YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A “hijacking” of missionary schools by the government is to blame for the failing standards of moral education in Nigeria, according to the country’s Catholic bishops, in a meeting where they also discussed child protection policies in the Church.
Speaking Oct. 16 at the 3rd National Catholic Education Summit in Abuja, Archbishop Augustine Akubueze of Benin City said both schools and homes have failed in imparting the necessary values that should form the bedrock of a morally sound Nigeria.
Christian missionaries established the first schools in Nigeria, and in the 1940s over 90 percent of students educated in the country attended mission schools. Until 1970, the vast majority of Christians – concentrated in the south and east of the country – still attended religious schools.
The military government nationalized the school system after the 1967-1970 Biafran Civil War, when the southeastern part of the country attempted to secede.
The Muslim-dominated military said the nationalization was to fight tribalism in the country, and improve national unity, but the move is still resented by many Christians in the country.
Akubueze, the president of the bishops’ conference, said when mission schools were still in control of education, they produced kids with exemplary moral behavior.
Bishop Peter Odetoyinbo of Abeokuta, the chairman of the bishops’ education committee, also blamed the government for the country’s moral collapse.
“If the truth must be told, the failure of moral education in Nigeria began with the hijack of missionary schools by the state,” he said.
“That development robbed the Church of its wings and created nuisance out of our schools and we started graduating half-baked graduates,” Odetoyinbo continued.
The theme of the meeting was “Catholic education in Nigeria: Challenges of child protection and human sexuality.”
The bishops came out forcefully against sexual abuse cases perpetuated by some members of the clergy, saying that they constitute an embarrassment to the Church.
“Within our family of faith and our human families, the sins and crimes of sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret band in shame. We, bishops, all priests, consecrated men and women and all those who work in Catholic institutions in Nigeria must ensure that there is a safe environment for every child and vulnerable adults,” the bishops said in a statement.
The Nigerian bishops said it was the duty of the Church and of every person to protect children, because they are “a special gift from God.”
Odetoyinbo said priestly chastity is a sure way of protecting children against child predators in the clergy, insisting that chastity is “that spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness, which cross the thought of every child abuser and intended predator.”
He called for a return to the days when community members considered every child precious and so cared for them.
“Even when parents were not exposed and did not teach the children about sexuality, the society took care of that because of the high regard and respect for religious and societal values. Today, the general rot in the entire system has robbed the children of that guidance and are ill-informed, and unable to provide any solution to these problems,” Odetoyinbo said.
The bishop said the Church must remain the moral force to which many parents turn for a solution.
“This is why the welfare of the child is the first and paramount thing to be considered as derived from the Gospel,” he explained, adding there was need to create an environment in which children can develop and be safe.
In his speech, the chairman of the Catholic education summit, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, said the breakdown in morality in Nigeria was a result not only of the failure of the educational system, but also of the inordinate use of social media.
“Unarguably, a greater percentage of human sexuality education was learnt, neither at home nor school, but through social media. For us to return to the path of rectitude, we must launch a new soul-search. We must search our minds to know if we are teaching our children right and in accordance with the mandate of the Church.”
He said for Nigeria to return to its core values, churches need to once more take control of their schools to “continue the societal transformation they began a few decades ago.”
Okonkwo said that could be an essential first step towards “recreating the society and building human beings that we could proudly defend.”
“It will go a long way in helping us address the moral decadence that has led to a high rate of criminality, including stealing and embezzlement of public funds in our society,” he said.