But African values are not on sale
VATICAN CITY — “African values are not on sale,” the new Chairman of Communications for the African bishops has said.
But Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo, Nigeria, is convinced they are under threat from what Pope Francis has called an “ideological colonization” that is seeking to destroy the family.
It’s so bad, he says, that the United States has made clear it will not help Nigeria fight the Boko Haram terror group unless the country modify its laws regarding homosexuality, family planning and birth-control.
Aleteia sat down with Bishop Badejo last week in Rome at the conclusion of the African Bishops’ Standing Committee Meeting, to discuss his unique perspective on the nature and threat of the Nigerian-born terrorist group. Bishop Badejo also discussed the African bishops’ hopes for the Synod on the Family and their view on the hot-button issues and statements made at last October’s Synod gathering.
Bishop Badejo, 53, is the new Chairman of Communications for the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
Your Excellency, as a bishop in Nigeria what can you tell us about the nature and activities of Boko Haram?
If we knew all of the precise answers regarding Boko Haram, it would have been over a long time ago. The truth is that from our reflections, findings and experience with the people who have gotten involved with the brutality and violence of Boko Haram, it’s a whole mixture of things: all the vices of administration in Nigeria from the past, the corruption, the bad administration, the lack of attention to the youthful population, the lack of attention to the important pillars of democracy such as educating the people, especially in the northern part of Nigeria.
I believe that we are suffering from the negligence of 30-35 years of bad administration.
We saw it coming for quite a number of years in Nigeria. You could go to the north of Nigeria and even in the most peaceful times, you would see herds and herds of young people on the streets doing absolutely nothing but begging. Anyone with a minimum capacity for analysis would know that this was trouble. It didn’t have to be Boko Haram. Anyone with any kind of evil agenda had plenty of hands to hire, to use simply for robbery and thuggery, and to disturb the public peace.
When democracy came on, there were a lot of expectations but those expectations were not met. These young people, who had already been rendered incapable of taking care of themselves by lack of education, lack of employment, also saw politicians who used to be nobodies overnight become super-rich people, who had the capacity to get just about whatever they wanted. And with the international media that showed what the good life could be, those same young people who didn’t care before began to care about what they could be if they obtained such positions. Well, there were promises: if you go to school, but there were no schools at that point. There were no jobs. Only of late has the government started to build schools. But I think it came a little too late.
There was also the problem of a lack of capacity to respect the rule of law. Nigeria has a constitution, which over the years has been abused because of the lack of the will of the government to enforce the law when it should. Crime could be committed and people got away with it. When Sharia was introduced into a small state many years ago, the government couldn’t do anything about it and they looked the other way hoping that it would just go away, which showed the lack of capacity to control anything.
All that encouraged rebellion. So when Boko Haram came, those who were disgruntled with the system and with the authorities had something to latch on to. Even to this day, I still know that there are young people who joined terrorist groups not because they loved terrorist groups but because they needed an avenue to kick back at the system, to do something to show their protest. All that formed part of a huge body of evil, maladministration, corruption that the north was carrying.
The other factor was that the religious organizations that could have attenuated the effects in the north were handicapped. The Christian bodies, the Church organizations, didn’t have the freedom they could have. They were handicapped even by the government for many years in northern Nigeria. Legitimately you couldn’t buy land if you were a Christian, and many times the Catholic bishops of Nigeria tried to fight this, but it was getting nowhere. The fact was that in some states of Nigeria you couldn’t own land if you were going to use it for religious purposes. Religious purposes included training people in schools, building facilities for the people, providing a moral education. Since they were limited only to Islamic schools they taught them the Koran and so on, but the moral fiber of society was wearing down.
The reason why this is important is this: I’m from the West of Nigeria, where the Yoruba culture is very strong. In the Yoruba culture there are many Muslims. In my particular area we are a minority of Christians living with a majority of Muslims, but we do wonderfully well together. In my diocese—and I think this is something that hasn’t gotten into the public media enough—I have 17 schools. Seventy percent of the students in my schools are Muslim children and even some of them — not that many, but quite a number — opt to convert to Christianity and their parents don’t have a problem with that. I am telling you the truth.
