Full Text: Keynote Address of John Cardinal Onaiyekan to the National Association of Seadogs. Saturday, December 10, 2022
I wish to sincerely thank the National Association of Seadogs for inviting me to be part of this your 70th Anniversary celebration and to give a key note address on a matter that is very much at the heart of every one of us namely: The State of the Nation. I wish to thank especially my friend Mr. Uche Odozor who screwed up the courage to drag me into this adventure. Because of my long term friendship with him, I did not have much difficulty accepting the invitation. No doubt it is quite unusual for a person of my stature and ecclesiastical position to be in your midst. But we are living in unusual times. And if we want change for the better not only in our nation but in our world, such change obviously demands that we begin to learn to do things differently, breaking up new frontiers, making new friends and forging contacts. I want to thank you for the opportunity you have given me to broaden my perspective on what you stand for and what you live for.
1. A CARDINAL WITH THE SEADOGS
I have been invited to talk on the state of the nation. But before I do that, permit me to make a few remarks on my presence at this occasion. For many people, it was a surprise that I should be featuring prominently in an invitation to a major event by the Seadogs otherwise called the Pyrates. One of my younger siblings sent me a copy on Whatsapp of your invitation card and asked; “Is it for real or is it just a fake posting?” I replied and told him, “It is for real”. Another nephew of mine sent me a text message with serious concern asking if I really know who these people who are inviting me are. “You mean you are going to talk to pyrates?” My reply to him was that I don’t know very much about them, but on the other hand, I have not known anything about them to stop me from honouring their gracious invitation. Some of these remarks almost bothers on a kind of query: “Why should you be going to talk at a meeting of Seadogs?” Fortunately, I thank God that I have reached a stage in my life now that I am beyond queries. Nobody queries me anymore. I do what I believe in and what I want to do. And so here I am. This is all the more reason why I am grateful for the opportunity to be with you.
2. SURPRISE GALORE
The surprise expressed by my friends reflects much of the general impression about the pyrates. Those impressions are largely coloured by the activities of the wide spread contemporary campus cult groups that are unfortunately largely characterized by anti-social behaviours often almost criminal. We hear about groups like “eiyes” and similar groups and one tends to consider them as same with the Seadogs.
3. CATHOLIC NEGATIVE POSITION
There is the further dimension of the negative position of the Catholic Church to which I belong against anything that seems like freemasonry or secret cults. This includes also groups like the Ogbonis whether reformed or non-reformed. Beyond the classical masonic organisations, the negative attitude of the Catholic Church also spreads to other groups like the Rosicrucian’s, the Ekankar, etc.
4. THE CATHOLIC KNIGHTHOODS
This general negative attitude has coloured our impression of the Seadogs. Let me give you a simple example. You are probably aware of the knights of the Church. The oldest and most prominent is the Knights of Saint Mulumba, (KSM). It was set up precisely to counter the inability of Catholics to access opportunities and advantages which membership of the masonic lodges were alleged to confer. Catholics high up in the elites strata of society saw their non-Catholic peers joining masonic lodges and getting advantages from membership. Their Catholic Church tells them that they cannot be members. A Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Anselm Ojefua, who later became a monk and died a monk, came up with a good idea of a Nigerian Catholic Knighthood, taking a cue of already existing groups of Catholic knights elsewhere, like the Knights of Columbus in the USA. This was the origin of the KSM. No wonder that a firm rejection of any links with secret cults was considered necessary for membership of the Catholic knighthood.
Recently, an applicant to the knights of St. Mulumba was required to give up his membership as a Seadog as it was considered incompatible with being a Catholic Knight. But it was brought to my notice that this gentleman was circulating the invitation card to this event, with my picture boldly on it. He tried to suggest that this would be a proof that the KSM ought not to have considered his seadog membership as an obstacle. I had to clarify that my presence here does not entail any form of official Catholic endorsement of this group, and that in no way goes against the rules of the KSM.
5. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND SECRET CULTS.
A simple search on google on the “catholic church and freemasonry” will show very clearly that even now the official position of the church is that membership of freemasonry is incompatible with the Catholic faith. There may well be some Catholics who are members of the secret cults. Technically anyone who is a freemason ought not to receive holy communion in our church. But since such membership is normally secret, the rule is almost impossible to enforce. But the rule is there all the same.
6. CLEARING MISUNDERSTANDING.
It is possible that such negative impressions about the pyrates is based on ignorance of what they really stand for. To break such ignorance will require an open mind to hear and to see what you are and what you are doing. It may well be that Seadogs are not a secret cult like the freemasons, in which case the Catholic law against freemasons would not apply to them. But I also believe that the pyrates themselves, on their part have to try harder to present themselves in a more transparent and positive way to the general public. I see this invitation to me as a good step in the right direction. But the task of making the pyrates better known especially to those of us in church circles will fall more particularly on those among the pyrates confraternity who also are active members of our church. Such persons in one way or the other would have managed to reconcile their membership of the confraternity with their belonging to the Catholic Church.
