A PASTORAL LETTER ISSSUED BY THE MOST REV. MICHAEL GOBAL GOKUM, TO THE CATHOLIC FAITHFUL OF THE DIOCESE OF PANKSHIN AT THE THRESHOLD OF THE 2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS.
“Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is. Walk in it, and you will live in peace.”(Jeremiah 6:16)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
We are approaching a crossroad in our national history, the 2023 General Elections starting from February 25 to March 11. The upcoming elections present us, once again, with an opportunity to participate and exercise our democratic right to vote and choose our leaders. It is our civic and moral duty to engage and participate in the democratic processes of our beloved country. Every General Election rekindles in each of us expectations, aspirations and a desire to help shape our nation not just for ourselves but also for the generations yet unborn. We therefore call on all our members to exercise conscientiously the right and duty to vote for the common good of all. As responsible stewards, there is no room for attitudes of indifference or apathy towards the good governance of our country. Every vote for the right candidate helps set the direction of our country and society for the next four years and it is only proper that we ask for divine assistance and guidance in our choices in order to allow our nation to flourish and continue to prosper.
A CALL FOR RESPONSIBLE CITIZENSHIP
Christians live in a society. The reality of this is not optional, it is even a necessity. It is a right and a duty. At the time of elections, different citizens present themselves as candidates. Among them, there may be good and able prospective leaders and bad and incapable ones. In fact a good candidate might lose by just one vote. And that vote might be yours, the only one missing, and then you are responsible for all the evils resulting from that election. We therefore call on every registered voter to ‘turn up and vote’ because it is here that we exercise our responsibility and, once again, stake our claim in securing the future of our country by choosing credible and competent leaders.
The neglect of the duty of participating in the choice of leaders at all levels brings catastrophic results to the nation. For us Christians, it is a great mistake to shun this collective responsibility. All Christians who have reached voting age should participate in electing leaders who have the necessary qualities. It should be understood that the neglect of participating in the voting and in the election of good leaders allow unworthy candidates to take leadership positions. To neglect to vote is to lose a person’s right and a nation’s right. We therefore remind all faithful that to vote is not only their right accorded to them by the constitution of our country but also a responsibility given by God for the proper exercise of human right and freedom in order to establish a good government. Those who withdraw from their civic duty of voting should have little right to complain about the evil consequences of the newly elected political regime installed, partly, thanks to their passive collaboration.
Since every election is an opportunity for self-appraisal not only as a nation but more importantly for us as citizens of this country, we as citizens ought to desire the best possible political leaders who are free of corruption so as to help us achieve the common good. We must cast our vote through prayerful consideration and in accordance with our conscience formed by the Catholic faith. We, as Catholic citizens, must inform and form our consciences in accordance with the principles of Catholic social teaching. The first and most essential principle of our social teaching is the dignity of every human person and each one’s basic right to life from conception to natural death. Respect for human dignity is the basis for the fundamental right to life. We need therefore to choose leaders who truly care for the weak and the vulnerable’, promote justice and equality, stand up for principles with integrity and work for the common good of citizens and strive to build a cohesive, harmonious and prosperous nation. This is a non-negotiable principle that is supported by our beliefs. Many non-Catholics, too, think a society dedicated to the common good should protect its weakest members. Other principles include the call to community and participation; the centrality of the family; the dignity of work and rights of workers, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity and the commitment to stewardship of the environment.
We see many encouraging signs in our political landscape: the emergence of a growing number of organizations promoting voters education and honest elections like: Justice, Development Peace and Caritas (JDPC); YIAGA Africa; United Nations Development Program (UNDP); Platform for Youth and Women Development(PAYW-DEV); National Orientation Agency (NOA) and many other Civil Societies etc, striving to enforce principles for free and fair elections. We can sense the renewing breath of the Spirit of God in these and similar developments. But there are evil winds that blow counter to the Spirit´s movements: the persistence and worsening of the politics of pay-offs, patronage of personalities; cynicism and apathy towards the elections, a bandwagon mentality among the voters who will vote. The presence of these countervailing forces reveals a deep crisis in our history. The Lord bids us to turn this crisis into a national breakthrough. And we will, if we see our struggle for a renewed political order as a struggle of faith, which we personally and as Church must wage in pursuit of our Christian vocation and the Church´s mission.
The very abject situation we are in is a call to conversion as individuals and as a people. In a democracy a people gets the leaders it deserves. The qualities of our leaders are often a reflection of our qualities as a people. Our public officials symbolize the values of the people who elect them. A crooked people will vote crooked candidates into office. A God-fearing people will vote for God-fearing candidates. The fact that we are often reduced to a choice for a lesser of two evils among candidates is itself a telling commentary on our sad state as a people. We have many unworthy politicians because we have tolerated and even connived with evil especially during election times. We should turn to God. We must repent. From a repentant people will arise God´s gift of renewed leaders. Then we will choose correctly the men and women whom God wishes to vest with authority (Romans 13.1), and who will lead us out of our deplorable situation. Our votes are an expression of our own conversion and will be decisive for our country´s future.
