The Lenten Season this year coincided with the general elections. In this interview with newsmen, the Catholic Bishop of Bauchi Diocese, Most Rev. Bishop Hilary Nanman Dachelem, CMF spoke on the significance of Lent as well as the just concluded National and State Assembly Elections. Beatrice Earland was there for Bauchi Caritas. Excerpts:
Bauchi Caritas: My Lord, can you tell us what Ash Wednesday and Lent is all about?
Bishop Dachelem: Lent is one of the most crucial moments in the Catholic Church. It is a period which affords Christians the opportunity to turn around. Lent enables us to be more human. Actually, it is a time which begins on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday signifies the time we begin the Lenten season which is marked by the forty days of fasting as Jesus did. In imitation of him, we too fast for forty days – As his followers, we learn a lot of virtues from our Lord Jesus Christ who teaches us a number of things. The three pillars of the Lenten Season are: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are very important frameworks which Jesus teaches us within this period.
Bauchi Caritas: Can you elaborate more on the significance of the three pillars of Lent?
Bishop Dachelem: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are found in almost all major religions of the world especially Islam and Christianity. This is why if adherents of these major religions truly put these into practice, the world will be a better place. If we are connected to God, we should act better and live in peace. Is God fighting with anybody? No! God is a peace-loving being. If really we are connected to God, we would be peaceful. When we give alms, we consider our brothers – we share fairly; we become less egoistic and become more altruistic. This season challenges us to share the world’s resources. The world resources are enough for all of us but not enough for our individual greed.
Bauchi Caritas: What are Christians expected to do or not to do during this period?
Bishop Dachelem: For certain reasons some Christians have deviated from the Christian calling. As such, we are urged to use the Lenten season to return to our original calling. We ought to reflect the image of the living God. This is a call for us to go back to the drawing board, to the God, in whose image we are made. Let us not bear what the psychologists call the persona, the mask in us. We ought to remove the mask and live in truth; what the Lord invites us to do is to practice what the scripture says, namely, the law of charity towards making the world a better place.
Bauchi Caritas: What would you consider the benefit of Lent for Christians on the Day of Judgment?
Bishop Dachelem: Lent is a time of purification. It purifies us; it helps us to live holy lives and if you are not holy, you cannot see God. Our life here is preparing us for the real life over there. That is in fact the purpose of Lent. It helps us to live true religion so as to be able to face the judgment of God which no one can escape.
Bauchi Caritas: Few weeks ago, the Presidential and National Assembly elections were held, what is your general assessment of the exercise?
Bishop Dachelem: You know Nigeria has been going through serious metamorphosis and it is all the march towards democratization. It is not easy but we are moving. However, for us Christians, Muslims, traditional religionists, we prayed and asked God for peaceful polls and he granted that to us. Peace is the number essential commodity. Relatively speaking, we would say, the election was peaceful despite hitches in some places. Comparatively speaking, we can say we have had less than one percent violence which is not too bad – meaning that, we have had peaceful elections so far.
Bauchi Caritas: What is your call to the President?
Bishop Dachelem: For the President God has given us, we have to take him with gratitude to God. We ought to cooperate with him to move the country forward. He is not going to be there forever. He should know that in spite of his shortcomings, God has brought him [President] back to probably correct some of the errors he may have made in the past dispensation. He should thank God but not take the goodwill of Nigerians for granted.
Bauchi Caritas: Recently you dwelt on electoral violence in a paper you presented at a seminar organized by Muslim youths. Are you convinced that the electoral system in Nigeria has come of age?
Bishop Dachelem: That is why I told you we are going through serious political metamorphosis in this country. It’s like a political evolution; we are working on ourselves; we are learning, okay! We won’t say it is satisfactory. There are pockets of violence here and there but people are becoming more sensitive to these issues. On the Muslim folks who invited me to speak to them, they are wonderful. I love them very well for their efforts in championing the cause of peaceful coexistence in the state and beyond. I think, sometimes they have been largely misunderstood.
However, I believe that with their reactions last time, a lot is happening at the level of inter-religious dialogue to counter the negative narratives. I was very impressed by the attendance; I was equally impressed by the presenters some of which were Muslims. I felt honoured that an Islamic organisation invited a Catholic bishop to talk to Muslim youths. I think this understanding and synergy is what we need to make Nigeria a better place for all. Indeed, Bauchi state is going through a positive revolution.
Bauchi Caritas: Concerning the State elections, there are of fears violence; are you concerned? What is your message?
Bishop Dachelem: Yes, I am concerned but you see, this politics of do-or-die will not help us. I know that there two major contenders here in Bauchi for the gubernatorial election but eventually, God will give us one. Let us be willing to accept outcome of the election. I believe that INEC will be true to its duty as a referee by conducting free, fair and credible polls even if it will lead to a rerun. INEC too should be very careful because at this point, people in Bauchi and other states where there will be rerun elections will all be waiting to see what the electoral umpire will do.
While INEC does its Job, the citizenry too should conduct themselves peacefully. Our duty is to accept anybody who emerges winner because we cannot have two governors at the same time, in the same state. Accordingly, anyone who doesn’t win and has a complaint about the process is free to seek redress in a competent court of law. There is always another opportunity. After all, Buhari contested two to three times and failed before he won in 2015. So, there are ample opportunities out there. We should just be able to understand politics for what it is and it will not cause us heart attack.