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John Cardinal Onaiyekan’s 2016 Christmas message

By

+John Cardinal Onaiyekan

 

NTA, VON, RADIO NIGERIA CHRISTMAS 2016

CAROLS AND NINE READINGS

NATIONAL CHRISTIAN CENTRE, ABUJA, Sunday 12th 2016

Message by +John Cardinal ONAIYEKAN, Archbishop of Abuja

 

  1. We thank God for bringing us together once again this year for the usual annual celebration of the Christmas season. This celebration of Carol and Readings has become a yearly custom of the NTA and Radio Nigeria and I congratulate them for keeping faith no matter the circumstances around us. Despite the economic down turn and recession, we must celebrate and rejoice at Christmas time, because the core of the Christian message recalls the abiding love of God for humanity. This is brought out very clearly in the gospel of St John – “Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave His Only son.” John 3:16.

 

  1. First of all, Christmas is a Christian celebration which has a specific meaning for those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God made man, an unimaginable doctrine that is tenable only to those who have received the gift of the Christian faith. The Christian therefore celebrates not only the gift of a wonderful child but also the enactment of God’s greatest plan for humanity, His becoming man and living among us. “The word was made flesh, he lived among us.” John 1:13. St Paul made this clear when he said: “When the appointed time, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” Gal. 4:4. That woman is the Virgin Mary, the young girl of Nazareth. Already in the Old Testament, the Prophet Isaias foresaw that a “The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel.” Is. 7:14 Matthew quoted this text in his story of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus in Mat. 1:23, adding that Emmanuel is “a name which means ‘God is with us’”. Mat. 1:24. Christians therefore have a profound spiritual motivation for celebrating Christmas.

Christmas however, is a celebration for the whole world because it is an essential part of the Christian faith that God’s love embraces every human being. That is perhaps why the Christmas mood spread all over the world in these weeks, as we see decorations and shopping sprees in all the great capitals of the world.

 

  1. We should not forget that it was not so at the beginning. When Jesus was born over 2000 years ago, it was an obscure event. Only Mary, Joseph and a few shepherds were aware that a great thing had happened to our universe. But today there is a general mood of joy, of peace and of sharing. Even if for many people, the reason for this season may be forgotten or entirely unknown, our faith in the Lord Jesus is that the Lord of history is in charge of his creation in us and despite us.

 

  1. In Nigeria, we thank God that Christmas has become a popular celebration, involving all our fellow citizens. The government grants a two-day public holiday to enable everyone celebrate, both Christians and non-Christians. It is a good thing that Christians celebrate with their neighbours who are not of the same faith.

Everyone must share in this mood of joy, peace and hope. It is a mood of God being with us. It is joy in the midst of challenges and economic recession, hope against every despair and faith to be able to see light at the end of the tunnel of a rather somber environment. It is a season for sharing, for expressing solidarity and for reaching out to others especially to the poor and needy. Perhaps there will be less heavily loaded hampers flying around this year. But there must not be less generosity among us all. Perhaps we must seriously consider this year those with whom we exchange gifts. Jesus said: “If you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? Lk. 6:33. For the very fact that there are so many of our countrymen who are in situations of distress and poverty, this is all the more reason therefore why all of us, especially we who are Christians, must reach out to them, wherever we can, at our own levels.

 

  1. The nation not only celebrates the Christian festival of Christmas but also the Muslim religious feasts. It shows the importance of religion in our land. This is a spiritual asset which should make a positive impact in our land. True religion must be for peace, for justice, for honesty and harmony. Christmas is a time for us to take up anew the challenges of fashioning good relations among our differing religious communities. And this is not only between Christians and Muslims but also within our various religious faiths. It is becoming more and more clear now that if we do not arrive at harmony within our faiths, it will be difficult to achieve peace between our faiths.

 

  1. This is a task that we must all put our heads to. To do this we must recognize certain realities which are there, not without the permission and the plan of God himself. We must admit that we live in a country where there is a pluralism of religions. It is a fact that we cannot change. The wise attitude therefore, is to cultivate as much as we can respect for our differences and be fair to everyone. Here the golden rule is always valid – “Do to no one what you would not want done to you”.

Our differences however are not the end of story because we do have a lot of things in common. We therefore must try to seek those common grounds in terms of those shared spiritual and religious values which then help us to be able to join hands to face the challenges that afflict all of us, without discrimination or distinction. Whether it is Ebola or Malaria, HIV/AIDS or even corruption, every religious community is challenged to take action with the spiritual resources at its disposal, for the common good of all.

