Against the backdrop of this year’s communications week observed annually by the Catholic Church worldwide, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, His Eminence Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins, takes a look at insecurity in the country, rising rate of suicide among youths, controversy over proposed Fulani radio station, social media influences and role of media practitioners, in this interview with Tai Anyamwu
What are your reflections on this year’s edition of the World Communications Week of the Catholic Church, themed ‘We Are Members One of One Another’?
The message of the Holy Father (Pope Francis} in recent times have been short, precise, to the point and it calls our attention always to very important issues that concerns communications and the welfare of people as well as common good. We are delighted that this year he has called our attention to the value of social network, asking that we should go from social network communities to the human community, knowing full well that social network community good, as they are and important as they are and as useful as they are, they do not and cannot and should replace the human community. This is because it is in the human community that we feel, see, touch and can experience emotions and therefore have a value which cannot be replaced by social network communities. That understanding is what I have seen clearly in the message of our holy father and as it were bringing to our awareness some of the dangers or some of the challenges that arise from social media communications or social media networks. I’m glad that we are here together to reflect on these things. One thing that struck me strongly is the passage of the scripture that he presented to us as the bases for his reflection: “we are members one of one another.” That says a lot to me because it also reflects in fact a little of all as I mentioned during the Mass on Christian unity and unity of the nation. If we are members of one another apart from the social network communities and the general human network community, there is also the community of Christian believers, communities of those who believe in Christ.
There are not as much communities as we would like to be. But we are chasing after Christ’s faith. I think that should be an encouragement to us to work towards Christian unity. Much as it will also challenge us to look at the fact that in our nation that God has united us, as it is, to be like one nation; and that indeed, there are challenges and conflicts at this point in time which really strikes at the basses of our nationhood, the message of the holy father, in my own estimation goes beyond the idea of social network communities but also these dimensions of being one members of one another. So I hope that our reflections, as members of the media, will go in these directions so that the message can have not only an impact in the hearts and minds of people but perhaps in dealing with our situations in terms of religion and our nationhood.
The nation is still grappling with the issue of insecurity. What do you think should be the role of the media in this regard?
Anyone, who wakes up any day to read newspapers will attest to the fact that insecurity is a major problem in our nation. Some have attributed it to the so-called terrorists; others attributed it to those who are simply criminals, robbers, and kidnappers and so on and so forth. In my own estimation, it is important that the media need to report these events. I know that some have said that when the media focuses on the incidents it creates tension. But on the other hand, if they are not reported, naturally the truth of the matter will not be known to the people. I think also that, apart from reporting them and making known the level of insecurity that is there, it is also important that we have thorough analysis of why insecurity is there in our nation; analysis derived from proper study and research. It will help to ensure that reporting does not just simply put facts across, but will also put reasons why they are there; and perhaps reflect recommendations for overcoming the insecurity. I believe, for instance, it should also call attention of government from time to time to whatever it is that may be responsible either by commission or act of omission on the part of government for the insecurities that we are experiencing. All of these are very important if the media will do service to the nation. As far as these insecurities are concerned, the media should not just report the facts, but also analyse the issues behind the facts, report what government ought to be doing and if it is failing, the areas of failure that needs to be worked on. I believe this should help our nation a lot more and ensure that things will go on well.
The issue of Fulani radio comes to mind. Do you think that government is right in establishing a radio for Fulani herdsmen in spite of the atrocities, allegations that have been leveled against this group?
I personally was taken aback when I heard that government has a plan of establishing a radio station, specifically for Fulani herdsmen. I am sure that they must have some rational for proposing to establish such a radio station. But whatever the rational is, I think it should be put side by side with the situation of our country in which there are already fears of what the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, referred to as Fulanisation of Nigeria. That will be a matter of being sensitive to even put that side by side with the whole thought of establishing a Fulani radio station. In any case, the timing of bring that project to notice gives a wrong impression to many people. This was about the time of swearing-in of the President for his second tenure. It was immediately after these, he was on his way to attend the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Conference (OIC).These two things put together in the state of our nation today will definitely bring about suspicion. It is going to bring about fear of Islamisation that people are talking about. I believe that the whole issue of mistrust began when former President Ibrahim Babangida, brought us into OIC, an organization that is supposed to be for Islamic countries, at a point in time when Nigeria is supposed to be a secular state. They told us that we are observer status; suddenly it does seem that we have become a permanent member such that that our President, immediately after his swearing-in, will go and attend their meeting. It leaves a lot for the imagination of people to run. I think that it is not a good idea at this point in the life of our nation. In any case, many radio stations that are already in existence, broadcast in different languages. If that is the case, why must the Fulani one be different? It just gives pep to the whole idea of Islamisation that is being put out there. Besides, is it the case that whenever a group of people creates a bit of problem, we must create a radio station to address the problem that is created. These are the issues that arise and I think our government should really think critically about all of this. That idea, for me, is not a wise one.
