is healthy and productive. That is what Nigerian Christians are asking for.

 

Independent candidates at all elections:


We ask that our Constitution include the right of any qualified Nigerian to stand election for any political office of their choice. The right for associations in our present Constitution underscores this demand.

I thank you for your patient listening.

 

 

 

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