Speech by President Ibrahim Babangida to a Delegation of Catholic Institute of West Africa, January 22, 1986

 It is indeed a privilege and an honour to welcome you. Your visit is a mark of the goodwill and high regard which exists between us; and signifies the continuing interest and commitment of the Catholic clergy to the progress and well-being of this country and all its peoples, Christian and non-Christian; Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

  Let me at once assure you that the administration and Nigerians as a whole are very well aware of the enormous contributions the Catholic Church has made to the development of Nigeria, especially in the areas of education and social development. The Church continues to play a significant role particularly in the promotion of a strong community spirit, family life and healthy human relations all to the benefit of mankind. The voice of the church leaders in the continuing struggle to define the values of our society and to fight pervasive small evils is loud and clear. If such evils and vices continue to flourish in our midst it will certainly not be because the church has not tried to stem their tide.

  At this critical time when we are battling for economic recovery and reconstruction under the most challenging circumstances, the role of the church in promoting the necessary spirit of sacrifice, discipline,’ sobriety, hard work and commitment is even more crucial. Fortunately our people, of whatever creed, tend to take their religious tenets seriously, and do try to pass same to their children. The religious spirit is in fact so strong among Nigerians of all faiths that the religious leaders are in an excellent position to assist Government and this nation in the struggle in which we are now locked. As your Lordships know, we are engaged in the effort to evolve a new political order which should bear the imprints of our deeply cherished indigenous mores and norms. This is a delicate exercise which will require painstaking effort which will tax our courage and the ingenuity to the utmost.

 I feel sure that given its history over the ages and its unmatched experiences in government and in the management of change the Catholic Church is most eminently placed to assist government in its task of reshaping our society. I am therefore extending to you the hand of partnership in our struggle to build a strong, secure and better society based on justice and fellowship among all men and women.

I am also inviting you to partake wholeheartedly, and without reserve, in this administration’s visible policy of positive encouragement of all religion and of the religious freedom of every Nigerian. We in this Administration recognise the dominance of religion in every thought and action of every Nigerian.

This brings me to what I consider to be the negative interpretation of the secular principle in our constitution. This approach to we issue has unnecessarily placed the State in a position of either neglecting religion outright as a factor in our national life or treating it with benign neglect. This would be quite inconsistent with the central role that religion plays in the lives of our people as already referred to above. Apart from that the norm6tive role of religion in the attitude and conduct of our people cannot simply be ignored. We have therefore decided not to so ignore religion as a potent weapon of social mobilisation.

 For this reason we have welcomed, encouraged and will further strengthen the moves to reinstate most vigorously the teaching of religion and moral education in all our schools at the same time, we have placed no obstacle against the establishment, of primary and secondary educational institution by religious bodies, provided that no discrimination on any grounds is practised and no one is compelled to worship outside his or her chosen faith. Nationally, we insist, and will continue to insist, that proper educational standards are maintained and that moral and civic instruction in order to promote patriotism, social responsibility, national cohesion and brother-hood among all Nigerians are taught in all institutions.

 In this connection, the Federal Military Government notes the existence of the Catholic Institute of West Africa with the objectives so ably stated in your memorandum.

 Accordingly, in response to your request, I am hereby directing the Federal Ministry of Education to enter into immediate negotiations with your accredited representatives on the issue of recognition and on the prospect of affiliating the institute to one of our Federal Universities.

This Administration will always encourage genuine efforts by individuals and organisations to promote the social and educational aspirations of our people in accordance with our laws and our systems.

It is clear from this address that the issue of religion in our polity goes far beyond the educational system. It should be given the opportunity to assist in our development efforts in all spheres. Accordingly, we shall not neglect any opportunity to serve our national interest in any reasonable international forum. The .same policy of propagating our national interest has been pursued by many nations inside and outside the African continent with very positive results to their national well-being and international standing. To this end, the Nigerian flag will be raised in every international forum to which we have sufficient reason to belong or to attend. Our attitude to the world must not be based on fear but on a spirit of engagement, discovery and co-operation.

On your part, and consistent with what I have already stated, we look forward to receiving ideas and recommendations from you on all matters that will promote the genuine interests of our country and our peoples. Your Lordships will bear witness to the fact that we are always receptive to the advice of all well meaning people like your good selves.

Thank you and God bless.