2023 election, the worst in Nigeria’s history – Cardinal Onaiyekan

Bishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, has strongly criticized the 2023 elections, particularly the presidential polls, labeling them as the worst in Nigeria’s democratic process.


During a virtual town hall meeting organized by the Rebuild Nigeria Initiative (RNI) with the theme ‘Nigeria-Pathway to National Peace and Reconciliation,’ Onaiyekan expressed his regret over the deep divide and violence in Nigerian society, caused by the intertwining of politics, religion, and the activities of Boko Haram.


“It is true that there is nowhere in the world where elections are perfect, but does that justify the foolish acts we witness during elections?” queried the Cardinal.


He emphasized that while many aspects of the 2023 elections are being challenged in court, individuals are being sworn into office, giving the impression that “nothing will come out of the court proceedings. But I do not believe that because the court has addressed electoral grievances in the past, as we have seen governors being removed from office following court proceedings.”


According to Onaiyekan, “there have been previous instances of flawed elections, but what we witnessed in the last election is unparalleled. We have never experienced anything like this before.”


He continued, “INEC promised us a standard election, but what transpired in the presidential election fell short of our expectations. We should not resign ourselves to accepting elections that lack credibility. These leaders claim to have been elected by us, yet we know we did not elect them. Even taking oaths with the Bible and Quran has become so common among politicians that they no longer have any moral compass.”


“There are ongoing cases in court that have yet to be resolved. We have a president whose election is being challenged, and the court is handling the matter. It is not enough to attribute Nigeria’s problems solely to leadership. Why do we allow these same leaders, who have not denied being corrupt, to continue leading us? We do not need to legitimize it; what is wrong is wrong. They owe us the responsibility to wield the power acquired from public office judiciously.”


Onaiyekan also discussed the historical collaboration between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, highlighting a time when the nation was on the path to becoming a model country, characterized by peace and harmony.


He lamented, “In recent years, we have witnessed a shift in this trajectory, a downward spiral, as religious fanatics have strained the relationship between the two religions.”


“The emergence of Boko Haram caused significant damage, as it was perceived as an attack on Christians. Fanatics believe that anyone practicing a different faith is in error. This is incorrect; we should assume that everyone is sincere and convinced of their own beliefs. That is why it is wrong for anyone to speak ill of any religion.


“I do not want it to seem as though we have lost our way as a people because we still coexist. Both religions have not given up on peace. While some individuals strive to create divisions for their own selfish gains, the majority of Nigerians still believe in unity,” he added.


The Cardinal emphasized the importance of speaking truthfully about the issues affecting the country, stating, “It is not a matter of being polite; it is about speaking the truth. For example, when I criticize a Muslim brother, it is not to provoke a quarrel but because it is the truth. We cannot refrain from telling the truth without sugarcoating it.”


Regarding the politicians’ role in fueling violence in Nigeria, he pointed out that politics plays a significant part in the divide. Many politicians use their positions to make speeches that promote sectional support, based on ethnicity and religion, further exacerbating divisions.


“When a politician wants to win or gain an advantage, they exploit ethnicity and religion, claiming, ‘I am fighting for you because you belong to this tribe or because you are a Christian or Muslim.’ This has further divided us.


“We complain about politicians manipulating situations, but why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated when the power to elect lies with the people? Moreover, it is challenging to distinguish between political leaders and religious leaders because their speeches blur the line between the two.”


Cardinal Onaiyekan reiterated the need for peace to foster national development, emphasizing the necessity of reviewing the national policies. Accepting things merely for the sake of peace is wrong; instead, the nation should pursue the kind of peace it truly desires.


“When things are not done properly, development stagnates. The immunity clause, which shields wrongdoings, has hindered progress. We should not forget that Nigeria is the only country in Africa capable of making significant strides. If Nigeria fails, what other country can succeed?


“It is becoming shameful that despite our abundant natural and human resources, we remain at this level. I believe we can achieve more, not overnight, but a four-year term can make a significant difference.


“As a people, I do not believe we are powerless, as the people play an active role while the politicians play a passive role in elections. For far too long, we have placed trust in our leaders. We should no longer trust them, as they have taken us for granted and betrayed our trust. Those who have betrayed us still hold positions of power.


“We strive for peace, but I fear that if the court does not resolve the election petitions in a timely manner, issues may arise. Some of the president’s actions are in response to public protests, and we must continue engaging the government to voice our concerns.


“Although we have not seen the ministerial list, it will likely comprise the same old faces. The positive aspect is that no one remains in office forever; there will be an end when officials vacate their positions.


“We need functional structures in place. When these leaders leave the country, they behave properly, not because they are guarded, but because the system enforces it.”


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