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RELEVANCE OF MORALITY AND CHURCH IN A DEMOCRATIC NIGERIAN ENVIRONMENT

DURING THE ANNUAL CONVENTION/RETREAT 2006 HELD AT THE CATHOLIC INSTITUTE OF WEST AFRICA FROM FRIDAY 28TH APRIL 2006 – 30TH APRIL 2006

 RELEVANCE OF MORALITY AND CHURCH IN A DEMOCRATIC

 NIGERIAN ENVIRONMENT

1.0     PREAMBLE

I feel highly honoured to be called upon to deliver a paper at the 2006 Annual Convention/Retreat of the Inter-diocesan Conference of Papal Knights of Nigeria (Eastern Zone) intended to address pertinent relevant contemporary issues of our environment.

Today’s occasion is remarkable because it is assemblage of very distinguished resource persons who will speak on varied contemporary issues. It is envisaged that their contributions during this Convention/Retreat will enrich us to be better informed on some of the topical issues and challenges in our society.

It is evident from this exercise that the leadership of our body is willing to act as catalyst in promoting enduring society. I presume therefore that there is need to encourage this form of seminar annually to share informed views that will assist in the upliftment of  mankind and to the ultimate glory of God.

A paper presented by Dr. T. C. Osanakpo (SAN) during the Annual Convention/Retreat 2006 held at the Catholic Institute of West Africa from 28th April 2006 – 30th April 2006.

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2.0     DEFINITIONS

In order to embark on relevance or otherwise of morality and church in a democratic Nigeria, it is necessary to pause at this stage to ask: “what is morality and equally ask same about the church?”

(a)      MORALITY

Undoubtedly there is no codified norms that will serve as embodiment of applicable morality in Nigeria. Notwithstanding this limitation, it is submitted that morality connotes essentially moral obligations which are valid and binding in conscience but are neither recognized as applicable law of the land nor enforceable in a court of law1 . In other words, it rests upon ethical considerations alone and is not imposed or enforced by positive law.

The issue of morality received judicial interpretation in the recent case of TOTAL NIGERIA PLC & ANOR VS ONUOHA3 where the Court of Appeal held inter alia that a court of law is enjoined to do justice, however administration of justice is done in accordance to law and not based on morality.

Inspite of non enforceability of morality in any court of law, morality entails generally the ability to discern between good and bad. The power to effectively and properly discern is predicated on good conscience. The morality that tends to exhibit fairness, dedication to duty, integrity, fairplay, transparency, upholding the truth, care for the less privileged and poor in the society will be generally acknowledged as good morality. In view of the attributes of good morality, a leadership that imbibes them will not only promote justice and fairplay in governance but will equally promote common good for the benefit of society.

  1. See Blacks Law Dictionary 5th Ed. P. 969
  2. ibid
  3. (2001) II Nigerian Weekly Law Reports (NWLR) Part 725 634 at 647.

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The reverse of good morality is simply bad morality. The exhibition of morality that is adjuged bad in an environment has the net effect of not only impeding sound ethos and values, but has also the tendency and capacity to stultify proper growth and meaningful development in the Nigerian democratic environment.

(b)     CHURCH: The Church may be construed in a general sense as the religious society founded and established by Jesus Christ to receive, preserve and propagate Christian faith4 . It may also mean a body of communicants gathered into church order, body or community of Christians united under one form of government by the profession of the same faith, and the observance of the same ritual and ceremonies. In a narrow sense, church is also construed as a place where persons regularly assemble for worship6

In Nigeria, Church is neither defined nor enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. However, the Court of Appeal in the case of AJAYI & 2 ORS V REGISTERED TRUSTEE OF ONA IWA MIMO C & S7 held ‘inter alia’ that a church in its true definition is the body of Christ and connotes a congregation, an assembly of people that practice Christian faith.

The significance of the church rests in her ability to emphasize the importance of good morality in her teachings. The leadership of the church is therefore expected to use the pulpit as a platform to effectively disseminate the need for the application of good morality to her adherents. The rationale for so submitting is that a rudimentary society that is devoid of good morality is unlikely to be equipped to effectively tackle the problems of poverty, underdevelopment and demands of her environs.

  1. See Blacks Law Dictionary 5th Ed. P. 219
  2. ibid
  3. ibid.
  4. (1998) 7 NWLR 556, 156 at P. 161 para A – B

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  1. CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE 4TH REPUBLIC

Being a Christian of Catholic Church persuasion, one is inclined to limit this discourse to the Catholic Church. Basically, the clergy of the Catholic Church has as its primary role the task of propagating the Christian faith, evangelization, spreading the Good News and equally preaching good morality to adherents of the Catholic faith.

Having attempted to state the primary task of the Catholic Church, one is therefore tempted to ask: ‘What is the functional responsibility of the Catholic Church under the 4th Republic of our country?

The 4th Republic or the present democratic system was ushered in on the 29th day of May 1999 with the coming into force of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. Democracy is consistent with Constitutional government hence the Constitutionand not otherwise is supreme in the 4th Republic. The supremacy of the Constitution9 may aptly be construed to entail essentially the following:-

(a)      that “ all powers, legislative, executive and judicial must ultimately be rooted or traced to the Constitution;

  • the legislative power of the legislature cannot be exercised in a manner that is inconsistent with the Constitution. Where it is so exercised, it is invalid to the extent of its inconsistency with the Constitution;
  1. See Section 1(1)
  1. See the case of INEC & Anor vs MUSA & 4 ors (2003) NWLR part 808, 72 at page 157.

