The great Paschal Mystery, on which Christians reflect in faith these days, is for us a source from which we draw energy, strength and light, all of which we in Nigeria hunger for so greatly at this time. Just when we thought we had woken up to a new dawn, we realise that yesterday’s litany of woes is still with us: the Chibok girls have still not been found, the fuel queues are longer, workers’ salaries still remain unpaid, prices of foodstuffs have gone through the roof, trials in the battle against corruption remain stalled, the roads are still a wide open graveyard, the killing fields and wastelands have expanded, the population of displaced persons has increased astronomically, abductions and abuse of young girls continue, kidnappings and armed robberies are still on the rise. Fear still grips the land. It is tempting to ask, is this the Change we voted for? However, rather than lose hope and concede to the cynics, let us pause for a moment in the spirit of Easter.
1: Still a Long Way to Freedom
Undoubtedly, the slow pace of change elicits some nostalgia for yesteryears. But, we must not relent. Rather, let us learn a lesson from the people of Israel. In their journey to freedom, and faced with the threat of Pharaoh’s army, they cried to Moses: Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt? Did you have to bring us here in the desert to die?.....We told you to leave us alone to go on being slaves to the Egyptians. It would better to be slaves than to die here in the desert (Ex. 14: 11-12). In moments of hopelessness, we often evoke nostalgia to romanticize the past, sedate our imagination and pretend that yesterday was better than today. But, like the Israelites, we must continue with this desert walk till we see the promised end. Like the Israelites, if we want change, better days, freedom, we all have to pay the price for this by our sacrifices.
2: No Change Without Repentance
I saw a poster recently depicting a preacher with his congregation. When he asked the gathering who wanted change, everyone’s hand went up. Then when he asked who wanted to change, there was dead silence and no hand went up!
John the Baptist announced the coming of Jesus Christ, but his signature tune was a call to repentance. Turn away from your sins, he said, because the kingdom of God is at hand (Matt. 3: 2). He called the Pharisees and Sadducees a hypocritical brood of vipers (Matt. 4:7). They believed their outward show of religiousity and being descendants of Abraham would save them. But, John said to them: I tell you that God can take these stones and make them descendants for Abraham (Matt. 3: 9). Mere religiousity, endless prayers, gold rosary beads, pilgrimages, incense, are no substitute for heeding the words of Jesus that: only the pure of heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8). Only repentance can guarantee that.
3: Times are hard, but let us remain hopeful and faithful
We all know that we are going through very hard times. The endless and senseless killings have left our nation traumatised. We must commend the courage of hundreds of thousands of our brethren who have been displaced from family, community, property, home and lands. They have remained courageous in the face of this unacceptable human tragedy. They have coped with the humiliation of hunger, disease and squalor despite their innocence.
We commend the various government bodies such as NEMA, the military, the police force and other security agencies that have continued to work hard to make life bearable for our people. We also appreciate and commend the faith-based efforts of individuals and communities which have, through their own sacrifices, brought succor to our people. God bless you all.
4: In the cross is our salvation
For Christians, the season of Easter assures us of God’s faithfulness and mercy. In moments of suffering, we are tempted to think that God is far away or has abandoned us. We refuse to see God’s hand in the present. When in the heat of the desert, God fed His people with manna, quails and water, still they cried to Moses: We wish that the Lord had killed us in Egypt. In Egypt, we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted (Ex. 16:2-3).
When God unleashed the snakes on the people of Israel in the desert, it was the same snake that Moses used as a bronze cross. All who were bitten by the snakes and looked up to the bronze serpent were saved (Num.2: 9). In the same way, very often, our trials and tribulations contain the seeds of our redemption.
5: Please stop the waste of human Lives
Our country is gradually becoming a wasteland of death and destruction, a killing field. While we commend the military for what it has achieved in the war against Boko Haram, there are genuine reasons for concerns over the new dimension of savagery that is being unleashed across the land on vulnerable people whose lives and properties are daily destroyed. With no plans for national reconciliation, a future of genuine peace looks bleak.
Years of banditry in the name of governance have left their mark on our nation. Over the years, an incompetent and corrupt political elite often resorted to recruiting and arming private militias to stay in power. Now, our people are suffering the consequences of the ubiquity of these militias. Our people are daily murdered in their sleep by hired killers, gangsters, herdsmen, and all sorts of criminals. We have never felt so unsafe in our country. This is the worst expression of corruption in the land. The Government should show greater commitment to keeping our people safe.
6: The Family under threat: Keeping our Children Safe
We remain saddened by the fact that despite our hopes, prayers and vigils, the fate of the Chibok girls still remains a pawn in the chessboard of power. We stand in solidarity with our children and their traumatised families. We continue to pray for a miracle believing that indeed, the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayers (1 Pet. 3:2).
It is indeed very troubling to hear about the kidnappings, forced marriages and conversions of young girls in our country. It would seem that we are only just scratching the surface of a tragedy that lurks around us, thanks to the culture of silence which breeds fear. I find it quite unacceptable that we live in a country where under the false claim of religion and culture, repugnant and inhuman practices that are injurious to the weak are acquiesced.
Our children must be allowed to grow up in an environment that enhances their dignity. This is why we are saddened by the scandalous decision of the Senate to throw out a Bill that sought to restore some dignity and equal rights to our women. If our mothers cannot have these rights, what chances do our daughters have? The failure of the Nigerian state to develop a moral template for managing and even celebrating our differences, leaves us more vulnerable as a society. Men cannot continue to hide under dubious cultural and religious claims to use power irresponsibly for oppression.
7: An Economy on Life Support
Fixing the Nigerian economy remains a mirage as today’s experts blame yesterday’s Consultants. Both leaders and policy makers are trading blames while the lives of ordinary citizens continue to hang precariously. We are tired of all the cacophony of voices that have turned our suffering into a laboratory for theoretical experimentation. What we want to know is how to put food on the table. Hunger is the worst form of corruption any nation can live with.
8: Repentance in the Year of Mercy
Repentance is never an end in itself. Repentance is only a precondition, a path towards gaining God’s Mercy and forgiveness. In turn, Forgiveness is the stepping-stone to Reconciliation. Reconciliation waters the ground and allows Justice to flow like a river (Amos 5:24). Therefore, all of us, as individuals, families and communities must genuinely seek the face of God in personal penance (Ps. 27:8). John the Baptist called repentance the prelude to the coming of Christ. He said: Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17). St Paul enjoins us: Repent and turn back so that our sins may be blotted out (Act 3:19). An unrepentant society can never win a war against corruption because corruption itself is the worst form of sin.
9: A Prayer of Hope
Our country will be great again. Despite our personal and collective weaknesses, the labours of our heroes shall not be in vain. It is a difficult journey and we still have a long road to travel. That is why our God is Emmanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). For the sake of our country, the next generation and those unborn, we must stand together, we must sincerely repent, and we must not lose Hope. Pope Francis reminded us on Good Friday that the rising of the sun is more powerful than the darkness of night, that the apparent victory of evil vanishes before the empty tomb.
Let us heed the words of St Paul who said: We boast of the Hope we have in sharing God’s glory. We also boast of our troubles because we know that trouble produces endurance and endurance brings God’s approval and Hope. This Hope does not disappoint us (Rom. 5:2-5). Our nation shall rise because Christ has risen. I wish you a blessed and happy Easter.