For all this to happen, we need to agree on the place of religion in our nation. The age-old debate of the relationship between politics and religion cannot be avoided. Nor can we make any serious progress as a nation with serious disagreement on this matter. This is particularly crucial in the area of the law of the land. Can we distinguish between the legal civil code that binds each one of us as citizens of the same nation and the religious moral norms which each of us have embraced in freedom as part of his or her own religion? If we sincerely want a nation that is united and integrated, we must work seriously towards one law for every citizen. If we must tell the truth, it must be said that the Sharia issue is still burning. Recent moves in the National Assembly for a drastic review of our constitution to make room for ecclesiastical laws side by side with Sharia is perhaps only the first salvo in a looming religious war that I believe is not too late to avoid. It is therefore indeed about time we begin to think seriously about thoroughly reviewing our constitution in the line of working towards one nation, one law. Despite our pluralism of religions, and maybe even because of this, one law ought to be enough for the entire nation, provided the freedom of everyone is guaranteed. This can be achieved with the following two simple conditions: that the law of the land must not command what religious laws forbid, and that it must not forbid what religious laws command. This leaves everyone to freely follow the injunctions of his or her own religion, without dragging in the state. This is what obtains in many countries which have one law for all citizens of diverse religions. With patience and a modicum of good will, this can be done also in our country, so that we can say good bye to fruitless conflicts over religious laws.

 

  1. We need therefore to promote and strengthen interreligious structures and initiatives. We should be building bridges rather than erecting more walls. Already we have a lot of informal bridges all around us, as most Nigerians relate quite well with their neighbours of other faiths. But formal structures have to be consciously promoted. Here the role of the Nigeria Interreligious Council, (NIREC) cannot be overemphasized. Nor can we delay indefinitely its resuscitation, so that it can once again be a forum for our efforts at promoting national religious harmony.

Interreligious dialogue is very important but not enough. We must also promote intra-religious harmony. Intra-religious dialogue demands that we acknowledge pluralism and differences even within our faiths. The Christian community must accept the challenge of working towards ever greater unity, as much as we can, rather than acquiescing, or even encouraging and maybe celebrating our present state of scandalous dividedness. We ask God to show us the way to sort out the problems that have been bedeviling the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) in the past few years. For this crisis to end, all hands must be on deck, and every stake holder must take up its own responsibility.

Within the Islamic community, I beg to be allowed to strongly encourage that differences should also be recognized and taken on board, within the greater Islamic community. The recent crisis with the Shiite group is a cause for concern, not only for Muslims but for the entire nation. If there are other Muslim groups, they too must have a right to free expression and an opportunity for them to play their own role for the building up of our nation. Every religious group must be seen as seeking ways to serve God and through God serving our neighbor, within the ambit of the law of the land. It is the duty of the state to protect all genuine religions, and be very slow to ban any, no matter how inconvenient.

 

  1. Our country is in serious political, economic and social difficulties. We seem to have remained largely in the mood of political polarization typical of election campaign period. After the election which took place almost two years ago, campaigns are now over and we should by now be fully in governance mode. All hands must be on deck to face the many great challenges that are weighing heavily on our nation. We must forever ban the attitude of “winner take all”, which also tends to provoke in the losers the counter mood of “pulling them down”. The winners cannot rule alone and the losers must be prepared to cooperate with those who now have the duty to lead the nation in the way forward. Our geographical, religious and ethnic identities, all crisscross. This in itself is the gift of God for us to be able to bring down walls of division. The scandalous social disparity between the rich and the poor in our country has led to an intolerable yawning gap crying to be filled. Poverty and unemployment has been growing, leading to despair and frustration in many quarters, especially among the youth. Dishonesty and corruption have hardly visibly reduced. Our overwhelming problems require our common action from the different agents and stakeholders in the society.

 

  1. At this Christmas, we must accept the message of peace, peace by all means, including by the route of love, of humility and simplicity. It is of course the duty of government to make and enforce laws. But the endemic corruption in our land may be calling for some amount of negotiation towards repentance, refunds and possible amnesty. The limits of the route of tribunals are getting more and more obvious. The war against corruption must be waged with all possible weapons.

