The Catholic Pontiff, His Holiness Pope Francis, utilised his regular New Year message to offer wise counsel and pertinent observations on politics and peace. He spoke from his seat at the Vatican and, though he spoke to the world as he usually does, it was as if he had Nigeria in mind, especially given the tense political atmosphere of the moment.
The Pontiff was certain that the ultimate end of good politics is peace. Peace, he said, is like hope, it is like a flower struggling to blossom in the stony ground of violence. In spite of the tragedies, violence and misery that mark human history, men and women of peace can and do still emerge. He appealed to politicians to join the peace wagon.
He challenged politicians to go for ‘good politics’ since “we know that the thirst for power at any price leads to abuses and injustice.” When political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalisation and even destruction. The Pope is of the view that political power when rightly exercised can, indeed, become an outstanding form of charity.
In the Nigerian experience, however, that thirst for power often appears as the driving force leading to all kinds of electoral malpractices ranging from thuggery to vote-buying. The number of Nigerian politicians who sincerely view politics as service must be very few indeed, as opposed to an overwhelming majority to whom politics and public office are the quickest means to self-enrichment. The ability of public officers to allocate to themselves as much resources as they choose with no accountability has led to the dangerous income inequality which is beginning to be noticed internationally as an ill omen and a danger to social harmony.
Reminding politicians of the human virtues expected of them, the Pope recalled the “Beatitudes of the Politician” proposed by Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan: “Blessed be the politician” who personally exemplifies credibility; who works for the common good and not his own self-interest; who remains consistent; who works for unity; who works to accomplish radical change; who is capable of listening, who is without fear. We truly hope politicians would commit the beatitude to memory and live by them. Our experience is that most politicians act in the opposite direction. Often we find politicians afraid of losing power and, therefore, unable to demonstrate courage. We have found them exploit or, indeed, sow and magnify divisions among the people in order to win votes. As for radical change, politicians are simply not wired for radical change, otherwise they would be revolutionaries.
The Pope reminded his listeners of the well-known vices in politics, which have been the bane of Nigeria for decades, including corruption in its various forms, the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force and the refusal to relinquish power. In Nigeria, we have had extreme cases of attorneys-general disobeying court orders, presidents placing law enforcement above the constitution and arbitrary detention of persons and routine contravention of the law of arrests and detention.
The Pope encouraged politicians to pay primary attention to the participation of young people in politics. He observed that when political power aims only at protecting the interest of a few privileged individuals, the future is compromised and young people can be tempted to lose confidence since they are relegated to the margins of society without the possibility of helping to build the future. This tends to contradict the regular recital that the future belongs to young people.
The Pontiff noted that 100 years after the end of the First World War, the world is conscious of the terrible lesson of fratricidal war, and that peace cannot be reduced to a balance between power and fear. To threaten others is to lower them to the status of objects and to deny their dignity. He also observed that as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world must renew its commitment to peace at three levels: ‘peace with oneself’ which rejects anger and impatience; ‘peace with others,’ a willingness to listen to others including the poor and the suffering; and ‘peace with the creator’ which entails “rediscovering our individual and shared responsibility as inhabitant of this world.”
We heartily recommend the Pope’s message to all Nigerian politicians and, indeed, every citizen who places value on peace.