Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop, Sokoto Diocese
- Why Easter Means so Much to Christians
Easter is here. It is the greatest event since the creation of the world. It marks the single event which changed the world and has never been repeated again, namely, the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus, the incarnate God, was so momentous that it split the curtain of the Old Jewish Temple of Jerusalem into two (Mt. 27:51). The split of the Temple signifies the split of history into two, marking world history by AD or BC.
Jesus is the new Temple which cannot be destroyed (Jn. 2: 19). The Easter event is a celebration for all people, since it marks the restoration of dignity and fullness of life in this world for all human beings. As Saint John Paul reminded us, and as the Christian faith teaches, “every person without any exception whatever, has been redeemed by Christ, because with the human being, with each person without any exception whatever, Christ is in a way united, even when he or she is unaware of it: Christ, who died and was raised up for all, provides the human being, each person and every person, with the light and the strength to measure up to his or her supreme calling” (Redemptor Hominis 14). Therefore, sinful humanity, redeemed by Christ, can now call God, Father (Mt. 6:9ff). The fruit of the resurrection of Jesus is the assurance and guarantee of our salvific redemption, our own resurrection and the attainment of eternal life. The resurrection is the basis for the divine command to take the Gospel, the Good News, to all the ends of the earth, to remind all people of their dignity and to call on all people to respect and work towards that dignity (Mt. 28: 19-20)
The Government of Nigeria has recognised this event officially by declaring a holiday. In appreciation of its significance, the President, Governors, Senate President and Speaker, as well as other well-meaning Nigerians across the board will offer messages of good will. This year, just as I did last year, I address my Easter message to the President and other segments of the Nigerian society, praying that they will hear and heed one of many voices of hope.
2. A Happy Easter to our President
Mr. President, Sir, the elections have come and gone, well, almost. You were declared winner, but the Opposition, in exercising its right, has challenged the results. We are prayerfully hopeful that the process will be concluded so that you can hold a prize that is not seen as morally tainted. You yourself have encouraged those who feel aggrieved to follow your example and to pursue all legal remedies as you did consistently over the years you felt unjustly deprived.
I recall that in 2007 when many people discouraged you from going to court to challenge Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua, claiming that you were both Muslims, northerners from the same state, I personally published an article encouraging you to exercise your right to seek fairness. I also argued that, either way, these processes can only strengthen and not weaken our Democracy. My views and position have not changed and will not change, no matter who is involved.
Looking back, I do not think that any honest citizen will dispute the fact that things have not changed for the better for our country and its citizens. Please, Sir, do not allow anyone to deceive you. There is no need for us to spend too much time about the quality of our elections, since the truth is that even the best elections will be useless if they do not improve the quality of human life.
Today, our nation is sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of despair, melancholy and depression. No matter how we wish to pretend as a nation and a people, the evidence that all is not well stares us in the face. Our own Bureau of Statistics continues to reel out indices of human existence which show clearly that we are desperately sliding into both chaos and despondency. International human development weighing agencies are coming to the same conclusions about the suffocating and crippling levels of misery and destitution in Nigeria.
Mr. President, it is becoming increasingly difficult, even for the most optimistic of citizens, to see beyond these clouds of frustration. The killings are even more numerous, widespread, senseless and violent than last year. Only last week, a Newspaper reported that in 20 out of the 36 States, hundreds of Nigerians are being held by kidnappers in different locations with families being left to their fate. Ironically, the victims of these tragedies are your main constituents. They are northerners, they are Muslims and they gave you the greatest votes. Social media messages by your aides cannot make up for your physical presence as our people are grieving daily. These only serve to reinforce the feeling of distance and alienation between you and the victims of these tragedies, your children.
Mr. President, we are at breaking point. The country is at such a dangerous and precarious level that it could snap anytime and anywhere. You can feel, see and touch the pulse. So, Mr. President, please step up, offer us solutions not excuses or complaints. Leadership is an exercise in problem solving. Cabal, Mafia, Cult or whatever, it is your call, Sir. Nigeria hangs dangerously on a precipice. You have to lead us to reclaim our country and to restore laughter and hope to our people.
3. To the Governors, Senators and the Political Class
Your Excellencies, I wish you a very happy Easter. I however, wish to remind you of the high position of trust that you occupy. I congratulate those of you whose elections have been concluded while we wait for the Courts in the land to decide on the fate of others. Ordinary Nigerians remain unsure as to whether, beyond the change in faces, they can expect any real, qualitative and measurable improvement in their conditions.
I believe you already know that the level of trust in politics and politicians is at its lowest ebb. The very low and embarrassing voter turnout in the last elections is a measure of how people’s trust in politics and the political class is dwindling. You can also see that it is largely in those parts of Nigeria and in our States with low literacy levels, severely limited capacity for critical thinking, that the voter turnouts were significant. So far, so many of you have not done much to inspire confidence in our people that Democracy can deliver on our wellbeing.
I know that many of you mean well and are quite enthusiastic. I know that the Nigerian bureaucracy in many areas has become a cog in the wheel of development, service delivery and performance. Notwithstanding all this, we can do things differently. Our country is sinking and the destitution which we see in the faces of our people is a mortal sin. I hope thoughts on the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ will help you to appreciate the need to make sacrifices for others.