 

  1. It is the duty of the government to secure the land against armed insurrection. We congratulate our government for major progress made in dealing with Boko Haram crisis in the North East. Mr. President has reason to boast that Boko Haram, from the Military point of view has been “technically defeated”. But it is not yet all over. This is because there is a limit to how much arms and guns can do in this matter. We need to put more efforts in dialogue and political discussions leading to reconciliation. Here the role of religion for positive action must be more consciously exploited. Religious communities and leaders must come out to play their role, which is often very efficient and very cost effective, in comparison with budgets for military action.

We pray that soon, the millions of our country men, women and children still living in camps as Internally Displaced Persons, (IDPs) will be able to return home, a home that will be secure and ready to receive them. At the same time however, more should be done to give them a viable option of settling elsewhere in the country. For example there are many IDP camps all around Abuja. Those who have been languishing in these camps for more than two years have every right to ask for resettlement within the Federal Capital Territory. It is affront to human dignity to leave people to rot away in such camps. After all, almost all of us here have come to settle here from different parts of the nation. Why not them the IDPs? There is certainly enough space for them within the FCT, and the funding can be sourced if government would only muster the political will to embrace them, as fellow Nigerians.

  1. In the meantime, however, while we thank God that the Boko Haram in the North East has been “technically defeated”, another almost equally serious security challenge has been building up all over the nation. I am referring to the bands of heavily armed bandits who have gone on rampage for the last few years. They are often called “Fulani Herdsmen”. At times, we are told that they are foreign bandits who have invaded our nation. Whoever they are and wherever they are coming from, they have now constituted themselves into a major national security menace, which requires an effective action from our armed forces. They have been destroying farmlands, attacking villages and settlements, occupying captured ancestral lands and they have killed thousands of Nigerians. For example, only recently, my Episcopal colleague, Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Bagobiri, Catholic Bishop of Kafanchan, in the South of Kaduna State, issued a very moving press statement with the following gruesome statistics, for only within his ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan: 53 villages torched, 808 lives lost, 57people injured, 1422 houses destroyed, 16 churches demolished, 1 primary school knocked down, and property “conservatively” valued at 5.5 billion Naira destroyed or looted! This is horrendous. No wonder that my friend and brother, the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohamed Sa’ad Abubakar, has been quoted to have compared them to terrorists.

Reports from kidnapping victims have also confirmed the rumours that they have been responsible for much of the kidnappings going on in many parts of the country. This must stop. The authorities must take effective action, so as to defuse the rising tide of resentment and hatred in many communities against the Fulani herdsmen and all who are considered related to them. More ominously, some communities are already thinking and talking of arming themselves for self-defense. This is very bad news. May God show us the way forward.

  1. My dear listeners and viewers, fellow Nigerians, we all come from families. In our families, which are the most important social unit, we accept one another; our parents as well as our siblings, as gifts of God. We have not chosen them. God has given them to us. The same family attitude ought to be extended to our national belonging. Despite all debates about whether or not it was a mistake to have put us together in one country in 1914, the fact is that we are already together. To separate ourselves now would be indeed a herculean task. It would be wiser, and far less cumbersome and problematic to put all our efforts together to accepting one another as God’s gift, in the same nation given to us by God. We must do our best to live in peace and harmony, not only despite our differences but also because of our common values and common challenges.

 

  1. Let me conclude with the wise words from a great politician, diplomat and intellectual of our neighbouring nation of Benin Republic. His name is Professor Albert Tevoedjre. He says:

 

 

“Faced with the impossibility of placing a soldier behind each citizen to guarantee his or her safety, the only credible sustainable option is to strengthen all the mechanisms that enable us to LIVE TOGETHER, despite all our differences.”

Happy Christmas to everybody.

And may the Lord God bless our nation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Tribute for Mohammed Ali – The champ is gone, long live the champ!

by

Noel Ihebuzor

 
I just learnt of the passing of this great man, this super athlete, this wonderful fellow who contributed in raising the status of boxing from that of brute pugilism to that of an art comparable to ballet. Yes, it is to Ali’s credit that he was able to transform what was before him an ugly physical sport into a delicately executed dance form with its beauty, its engaging fluidity, its glides and slides and its captivating elegance. Ali had this ability to execute what was a complex move with speed and grace and make it look simple!

