Politicians are queueing up to offer this archbishop 'incentives' in return for support. He tells Freddy Gray why he will not allow anyone to distract him from his aim of alleviating poverty 4 p eople say that abortion can be right in some circumstances. The Church says nor With these words, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, a large diocese in central Nigeria, thumps his fist on the table.
'People say that people should feel they can do anything they want to do with sex. The Church says no?' Mother thud. "The Church says your body is sacred, it cannot be a free-for-all."
This introduction might lead readers to imagine that Archbishop Kaigama is the stereotypical vocifemus African prelate, spitting damnation and hellfire in the face of liberal opinion.
In the flesh, however, the Archbishop has a warm, engaging manner. His voice remains mellifluous even as he pounds the furniture with his hands. He can at once talk tough and sound gentle.
It is easy to understand, therefore, why this man has become the leading figure in inter-religious diplomacy in a country where tension between Muslims and Cluistians often breaks out into bloody conflict.
Archbishop Kaigama has recently written and published Dialogue of Life, an instructional book on Christian-Muslim cooperation. Recognising his talent in this field, the Nigerian government has appointed him chairman of its Interreligious Council for Peace and Harmony.
"I never set out deliberately to initiate any project of this nature," he says, "or to make inter-religious communication the focus of work. But somehow my pastoral duties have brought it on me."
More precisely, it was an awful spate of violence in 2001 that tinned Archbishop Kaigama's attention towards improving relations with Muslims.
In September of that year more than 2,000 people were killed in the Archdiocese of Jos. The conflict particularly affected the Catholic population: the cathedral house was burnt to ashes, churches vandalised and vehicles belonging to the diocese destroyed.
"Our youth were very restless," remembers Archbishop Kaigama. "They wanted to fight back, take revenge and so on. I said that wouldn't help, because we would only succeed in causing more casualties. I told my people: 'Calm down, let us engage constructively with the Muslims and see what will come out of Six years on, the archbishop believes his approach has worked. Assisted by the mobile phone revolution, he has set up valuable lines of communication with local Muslim leaders.
"Even as I left Nigeria to come to Britain. I received a text from a big Muslim leader,he says, holding up an imaginary telephone. "He said he would pray for me to return safely.
"I now have access to many Muslim leaders on their mobile phones. I can track them down anywhere, tell them that problems may be brewing in a certain area.! can say 'Let's do something about Such co-ordination has proved useful on two distinct occasions. In 2005, after a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking Mohammed, irrational Muslims turned on the Catholic community of Jos. A priest was killed and several churches destroyed. This time, however, Archbishop Kaigama was better prepared.
"I called the Muslim leaders and said we need to have an urgent meeting," he recalls." 'We need to tell our children not to behave violently,' I told them. We were able to bring some calm to the situation."
Last year, after Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg speech, Islamist elements again menaced the Church. This time bloodshed was avoided in Nigeria, at least.
"In my diocese, there was a small protest but it was peaceful,recalls Archbishop Kaigama. "There were concerns but it did not result in fighting."
The prelate is understandably delighted at his interfaith achievements, though he concedes that it is usually he who initiates friendly contact. In Nigeria, as in so many parts of the world, there is a lack of what Benedict XVI calls "reciprocityin Christian-Muslim relations. "It always seems like it is us who makes the first move," Archbishop Kaigama says. "But this is better than both sides doing nothing. When we make the first move they always respond, so this is productive. It is important for us to remain positive."
He is quick to point out the contrast between his optimistic outlook and the reaction of the Western media. "There is definitely a prejudice." he claims. "In Africa generally, we believe that we are not given good publicity: always negative.
"We know things are not as good as they should be the violence. the poverty but somehow the media seem to enjoy and glory in our state of problems."
Does he think, then, that the West's fixation with images of black people dying is connected to a sense of guilt about the condition of the undeveloped world?
"No, I think not," he answers sternly. "If there was a real feeling of guilt, the publicity would be followed by what I call good social action."
Then why is the West obsessed with Africa's misery? "I don't know," he answers with a grin. "Maybe you want some fun." After a long pause, he adds: "I would rather show people the progress being made, not just how poor a particular sectionof the world is. You should also tell the world what we are doing right. Archbishop Kaigama is in London to promote Cafod's fivesimply campaign, a charitable enterprise aimed at encouraging Britons to spend less on themselves and to give more to the world's poor.
The archbishop knows very well the rigours of a basic existence. .Born in 1958 in the northern Kaduna State, he has never been overburdened with the luxuries of economic growth, His parents were subsistence farmers. "Still today, in the whole village I don't think there is any other occupation," he remarks. "The women make the pots and the men do the farming."
Sitting in Cafod's offices in South London, he looks about himself with adorable delight. "Here I don't have to worry about light, food or water," he observes. "In Nigeria as we are talking the light would have gone maybe five times. We live simply, not by choice, but by necessity. We have to."
On the other hand, Nigeria, as the archbishop knows well, is a country of limitless potential. It has huge reserves of oil and other natural resources. Were it not for gargantuan levels of corruption and incompetence the nation could be the most prosperous in Africa.
"Things are not good," he concedes. "A few Nigerians corner all the money from the oil and smuggle it out of the country. We hope that the governments of America and Europe will do something to ensure stolen monies are returned.
"Nigerians, or any Africans, who use stolen money to live in the West should be told that it is just not right."
But while Western apathy is a problem, Archbishop Kaigama acknowledges that Nigeria roust battle its own demons of extortion and governmental malpractice. "We try to blame others, but we must look inwards." he reflects.
Last month's elections in Nigeria were widely dismissed as a gerrymandered farce, with the People's Democratic Party winning a highly suspect 70 per cent of the franchise.
Archbishop Kaigama does not directly criticise any party. The key to his success as a priest, he says, has been a strict emphasis on political neutrality.
"You have a lot of politicians who try to get on your side by offering you incentives," he relates. "I tell him them I am happy with what I have. I do not need a big house; I have no family. I don't need money for my personal enjoyment.
"Even the government will tell you: the only church that has not succumbed to corruption in Nigeria is the Catholic Church.
"You don't get a Muslim leader who is purely a religious leader. They have a mix of administrative duties as well, so some of them give in to the pressures they are put under."
Although unwilling to single out individual politicians. he does attack the present Nigerian regime for failing to address the country's problems.
"The officials, in their air conditioned offices and chauffeur-driven cars, will tell you all is fine," he says, his voice rising a little with anger. "That is what they project to the outside world. When they come here, they get the red carpet treatment and enjoy the tea and photographs. Then they go back and things are still the same."
If only, one can't' help feeling, there were more Nigerians like Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama.
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