The 2023 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Department of Church and Society of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) was held at the CSN Resource Centre, Durumi, Abuja, on November 20-24-2023. The theme of the AGM was “Economic Empowerment and Capacity Strengthening for Self-reliance and Community Resilience”. One hundred and sixty-nine Directors and Coordinators of Education, Family and Human Life, Health, Justice Development, and Peace/Caritas JDPC, and Migrants and Refugees from the 60 dioceses across the country attended the three-day event which was chaired by His Lordship Most Rev. Dr. Sylvester Luka Gopep, the Auxiliary Bishop of Minna diocese. Goodwill messages were presented by Catholic Relief Services (USA), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (UK), and Dr. Benedict Alo D’Rozario – President of Caritas Asia, among others.
The following Resolutions were arrived at:
1. Economic Empowerment and Capacity Strengthening
- As Nigeria has been declared the poverty capital of the world with over 133 million citizens living in multidimensional poverty, economic empowerment and capacity-strengthening of persons, families, and communities are viable means to resilience and sustainable poverty alleviation.
- Participants adopted and hereby propose twelve types of empowerment scenarios: economic, social, educational, political, psychological, gender, community, organizational, cultural, physical, individual, and religious. These categories if responsibly and faithfully explored have the potential to lift the majority of the citizenry out of multidimensional poverty. In combination, they will not only improve the means of livelihood and material well-being but also enhance the personal dignity, mindset, and macro-environments in which citizens live, work, and pursue happiness and prosperity.
- Mainstreaming women and youth in local economic development are critical adjuvants in holistic poverty eradication efforts. The continued exclusion of women and youth from the nation’s democratic processes, appointive positions, and major national decision-making processes perpetuates mediocrity, underdevelopment, and intergenerational distrust. The situation whereby older and non-functional politicians fail to relinquish political positions and aspirations hinders the participation of the youth population in the democratic processes.
- The decentralization of political and economic activities through restructuring of the governance systems has proven efficacy in producing rapid economic transformation and people empowerment at the grassroots. Ultimately, development is local: facilitated access to capital is a low-hanging fruit strategy for moving families and communities out of the poverty circuit. The concentration of economic activities within the central and state governments; and the seeming neglect of the local governments and community leaderships has hindered meaningful progress among the rural dwellers.
- Handing out financial tokens as palliatives is an ineffective and inefficient strategy for economic revival. Such evidence-poor approaches only promote politically motivated impoverishment of the citizens and perpetuate the weaponization of poverty. The sustainable approach is to teach the people how to fish, not give them fish crumbs.
2. State of the Nation
- The meeting decried the shameful outcome of the 2023 general elections which were mostly characterized by crass irregularities, differential citizenship, manipulation, rigging, failure of consequences, and declaration of pre-recorded results. Regrettably, the shambolic processes rolled back decades of gains made by the country in its march toward political empowerment. Democracy in Nigeria has been turned into so-called ‘INEC and COURT’ regimes as these two Institutions of government (INEC and the Judiciary) hijacked the rights of the electorates by respectively declaring and defending those not elected by the people. Hence, the 2023 elections were not free, fair, credible and transparent.
- Participants bemoaned the state of insecurity of life and property across the country which has not only persisted but is worsening by the day. The effect is that citizens live in fear and consternation as banditry, kidnapping, terrorism, involuntary movement of citizens, and activities of the so-called unknown gunmen are unabated despite huge security budgets and the plethora of security agencies. They noted that economic development including foreign direct investments will remain a mirage if the situation is not effectively addressed.
The participants at the 2023 AGM recommended as follows:
- That the Church and the governments at all levels should deliberately create avenues to promote individual and/or community economic empowerment, capacity-building, vocational skills development, entrepreneurial training, and support for self-reliance and sustainable livelihood.
- The government should develop and implement pro-poor policies, programs, and activities working through faith-based and community-based organizations to reach the target populations at the grassroots targeting rural dwellers, urban slums, and persons at the margins of society (widows, internally displaced persons, people living with disabilities, returnee migrants, etc.)
- Nigerians should demand the strengthening of government institutions to promote the rule of law, holistic people empowerment, the common good, and national development including cutting down the cost of governance.
- That the duty bearers at all levels should be held accountable for delivering responsive and inclusive governance including but not limited to living up to their responsibility of protecting the life and property of the citizens and restoring citizens’ confidence in the electoral processes by legalizing electronic voting and outlawing manual voting which allows politicians to subvert people’s mandate.
The participants thanked the Almighty God for His guidance and protection in 2023. They equally expressed gratitude to the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria for their direction and support for the work of the Church and Society Department, especially in upholding and championing the principles of the Catholic Social Teachings by rendering humanitarian services and contributing to the development of the country.
Revd. Fr. Uchechukwu OBODOECHINA PhD
Director Church & Society Department
Executive Secretary/CEO Caritas Nigeria