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(For The Records) Let us choose life, not death as Buhari begins another tenure

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By Cardinal Onaiyekan (CON)

Being a Speech presented by John Cardinal ONAIYEKAN, (CON), Catholic Archbishop of Abuja at the 2019 Presidential Inauguration Inter-denominational Church Service held at the National Christian Center, Abuja, on Sunday 26th May 2019.


May the peace and blessing of the Almighty and Merciful Lord be with us all.

This inter-denominational Christian service is an important agenda on the complex program of events marking the transition from one tenure of government to the next, the inauguration of the second term of our President and his team. We are gathered as Christians in this holy space, as we place ourselves before the Throne of God’s Grace, praying for ourselves, for our nation, and in a special way for all those whose duty it is to lead our nation in the way of peace, harmony and prosperity. May the Lord hear our prayers. Amen.

First, we have come to thank God. It is the Christian thing to do, in all circumstances. We thank God that, despite much fears and anxieties, we have arrived at this stage in relative peace. The last elections have left behind thick clouds of acrimony that are still to clear. We are still waiting for the final verdict of the tribunals, on which we now rely, in a spirit of peaceful contest, guided by the rule of law. We thank God who has led us thus far. This is no time for any celebration of victory or for lamentation over defeat. Rather, it is time to pull our efforts together, with the grace of God, to tackle the serious challenges before us.

At this moment, we would do well to acknowledge our failure to do things in the right way. Here the words of the Psalmist should challenge each of us: “If you Oh Lord should mark our guilt, who would survive?” The blame game of pointing accusing fingers at others will not carry us far. For a positive change to take place, we must all be ready for a sincere change of heart, from the lowest to the highest, but especially at the highest levels. Empty boasts and bare-face denial of the realities around us cannot build the nation.

We are in the house of God, and before God we must tell the truth. The Lord Jesus has told us that “The truth will make us free”. The truth is that our nation is not in a state for us to rejoice. The ranks of the poor are swelling by the day, hopeless and helpless, as they watch in frustration the affluence of the very few cruising in a different world. Such wide socio-economic disparity has led to anger, tension, violence and outright criminality in the land. All is not well.

But all is not lost either. As we embrace a new term of government, it should be for us a new opportunity to change ways and review habits of governance, for a better Nigeria. We can and we should do this. God has endowed us with adequate resources to achieve this, resources that we unfortunately turn into curses and problems. Ethnicity and religion are two cases in point.

Our ethnic diversity is God’s will and gift that we ought to appreciate and celebrate. We should beware of those who seek to manipulate this in a game of divide and rule, for selfish interests. In our emerging global world, we should be building on our long experience of living together across ethnic lines, if we are not to allow ourselves to be left behind in our fast developing modern world.

Buhari and wife

We are living in a world where many are abandoning faith in God, at great cost to humanity now and in the future. We do well to commend ourselves for our generally high level of religious fervor. But if this is to translate into a righteous nation, we must all seek the will of God for good human relations. This cuts across our religious differences and affiliations. Religion is good, but not enough. It is useless, and can even be worse than useless, if it does not promote good human behavior. We cannot deceive God. We may, by our human failure, give religion a bad name.  But God will always be the Holy and Righteous One.

Religion evokes strong emotions that ought to be deployed for solving the ills of our nation, not compound them. Those who manipulate religion for their selfish political interests end up destroying religion and harming the nation. Our constitution is not perfect. But its basic provisions about freedom of religion are valid and must be scrupulously respected by all, especially by those who control state instruments of coersion.

The greatest of God’s gift to us, life itself, is in danger all over our land. Gunmen – and women – unknown and known – have been sowing death, destruction and misery almost everywhere. Property, well-being, harmony and peace are endangered by generalized insecurity. Before God, this is the truth and not political propaganda mounted to discredit the government.  The nation must be mobilized to join hands to face the disaster looming over all of us.

Again, here we must tell the truth. For too long, we have been seeing what seems to be a policy of polarization of the nation along primordial fault lines of ethnicity and religion. The result is that we have been indulging in the highly risky game of “dancing on the brink of chaos”. We do not know for how long we can continue to get away with this. But the handwriting on the wall is quite clear for all who care to see. It is said that no condition is permanent: certainly not the present state of our nation.

In this new term of office, there is need for a drastic change of government system, if our nation is to be saved from imminent chaos. The sad fact is that there many have already lost all hope in the future if this nation. According to them, we are to get ready for the worst. Frightful conspiracy theories are making the rounds in the social media, shaping and twisting the attitudes and minds of many people. In this situation, the serious warnings from well-intentioned wise elders should not be ignored, less still denigrated without due respect.

There are, we hope, many more people who still believe in our ability to build a united nation under God, and thus to realize the dream of our constitution. Doing nothing but complaining and pointing accusing fingers at others is to wait for the worst to happen. The positive and responsible option is to stand up to be counted and get involved in building the nation of our dreams. The Lord has put before us a choice between death and life. He urges us to choose life, for our own good and for his greater glory.

Benue killing 22
Scene of mass burial for 75 Benue farmers killed in the wake of Fulani herdsmen killings

Let us end on a note of prayer. We pray for the wisdom and the courage to regain and strengthen our sense of national cohesion, in the midst of dangerous rumours of war and chaos, from within and from outside our national borders. It is God’s will that his children live in security in this land of ours. We pray that all those whose duty it is to keep us safe will do their duty, with no more excuses or compromises.

We pray for Mr. President. May he live up to the Christian and Muslim principle that all authority and power belong to God, and must be exercised under his will. May he be liberated from bad advisers and unhelpful associates. May he see the wisdom of bringing on board every segment of the nation, for an improved sense of belonging, without which the problems of the nation will not be successfully addressed. God has given us a beautiful nation and wonderful people. May he give us the wisdom and the good will to make a success of it.


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