A Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Evaristus Bassey on Saturday backed the clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria but however said it should commence with state governors.
While calling on governors to practice what they preach, he warned that devolving more powers to the states without devolving powers to the grassroots “would virtually turn all of us to slaves of the governors.”
Bassey, the International Director of Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN) and Executive Secretary, Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), two agencies of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), expressed these feelings in a statement issued on Saturday in Abuja, to commemorate the 25 years anniversary of his ordination as a priest.
Bassey was ordained a Priest on October 17 1992 at St. Michael’s Parish, Oban Town in Akamkpa Local Government Area of Cross River State, 25 years ago.
He said, “For nearly seven years now, I have taken day to day charge of a department and an agency at the CBCN that interfaces with society. Typically my work at the national level is concerned with social issues. I take advantage of this jubilee year to pray for the peace of Nigeria. Recently, the Bishops gathered in Benin and consecrated Nigeria to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. During this jubilee year of mine, I shall be praying specially for Nigeria, for justice and peace to reign, as there can be no true peace without justice, according to the social teaching of the church.
“I pray that God use this (silver) jubilee year to restructure our attitudes so that we see one another first of all as human beings created in the image and likeness of God and deserving of all dignity and respect before all the identities of religion, tribe and region.
“Nowadays, there is so much clamour for restructuring. Recently, Southern governors got together to push for devolution of powers, as there is too much concentration of powers at the centre. I will use this occasion to encourage them to first practice what they preach. I urge Southern governors to support the amendments that have been proposed by the National Assembly especially with regards to the financial autonomy of the LGs. If our governors love the people, they should make the LG system work by supporting the amendments.
“Sometimes the impression we get is that the de facto Speakers of the States Houses of Assembly are the governors, because the Assemblies always do their bidding. So at state level, there is only one and a half arms of government: the legislating executive and then a limping judiciary. Since generally, we are a very docile citizenry, our governors could help us by abrogating all those laws which have emasculated the LG system and allow it to work, so that our people could build up their capacity to engage with government at the local level.”
While acknowledging that certain things should leave the exclusive list to the concurrent list, the cleric called on the governors to use the enormous powers they already have “to work for the good of the people.”
To back his demands, Bassey said by the time Nigerians realised that there was indeed something to defend at the LG, they won’t allow the chairmen run away with all their loots.
He said, “At the state level, the governor may personalise all the state infrastructure and nothing will happen to him because he has immunity. But LG chairmen will not have immunity. Everywhere in the world, when we say citizens are powerful, that power begins at the local level.
“The pathway to Nigeria’s stability for me therefore remains a strong and well coordinated centre, strong and efficient mid-level state structure and a strong and effective grassroots level structure.”
Concerning Faith, he said, “As I mark this Silver Jubilee two things come to my mind. The first one concerns our faith. I pray that that we do not remain in our comfort zones and forget that Christianity was built on the blood of Martyrs. Someone challenged me sometime ago that while some other religions teach their faithful to sacrifice their lives and the lives of others for the sake of their beliefs, we have forgotten to teach our people to take risks, even losing their lives for the sake of the Gospel. That all we do now is present God as a solution giver.
“I pray for forgiveness if in anyway these 25 years, I and my colleagues have given any impression that being a Christian means only enjoying the good things of life. Of course as a Christian good things will come your way; the sin would be to not share.
“Being a Christian too does not mean suffering only; it means both the Cross and the Crown, the death and resurrection of the Christ. May God forgive all who preach as if prosperity is the only indication of salvation and who live their lives like the rich man in the Gospel who was oblivious of the suffering of Lazarus by his gate. I use this occasion to challenge all of us to open our hearts to the grace of God for a life of witness that would be transformative.”