I know that the rules of our Church in this matter may not necessarily be the same with the position of other Christian churches. But I am here talking about our Catholic Church. By the same token, we might also raise issues about where Islam stands in this whole discussion. I imagined you may have been dealing with such issues for quite some time.
Let me conclude this discussion with a humble offer. I will be very happy to participate in a process of improving relationship between our church and the pyrate confraternity.
7. THE STATE OF THE NATION
Now, let me turn to the topic assigned to me for this key note address namely: THE STATE OF THE NATION. This topic is both easy and difficult. It is easy to see where we are right now in the nation. But it is also difficult to understand how we have got to where we are and how we are to turn a better page in our development. I do not have to go to a lot of details about the problems of our nation. They are well known. But while we are justly worried about our plethora of problems, we should not ignore the rays of light in the clouds.
a) Our Problems.
There may be a few people who are in and outside of government who may be quite happy with the present situation. Perhaps this may be because they are personally beneficiaries of the performance of our government. But I believe it is true to say that there is large scale grumbling on the part of the vast majority of Nigerians. The ongoing political campaigns are replete with catalogues of failures of our government, even from candidates in the present ruling party. This sense of dissatisfaction and grumbling is obviously not without reason.
The state of insecurity is making almost every aspect of our national life problematic. Worst of all is the fact that it appears that the state has no answer to how to keep our nation safe, while to do that is the most primary obligation of any government.
The situation of our social services that have been running down is affecting almost everyone. In particular, social services that are under government control have suffered major neglect, whether in education or health services, roads or sanitation. Often Nigerians have to fend for themselves. But there is a limit to how much individuals can cater for all their needs.
There is also the growing poverty in the land. We are being told now that we are the “poverty capital of the world”. All the usual statistics point to the fact that Nigerians are being progressively impoverished. This is not just a matter of dry statistics. It is a question of quality of life and level of livelihood, right down to the basic needs of our lives. What do we eat? What shelter do we have? How do we take care of health needs?
And undergirding all these negative factors, is the major issue of mass pervading distrust of government on the part of citizens. It is certainly a major problem if people can no longer trust their government to be looking after their interests. The government will need to do a lot to regain this trust which is necessary for any government to function.
b) The Rays of Light.
But having said all the above, I cannot say that everything is all bad with our nation. Many people especially foreigners have been predicting that Nigeria will soon become a failed state. I do not believe that we have reached that stage nor do I think that we shall reach that stage any time soon. The flag of the nation is still flying even though it is dirty and tattered. I am saying this because basic institutions are still functioning even though not at optimal level. Bad or weak government is better than no government at all. I do not believe we have reached a state of total anarchy.
We still have a police force and armed forces and other security agents, once in a while performing their duties. There is of course the proverbial Nigerian resilience, constantly managing to survive under conditions that would appear unbearable. We must not forget the many Nigerians who are working hard to plug the holes and fill the gaps left by bad governance. Most of them continue to do their duty with little or no recognition or reward. I believe these are those who are still keeping the rickety system standing.
We are hearing very wonderful news about our citizens abroad in the diaspora. They are easily now our most important foreign resources and assets, despite our just concerns about brain drain. Their brilliant performance gives us great hope that when our nation succeeds in organising itself well, the sky will be the limit for our citizens coming home from abroad.
Finally, as a man of faith, I cannot fail to mention that Nigeria has the great asset of men and women who sincerely have faith in God, believing in God and doing their best to do God’s will. That there are many charlatans in the market of religion in Nigeria should not be allowed to blind us to the positive impact of religion, Christian and Muslim and even our African traditional values in guiding the daily lives of our people.
8. NEW ATTITUDES.
This for me is the state of the nation as it is. I believe that we should not give up hope. Rather our present situation on the verge of elections in a couple of months calls for a new attitude for the better. Among this is that we should have a basic trust in ourselves and in our leaders even if they have often disappointed us. We should accept the fact that Nigeria as one nation with diverse peoples has come to stay. This is a fact and like they say in Latin: “Contra factum non valet argumentum”, against the fact, there is no room for argument. There are those who are tired of this nation and may believe that going our separate ways is the solution. But as we can see, it is easier said than done. The examples of other nations that have split and gone their separate ways have shown that such a process is hardly ever achieved without serious and often bloody consequences.
Furthermore, there is need for us to believe more in ourselves and in our God giving resources. We need to believe in ourselves as Nigerians with tremendous possibilities and in the God given resources that are still in our nation, even though their management so far leaves much to be desired.
