Abuja, Nigeria, Jan 17, 2007 / 10:07 am
A Catholic Bishop in Nigeria is attempting to emphasize the importance of civic duties by has instructing parishioners to show they have registered to vote in the April’s elections or be banned from communion.
According to several news sources, Bishop Francis Okobo, who oversees the diocese of Nsukka in the southeastern state of Enugu, authorized the circulation of a bulletin in Catholic churches on Sunday telling the faithful that they had to make their vote count in this year's elections.
Parishioners were told not to be put off by the outcome of past elections in which the votes of the people did not count because of massive vote rigging.
"Whoever has not collected the voter's card after February 7 has automatically alienated himself or herself from the community, the Church, the nation and will not be allowed to receive the Holy Communion," the bulletin said according to This Day.
Nigerians are due to elect their president, state governors and lawmakers in elections that should mark the first ever handover from one democratic government to another in Africa's most populous nation and biggest oil producer.
"You might have often heard ... that the election has been concluded, that your votes will not count and that you will definitely be wasting your precious time if you go out to vote," the bulletin from the Nsukka diocese was quoted as saying.
"The Catholic Secretariat of Nsukka wishes to inform you that (this is) calculated political propaganda aimed at creating despondency in you so that they will steal away an unmerited victory. You are reminded and requested to quickly get yourselves registered, if you have not done that, because it is your civic responsibility and a sacred duty."
The news comes as others in Nigeria, such as students, face severe sanctions if they do not revalidate their voters' cards. Governor Sam Egwu of Ebonyi State, has said students of voting age could have their education terminated and civil servants who fail to register will not be paid a salary in January.
Diocese spokesman Father Obiora Ike told BBC News that Bishop Okobo is a firm believer that civic duties and faith go hand-in-hand. "It is not enough to go to church and ignore your civic duties. Both go together and the church will be failing in her duties if she failed to emphasize that," he said. "We believe that a good Christian must also be a good citizen.”
He said the bishop's directive became necessary due to "a noticeable lack of interest in politics" among members of the parishioners.
"The bishop is not only a firm believer in good Christian values, but he's also a firm believer in good citizenship and a good citizen must honor his or her civic obligations," Fr Obiora told the BBC.
"What we are doing is using religion as a tool for social mobilization. We are trying to make our parishioners realize that they cannot hold a government they did not vote in to account.”
"So, we are enlightening our congregation to register so that they can vote. We believe that people who are aware make good choices."