This is a political year in Nigeria as the country prepares for presidential elections on April 21. Given the outcome of previous elections, some Nigerians are concerned whether this year’s elections would be free and fair. Added to that is the ongoing corruption investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and whether the Independent National Electoral Commission has the power to disqualify Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria has called for a fair treatment of all corruption cases as well as free and fair elections. John Onaiyekan is Archbishop of Abuja. He said there is an impression in the country that the EFCC does at times mete out selective justice.
“The EFCC, that’s the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, has been welcomed by most Nigerians. They have worked very hard to tackle corruption and bring corrupt people to book. The impression that is being created and the perception that the Bishops’ Conference is referring to is that we see too many people around who have very bad reputation for corruption who seem to be totally exempt from the harassment of the EFCC. And it’s difficult to get away from the impression that there is a kind of selective justice going on,” he said.
Onaiyekan said the bishops wanted to sound a warning to the government not to run the country on what he called arbitrary arrangement. He said all those suspected of being corrupt should be given the opportunity to defend themselves in a court or law.
Onaiyekan said the bishops are not trying to be political in an election year. Instead he said they are simply doing what is required of them.
“How can you talk about how your country is run without being political? And how can bishops not talk about how our country is run? We are part and parcel of this nation. We have every right to address the issues that concern all of us, and we believe that it is part of our duty to be involved in politics in that sense. The kind of politics that we will not get involved in is whether it’s party politics with one party or the other,” he said.
The Bishops Conference called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to work towards free and fair elections in April. Archbishop Onaiyekan said the call is based on the conduct of past elections.
“Anybody who has been in Nigeria in the last few years and from the benefit of hindsight and from what we saw in 2003 and what we are seeing right now, we have every reason to sound a note of warning. We still believe that with a sincere effort, we can still come out with a free and fair election. And it is precisely because to achieve that, that is why we raised that note of warning,” he said.
Onaiyekan said the bishops have a moral duty to comment on issues of concern to the people, and he hoped the government would listen to the bishops’ advise.