I have some of the imams and Muslim leaders as such close friends that when they build a new house and want to bless it they invite me to do so. In the Church, when we have a celebration or a ceremony, they come gladly. I have celebrated weddings of Catholic and Muslims. In many areas such as my diocese, Muslims look up to the Catholics for leadership on social issues, justice issues, women’s empowerment, the training of those who will attend university. So there’s a lot of trust between us. There’s a lot of collaboration.
There have been times when I have had to speak on the issue of Boko Haram in the north of Nigeria. I decided to consult with the Muslim leaders who are my close friends. I asked them why they think we haven’t had the same problem in the West that’s happening in the north. They point to one thing: the strong cultural background which unites us, which we have not allowed to be eroded. In the north of Nigeria, on the other hand, Islamic culture has eroded. The Hausa culture has been eroded. Islam is Arabic and it came and engrained itself over the years, but because of that, many of the people are caught in between. Yes, they are Muslims, but there is no underlying culture, no culture of values.
In Yorubaland, human dignity and human life are sacred. Christianity came to baptize that. No one would convince me to accept that Christianity came just for the respect of human life. We had that before. You don’t just go ahead and kill somebody. There are many proverbs which encompass Yoruba wisdom. They say: you don’t fight until the point of death. When you have a fight, a disagreement or a conflict, you don’t go to the point of death, because you never know what happens tomorrow, and who you might need tomorrow.
I think that this lack of a cultural fiber, the maladministration of the past, the dissolution of the premises of a democratic government, and the millions of young people who have been left on the streets with no promise, no capacity at all, already prepared great ground for Boko Haram. It has something to latch on to.
When Boko Haram started in 2009 it was very easy to describe it, even from afar. Now it has gathered many other forces which all hide under the umbrella of Boko Haram. In fact, even the Nigerian president a few months ago said there are different types of Boko Haram: economic, religious, social. He also admitted that in his own government there are people who are sympathetic to Boko Haram. So it has become the umbrella for anyone who is disgruntled or would just like to destroy the moral fiber of society?
In your view, how can Boko Haram be conquered?
It will be difficult. We have come to agree that it is well beyond the power of the Nigerian government now. That’s one of the reasons why the government seems not to care. Two thousand people are dead. So what, if we can’t do anything about it. Why make noise about it? That is the attitude. So people are dying, a lot of Nigerian soldiers have lost their lives.
I provided analysis for Vatican Radio not too long ago, and I asked two questions: is it really true that there is no one out there who can identify where all the money of Boko Haram is coming from? Is it true that there is nobody in the West who can at least help to block the funding of Boko Haram? Is it true that there is really nothing that Europe and America can do about it? I think there is a complicity also in the West in what is happening.
I take it all back to the agenda of population control. That’s my theory. Anything that can reduce the population. There has been an inordinate alarm about the exploding populations in Africa. And anything that can be done to decrease or limit the growth of the population in Africa is quite welcome.
In fact, recently I was alarmed when I heard Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, say that the United States government was committed to anything that would push the population control agenda. The United States actually said it would help Nigeria with Boko Haram only if we modify our laws concerning homosexuality, family planning, and birth control. It’s very clear that a cultural imperialism exists. In fact, I think that Africa is suffering greatly from a cultural imperialism that threatens to erode our cultural values.
And I think, to say the least, it is criminal. Because if the West boasts of being committed to human freedom, mean it. If there are values that the West cherishes, they must not impose those values on Africa. It is part of human freedom. And at least Africa can stand up and say: “These are the values we cherish and these are the values we want to keep.” If the West cherishes freedom for gays and homosexual unions and abortion and contraception, suppose Africans are not wired that way. For the African, life is sacred. And that the world can watch hundreds of people dying in Nigeria every day and look away: it shows that even what we call Western civilization today is sick. What we say about human dignity and human rights is mere hypocrisy. There is a diminishing sense of the respect for the sanctity of life. And all of this is to be imposed on Africa, at whatever cost: we think that it is immoral and that it is unjust.
Another critical issue: during this time Nigeria’s attention is very divided. Generally in Nigeria, whenever elections approach, all attention is on the elections. The total resources are devoted to the elections. So no matter what else is happening, nothing else matters. I think this has aggravated the problem. Even the heads of the government have been prevented from travelling to certain places because of the threat of Boko Haram. They have lost their capacity to deal wih the problem. What does that say?