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  • where the Constitution has enacted exhaustively in respect of any situation, conduct or subject, a body that claims to legislate in addition to what the Constitution has enacted, must show that it has derived legislative authority to do so from the Constitution;
  • where the Constitution sets the condition for doing a thing, no legislation of the National Assembly or of a State House of Assembly can alter those conditions in any way directly or indirectly, unless the Constitution expressly so authorizes”.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 does not have any functional role either for the Catholic Church or any other Church in Nigeria. However the church being an assembly of people, it is submitted that the inalienable right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of conscience and religion is preserved by the Constitution. Therefore the church is expected to effectively rely on the said guaranteed rights under the Constitution to promote common good for the benefit of society.

It is noteworthy to state that the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Nigeria under the umbrella of Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has steadily and consistently being prayerfully deliberating on matters that affect the church, society and the Nigeria nation in her plenary sessions. It is perhaps due to this visible and affirmative posture of CBCN that informed the President and Commander-in-chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR to send a message to the body in her 2001 Conference that “ the nation is knocking at the door of the church for peace and harmony at this midnight hour, Rise up and meet our need”. In response to the plea of the Head of  State, the CBCN10  directed as follows:-

  1. See the Communique issued at the end of second plenary meeting of the CBCN for the year 2001. The meeting took place at St. Leo Catholic Church, Ikeja, Lagos from the 10th -14th  September 2001.

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(i)      that “every parish to begin a programme of basic education in the civic rights and responsibilities of its members, especially through the Justice, Development and Peace Committees”. Furthermore, the CBCN also requested Nigerians to scrutinize and publicly call to task elected officials, law enforcement agents, civil servants and those in business whose public service does not live up to the demands of probity”.

(ii)     enjoined Catholic faithfuls in public and private life, to live up to the standards of the Gospel and values of the Kingdom of God;

(iii)    requested the adherents of the Catholic faith to say a clear and definite “No” to any public official who refuses to behave responsibly. Notwithstanding the highlighted directives, the CBCN insists that her directives to Catholic faithfuls should be done peacefullyand non-violently but firmly”.

Apart from the response to the plea of the Head of State in 2001, the CBCN  has within the confines of the Constitution persistently canvassed and commended thus:-

  • secularity of the Nigerian state which guarantees the right of every Nigerian to hold and practice his or her religion anywhere without molestation;

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  • that government must pay particular attention to ensure the independence, neutrality and objectivity of the electoral commissions, security agencies and the judiciary so as to guarantee free and fair elections11;
  • abhors violence as a means of settling disputes in Nigeria but commends genuine dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation;
  • enjoins government to ensure that there is peace for every Nigerian hence her prescription that a lasting peace in our country can be realized through collective work and effort to promote justice12  by the rulers and the ruled.
  • that Nigeria and her people deserve a truly Federal Constitution, the autonomy of each of the three tiers of government as well as the realization of the legitimate aspirations of the people, eradication of poverty, good governance in the country and due attention to the issues of the Niger Delta. 12(a)

(f)      as regards the much debated item in the amendment proposals for a third term provision for the President and Governors, the CBCN urged “Nigerians of all political opinions to allow reason to prevail, if we are to sustain the hope of the people and ensure peaceful development of our “nation”12(b)

  1. See Communique issued at the end of the Second Plenary meeting of the CBCN for the year 2002, held at the Daughters of Divine Love Retreat and Conference centre (DRACC) Enugu from 9th to 13th September, 2002
  1. ibid

12(a)   See the Communique at the end of the First Plenary Meeting of CBCN at the Divine law Retreat and Conference Centre, Sabon, Lugbe, Abuja held on March 6th  -11th 2006.

12(b)   ibid

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It is pertinent to state at this juncture that besides the highlighted salutary comments by the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church, she is equally conscious of the need to promote tertiary education in the Nigerian environment.

Accordingly, the Catholic Bishop of Port Harcourt Diocese Most Rev. (Dr.) A. O. Makozi took the singular initiative to set in motion the process of establishing Stella Maris University, Port Harcourt. At the national level, the CBCN is also at the verge of establishing Catholic University of Nigeria, Abuja (CUNA). These laudable efforts are consistent with the entrenched rights guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution. The giant strides of CBCN in promoting tertiary education was commended by the Head of State hence he described the Catholic Church during the launching of CUNA as an “Institution with an unbeatable track record of qualitative education”13 . The Head of State also observed during the said launching “ that Catholic educational institution the world over are among the very best and expressed confidence that the University project would serve as a model of peace, excellence, commitment and a unifying factor within the country”14

CONCLUSION

It is evident from the foregoing that good morality and the teachings of the church are necessary imperatives for the survival of the present democratic dispensation. Therefore, the Catholic Church in exercise of her constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of expression should affirmatively encourage her members with the talent for the difficult yet noble art of politics15 .  Furthermore, inorder to enthrone enduring Nigerian

 

  1. See Catholic link April 6, 2003 at page 12
  1. ibid
  1. ibid footnote II

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democratic environs, the Catholic Church is expected to support her members or candidates who have the capacity to see politics as service and willing to sacrifice personal and parochial interests for the common good of the nation16 . In other words, the persons to be so supported by the church are those who seek political power for the right reason to contribute to the building of God’s Kingdom of Justice, fair play and peace in our nation17.

 

Thank you.

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