ABUJA, Nigeria – The Church’s intellectual and moral truth is the key to a peaceful, free, and developing nation, Nigerian bishops have said at a conference attended by the country’s political and spiritual leaders.
Their remarks came at a conference on “Peace and National Development,” hosted Nov. 19-22 by Veritas University, the Catholic university of Nigeria.
“The leaders of our future must be formed with a mentality that only the truth sets a people free,” said Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, during remarks at the conference.
“Corruption will be eradicated if the students begin to learn that only money that accrues to a person as a result of hard work can be enjoyed.”
“The dream of the CBCN [Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria]… must always be the search for truth,” Akubeze, Vice President of CBCN, said, according to the Catholic News Service of Nigeria.
Marking the university’s 10th anniversary, the event was held at the Chelsea Hotel in Abuja, Nigeria, and included addresses from Archbishop Akubeze, Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto, and the school’s vice-chancellor, Professor Mike Kwanashie.
The conference was also attended by Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives; former President Olusegun Obasanjo; and Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja and the university’s chancellor.
While speaking about Nigeria’s future development, Kukah lamented that Nigeria has “remained permanently on top of the league of most vile and corruption in the international reports of the world institutions.”
The bishop asked whether or not Nigeria could really be considered a “developing country,” because it lacks advancements in health, security, human rights, and the rule of law.
Akubeze also mentioned that corruption exacerbated other severe challenges faced by Nigeria, pointing to events of terrorism, kidnappings, robberies, political violence, and tensions between religious and ethnic groups.
“These can result in disunity, instability, and if not curtailed, disintegration,” the archbishop said. “[Truth is] that fundamental value without which freedom, justice and human dignity are extinguished.”
Akubeze encouraged the university to form future leaders to search for truth and contribute to the common good, noting that some of the university’s students would likely become senators, governors, and maybe even Nigeria’s president.
He drew attention to the importance of the university’s name, “Veritas,” which is Latin for truth. He said the school, and every educational institution, should make the pursuit of truth their top priority.
He emphasized the need for human, spiritual, and moral formation at the university.
“As you know, education is not just about academic certificate. It also involves human formation. It involves character formation. In the process of your education in this institution, I want to encourage you, the staff, to help the students to have a wider horizon of life.”
Kukah stressed the importance of developing a strong moral compass among Africa’s political leaders, especially through the Catholic formation of university students.
“I want to focus on the Catholic Church and argue that perhaps, with some level of robustness, it could provide this moral compass drawing extensively from its rich history and culture,” he said.
He pointed to the richness of Catholic social teaching, which, he said, is rooted in the mission of Christ, namely the proclamation of salvation.
The Church’s social encyclicals have identified concrete challenges and proffered solutions in the past, he said, noting that the documents would be a powerful resource developing political solutions to Nigerian and African issues.
Although the school welcomes students from all faiths, Veritas University has a strong ecclesiastical identity and has a particular focus on Catholic social teaching.
Akubeze applauded the success of Veritas University in forming its students, but challenged the school to strive further, until it becomes a reference point for other educational institutions.
The university was founded by the bishops of Nigeria in 2002. It was officially accredited by the Nigerian government in 2007, and began admitting students thereafter. Its mission is to “provide its students with an integral and holistic formation that combines academic and professional training with physical, moral, spiritual, social and cultural formation together with formation of Christian religious principles and the social teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Nigeria, a country of 170 million people, has a Catholic population of nearly 23 million, according to the Pew Research Center.