Nigeria: “terrorism and corruption are the main plagues”
Interview with John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja, on the situation in Nigeria, on the occasion of his visit to the EU Institutions on 23-25 April.
Why is it that the EU and the US have not yet put Boko Haram on the list of ‘terrorist organisations’?
This matter has been debated in my country. On the one hand there is no doubt that Boko Haram operates in the way that terrorist organisations operate. Killing indiscriminately and doing so in a way that makes it difficult for them to be recognised, because they do not wear uniforms, they merge in with the crowd.
On the other hand, the people of Nigeria are far from wanting anything that would warrant foreign intervention that at the end of the day would be of no help to us. I am one of those who ask what would it mean, what would it actually achieve to add Boko Haram to the list of terrorist organisations? What are the implications? If it means that America would move into Nigeria like they moved into Iraq or that France would move into Nigeria like they and the EU moved into Tripoli, then we certainly would not want that.
There are of course Nigerians who have their own strong positions. Nigerians who believe that it is not only Boko Haram who should be eliminated, but even that practically every Muslim in Nigeria should be eliminated. Well, I don’t share that position, because I believe that the vast majority of Nigerian Muslim people are not Boko Haram, they are just Nigerians.
Because terrorism by its very nature melts into the population, there is no way you can hit terrorist organisations without killing innocent people. And I go back again to the example of what has already happened when the American and European nations tried to tackle terrorism. Pakistanis are now complaining that drone strikes are killing innocent people.
So what then do you expect concretely from Europe?
In the world of today, there is a wide range of international relationships and cooperation as well as mutual assistance. I would expect that America or Europe would be more inclined to help us deal with this problem, but at our own invitation and subject to our own plans. There are certain things that I think we need, which we don’t have. You could in fact help us in some way.
How do you see your new role as a leader of the Catholic Church, do you have a dialogue with the politicians and the political elite?
Of course we have different dialogues, starting with our Catholic politicians. I try to encourage them, because they have to operate in a very dirty political environment. This is a dilemma because they will say that they do not want to enter politics because it is dirty. But somebody has to do it, so I say to them that they should enter but with their eyes wide open. The government has religious advisers, but the religious communities in Nigeria are very diverse. And fortunately we have a common idea on how to tackle problems. We all agree that dishonesty is wrong, that people should take care of the common good. But when it comes to specific political strategies very often the political parties operate in a way that is clearly corrupt.
So, you mean that the sin is more in the structure and the mechanism than in the people?
Structures are erected by corrupt people. There is a hard core of corrupt people which keeps their structures in the vanguard. They set it up in such way that if you enter, it is on the condition that you are accepting their terms. Therefore, if you decide to be very honest, you will never win elections. And even if you are a nice person and you manage to reach a position of authority within a corrupt system, you still have to make a choice. You either insist on being honest and this means you will not last long or you convince yourself that this is just the way things are.
Maybe the solution could be that Europe would accompany Nigeria in its reforms or have an exchange of good practice ?
The discussions with our foreign partners and friends on the topic of corruption is not very clear. The kind of corruption we have in our country is of a high level and always depends on outside partners. Either there is outright government collusion and, if not, at least a collusion of business people. Business people come from abroad because Nigeria allows them to do what is forbidden in their own countries and they bring in money to our country. Similarly, our corrupt Nigerians do not put their money in the Nigerian banks but in Europe or America.
So should Europe insist on more business transparency ?
In my discussions with some Members of the European Parliament this week in Brussels, I was told that European companies lobbied successfully against EU legislative proposals for greater transparency and accountability of companies investing in, for instance, Africa: some people managed to block everything. But I encouraged the MEPs to continue in this effort, and to tell these people that it is very short-sighted to invest in a country and then suck out whatever you can from the economy. They should rather look towards the establishment of a stable and transparent business environment which will be safer for their own investments. If we would adopt this more progressive approach, then we could begin to relate to one another in our economic exchanges in a way that is human and peaceful.
The interview was conducted by Fr Joe Vella Gauci