Bishop of Catholic Dioceses of Yola, Most Rev Stephen Mamza, bares his mind on the role of religious leaders in politics and the upcoming elections, among other issues, in this interview with HINDI LIVINUS
As the general elections approach, some religious leaders are being accused of playing partisan politics. What are your thoughts on this?
The problem we have is that some of our clerics are hungry religious leaders, those not there for the service of God but because of their pockets. If not, why should a religious leader allow politicians to control him. The cleric is supposed to be the leader of the politicians and not the other way round, as we see it. The clerics are the ones that are supposed to form the conscience of the politicians. Some have ceded this position because of material things. They have lost their credibility because of what they expect to get. I can give examples with the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has rules and regulations. But there are many other religious bodies that do not have guiding principles. These are the bodies that allow their leaders to go beyond the limit that is acceptable.
But Rev Father Ejike Mbaka is a Catholic cleric. Are his political statements in consonance with your church’s principles?
Rev Father Mbaka is an embarrassment to the Catholic Church and I wonder why he has yet to be sanctioned by the Bishop of his Diocese. This cannot happen in other dioceses. He should be sanctioned. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be sanctioned. Every priest is under the jurisdiction of their local ordinaire who is the bishop. If a priest commits a crime or does something wrong anywhere in the world, the person that acts on that priest is the bishop. Even Rome will not act just like that; it is your own bishop that will do that. I think we can say that his bishop should make sure he cautions Father Mbaka because he has really crossed his boundaries.
Nigeria, despite being a nation of religious people, is faced with moral decadence and corruption has continued to soar. Do you think religious bodies are doing enough?
I think something is wrong. In a situation where the religious leaders themselves are corrupt; a situation, where the religious leaders’ conscience is not properly formed, we should expect that the followers will do worse things. As a matter of fact, if you look at some of the religious leaders that we have, you actually wonder. Our major problem in this country is that of leadership. When we talk about leadership, it cuts across politics, religion and other segments of leadership you can conceive. It is not a problem of following.
You have always spoken out against President Muhammadu Buhari as being a divisive leader, especially based on his appointments. Do you see this trend also playing out in the coming elections?
Of course, that is why people don’t even trust the elections that are coming up in February and March this year. People feel that having almost all the security apparatus in the hands of the northerners is not healthy. If you look at the Independent National Electoral Commission, almost all those in charge of sensitive positions are northerners. They are not only northerners, but northern Muslims. The Christians in the North are in the minority; we don’t even have a say because we are not welcomed. In the South, we are not also welcome. We don’t know where we belong. The way the present government makes appointments is really very suspicious and we are very doubtful that this present government is prepared to organise free, fair and credible elections.
The issue of appointments is something that is glaring. In fact, there are many Muslims who are not comfortable. They have even had to complain about it.
You talked about the northern Christians being in the minority. What really do you mean by this?
Christians in the North are treated like second-class citizens. We are not treated as northerners because of the simple fact that we are Christians. There are several situations where you are deprived of appointment because you are a Christian. You are deprived of admission or a particular course of study in the university because you are a minority. The same goes for other privileges meant for everyone to enjoy; Christians are being denied. We are treated like second-class citizens.
Some clerics have formed the habit of making predictions about the outcome of the 2019 elections. Are you comfortable with this?
In the first place, if you say you have heard a revelation about the outcome of the elections, how sure are we that you really had a revelation from God. There are many people who sit in their homes and think of what should be just to bring confusion into the country. They will say they have had a revelation. Many of them, in the past, what they predicted never came pass; they were actually false. I think the revelation should be guided; there should be judgement as regards whether the revelation is true or not. Is it from God or not from God? Even the Bible tells us that if it is a prophecy, you have to judge whether this prophecy is from God or not. It is not everything that comes into your mind that you tell the public.