Risking to move ‘into the deep’ in Nigeria (PE nr. 1085)

The Missionaries of Africa have been in Nigeria since 1943. They had a number of foundations in the Archdiocese of Ibadan and the old Oyo Diocese from which Osogbo Diocese was created in the year 1995. Among the fruits of their missionary endeavours are the 10 Nigerians who have themselves become Missionaries of Africa.

Nigeria is a big country and has more than 200 tribes. The Missionaries of Africa have been working in the land of the Yoruba people since their arrival. The Yoruba live in the south-western and north-central part of Nigeria. All Missionaries of Africa communities are located in the south-western part of Nigeria. Amazingly however, all Nigerian confreres come from the east and the north; there are no indigenous Yoruba among them.

Nigeria has two main International Airports, Lagos in the south west and Abuja in the centre. For home leave or for any other purpose, Nigerian confreres prefer to enter the country through Abuja. However, Abuja is almost a day’s journey from where our communities are situated.

Many confreres enjoy a warm welcome from other confreres when they come on home leave. It has always been my pleasure to plan my home leave with my confreres in my own country. Even if all confreres do not have the same experience when they arrive in their home country, it is true that that many of us enjoy the warm welcome from confreres which makes the homecoming sweeter. Though it is not vital, it is good to be in touch with one’s confreres who are having their own different experience in my home country which is quite different from my own experience in the mission land in which I am working.

In Nigeria we don’t have the privilege of welcoming home our confreres when they come for home leave. From our nearest community (Ibadan) to Lagos Airport it takes about two and half hours if the traffic is not too bad. The Nigerian Sector has been planning how to welcome and be of service to Nigerian confreres when they come on home leave.

Abroad, Nigeria is known as a Boko Haram country where insecurity reigns. Some believe that the majority of the population is Muslim when they hear about the evil perpetrated by Boko Haram. However the reality is different because in some areas Christians form the majority. In fact, there is fast growing number of Christian denominations/churches.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) grouped the churches into four blocks: The Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) represents the Catholic Church in Nigeria. The Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) is made up of Anglican, Methodist and Baptist Churches, as well as Four Square, Presbyterian, Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim, Church of the Lord Aladura and other Orthodox Churches. The Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (CPFN) and/or Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) comprises the Pentecostal Churches and the Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC) is made up of Churches founded by Nigerians (Africans) in Nigeria. The Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) which had its roots in Northern Nigeria and TEKAN are denominations based in Northern Nigeria along with the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN), United Methodist Church of Nigeria (UMCN), etc. In this regard, ecumenism in Nigeria is a vast pastoral field that needs attention.
The history between Christian and Muslims in Nigeria has been marked by mutual suspicions and violence in many areas especially in the North. The South is more peaceful even though it is not free from fears and anxieties especially at times of religious based violence in the North. Tensions can also arise during political campaigns. Very often, at CAN meetings, it is stressed that pastors should encourage their members to vote for Christian candidates. One wonders how this is possible in a country where many families have Muslims and Christians among their members and marriage between Christians and Muslims is not unusual. So, I can say convincingly that Nigeria is a fertile field for Encounter and Dialogue.

Nigeria, like many African countries, is torn apart by corruption, sporadic violence, kidnappings, armed robbery and the juridical system has a lot of problems. We hear of people who have been in prison for many years without appearing before a court. We witness the withdrawal of cases of injustice to be sorted out “amicably” under the supervision of police officers or judges when there is a big social gap between the accused and accuser. Very often the weak can never win a court case when they are facing powerful people.

Nigeria has many rich people who throw money around, sometimes just for show, especially at big ceremonial events. On the other hand, many citizens are at pains to make ends meet to the extent that some university graduates sell phone top up cards along the side of the roads. Others are involved in tailoring, soap making, bead making, etc. Again others earn their living through poorly rewarded jobs from 6,000 Naira (20$) to 25,000 Naira (80$) per month. Such realities and many other issues make this blessed country a pastoral field for Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC).

The last Post-Capitular Assembly of the Ghana-Nigeria Province stated that confreres in Nigeria should read the articles regarding JPIC-ED written by our confrere James Ngahy which appear in our weekly Catholic newspaper, “The Independent”. Missionaries of Africa cannot declaim their identity without mentioning JPIC-ED, it is part of our identity. Can we contribute more to the mission in this country? We are men of culture, openness and above all, missionaries. However, we can easily become more diocesan that the local clergy themselves even though we are foreigners. For many generations, the Missionaries of Africa working in Nigeria only knew the Yoruba culture apart from short visits to other parts of the country. This, in a country that has more than 200 cultures! Any time that you have reason to travel to Abuja, the capital, you are like an expatriate landing in a foreigner country for the first time. Nowadays, confreres (Nigerians and others) travel to Abuja more frequently and we, in Yoruba land, can only watch helplessly. For more than two and half years, the Nigeria Sector has been studying a project to cast off ‘into the deep’ and move closer to the centre and the north of the country. This will allow us to experience other cultures, to be more involved in dialogue with Muslims, a place for the Vocation Director to base himself, to create a welcoming home for Nigerian Confreres coming on home leave and other confreres passing through. It would also provide easy access to the capital city, Abuja, where more and more official documents are processed.

Minna Diocese in Niger State is ready to welcome us any time we wish to go and facilitate our integration in the new area while accepting the priorities of the Society. If the project is not convincing, we still need to discern together:

Since JPIC-ED remains the priority of Missionaries of Africa, can we put our ‘expertise’ at the service of the people of God in Nigeria torn apart by violence and religious divisions?

May the Lord of harvest send laborers to his field, May He be gracious and bless our Society of Missionaries of Africa.

Gilbert Rukundo (M.Afr)

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