Nigerian priest says Church honored to take part in building country’s future

.- Father Peter Audu, a priest from the Archdiocese of Kaduna in northern Nigeria, recently told Aid to the Church in Need that the bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission has been chosen as one of six internal observers for next year’s presidential election. The first task for the observers would be to oversee next month’s registration of voters, he said. According to the priest, there are fears that religious or political factions could take advantage of poor border controls to bring immigrants into Nigeria from neighboring countries in order to register.

“To be chosen as observers is a great privilege for us,” said Fr Audu. “Of course there is apprehension, fear and some confusion, as with all elections in developing countries. But we are hopeful for a good election.”

President Olusegun Obansanjo has been barred by the senate from standing for a third term, and Fr Audu hoped that a new regime would benefit the north of the country: “The north needs a greater share of powers,” he said. “Nigeria is a rich country with its oil reserves, but it is not well-used. We need to develop others sectors as well, so that each state has something other than oil to help sustain it.”

Nigeria’s elections come at a time of unrest for the country. Fears of fragmentation along ethnic and religious lines have been increased by periodic riots and violent clashes, though Fr Audu said that Kaduna had escaped these recently: “The situation in Kaduna got to the stage where Christians had to defend themselves from attacks by Muslims. That actually helped the situation – the negative reaction (of violence) brought a positive impact, in that the clashes have stopped.”

He added: “Christians and Muslims need to live side-by-side. The Justice and Peace Commission is setting up a dialogue group to help us understand one another better, and one idea is to have a football match with mixed teams of Muslims and Christians – football can be a factor of unity! And we want to start a Peace Choir, which would play a social role, singing at seminars (on peace) and places like prisons. I am starting with the children in my parish, aged from seven to 13, and hopefully we will add Muslim children too.”

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