1998 NCC News Archives

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Joint NCC-U.S. Catholic Conference Statement on Nigeria

A Joint Statement by:

Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
UNITED STATES CATHOLIC CONFERENCE
Washington, D.C.

Rev. Dr. Joan B. Campbell
General Secretary
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
New York
    March 25, 1998 -- In celebration of our unity as partners in search of the common good and in recognition of the importance of unity and concerted action, we join together in our efforts to promote a climate of solidarity among all people of good will. And in our mutual desire to see positive change in the troubled land of Nigeria we stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria, particularly her poor, her disenfranchised and her suffering.

    We are deeply saddened by Nigeria's current condition, which has continued to worsen as a result of the annulled federal elections of June 1993. The current leader, General Sani Abacha, has proclaimed that a transition to civilian rule will take place in 1998, although most in the international community doubt that this will occur. Many fear that the military's transition program will serve only to legitimize the current military regime, a regime which has been openly condemned for its gross violations of human rights.

    The Nigerian people have loudly proclaimed their desire to see a legitimate democratic transition. In their September 1997 statement, the Catholic bishops of Nigeria remarked:

   "It is against natural justice and therefore unethical for a military government to take upon itself the role of independent arbiter and be at the same time a contestant in the same electoral process. Such an action does not provide a climate that is conducive to free and fair elections."
   
   As national elections draw near, we implore the current leadership to allow open dialogue and loyal collaboration for the benefit of every Nigerian regardless of ethno-linguistic, religious, or socio-economic status.

    Blessed with vast human potential and natural resources, Nigeria is a nation which honors the family, respects the elderly and regards children as a blessing, yet is so ravaged by injustice that her peace is threatened. Millions of her people languish in poverty, suffer from malnutrition, hunger, illiteracy, and persistent unemployment. We believe that this is an unacceptable reality that can only be reversed through mutual cooperation among all people of good will. We encourage Nigeria's leaders, divided as they are by ethno-linguistic distinctions, to work to build bridges of peace on a foundation of understanding and reconciliation among their peoples so that true and open dialogue and partnership may result.

    The human person has been endowed with the inalienable rights to participate in the political life of the country, and to speak and worship freely without fear of persecution. In Nigeria however, free expression, association and movement are restricted by the routine harassment and imprisonment of human rights defenders, journalists, and members of political opposition groups. History has shown that when these rights are denied, the result is polarization which impedes dialogue and prevents the development of true partnerships that are capable of overcoming obstacles and resolving deadlocks.

    Since 1993 hundreds of political prisoners have been detained without charge or trial, among them the declared winner of the 1993 presidential elections, Moshood Abiola, social activists Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, former head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo, and Ogoni environmental activists who sought to protect their land from the ravages of irresponsible industrial development and corporate exploitation. It is our view that true and lasting peace will remain an elusive goal in Nigeria as long as these individuals remain imprisoned.

    It is our fervent prayer that the recent visit to Nigeria by His Holiness Pope John Paul II will help to bring about reconciliation along with justice, and the restoration of democracy. Moreover, we pray that General Sani Abacha will take heed of the Pope's call for the immediate release of political prisoners, and that the United States government will stand in solidarity with the Nigerian people as they seek to re-claim their human rights through democratic elections this August.

    In the name of love, generosity, kindness, friendship and peace, we pray that the Nigerian people will move beyond the kinds of viewpoints or fixed positions that tend to make dialogue difficult or impossible. We believe that as the Nigerian people move to consolidate national unity amongst themselves transnational unity amongst all of Africa can result. We also pray that the Nigerian leadership, mindful of their calling to channel the riches of Nigeria for the betterment of all, will strongly reject those things which adversely affect the freedoms and the human rights of the individual, so that the serene climate of human freedom and development may predominate in their beautiful yet troubled land.

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