What then will prevent Boko Haram from taking over the Nigerian government?
That’s a good question. The only thing that will prevent them, I think, are the people, the different peoples. I say and I believe that it will not be easy in the West of Nigeria to get millions of young people to join Boko Haram and to kill people. Because the Western parts of Nigeria have decades of education, peaceful coexistence. It’s difficult to break that fabric. And of course in some parts of Nigeria there’s still some semblance of government and security. In fact, some states of Nigeria are safer now than they used to be. Some states, under mainly the opposition party which has a different approach to government, are much safer in the last couple of years that they have ever been.
The territory of Boko Haram is rather large, but as a ratio compared to the territory of Nigeria it’s still quite small. Twenty local governments out of 770 local governments is really insignificant. But what is significant is that people are dying. They are killing people. Thirteen thousand are dead and so many are displaced.
The tragedy of those who are displaced is that they are not getting much help from the government, again because the government has its complete attention turned to other matters such as the elections. So the religious organizations and a few NGO’s have their hands more than full. That is my view of the situation.
How in your view should the West step in to help?
There are many areas in which the West could step in. First of all, in the charitable angle, by providing resources for people who are displaced, who are dying, health facilities and so on. But the West can also help to stop Boko Haram from their murderous activities. I would imagine that is why the United Nations exists. The fact that this has gone on for so long without a definitive reaction from the United Nations does show one thing: the whole world is in in turmoil. There are all sorts of disturbances all over the world, ISIS, Al-Shabaab, trouble in Ukraine. But there are some countries that can actually do a lot more than they are doing now.
In fact, when the terrorists struck in Paris a few weeks ago, the President of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference, after seeing the outpouring of emotions and the big rally that followed, did criticize the West for that, very strongly, and said: tens of thousands have been dying in Nigeria from terrorism. A few people — one life is bad enough, that’s true — but a few people die in France and the whole world is up in arms against the terrorists. So why in France and not in Africa? And I have not received any answer from anyone.
So we see a complicity in it. We know that it is possible for the more developed nations to find out where the arms are coming from, where the funds are coming from, who are the interests behind this, and help to stop it or at least minimize it. And we hope somebody will do something to help.
Would you classify Boko Haram as a terrorist organization?
Absolutely. But I insist that Boko Haram has been joined by other interests which probably were not terrorist organizations in the first place but are benefitting from the style of Boko Haram. Likely they are doing so in order to get back at somebody or to get some eventual advantage through the violence that Boko Haram uses.
Do you know anything about the girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram last year?
Absolutely nothing. Just rumors. There are rumors that they have been married away, that they have been sold into slavery. The fact that the government has stopped talking about it shows the helplessness of the Nigerian government. There is next to nothing we know about them. In fact, the kidnapping of the girls is a symbol of what has been happening. Many, many more have been kidnapped since. Groups of 90, 70, 50, 100.
Is it generally girls who are kidnapped?
No. Young boys are kidnapped and hypnotized and turned into soldiers and suicide bombers for Boko Haram. Even adults are kidnapped and are probably used for the emotional needs of the terrorists. It is certainly terrible.
Would you classify Boko Haram as an Islamic terrorist organization?
That is a good question. As I told you, I have many, many Islamic leaders who are friends. Several times Boko Haram has claimed to be doing what they’re doing because of Islam. But their style of operation demonstrates they are visually indiscriminate. They kill Muslims and Christians alike. Many credible Muslim leaders have spoken out against them, with a high risk to their lives and to their own interests. The Muslims I know are as embarrassed about Boko Haram as I am. Many Muslims have denounced their methods, and if they could do anything about it they would. Definitely the average Nigerian is appalled by the methods of Boko Haram.
One can actually say, from their indiscriminate methods, that perhaps more Muslims have died from the terrorism of Boko Haram than Christians have. There have been occasions when they have targeted churches and Christian institutions, but it’s not the rule. Take the Kano mosque attack. It was on a Friday when the Muslims where gathered for their Friday prayers. On such occasions they come in the tens of thousands. The Kano mosque is one of the biggest in Nigeria. There were multiple bomb explosions there that killed so many, maimed so many, and caused so much destruction. No one would call that an Islamic terrorist act because it went straight to the jugular of the Muslims. I would call them terrorists who claim to be Islamic, because it would be unfair to the entire world of Islam to say it is Islamic. There are quite a number of Muslims who say Boko Haram is not Muslim. We must respect those people too.
