– In the face of Nigeria’s ongoing violence and political tensions, the country’s bishops have promoted a fair and faith-filled electoral process.
Nigeria will hold general elections Feb. 16. The country has continued to encounter violence from Muslim extremist groups and government brutality.
According to The Guardian, a Lagos daily, Bishop George Dodo of Zaria emphasized the importance of a Catholic’s civic duty at an interreligious press conference at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Zaria.
“Catholic social teaching encourages us as Catholics and patriotic citizens of this nation to be actively involved in civic and political activities,” he said.
The bishop said the electorate should acquire the proper Permanent Voters Card and refrain from buying or selling votes. He also warned citizens about the potential violence surrounding the elections and urged residents to vote according to their conscious.
He encouraged people “to vote for any candidate of your choice whom you think has good qualities and capacity to defend, improve and, or add value to your lives and dignity.”
He further added that it is the obligation of the Church to educate “the lay faithful on their civic responsibilities, but it didn’t direct Catholics on whom, or about who to vote for, because its membership is not made of any one political party, but cut across all the political parties.”
During a Christmas statement on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Obiora Akubeze of Benin City challenged Nigerians to cling closer to Christ to confront the country’s recent violence.
Boko Haram is a jihadist military organization active in northern Nigeria. The group has been responsible for hundreds of kidnappings and tens of thousands of deaths and displacements. Last year, the militants burned 22 buildings, including a part of the Catechetical Training Centre in Kaya.
Fulani herdsman, a nomadic Islamic group, have created discord and strife in the middle states of the country. Clashes between the herdsmen and farmers have increased as climate issues have pushed herders to the south. In June, the herdsmen killed more than 80 people in Plateau State.
The country has also seen tensions in religious freedom. Peaceful demonstrations from the Islamic Movement of Nigeria began late last year and continued into this year, with the most recent taking place Feb. 5. The protesters called for the release of their leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been detained in prison despite court orders for his release in 2016.
During the protests in late October, Nigerian security forces used automatic weapons to disperse the crowds. Forty-five members of IMN were killed and another 100 members were wounded, according to the Washington Post.
Obiora said the country is experiencing difficult times, pointing toward the damaging effects of Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsman. He urged Catholics to face these challenges with prayer, and trust in Christ.
“Let all Nigerians cry to God to transform Nigeria into a land where opportunities are actualized and where there is harmony and peace,” he said, according to Catholic News Service of Nigeria.
He further challenged politicians to fulfill their political promises and act in favor of the Nigerian people. He said politicians should not seek out prayers on behalf of their political success but instead pray for the “peace, justice, and prosperity to all Nigerians.”
“We hope for a Nigeria where our leaders will bring the dividends of democracy to all Nigeria irrespective of whether they voted for them or not,” he said.
“Our politicians should seek prayers from priests and pastors to get the grace to fulfil their electoral promises to the electorate. They should win the hearts of Nigerians through meaningful and substantial campaign rooted in realistic promises that will better the lives of Nigerians,” he said.