Nsukka Diocesan Political Forum, Towards 2015: Allow the People

to Have some Say

Democracy as a form of government, understood generally as "government by the people," is now the in-thing, even when there is no agreement about how exactly the people can or should govern themselves. One of the ways in which the people are supposed to govern themselves is by at least choosing those who govern them. But what chances do people really have of choosing those who govern them?

I am afraid that Abraham Lincoln's definition of democracy with which we are all familiar, namely, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people," has in our time been transformed to "government of the people, by the parties, for the powerful"; or "exploitation of the people, by the powerful, through the parties." What we now have is partitocrazia (party-rule), not democracy.

In the Western world where this form of government is most popular, the political parties are supposed to articulate the interests of the governed. In reality, though, they often articulate only the interests of their financers and the financiers (the plutocrats) instead.

In our own context, political parties have been reduced to elitist clubs where we hear only of caucuses, stakeholders and godfathers, who fight one another to death as they defend their private interests, with little regard for the interests of the governed and the common good. "The true forms of government," says Aristotle, "...are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the few, or of the many, are perversions" (Aristotle, Politics, III, 7, 1279, 28-30)

All of you, who have answered our call today, belong to the various political parties fighting for the control of the natural wealth with which God has endowed our Nation. Today, we in the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka simply wish you to ask you: Where do the rest of us, the ordinary citizens of this State, stand in this your internal struggle?

Do we really matter to you at all, or are we all only pawns in your chess game of power? Will you and your party structures allow us to have any say about which of you should be entrusted with the responsibility of governing us? In other words, which of you, after having been selected by your party's stakeholders, or appointed by the caucuses, or even "anointed" by your godfathers will still allow the rest of us, your own people, to have some say?

How much do our problems and worries mean to you as you struggle to control our collective destiny for the next four or eight years? How do we know that you even care whether any of us or all of us for that matter are alive or dead once you have got your hand on the treasure? What guarantee do we have that from 2015 you will be seeking to do what WE want and not what THEY want? Do you even know what we want? Do you care to know? Only YOU, within the recesses of your hearts, know the answer to these questions.

All the same, we thank you for coming. We thank you for showing us at least this respect. We assure you of our prayers. And since many of you are Christians, I would like to share with you this message of the Catholic Bishops gathered in Synod in Rome in 2009 to African politicians and other public life.

"The Synod has a very important and special message for you, our dear African Catholics in public life. We commend the many of you who, not minding all the dangers and uncertainties of polities in African, have generously offered yourselves for the public service of your people, as an apostolate to promote the common good and God's kingdom of justice, love and peace, in line with the teachings of the Church (cf. Gaudium et specs, 75).

You can always count on the encouragement and support of the Church. Ecclesia in Africa expressed the hope that saintly politicians and heads of state would emerge in Africa. This is by no means a futile wish. It is heartening that the cause of the beatification of Julius Nyerere of Tanzania is already on cause. Africa needs saints in high political office: saintly politicians who will clean the continent of corruption, work for the good of the people, and know how to galvanize other men and women of good will from outside the Church to join hands against the common evils that beset our nations.

The Synod has strongly recommended that local Churches intensify their apostolate for the spiritual care of people in public office, to create effective chaplaincies for them and organize high level liaison offices to evangelize legislative houses. We exhort you, all our lay faithful in politics, to take advantage of any such programmes, where they exist. Many Catholics in high office have fallen woefully short in their performance in office.

The Synod calls on such people to repent, or quit the public arena and stop causing havoc to the people and giving the Catholic Church a bad name" (Message to the People of God of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, October 2009, no. 23)

And just in case any of you has forgotten, at the end of your life's journey, it is to GOD, not to your political parties, that each of you will give an account of his or her life (Rm 14:12)

May God keep you in His love!

+ Most Reverend Godfrey Igwebuike Onah
Bishop of Nsukka

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