Are you aware of the extent of ISIS activities in Northern Africa?
Not really, but I do that know Boko Haram has been strengthened by other groups coming from the north of Africa and beyond, like those who fought in Libya and who have been fighting in Syria. There have been quite a number of times when the security agencies have arrested Boko Haram terrorists and found that they were not Nigerians at all. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be an attempt made by the terrorists from different parts of the North of Africa and the Arab world — ISIS, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram — to link up, and I think we need to prevent that.
Some have the power to prevent it, and if they would the time is now, because there is such a weakness in the governments of the countries that are suffering from Boko Haram that if something is not done quickly there could be a connection of all these terrorist organizations, which would cause a much greater disaster. Furthermore, once they claim territory for themselves in the North of Africa, Nigeria, Chad and so forth, then we have a much bigger problem on our hands. I think that should not be allowed to happen.
You spoke earlier about a new cultural imperialism being carried out in Africa. In his recent trip to the Philippines, Pope Francis spoke of what he called an “ideological colonization” that is seeking to destroy the family. Would you like to say more about this?
I would like to say, for example, that the African set of values seem to be different from the modern Western world hierarchy of values. The African talks about the sanctity of life. In the West, there is too much insistence on the quality of life. That’s why for the African a child is a treasure, even if that child is going to have to go through some difficulty in growing up. In the West, if a child cannot have the best of life, then it should not live. That’s not the African world view.
The African world view is that every life is sacred and useful and a treasure. Because the African looks at today as inferior to tomorrow. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but there’s always hope. And based on that, the whole movement that in the name of family planning is pushing for what the Pope has called the “culture of death”, i.e. contraception, abortion and all such things that limits the existence of people, is abhorrent to the African, and the average African on the streets resists that.
I was walking along the street here in Rome only two days ago. I saw an African — one of those who sells bags — and I said hello to him. I always say hello. He came to me and gave me a little tortoise which he had carved, and said to me: “That’s a gift from my country”. Then he said: “For the African, life is the most important thing”.
For the African, if there are 30 of us needing to stay in one room, all well and good. We’ll manage. But in the West you start by saying: “Now this room can’t hold more than two people. Where will the rest go? They’ll have to go elsewhere.” That’s not the African world view. And I think that all the effort to make Africans accept what is not acceptable to them is immoral, and should not be allowed to continue for any reason at all.
You do know about Uganda, in which the government had put in place legislation against, for example, homosexuality, because it wasn’t part of the culture. And Uganda was eventually forced to change that legislation if it was going to have the benefit of a grant from the United States.
Now, let me put it this way. The Western world claims that every kind of right is a human right, and that every behavior must have the status of a human right. We say no. Not every human behavior has the status of a human right. There are human rights, and there are human behaviors. But not every human behavior has that status. The African believes this because he always starts from the higher being. God is always there and has a place in the life of an African.
In the West, on the other hand, for whatever reason, there is no need for that kind of God anymore. Everything is okay: a good life, and you can explain everything. The African refuses to be able to explain everything.
I think there has been an exaggerated sense of human freedom in the West. Freedom that has no limits, that an individual is totally free. But total freedom becomes license. And the African doesn’t see the world like that. The African believes that his life is a gift, and it has worked well for Africa. That is why we still have a keen sense of family. That is why we have a keen sense of humanity. Your family does not stop with your father’s children or your mother’s children, but extends to other people who have any kind of kinship with you. And it has worked well for Africa. So there is an exaggerated sense of freedom without responsibility, which probably came from the whole bill of rights of the United Nations. Now there is a whole bill of rights for children, but I’m not seeing a bill of responsibilities. So it’s a totally different worldview, and I think it has provoked individualism, relativism, materialism, consumerism in the West, which is quite limited in Africa.
I think that if people who subscribe to different lobbies in the world today want to claim that every kind of behavior must be given the status of a human right, it should be remembered that if I don’t believe that, I also have a right to express myself. Why would anybody impose that other worldview on me. I think it’s immoral.
May I ask you, as an African and as a bishop: Some who promote the gay rights agenda have likened their struggle to the civil rights movement in the 60s and to the struggle of African-Americans for equality. What is your view on this?