The king is gone, long live the king! Here was a man who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. Here was the athlete’s poet to whom poetry came naturally and instantly and who bequeathed the world with strings of unforgettable lines. He sang and danced as he demolished Liston…he jabbed, jibed, jived and joked as he took out Foreman. With him boxing was art, it was fun, it was movement, it was strategy. And like all great people, he did great things and made them look simple.
He was the best, the prettiest, the smartest and the fastest. He even used his art, yes that was what his boxing skills became, to combat racism in his country and around the world. And this was no easy task – just read “To kill a mocking bird” to get a sense of the weight of racism that African Americans had to contend with in the states and which Ali (then Cassius M Clay) had to deal with as a young person. He refused to be put down by it, and even challenged it. When Parkinson’s disease assailed him, he parked it je-je in one corner and I remember watching him with moisture clouding my vision as he struggled bravely to carry the Olympic flame during the LA games!
Champ, gaa na udo! Iwu dimpka asato, okunrin mewa, iroko tree, gaa gaa na ogwu! You were that brave candle that defied the wind and whose flame shone in the worst of storms showing light to others and brightening lives.
Gaa na udo, Nwoke omam. The champ is gone but he lives on!
++ My unworthy tribute for one of the world’s greats!

 

Avoiding corrupting practices in anti-corruption campaigns

by

Noel Ihebuzor

Anti-corruption rhetoric and dramatics are now very popular in Nigeria. I totally support campaigns to rid this country of corruption but I also insist that such campaigns must carried with the right level of professionalism, detachment, neutrality, integrity and honesty. Anything short of these is plain dishonest. Anything short of these really amounts to the continued enthronement and celebration of corruption in efforts to combat it. where anti-corruption are not neutral, detached and honest, then they are likely to abuse their powers and influences, applying inconsistent rules and procedures in their treatment of persons and agencies. Double standards also represent critical threats to anti-corruption campaigns as they throw up different evaluations and reactions for the same behaviour. Such practices, where they occur, amount to corruption!

Here are a few reflections on this subject matter.

  • Double standards are outcomes of corrupt thinking. A nation of double standards will thus remain corrupt.
  • You cannot have one set of scales for persons in one party & another for persons in the other. Such a habit results from a corrupt mind set.
  • If you practice selective hysteria for allegations of corruption against persons in one party, then your mind is gradually being corrupted.
  • If you practice selective targeting in your campaigns against corruption, then your campaign is already steeped in corruption.
  • Anti-corruption practices must be fair. They must be conducted without any trace of favoritism or fear. Fail to do these and the campaign fails
  • To be credible, anti-corruptions must be consistent, even handed and transparent. They must be devoid of all forms of double standards.

The Manner of Manna – 18th Sunday Ordinary Time

By

Noel Ihebuzor

The 18th Sunday readings speak to our times.

These are hard times.

Food insecurity stalks the globe. Humanity grapples with the challenges of moral choices, consumerism holds the hearts and minds of men and women hostage, and rising savagery and wars with heavy undertones of bestiality bedevil our world. Merchants of misinformation and disinformation, of division and gain seeking distortion deceive people and lead them blinkered on to slippery slopes of false boundaries and exclusions.
The “Moseses” we see around us are false ones, all big talk and no action. They are sellers of false promises and dope, experts in denials, double talk, retractions and somersaults. The few “Amoses” we had have become compromised and most have abandonned themselves to selective amnesia and expedient associations.
We are in the desert. The desert seeks to invade us with its aridity and sterility.
Yes, these are hard times, but we must hang on there in faith, refusing to surrender to despair. We must stand firm against the invasion of any sense of futility.
God is there for us. Just like He heard the pleas of the Israelites, He will hear ours. In the same manner that He fed them with Manna will He also feed us. But ours will be a manna that feeds the body, nourishes the spirit, removes despair and restores the buoyancy of the soul. Positivity will return and in time, true leaders will emerge who will lead us to inclusive development, a development that welcomes us all, includes us all and where dividends and benefits of democracy are shared not by how one voted but by a spirit led sense of equity, justice, fair play and love.
Happy Sunday

Drawing Lines in the Sands of Time

By

Noel Ihebuzor

One hears a lot of things these days. But one has learnt never to believe most of them as we are now in a time of easy retractions and of claims of either being misunderstood, being misquoted or being quoted out of context. Shehu Garba and Femi Adesina, both presidential spokespersons, have now become experts in such methods of denial.  But wilI their skills stop speakers from speaking and hearers from hearing what was said at those increasingly frequent moments when the mouth appears to run ahead of and faster the brain?  “Mouth run” is a hazard and the best cure for it is a padlock but such a solution is painful and also violates a fundamental human right.