WHO TO VOTE FOR AT THE ELECTIONS
A vote for good leaders will be a choice for our people´s fuller life. Who are these persons we must choose? It is not our task or competence to name specifically those you must vote for yet, we have a moral obligation to spell out what to look for in candidates vying for elective positions. While doing this we should be guided by the dictates of a well informed conscience. But here we wish to simply point out our need to elect competent, committed leaders of integrity we can be truly proud of and whom we can present to the young as models worthy of emulation. We must look out to leaders who will prioritize honor and dignity before money (Proverbs 22:1); service before power; the common good before egoistic or small-group-centered self-interest; the nation before personal relationships. This is the time to set our priorities aright. We re-echo the call of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) to all our faithful, laity and clergy alike, to come out en masse to vote for people of unassailable integrity. We should all come out en masse to vote for people of good characters, capacity and track record to lead the nation out of the present socio-political and economic doldrums, irrespective of party, religious and ethnic affiliations. It is only through the right political choices that the current situation in the country could be ameliorated.
• We appeal to the different candidates to obey the laws of God and of the land in their campaign and election activities. We ask them not to buy votes. Vote-buying is not only immoral, but is also an insult to the poor and retards our country´s development. We urge them to sign a covenant committing themselves to an issue-oriented campaign and to collaborate towards free, honest and peaceful elections.
• We ask the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and all who are called to serve in the elections to carry out their tasks with continuing fidelity and courage. Your loyalty is to God and the people and to no one else.
• We ask the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Officials not to obstruct the flow of the democratic process by demanding money from candidates. Such extortion, if true, perpetuates corruption and diminishes the people´s freedom of choice.
• We call on all mass media practitioners to serve the truth at all times and not partisan political interest. We ask for objectivity in reporting and fairness in commentary. We ask them to report news and not to concoct it.
• Do not sell your votes. To do so is to offend God, to betray your country and to sell your dignity and future to shameless scoundrels.
• Encourage my family and friends to also vote.
• Educate yourself on issues at hand and be informed of the track record of all candidates and political parties.
• And we ask you all, our people, to exercise unremitting effort and unflagging vigilance to make sure that your right and duty to vote is used wisely for choosing persons who seek public office not to be served but to serve, not to secure their vested interests but to give life to the people even at the cost of personal sacrifice (Matthew 20:26-28; Luke 22:27). If you can, volunteer to become members of election observers.
A CALL FOR PRAYER
To show our repentance and to obtain for our people the grace to choose wisely our public officials in free, honest and orderly elections, we urge you to join us in a crusade of prayer and fasting. The election evils of our nation can be driven out only by such means (Mark 9:29; Matthew 17.21). Pray for a peaceful and clean election. Pray without ceasing throughout this Election period. Pray that all candidates/political parties/leaders will respect the outcome of the General elections. We request that February 18, 2023 be observed as a day of prayer and fasting by all the Catholic faithful in the diocese.
Let us approach our Blessed Mother again. Let us ask her to help us vote for the ones that Jesus loves for us. We call on you to pray the Holy Rosary fervently every day, with your family or community. Our Mother will not disappoint us.
The coming elections are crucial to our future. They will become what we singly and together want them to be, work and sacrifice for them to be. They can become either another missed opportunity or the best elections we have ever had. They can signal the first orderly and peaceful transfer of power in our country, or they can trigger national instability. They can be a giant step forward or a demoralizing setback. Let us not fail our country. Let us be true to our best selves. Together let us build a better future, which will be ours if we choose well our leaders. Our strength is in God and in our solidarity. Let us heed the call of the Lord: “Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is. Walk in it, and you will live in peace” (Jeremiah 6:16).
May the Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom and fortitude we need in choosing those who will represent and lead us in our national and state governments. May the Virgin Mary, the Patroness of Nigeria, who watches with maternal care over our Country, obtain from her Son the grace we need to make and carry the right decisions during these elections.
God bless the Catholic Diocese of Pankshin, God bless our country Nigeria.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Most Rev. Michael Gobal Gokum
Catholic Bishop of Pankshin
– Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), “Civic and Political Responsibility of the Christian: Joint Pastoral Letter of the Nigeria Catholic Bishops, February 10, 1979,” in the Voice of the Voiceless: Pastoral Letters and communiqués of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria 1960-2002, ed. Peter Schinever (n.p, 2002), No. 33.
– Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), “The Threshold of the New Dawn in Nigeria.” A communiqué issued at the end of the second plenary meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ of Nigeria (CBCN) at the Sacred Heart Pastoral/Retreat Centre, Orlu, Imo State, 8-16 September, 2022.
– Catholic Bishops’ of Malaysia. “Make your vote count for the common good of our Nation.” Pastoral Letter written to the people of God on 24 April, 2018.
– Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria (CATHAN). Vademecum for Electors in Nigeria: Manual for Responsible Citizenship According to Catholic Social Teaching. Paulines Publications Africa, 2018.
– Ojakaminor Efeturi. Catholic Social Doctrine: An Introductory Manual. Paulines Publications Africa, 1996.
– Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of Kenya, “Pre-election concerns”, 15-9, 1993 in ADS 18/92, No. 373.
– Pastoral Letter of the Bishops Tanzania, the Christian and His Counterpart, ADS 1/1994, No. 408.
– The Uganda Bishops, Pastoral Letter “The Christian and his Country” Whit Sunday 1952, Reprint by Uganda Catholic Information, Kampala 1962.
– Vatican II, Guudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Vatican city, December 7, 1967, No. 75.
– Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philipines (CBCP). “Decision at the Crossroads”. Pastoral Letter issued during the CBCP semiannual meeting in Tagaytay City, South of Manila, on the 31st January 1992.”
– The Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Manila. “Narito ang inyong ina” (Here is your Mother) (Jn. 19:17). Pastoral Letter released on the 9th May, 2022.