Last month, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, called on Christians in the country to pray in unity for progress, stability and peace to reign in Nigeria. He charged them to wake up to their responsibilities reminding them that, “Prayer is the master key. We have to continue praying. Even in the Bible, there were so many troubles against Christians, but when they prayed, they overcame the troubles. We shall overcome our own difficulties, in Jesus name.”
He also urged government to wake up to its responsibilities by addressing the issue of hunger, scarcity and insecurity in the country.
Cardinal Onaiyekan, ever since he hit the national limelight has been an advocate of peace and peaceful coexistence of both Christians and Muslims in the country. For the catholic prelate, God was not mistaken when he brought Muslims and Christians together in Nigeria. For him, the “basic message is that nobody should think you have a monopoly of God. That this God belongs to all of us therefore while I hold unto my faith very strongly, there should be …we are all working sincerely trying to do the right thing.
“We must be sincere with ourselves, respect one another, live in peace and harmony. Of course, there will be other people who do not agree to that but that does not stop the rest of us from living together in peace and government should handle those who are trouble makers. This is where the government comes in. It is not our responsibility as religious leaders to deal with criminals.”
“We have been hearing about Boko Haram; we have been hearing about Niger Delta militants and others and it probably seems to be taken for granted that all we need is better arms, better trained soldiers and we shall solve the problem.I am afraid it has never worked that way anywhere in the world. At some point, after the soldiers have finished their job, human beings must seat around the table and talk. There is nobody that you cannot talk with because everybody is a human being – the child of a mother and maybe the sweetheart of a woman.
“What it does mean is that no matter the atrocities, it is always possible for human beings to see one another as brothers and sisters.”
The archbishop believes that there is no issues that cannot be sorted out through dialogue and he has been at the frontline of dialogue and peace advocacy in the country. He is a partner to various interfaith dialogues and programmes that are geared towards promoting religious harmony in the country and by extension across the world.
John Cardinal Onaiyekan was born on January 29, 1944. The native of Kabba, Kogi State was ordained a priest on August 3, 1969. 14 years later, he was ordained a Bishop at the St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, by Pope John Paul II. He served as an Auxiliary Bishop of Ilorin Diocese and later residential before he was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Abuja Diocese on July 7, 1990 and subsequently appointed second Bishop of Abuja Diocese by Pope John Paul II on September 28, 1992. He was appointed the Archbishop of Abuja on March 28, 1994, and has since then nurtured the Archdiocese to greater spiritual and pastoral achievements.
In 2005, to doused the tension that arose in the wake of a series of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Europe that roused tension in northern Nigeria, the Cardinal reached out to the Sultan of Sokoto, the leader of Nigeria’s Muslim community and the two leaders issued a joint statement declaring that the incident was not a Muslim-Christian issue and urging both sides to settle disputes peacefully.
In 2012, he was named Pax Christi International’s 2012 Peace Laureate, an annual prize awarded to exemplary individuals who stand up for peace, justice, and nonviolence across the globe. He was at a time the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the umbrella body of all Christians in the country. He was also the honorary president of Religious for Peace, and also President of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).