Justice for the Poor-A Call to the Nigerian Church
On March 23rd, 2017, Vanguard News (a popular newspaper in Nigeria) had this headline, “Borno Suicide Attack Survivor Cries Over N300 [$ 0.85] Potatoes”. Zahra, who was living in the Internally Displaced People’s camp because of the inhumane activities of Boko Haram, never imagined that at the camp her life was also at risk. Ignoring her wounds after the bomb blast, and the emergency response team, Zahra immediately rushed to search her burnt tent in an effort to recover the potatoes she bought the day before. When rescue team came to help, Zahra cried “I am very hungry”. Sadly, Zahra is not alone in her quest to be fed, but with more than 100 million Nigerians who live in absolute poverty, not because of lack of resources, but because of injustice. We now face a pandemic that reveals, in a new measure, the depth of darkness many Nigerians face.
Peter Guest, a contributor of Forbes.com, wrote on April 7th, 2014, asking the question, “Nigeria’s GDP Grows 89%: But who is Getting Richer?” He recounts how more than 100 million people are due to enter the workforce over the next two decades, and unemployment amongst under-25s is estimated at more than 75 percent. He went on to mention how Nigeria’s pool of millionaires increased by 44 percent between 2007 and 2013, but sadly it has remained at the top end, with much of the country remaining very poor.
In 2014, the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, at the IMF/ World Bank Spring Meetings, said that, Nigeria ranks 3rd with the highest number of the poor; with 7% of the world’s poor living in Nigeria. One may wonder, how can Nigeria be the biggest producer of oil in Africa and the sixth oil producing country in the world and still be in absolute poverty?
I also find it necessary to ask, why has the Church stayed mostly silent in the midst of many horrendous happenings, and has become unable to speak truth to power, and boldly fight against the many injustices in the Nigerian society?
The reality is that poverty radically changes the poor that survival is more important than justice. Many poor people in Nigeria do not care about the systems that makes them poor but care more on what makes their stomach full. No wonder a bait is more powerful than a policy.
The Church in Nigeria has a great obligation to make a difference. This is the calling of the Church.
Although the practices of most Churches have enabled corruption to thrive, therefore breeding poverty, the Church must remember she has been given the burden to be the voice from outside. She must remember her prophetic witness to require from everyone “to act justly and to love mercy” (Micah 6:8), to “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause” (Isaiah 1:17). The Church should be the voice that will say, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
The Church is called to be salt and light within darkness of our world. So long we stay silent, hope for the poor and marginalized will be an unrealized possibility, and the impending greater gloom that awaits the population boom in Nigeria will be painful site to behold.
What is happening today in Nigeria due to COVID-19 should be a wakeup call. It is a preamble of what awaits if change does not happen. This is the time for the Nigerian Church to emerge differently and be the kingdom of God on earth for the children of God living in Nigeria.
By Joseph Tobias