The Very Reverend Father Monsignor Livinus Ukah is one of few professional priests in the Catholic Metropolitan Sea of Lagos Archdiocese. A Canada trained journalist, psychologist, author and humanist, Ukah has been at the centre of managing, directing and grooming the large population of Catholic Christian youths in Nigeria for over two decades. When our correspondent cornered him at the 60th Anniversary celebration of the Young Christian Workers Movement in Nigeria (YCW) held recently at the Church of Ascension, Airport Road, Ikeja, Lagos, he spoke on a range of national issues. LADESOPE LADELOKUN reports
Role of Nigerian youths in politics and the Church
“The Young Christian Workers in Nigeria are numerically intimidating; many amongst them are lawyers, doctors, professionals with attractive profiles that reveal a bright future; but when you look beyond their promising profiles, you will see that all that glitters are really not gold.
“I admire them, mark you; and I see their zeal to change the political narrative for good, but I see something in their roots: this is a generation that grew up in a system of governance corrupted by politicians since our independence;
the 16 years of misrule by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the first four years of All Progressives Congress (APC) have exposed our youths to corrupt leaders and mentors who love money more than their people.”
Apparently unimpressed by the Catholic Youth’s body’s move to float an all-youths political party in their bid to take over the polity at least by 2023, the radical priest warned that this would be an uphill task.
“I know our youths aim to take over governance from recycled old politicians legitimately, but I can tell you it is going to be an uphill task.
It would take determined youths with leadership know-how and who are willing to sacrifice their lives for their fatherland to remove operators of this evil system and restore the decaying politics in Nigeria.
In all my years grooming these youths, I have been searching for those with qualities to fill that gap and, and if you ask me, I am still searching.
“Nigeria as a geo-entity has taken a lot of battering from her rulers so we have to be careful; we don’t want youths who are aspiring to enter leadership position and use public funds to build houses in Abuja, Dubai, London and America;
then when the villagers in the constituency that elected them reject them after their tenure, they quarantine themselves in the Federal Capital Territory or exile themselves somewhere abroad; this is the culture prevailing in political leadership to date and we don’t want youths who will go there and compound our woes.”
Role of church in raising upright youths for leadership
Stressing that the Church is the foundation that will raise a new generation of young leaders that can change the political landscape, Ukah revealed that the Church has been labouring for decades to prepare the youths for leadership.
“We can recall that during the reign of Archbishop Olubunmi Okogie, he instilled confidence in the youths when he was president of Nigerian Conference of Bishops in the 1980s; he was an alternative voice; one particular case was when he confronted the president over a Muslim girl who was convicted of fornication and was sentenced to death.
“Okogie challenged the ruling, but when it was overruled, the archbishop then said they should hang him (Okogie) instead of hanging the young lady – and the authorities backed down: he won the case! He was our equivalent of Desmond Tutu at that time and we implore him to continue even though he has retired now. Truth does not retire or die, you know.”
The people’s priest however indicted the youths of that era, regretting their failure to emulate and demonstrate that courage in their quest for leadership; he pointed out that discipline and sound scriptural orientation have not been evident among the youths.
“Before the exit of Cardinal Okogie, he gave the youths good chaplains to lead them to political Eldorado, but unfortunately, chaplains noticed that many of these youths are so very individualistic; they don’t respect their leaders and they exhibit traits of ‘village politicians’.
That is the problem, and unless local politics which they imbibe is removed and they begin to respect leaders irrespective of tribes and clans, they will not make the difference Nigerians want.”
Worried about the implication of these traits in youths on the future of Nigeria, the trans-cultural priest who identifies with every state of his fatherland, fears that the future is far from rosy.
“The future of Nigeria is bleak and shaky; only God knows how it will shape out; but the answer to this is not just wishing the youths into leadership: what the nation needs is a person who is presentable, trans-cultural and educated with a sense of sacrifice and who will not hesitate to die for his country; not one who is looking for free money to enrich himself.
“That person must be clothed with genuine and transparent integrity, not like Muhammadu Buhari’s integrity that has failed to correct the ills in his own government. The person we want must have grasp of what is happening in Nigeria; if we can identify and vote in such individual, then the future of Nigeria will become bright and promising. We are still very far away from practising true democracy.”