By Peter Ajayi Dada Catholic News Service
LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) -- The Catholic bishops of Nigeria appealed to the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure its innovations, especially in the area of technology, are used to ensure credible, free and fair elections in the February and March general elections.
They said that by deploying new technology transparently before, during and after the elections, it would increase the confidence of the people in the electoral process.
In a statement released after their mid-September general assembly, the bishops commended the National Assembly and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari for enacting and signing into law Electoral Bill 2022. They also praised Buhari's commitment toward ensuring a level playing field for all candidates in the elections.
But the bishops also warned against politicians buying and selling votes, and they noted that although priests had a duty to guide the lay faithful, "priests are not to use the pulpit to promote any particular political party or its candidates."
The bishops urged Nigerians to vote for political candidates they think are of unassailable integrity, have good character and the track record to lead Nigeria out of its present sociopolitical and economic doldrums, irrespective of party, religious and ethnic affiliations. They challenged citizens and institutions to work toward responsible political behavior and informed choices.
"All citizens need to know, right from childhood, that they are stakeholders in the political affairs of their country; that they are actors and not mere spectators," the bishops said. "Only when the people are enlightened to take cognizance of their duties to the nation and their rights in it can they escape the servitude of political manipulation and ignorance in their electoral habits."
As they have in the past, they also decried the worsening state of insecurity in the nation as well as activities of terrorists and insurgents, kidnappers and bandits. They expressed concern that crimes -- including cybercrimes -- continued unabated and noted that attacks on travelers and places of worship had become too frequent. They cited in particular the June 5 attack on St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo; at least 41 people were killed and 70 injured.
"Even when suspects have been arrested, there is not even diligent prosecution of the culprits of these nefarious acts, thereby leaving the citizenry helpless and despairing," the bishops said.
Commenting on the nation's economy, the bishops said spiraling inflation, soaring unemployment, crude oil theft and nonfunctioning refineries had inflicted untold hardship on citizens. They also warned government officials against unnecessary borrowing, which they said jeopardized future generations.
"No doubt, we stand at a crossroads," the bishops said. "How we conduct ourselves during this period is crucial to the survival of our nation. Let us turn our attention to God in prayer and fasting for our nation to get it right. We call on our citizens to continue fasting and prayer to prepare for smooth and peaceful elections."