Less than one week to the 2023 general elections, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has urged Nigerians to choose competent and capable leaders at all levels.
The group urged the Nigerian government, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the electorate, judiciary and other stakeholders to join hands in ensuring a free, fair and credible polls.
The bishops made the call during their first plenary meeting for the year held from 11th to 17th February 2023 in Abuja.
The group in a communiqué titled ‘citenzens’ participation in good governance in Nigeria’, issued at the end of the meeting, signed by the president of CBCN, most Rev Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Arcbishop of Owerri and the secretary, Most Rev Donatus Aihmiosion Ogun of Uromi Diocese, stated that the forthcoming elections provide Nigerians with another opportunity to choose leaders capable of governing for the common good.
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The Bishops encouraged all eligible citizens to come out in mass on the election days to vote for God-fearing, vibrant and transparent leaders for a better country.
The bishops charged INEC and its officials to ensure that their conducts in the entire electoral process are transparent, honest and beyond reproach.
They also condemned the practice of vote-buying and called on politicians and electorate to desist from such act.
The group equally appealed to members of the judiciary to once again see themselves as ministers in the temple of truth and justice and rise to the occasion of delivering sound judgments on electoral matters to strengthen the nation’s democracy.
While noting that security plays a vital role in ensuring a hitch-free election, CBCN urged security agencies to guarantee adequate security in all parts of the country for both the citizens and electoral materials.
This according to the CBCN, should be done without bias to any group, political party or ethnic group.
“These upcoming elections provide us with yet another opportunity in our national history to choose leaders capable of governing for the common good. This is now the time to reject evil, greater or lesser, and wisely choose good and capable candidates at all levels. Our votes are precious; we must use them well. We encourage all eligible citizens to come out en masse to vote for God-fearing, honest, vibrant, and transparent leaders for a better Nigeria.
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“We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its officials to ensure that their conducts in the entire electoral process are transparent, honest, and beyond reproach.
“We continue to enjoin the Commission to make sure that the newly adopted technologies for accreditation, transmission, and collation, are transparently and sincerely deployed and not manipulated to give false results.
“We equally call on the law enforcement agents, whose primary duty is to enforce law and order and ensure the protection of persons and materials during the elections, to efficiently and professionally carry out their responsibilities without fear, favour, or partiality.”
The Bishops advised youths not to allow themselves to be used as thugs to cause violence and disrupt the elections, while also urging voters to be vigilant at polling units by ensuring that their votes are properly counted before the transmission of results to INEC IReV portal.
“One ugly and unfortunate phenomenon that has characterized the electoral contests in our nation is that of vote buying and selling, aimed at frustrating and compromising the free choice of the people. We vehemently continue to condemn this practice and urge all politicians and the electorate to avoid this unlawful and sinful practice and embrace the values of human dignity, integrity, and decency in order to have free, fair, and credible elections.”
The Bishops also appealed to election observers (both national and international) to shun any form of bias and partisanship in discharging their duties, noting that they play significant role in “safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process and the promotion of its greater openness and transparency.”
Security, Economic Challenges
CBCN identified some of the challenges facing the country, such as insecurity, naira value depreciation, shortage of new currency notes, high costs of goods and services, lingering fuel scarcity, unemployment, and poverty, and called on the Federal Government to immediately increase the circulation of new naira notes and implement relevant policies that will reduce the hardship experienced by the people.
“Increased insecurity has continued to haunt our nation. The Boko Haram insurgents, herdsmen militia, bandits, and the so-called unknown gunmen have continued to unleash terror in different parts of the country. Some communities have been sacked and their inhabitants displaced as a result of the activities of some criminals and government security agents. Hundreds of lives have been lost in very brutal circumstances and many more have been maimed.”
It lamented that clergymen and other church personnel have become soft targets for abduction and killing and condoled with the victims.
“Our crumbling national economy has continued to make life difficult and hard for our people. As the value of the Naira continues to decline, the high cost of goods and services, including food items, continues to soar. Still more, the flawed implementation of the cash swap policy, which resulted in a cash crunch, has added to the ordeal, hunger, anger, and frustration of the people.
“Again, on account of the persisting fuel scarcity, our people spend many hours in long queues under harsh conditions trying to buy fuel at exorbitant prices. As a result of high unemployment and hard-biting economic conditions, many of our brothers and sisters wallow in abject poverty, and many either flee the nation in search of better living conditions or resort to crime and begging to survive.
“We, therefore, urge Federal Government and its relevant agencies to immediately increase the circulation of new Naira notes and implement adequate monetary and other relevant policies that will reduce the suffering and hardship experienced by our people.
“We admonish those who collaborate in hoarding the new currency and petroleum products to desist from such a dastardly act.”
The group lauded the citizens for their courage in the face of the challenges and thanked the President for approving the extension for the use of the old N200 note,
“Furthermore, governments need to provides enabling environment for the creation of more jobs by both the government and the private sector,” CBCN stated.
The bishops stressed the need for Nigerians to be more involved in the decisions over what happens in society, noting that one of the potent instruments of participation in the political life of a country is the choice of its leaders, which is one their fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution.
“Participation is at the core of the realization of the common good, which good governance serves. Indeed, citizens’ participation is a key element of a good governance structure.
“One of the potent instruments of participation in the political life of a country is the choice of its leaders. In the face of the daunting challenges facing our nation, we should not give in to hopelessness and despair, or compromise our values in such a manner as to come up with leaders who are neither intended by God nor truly elected by the people. We, as citizens, must learn to make the right choices for good governance to thrive and be sustained. We, therefore, urge one and all to be more conscious of the kind of choices that they make in their life, especially, as we approach another critical period in our political history,” the religious leaders stated.
The bishops also called on the media to be alive to their responsibility of providing the necessary information that empowers the citizens, not only to engage the political class in debates on the issue that affects their lives but, also to exercise their democratic choices and make informed decisions about political issues.
The group urged media professionals, not only to seek, but to speak the truth with a clear conscience, while desisting from sensational journalism presently being promoted largely through fake news, inflammatory and divisive remarks.