Our people feel too alienated and frustrated. Try and make politics respectable and honourable by offering inspiration to the young people. I encourage you to please rise beyond personal ambitions and pettiness and unite across party affiliation to build a better society. Nigerians are tired of being the butt of jokes and humiliation in other climes.
4. To the Leadership of the Christian Community
For us Christians, there is an urgent need to rise to the challenges of renewing the face of the earth as bearers of the light of Christ. The confrontation and battles between the thrones of God and those of Caesar have taken a toll on our moral authority. Some of us have decided to get into the ring to clean up the polity as we claim through joining politics directly. Different denominations have different disciplines in this regard. However, it is clear that the records do not necessarily show that those in politics have necessarily risen beyond the goals and objectives of party loyalties. Caesar seems to have domesticated God.
In the last few years, we Christians have not been able to have a united vision about our role in politics. The challenges of ethnic and denominational loyalties are constantly taking their toll on us and have too often steered us away from our duties to the nation. We have allowed the lures of political office to diminish our prophetic voices.
The politicians will continue to seek our direct support and endorsement, but we must be aware of the different and conflicting loyalties of our members. Let Easter remind us that what we hold in trust for God is far higher than what the porridge of political patronage. We must work harder to avoid compromises which define our boundaries of political loyalties and engagement. In the end, we have only our consciences to answer to. We have a lot of opportunities to effect change by offering a moral compass to guide and turn politics into a tool for service and the pursuit of the common good. We must apply the principles of the Gospel to shape our personal lives and that of the nation. So, to you all, my brothers and sisters in Christ, a happy Easter.
5. To the Ordinary Citizens of Nigeria
Our ordinary citizens are clearly more honest in their daily transactions and interactions than those who govern them. Our people have signed on to a life of communitarian existence, marked by a sense of higher virtues of honesty, dignity, good neighbourliness, hard work, justice, solidarity, sharing, fairness and equity. Most of them just want to be able to freely offer their labour whether in hewing wood, drawing water, pushing their carts, or breaking their backs on the farms and to reap the rewards for this. Sadly, today, those they elected to protect them seem to pander to lower moral values than them.
Violent deaths and burials have become the menu of the poor in Nigeria while those in charge of their security seem unmoved. The farmlands and the high way are in the grip of the marauders. With violence and insecurity, many of our people are displaced and glorified refugees. The rains will soon be here and there is no guarantee that our farmers will be able to go back to their farms. While the poor defied the elements, risked life and limb to vote, the families of the elite were taken to safety and will only return now that the harvest is ripe.
To my dear people of Nigeria, hold on firmly to higher values, remain hopeful and steadfast, and trust in God. The Risen Christ does not abandon us. God is near and His love never dies. The times are hard, but they will not last forever.
6. To God the Father of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
God our father and the source of infinite goodness, we know you love and care for our dear country. You have saved us from major disasters such as monsoons, earthquakes or epidemics, and have given our nation so much natural wealth, beauty and goodness. This fact is very often lost on those who govern us.
However, we have a governing elite that has proved over the years to be far worse than any earthquake from which we could easily have since recovered. Today, corruption holds a choking grip on the entire country. It is impossible to understand why so much corruption can live side by side with such claims of religiosity as we hear in our land. We know that you often allow the enemy to enter the farm and plant bad seeds. You also allow them to grow together with the good seeds (Mt. 13: 25). But when will harvest time come, Lord?
You have told us Lord that: You cannot be mocked (Gal. 6: 7). Across the land, we are reaping the fruits of spurious spirituality as we can see from the poverty, suffering and death in our country. Today, Lord, we look on in shame and helplessness as vermin and carriers of death have invaded our land. We have been stripped of our dignity as a people.
Those who lead us say that they are totally helpless and that they do not know where these killers, these foreigners are coming from. We have become like the people Israel about whom the writer of the book of Lamentation cried when he said: Remember, Yahweh what has befallen us. Look and see our disgrace. Our homes handed over to strangers, our inheritance has gone to foreigners. We are as orphans, fatherless and early widowed are our mothers. Our drinking water, we must buy, our own wood, we must pay. With the yoke stifling our breathe, without rest, we work to death. Slaves rule us and there is no one to rescue us from their hands….Our skin is hot like a furnace, dried up and shriveled by hunger….Princes are hung up by their hands and elders shown no respect (Lam. 5: 1-5, 10).
But, Lord, we know that the gates of hell shall not prevail over us (Mt. 16:18). We must continue in prayer, knowing that it was not by gunpowder and standing armies that the walls of Jericho fell, but by the trumpeting prayers of the priests (Jos. 6: 20). We must continue relentlessly in prayer. As we enter the month of May, I call on all our Catholics to observe the May devotion by praying the rosary daily for our dear country.
The resurrection of Jesus promises fullness of life to all people. May we cherish that life in others and may our efforts to promote that life be sincere. May the glory of the Resurrected Christ manifest and hover over our land to banish all forms of evil. Christus Vivit – Christ is Alive! A Happy Easter to you all.