RETIRED Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie has warned the nation’s leaders to tread softly because there is anger in the nation, arguing that even leading members of the ruling All Progressives Congress at the centre have demonstrated commendable candour by openly acknowledging that the hopes of 2015 have been shattered.
In his latest open letter to the nation, Cardinal Okogie began on a sporty note, reminding the nation that late football commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, was fond of using an Igbo proverb while giving minute-by-minute description of football matches on the radio.
“Anytime there was an infringement that escaped the attention of the referee, he would ask his colleagues, Sebastian Ofurum or Tolu Fatoyinbo if they too saw the infringement. If they confirmed what he saw, he would say in Igbo: “What two persons have seen and confirmed to be a boa must not be mistaken for a piece of diamond.” One may apply that maxim to the situation in our country right now.
“There is anger in the land. Many voices are echoing it. These voices of anger are so deafening that it can no longer be denied. The level of discontent in Nigeria at this point in time is like the proverbial boa sighted by even more than two persons. It would be unwise to mistake it for a piece of diamond.
“It has been sighted by Retired Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida who have spoken of the anger in the land in clear and unmistaken terms. It has been sighted by traditional rulers who have called the attention of government to it. It has been sighted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria when Bishops went into the corridors of power to speak to power, in the way Biblical prophets directly confronted kings in Israel,” Okogie contended in the letter.
Continuing, he maintained that the situation can no longer be treated as the cry of “wailers”, “even leading members of the party ruling at the centre have demonstrated commendable candour by openly acknowledging that the hopes of 2015 have been shattered by the disappointment of 2019.
“’Your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend your worst enemy,’ sang Bob Marley. But presidential aides in our country do not seem to grasp the wisdom in those words. By their own reckoning, anyone who raises doubts as to the rightness of government policies, actions and statements is an enemy of government.
“He or she is ridiculed as speaking because there is no more access to ill-gotten wealth. A police officer, appointed to his office, demonstrated unspeakable insolence on television, calling an elected state governor a “drowning man”. In other climes he would lose his job. In Nigeria he keeps it.
“The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria stood with and for democratic forces in this country during the dark days of military rule. In 1984, when the current President was a military ruler, Nigeria’s Catholic Bishops went to him to inquire as to when he would restore democratic governance. During the lawlessness of military rule, Nigeria’s Catholic Bishops called for elections and called for the release of political prisoners.
“Interventions of Nigeria’s Catholic Bishops date back to October 1, 1960, the day Nigeria gained independence, when the Bishops addressed a letter to Nigerians. Fifty years later, the same Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria addressed another letter to Nigerians, entitled “Growing a New Nigeria”. That letter was presented to former President Goodluck Jonathan at the Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Cathedral on the First Sunday of Lent in 2011.
“The Bishops have never failed to offer their advice to successive governments in this country. Every line, every word of every intervention emanating from the Conference was chosen to offer frank and friendly advice. The Bishops did the same thing a few days ago, calling the attention of the President to the anger and disappointment in the land. At the end of their friendly exchange with the President, some of his aides and friends resorted to name calling and gratuitous accusations.
“Anyone who has a faint idea of how the Catholic Church is run would know that the Catholic Church does not run on tithes. She has never taught that God’s blessings depend on tithes. No Catholic Bishop in this country has a private jet. Not even the Pope has one. But an uninformed state governor, notorious for being insolent, described the Bishop’s intervention as the wailing of religious leaders who no longer have access to tithes because of this government’s anti-corruption fight.
“True friends tell each other the truth. There cannot be sincere friendship where there is no truth. Those who are telling our President the truth are his true friends. Those who are shielding him from the truth while insulting those who tell him the truth are his real enemies.
“By insulting well-meaning Nigerians who happen to disagree with policies of government they are not winning friends for the President. They are in fact helping to grow the rank and file of the angry. Whoever loves this President would want him to succeed. Whoever wants him to succeed must tell him the truth. For if he fails, Nigeria fails.
“The truth is: Nigerians are not happy. As we said early in this administration, Nigerians are hungry and angry. They are not happy because their lives and their belongings are not safe. They work so hard while the value of the money they earn cannot make them enjoy basic things of life. Nigerians are unhappy because the economy has been so mismanaged that some cannot pay the school fees of their children.
“Nigerians are unhappy because they have not got jobs. Nigerians are unhappy because, instead of hope, they are offered propaganda and insults by the President’s men. Nigerians are angry because their loved ones are butchered by herdsmen while the response of government is woeful.
“The issue at hand is more serious than getting re-elected. It cannot be resolved by way of a facile intra-party reconciliation. Before it can succeed, this government must admit it has failed. Before it can retrace its steps, this government must admit that it has strayed from the path of keeping the promises it made, promises that made Nigerians vote as they did in 2015. Apart from seeking intra-party reconciliation, this government must first reconcile with Nigerians by treating them with respect.
“Despite the insolence of some of its officials, we still pray for this government: may this government not suffer the fate of the proverbial hunter’s dog that got lost in the forest because it obstinately refused to heed the hunter’s whistle,” Okogie further warned.