I hear the General has now decreed, yes, decreed that the probes into corruption in Nigeria will now be limited to the period when President Jonathan was in power. Femi Adesina has come forward to defend and justify this cut-off line that his principal has now drawn in the sands of Nigerian time. Note that this new cut-off line represents a departure from earlier indications that the period of “PDP misrule” (1999-2015) was going to come under serious probe.

The first question then is – what really prompted this departure? Logistics, fear of OBJ, fear of offending northern sensitivities by any focus on the short period of the Yar’Adua presidency? Nigerians are no fools and can read beyond the lines.  And lines that are purposefully drawn to include some and to exclude others represent the worst forms of arbitrariness and dishonesty, both of which have no place in good governance.

The second question is why the narrow focus? There are myriads of corruption allegations all over Nigeria starting from accusations of a $2.8 billion scam, to outright screaming headlines of an alleged heist by Halliburton that are yet to be closed out. Allegations such as these merit the attention of anybody genuinely interested in fighting corruption.

The third question is this – why this exclusive focus on the federal level? Are we suggesting that crooked deals at the state and LGA levels are unworthy of attention and prosecution?

The fight against corruption is not one of “pick and choose”. A selective approach calls into question the ultimate intentions of persons posing as anti-corruption crusaders. It exposes them to legitimate accusations of witch hunting and of attempting to use state powers in the pursuit of personal vendettas. It is worth reminding ourselves that whenever the instruments of state power are hijacked for personal pursuits, we are dealing with a case of abuse of power, and abuse of power is also a form of corruption. Let those who are drawing lines in the sands of time note that line drawings driven by vendetta and spite will eventually turn around and catch the same drawers. Finally, credibility is a requisite attribute of all who must fight corruption. Acts by corruption fighters that undermine this credibility will eventually sink the anti-corruption crusader.

General Buhari and P-Square

By 

Noel Ihebuzor

Who would ever have believed that the Okoye Brothers (Paul and Peter – PSquare) had this amount of influence, and that the influence extended even to the highest citizen of the land? That is the power of artists – their influence can be so insidious that we often internalize their messages without our being conscious that such internalization is going on. General Buhari’s recent 97% and 5% talk is a classic example.

PSquare sang: “if you do me, I do you, God no go vex” and the General must have taken the message in this modern day rendition of a mosaic injunction to heart as a guiding philosophy of life. This guiding philosophy then found a convenient outlet in the 97% and 5% comment. Never mind that the mathematics is wrong. Never mind that the forum chosen to express this personal philosophy of governance and political payback (with commonly owned assets) was the worst. The comment is no slip of the tongue. It is a comment that swells from deep within. It defines the man and it tells us what to expect in the coming months and years. Such a comment is most unworthy of any statesman or national leader. It betrays pettiness. It betrays vengefulness. It also betrays a regrettable and fundamental sectionalism. It is thus a public relations and governance disaster. It is a tasteless howler. The timing for this latest howler is also most appropriate. It happened in the public glare of spectators who had come to watch a sales and image laundering exercise. The gaffe turned it indirectly into a media disaster, apt self revelation and commentary and thus gave a lie to all the hype and posturing.

The French novelist, Victor Hugo said–“Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come”. Let me end this short piece by inflicting on the reader a very mischievous adaptation of that same saying. Here goes – “Nothing is as inevitable as a disaster whose time has come”.  I am sure that Mr. Hugo would agree that this adaptation rhymes well with our present charade and that it fits the current parade of governance clumsiness like a glove.

Achievements and their claimants

By

Noel Ihebuzor

It is amazing how much we can “ACHIEVE” when we define our targets with such looseness and when we bring down the bar of metrics to very low points. When we do that, waking up becomes an achievement and brushing one’s teeth becomes a super achievement. In a climate of loose definitions and lowered expectations, leaders in search of achievements to celebrate do not need look too far. Visiting a school becomes an achievement. Receiving a group of citizens is celebrated with the same panache reserved for the discovery of a new economic theory. It should therefore not surprise that our new kid on the block has ACHIEVED so much because of the slack targets & loose indicators that his media team and supporters have been and are still pushing for him. But those who must claim or sell achievements should first read up impact, causal theory, logic models and attribution theory. Claiming trivia and the mundane as achievements simply trivializes serious business and the claimants. Worse still, claiming responsibility for the success of events conceptualized, planned, nursed and “ante-natal cared’ for by another before your arrival is plagiarism. Hoha!


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