Finally, we need to try and avoid negative categorisations and group profiling. Enough of the “they” and “us”. We should try to see one another first and foremost as human beings created in the image and likeness of God and as human beings placed in this country called Nigeria. We have our diversities and differences but so do we have a lot in common. We should not allow our differences to tear us apart.
9. A WORLD IN DIALOGUE.
In general, the world is in an era of dialogue. People have begun to listen to one another and getting to know each other. The modern improvement in means of transportation and communication continues to make our planet into a global village. It is therefore not surprising that those who thought of others as far away must now begin to learn to live with them. We have seen this recently in positive development with regards to mutual understanding between the major religions of the world. A good example is what has been happening between Pope Francis and the Sunni leader of the world Muslim community, the Imam of Al –Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad Al Tayeb. They jointly signed a statement in February 2021 which clearly spelt out a wide range of common grounds in basic values of our two religions. The movement that they started has continued and is growing not only between Catholics and Sunni Muslims but between Christians and Muslims in general and between Christian Muslims and other faiths like Hindus, Buddhist and others. I believe this kind of attitude of reaching out to others should even go further to include those who may not claim to be religious but who have clear minds on how to live a sincere life. I imagine your confraternity will fall in that category.
There is much work being done not only between different religions but also within different religions. We should not forget that sometimes, there are greater conflicts within some religions than there are between different religions. This has been the sad lesson of our human history. We consider for example, Sunnis versus Shiites in the Islamic world and between Catholics and protestants in the Christian fold. In this regard, two issues need to be taken seriously. First, we must search for our common grounds, discover them and celebrate them.
Unfortunately, the fact that we have so many differences tend to blind us to the many common values that we share, not only in terms doctrinal truth but also in terms of moral principles. A good example is the fact that most religions believe in the same one God, whom however they understand in different ways. Recognition of these facts makes all the difference in our effort to speak together and work together in facing common challenges instead of scattering our efforts in different directions or worse still sometimes neutralizing those efforts.
10. THE CATHOLIC SOCIAL DOCTRINES.
Before I end this conversation, permit me to propose that the Catholic Church has a body of teaching called Catholic Social Doctrines (CSD) which presents itself as the special contribution of our church to the solution of the problem of nation building, peaceful living together and building human fraternity. Our Catholic Church claims to be “expert in humanity” and our church leadership, especially the Pope, dares to refer to itself as “Mater et Magister” meaning Mother and Teacher. The Church has been in existence since more than two thousand years and has had experience in all kinds of human organizations and governments. It is therefore not for nothing that it has come out with series of well-articulated principles to guide humanity on the way to live together as brothers and sisters and children of one God. The CSD is not a teaching for Catholics alone. It is rather the teaching that the Catholic church has put together to be made available to all humanity, Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians, Muslims and any other faiths. Those who have cared to take a good look at this body of teaching have agreed that there is a lot in it to learn from.
In this occasion I want to point out only two issues and they have to do with regards to the concept of power and governance. Our catholic social teaching has two principles that must be thoroughly adhered to.
The first is that all power belongs to God and all human rulers must rule according to his will. No human being has a right to rule another human being since everybody is equal before God. However, for the sake of social life living in peace and harmony we do need to have some people who are in positions of leadership. But they must rule in the name of God. Interestingly, in this regard I have discovered that we are on the same page with our Muslim brothers and sisters.
The second important teaching is that political leadership must be for the service of the common good. The second Vatican Council which took place from 1963 to 1965 has a very powerful exhortation which is addressed to Catholic lay faithful, which is also valid for anyone who cares to listen. A very important text is in the document on The Church in the Modern World, Gaudium Et Spes, chapter 75 which goes as follows: “Those with a talent for the difficult yet noble art of politics, or whose talents in this matter can be developed, should prepare themselves for it, and forgetting their own convenience and material interests, they should engage in political activity”.
Politicians in Nigeria hardly ever go into politics with such noble intentions and attitudes. But that is the type of sane politics that can rescue our nation unto greatness. This same document a few lines earlier had thrown the challenge to Catholic politicians as follows: “Every citizen ought to be mindful of his right and his duty to promote the common good by using his vote. The Church praises and esteems those who devote themselves the public good for the service of men and take upon themselves the burdens of public office.” The challenge can hardly be clearer. It is not for Catholics only, but for all politicians.
If we have the fear of God and regard for our fellow men and women, then all will go well with us in any Nation. The old testament said it long ago that “righteousness exalts a nation” (Prov. 14:24).
I wish to thank you once again for inviting me to this occasion, I will proudly add to my CV the qualification that I give a key note address at a pirates gathering. We pray that the Lord God will keep us all safe in the boat in which all of us are seadogs in one way or the other, fighting to keep the ship afloat while doing our best to counter the efforts of many to bring it down. May God bless us in all our efforts. Amen.