Saturday Comment

 The common good of the electorate should be uppermost in the minds of those who crave to serve, writes Michael Otto Ekpenyong 

Those who are in PDP belong to me. Those who are in APC belong to me. They are all my children.”

With those pregnant words the Catholic Bishop of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, scored a bull’s eye at the close of the Diocesan Prayer and Fasting on Sunday, 6th January, 2019. According to the bishop, he had invited his children in the political arena to join him and the people of God in prayer. He used that occasion to teach all by example the meaning of gratitude and the common good. The bishop invited the two sides of the political seams to say “thank you” and to show practical prayerful appreciation for the support they had given to the Church through St. Luke’s hospital renovation and landscaping of Cardinal Ekandem Seminary College and Pastoral Centre. By their actions they had served the common good. Thus, before all his other spiritual children in Uyo, the bishop opened his heart to speak the great language of the heart and invited his “servant leaders” to do the same. From the oral and body language responses of the political servant leaders, the crowd gathered and the media reports there seemed to have been a unanimous verdict, namely, that the Lord Bishop did well by creatively teaching us publicly what type of politics we should play during the upcoming elections in Nigeria.

He demonstrated that in a democratic culture we can “disagree to agree”, “agree to disagree” or “agree to agree” without forgetting that those in leadership positions are servants of the people and it is always a privilege to be called to serve. Therefore, our servant leaders cannot but always show gratitude for being called to serve. At the end, the bishop, by his gracious words and actions seemed to have said to our politicians: “Go and do the same! Serve the (common welfare) common good! And always be grateful! In other words, leave the politics of me and self to embrace the politics of we and other(s) with the primary goal of serving the common good of the electorate. Let our conversation move from the ego-centric world of manipulative shortsightedness to an inclusive proactive collaborative open-ended world of possibilities. Let us challenge ourselves to refigure a new collaborative moral imagination for a new era of political intimacy and friendship

Because we need each other we must embrace anew the moral principles of co-responsibility, solidarity and subsidiarity to get the job done!” The above is my personal recollection of the meaning of the bishop’s commendable gesture. It has given me, as an involved and interested citizen, an inspiration to add a voice on the other related common good that our people would want to hear about, as we step into the 2019 election arena, in the few weeks and months ahead.

Let me quickly say, in line with the bishop’s vision of political intimacy and friendship, that the other common good that our people have heard not enough about is our environment. How can we develop an authentic political intimacy and friendship with our environment? Let me explain. Recently I called the attention of a lawn maintenance man to the friendliness of the bird locally named “Ekong –Ebuk- Eyop”. They have a white strip by their necks and breasts with medium becks. Before you only see them occasionally far- faraway in the skies. But these days they even want to become members of our domestic poultry farms to struggle with their kindred for food around our homes. But why this new found closeness and friendship between humans and the birds, I asked? The maintenance man was quick and direct in noting that we humans have, by our reckless and self-centered activities, driven not only Ekong- Ebuk -Eyop group and other birds, but also mammals, fish and amphibians from their native habitats. Have we noticed the decrease in the population of these human neighbours? We have finished the squirrels, the rats and their nephews, nieces, cousins and uncles in the animal kingdoms, in the bushes and forests with no thought of tomorrow. As you travel from the South to the North you realize that our rainforests and the savannah are indistinguishable. Our rainforests, once the home of bio-diversity are daily becoming a huge wasteland without vegetation. Deforestation and desertification are no longer concepts but realities of our daily experiences. Pause for a moment to think about what has become a political, economic, social and religious phenomenon in Nigeria. I mean the so-called Fulani herdsmen and the rest of us. Have you reflected on the reason why only a few people have the imagination to link the exodus of the Fulani herdsmen and their animals from the North to the South with the seemingly unstoppable expansion of the almighty Sahara Desert? Why is it that very few see our Fulani brothers and sisters’ exodus from the North to the South as an ominous sign of why we should be proactive in the protection of our environment? And why have we not heard enough of slogans like: Stop bush burning, cut trees but plant new ones to replace them? The indiscriminate extraction of natural resources without check have dire consequences as we begin to hear of earth tremors in Abuja of all places. Our inland lakes and rivers are gradually disappearing due to uncontrolled human activities – who cares? Our mega-cities soaked in our human generated heat and carbon dioxide have made our lives more complicated with palpable pollution and our leaders are onlookers like everyone else. Report from “Living Planet” Organization has it that the Oceans which are home to a large population of living things have their fair share of uncontrolled human activities resulting in warm temperatures that affect currents and habitats. In Nigeria we have seen the effect of the uncontrolled human activities especially in the coastal regions with dire consequences on marine life. Illegal oil bunkering, taking little or no consistent actions to control oil spills, dumping plastics and all manners of rubbish into the oceans and rivers are bad news to our neighbours in the oceans and rivers. On land in the cities, the happy-go-lucky yoyo urination into the gutters, excrement postings at street corners and public squares – what great health hazards and what a mess!

In the context of the upcoming elections, keeping in mind the bishop’s refreshing challenge of intimate collaborative political inclusiveness, let our “servant leaders to be” tell us about the politics we should play regarding the environment as our common home and common good. What role would our heads of families, titled chiefs, clan heads, teachers and students, religious leaders and disciples, ecumenical assemblies, inter- faith associations, NGOs and social activists play at the grassroots? What role would the law enforcement groups play in favour of empowering the powerless trauma-stricken environment? It is now about time to cultivate and nurture our intimacy and friendship with all creation. Even here with the environment in focus, the bishop’s challenge comes in handy. To get the job done we will need a cultural, social and political will founded on the principles of co-responsibility, solidarity and subsidiarity to develop and nurture our eco-system. Now with thrilling twists of electioneering rumblings in full swing in the land, let our public office seekers tell our people the type of economic, cultural and social policies they will put in place to protect our environment and make life meaningfully livable and loveable for all creation for the long term in Nigeria.

 Dr. Ekpenyong is Pastor, St. Paul’s Parish, West Itam, Uyo