His Excellency, President GoodluckEbele Jonathan, GCFR
Catholic Bishops’ Conference Plenary
Catholic Pro-Cathedral, Abuja
Sunday 9thMarch, 2014
1. It is with great pleasure and delight that I welcome you all to Abuja for this Plenary Session. Let me also seize the opportunity of this occasion to commend the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for its continuing commitment to social justice, good governance and the progress of our nation.
2. I want to sincerely thank all of you for your spiritual leadership and your efforts in serving as an important bridge between our people, society and the government.
3. I have been a keen follower of the activities of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference over the years. Your interventions in national issues have always been forthright, and your counsel most useful. You continue to demonstrate the fact that the Church cannot afford to stand aloof in the face of the changing fortunes of society.
4. You have shown that indeed the purpose of the Congregation is better served from the pulpit, when the Church takes a keen interest in the practical lives of its members. Your vision of the church as a prophetic, committed and progressive organisation has strengthened the teaching of the doctrine and given more hope to your members.
5. I am of the view
that the Church and other religious groups in Nigeria must be encouraged to continuously strive to stand squarely in the interface between the government and the people, as mediator, as partner, as counsellor, and ultimately, as conscience of society and moral compass. Religious groups must be positive tools for national progress, not agents of conflict.
6. The teaching of the doctrine must advance the cause of humanity and social justice. It must strengthen the resolve of the people to be better citizens, and encourage government to always do that which is right in the eyes of God and men.
7. I urge you to continue to pray for our dear nation. I am convinced and I have said so on several occasions, that our country remains united today, despite the challenges that we face, because God loves this nation.
8. Your prayers have continued to inspire our progress, in spite of those challenges. I am totally convinced that God will continue to make a way for us, even where there seems to be no way.
9. I find it encouraging
and instructive that the theme of your conference, this year, is “Church and State Partnership in Providing Education for Nigerian People”. When the church partners with government, there can be no limits to our success, and this partnership in Education, can only drive our administration and the entire citizenry to further improve on the standards of our education.
10. My Lord Bishops, let me seize this opportunity to acknowledge the frontline role that the Church in Nigeria has played in the growth and development of the education sector in Nigeria.
11. It is a matter of public record that by the 19th century, the church had assumed leadership in setting up mission schools in the Southern part of the country, which in good time, produced a Western-educated middle class elite who eventually led the anti-colonial struggle, and laid the foundations for an emergent social and political culture.
12. In the North, Koranic education was prevalent, but by 1921, the Church had also set up a number of mission schools in that part of the country. Although the attitude of the colonial authorities to the mission schools was largely one of indifference, and in some instances, disdain, the explosion in school enrollment and the increasing influence of the emergent elite soon changed that situation.
13. At the dawn of independence, the missions had earned a reputation for promoting innovation, excellence and standards in Nigerian schools. Partnership between religious groups and the state, especially in the formulation of policy, and definition of standards also gradually became an accepted pattern.
14. The partnership served us well, until the mission schools were taken over across the country by the state. Not a few commentators have traced the decline in the standard of education, and the erosion of moral values in our society to that development.
15. Many have also drawn consolation from the eventual return of schools to the missions as part of an effort to strengthen the education system and restore standards.
16. My Lords, I heartily commend the church in Nigeria for investing in education as well as for its commitment to the provision of quality education across our country. Some of the best schools nationwide are now run by the Church again. Throughout our history, the products of your schools have excelled in society and in different fields of endeavour.
17. The Catholic Church in particular can boast of many schools that are highly regarded as centres of excellence. I am aware that your Lordships introduced in 2005, the Catholic Church Policy on Education in Nigeria, which in terms of philosophy and purpose is in harmony with the National Policy on Education.
18. We will always welcome opportunities for robust dialogue with the Church and other non-governmental stakeholders to further strengthen the education sector.
19. This administration is fully committed to the promotion of such dialogue. We believe that education is not just about literacy, it is the basic vehicle through which every society develops the skills and resources necessary for its survival.
20. In a world that has become more competitive, the quality of education available to citizens impacts directly on their country’s position in the world. In that regard, education is directly linked to national capacity, power, development and progress.
21. It is for this reason that our administration has devoted more resources to the education sector, with education now receiving more funding than had been the case since 1999.
22. We have also worked hard to increase school enrolment, provide necessary infrastructure at all levels, and introduce opportunities for human capacity development.
23. There may be challenges such as the rising expectations of teachers sometimes resulting in industrial action, but Government has also shown a sincerity of purpose in resolving such disputes which arise for the most part from inherited problems. Our commitment is to continue to raise standards and ensure quality.
24. We will continue to encourage private sector investment in the education sector, to broaden access. But more importantly, government will continue to give required attention to the school-to-work transition process by focussing on job creation in its various policies and programmes.
25. For all of this to be meaningful however, your efforts and ours must be complemented with the reinforcement of the family unit. No matter how innovative our schools are, or how effective our teachers are, Nigeria cannot succeed unless our students, through proper family guidance, imbibe the virtues of good home training, including coming to school on time, paying attention to school work, relating well with peers, and staying out of trouble.
26. In this regard, I would like to commend the various state governments including Anambra, Ekiti and Benue states, among others, which are already partnering with religious groups in the field of education to promote and reinforce the inculcation of proper moral values in our youth.
27. I want to assure you once again that our administration will do whatever that is required to make our educational system a renewed source of pride. Our responsibility as a Government in this regard, cannot be over-emphasized. We must restore and sustain high standards, support schools and teachers, and revive schools that are not working, in order to give young Nigerians the best opportunities for advancement in life.
28. We will continue to promote and support reforms in our schools to bring them up to date with the technology and methods to best handle contemporary global and local challenges. We will find and introduce the latest and best innovations, without compromising the traditional values and objectives of our educational system.
29. I urge you to continue to pray for our dear country to speedily overcome the current challenges we face, especially insurgency, terrorism and the heinous killing of innocent children in schools. I believe that with your devout prayers and the strategies we have put in place, we shall surely surmount these challenges.
30. I wish you a spirit-filled Conference, and God’s abiding presence, especially at this holy period of Lent, and I assure you that with the guidance of God Almighty, we will continue to do our best in the service of our dear nation.
31. May God continue to guide and protect us all.
32. I thank you.