During the last election, we saw all manners of fake messages mostly coming from highly place sources in government. What is your perspective in this regard and what is your charge to them?
What we know is that election time is a moment when politicians do and say anything and almost everything as long as it helps their political ambition. That is the thing behind that; it even happens not only in Nigeria; but everywhere in the world. I don’t know how media practitioners are going to try and verify such news items. The fact that that something is said or happened does not mean that it is right. It is wrong for anybody to peddle fake news. In fact, the holy Father referred to it in a someway in his message, that fake news helps to drive us farther apart than bring us together as a community of people. Politicians need to be careful so that the kind of news that they push out at election time and any other time is such that will not bring problems to the nation. I will also ask that media practitioners should also go a step further in order to verify that whatever it is they put out. When it comes to politicians at election time, then we must do a triple check than any other time.
Currently the Catholic Church is facing many difficulties, especially because of social media reports and the activities of Pentecostal churches. What is your advice to the Catholic faithful?
The social media is such that anything and everything goes out almost immediately as it is happening, both the fake and the genuine ones. So one can only ask that those who receive such news and Catholics in particular, should be weary and cautious in their reactions to what they received from the social media. It is important that they refer to whoever is in a position to give information about whatever it is that they have received. If the information is about the church in Maiduguri, for instance, it will be important to reach out to the Director of Social Communication in Maiduguri or to even the Bishop there. It is important that we do not just latch on whatever it is that comes out there. Catholics, especially, should realise that there are people out there who have one biff or the other against the church; sometimes because of the principles that we hold. Hence, anybody who received such information should also check it out and see to the truth of it before going ahead. That’s what I would advise Catholics who face this challenge that we are talking about from social media. The activities of the Pentecostals should only be for us a challenge to deepen more knowledge of our faith; it should be a challenge to understand more the bases of whatever it is that we believe. If there is adequate understanding and knowledge, if there is adequate commitment to the faith, it doesn’t matter whatever anybody says. In fact, when you have a full information and knowledge of your faith you are in a position to even explain to whoever that says this or that about our faith. I really am not worried about Pentecostals but I rather worry about Catholics who do not have adequate understanding of their faith and who do not have adequate opportunity or adequate commitment to be able to stand strong as to whatever we hold on to as a church. I think that associations within the Catholic Church should take it up as a responsibility, to provide opportunity for leading or helping the Catholics to understand our faith better and live by it day to day. If that is done any other person can do whatever he or she wishes.
There is an increasing rate of suicide in the country, especially, among the young people. What is your advice to these people in this regard?
Honestly, I am truly worried about that. I am truly, truly, truly worried because every day you open the newspaper that’s what you read; when you listen to news that’s what you hear. And the excuse often times is ‘Oh! I have this difficulty, sometimes I didn’t pass my exams. At other time, I don’t have a job.’ They are excuses that obviously that provide stress for people. But I believe that our young people should not simply absorb whatever it is that comes to them. They need to speak to those who can truly counsel them; they need to reach out to those who are older and more experienced to help them to put things in true perspectives. I believe that when a problem is so close to one’s face, he cannot see it in due perspectives. But by the time they discuss it with another person that has other experiences, young people will now be able to see things in due perspective. I just need to tell our young people, do not keep your problem to your own heart alone. Share it with whoever you can trust, who will be able to assist you and counsel you. Secondly, know that no matter whatever problem you are going through, you are not the only one that is going through problems.
Others are going through problems, yours may be different. It is when they are patient enough to try and find solutions to the problems that they will outlive the problems. If you allow the problem to shut you out of this world, you obviously would have taken a live that is in your own custody because all lives belong to God. If we have life, it because God gave it us, we have no right to take life. I think that it is important for our youths to recognize that aspect as well. Life belongs to God and it is sacred, you cannot take it just because you feel depressed today. Supposed you are able to live till tomorrow and you are not depressed any more, wouldn’t it be already too late? So young people, indeed not only young people, everyone should be able to look beyond the problem of today and see that God in His own wisdom provides and indeed helps us in our difficult situations. I ask that our young people should please not take their lives in that way; but rather let God be part and parcel of their considerations. As far as youths in the church are concerned, anyone who takes his or her life has just given themselves a visa to hell, damnation and eternal death.
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