Blacks fought because they wanted to be recognized as human beings. But the gays are fighting so that their behavior may be recognized as a human right. It’s not on the same level. It’s not on the same level at all.
The black man fought so that he could be allowed to exist like his white counterpart. Those are human rights. But that people engage in relationships that are unproductive, that’s not the same thing. Those are behaviors, behaviors that have been proven, even scientifically, to be capable of being changed, behaviors that have been proven on some levels of science to be pathological. It’s not a pathological thing to be black. I can’t change and become white.
Turning to the Synod on the Family, what is important to the African bishops for the Synod? And how concerned are they about attempts to change pastoral practice in controversial subjects like divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, cohabitation, etc.
I said earlier that there are some values in Africa which I believe Christianity only came to baptize. Life has always been sacred. Family has always been honored, long before Christianity came. Regarding the Synod on the Family, we see it as an opportunity to help stem the wave of anti-family values that are coming from the West, and from so-called “modern civilization,” and from the media. The media is powerfully complicit in this.
During the last Synod, what Africa insisted upon is our ability to express our concerns. Our concerns are not the concerns of the West. But Africa did not say that the West should not express its own concerns.
More and more Africans are beginning to speak for themselves, and to resist the general attitude of the past that an African can hardly think for himself, that he hardly knows what it good for him.
What Africa would like is to be given the opportunity to be both African and Christian, to be both African and Catholic. The issues of family and marriage in Africa are issues, for example, that concern polygamy, issues that concern in some cases underage marriages, issues that concern the empowerment of women, and those are issues that touch us on the skin.
We want those issues to be part of the issues that concern the Church. If the West is concerned about divorced and remarried people, well and good. But we must include the issues that concern Africa and that concern the other parts of the world. That’s the meaning of a Synod, that we bring together our concerns and our strengths.
What can the Church in Africa offer to the Universal Church which the West cannot offer or will not offer?
We think that Africa has the capacity to remind the world of the very essential things: of our humanity, the sacredness of human life, and about the beauty of the family, the beauty of accepting children from God as a gift, rather than as a burden. For many in the West, children have become a burden.
Africa rejects an individualistic, selfish culture that thinks only about the quality of life rather than the sanctity of life. And Africa rejects the kind of culture that speaks only about freedom and no responsibility. We reject that kind of Western-style sexual education that is prevalent now, that attacks children, that seeks to “free” them and give them “choices” in their own sexual behaviors. That’s happening. There are United Nations organizations that have sworn to help children be free from parental influence and religious organizations. Children as young as five or six. Why do children or even youth need to know about family planning? They don’t have families. What are they planning?
There are certain interests and motives behind this. Perhaps these motives are economic. I interpret it in a very simple way: if I sell condoms, and I sell a million condoms for one million dollars, if I can convince ten million young people that condoms bring them happiness, that’s more money for me. It’s very simple. So I will do everything to convince them that the source of their happiness is contraception. If I manage to do that, I will receive not one million dollars but ten million dollars. Why shouldn’t I do it, if I have no sense of values? I think that if nothing else is behind it, this is.
But the African says: human life is not for sale, and African values are not on sale either.
During the Synod, Cardinal Kasper of Germany stated that the Africans "should not tell us too much what we have to do.” How was the cardinal’s statement received in Africa?
I think that Cardinal Kasper’s comment is exactly what it sounded like: it sounds arrogant. Cardinal Kasper can speak for his country. And Africans too should be able to speak for their countries. I do remember that the President of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference spoke powerfully on the issues of families. Synods are meant to bring all these different beliefs and opinions to the table.
Your Excellency, in light of all you’ve said, it seems you would argue that Africa has something to say to Western cultures, and that Africa does have something to say to Germany?
Yes, but of course Western cultures also have the right to listen, or not. That’s a right. But we’ve also got a right to say what we’ve got to say.
I do believe that there are quite a number of things in Germany that Africans could learn from. But on the issues of life and family, I do believe that Africa must be given the right to determine what it wants to keep and what it wants to throw away.
Do you think the African bishops will forcefully oppose any attempt to change the Church’s doctrine or practice in terms of divorce and remarriage or homosexuality?
I am an African bishop, and I can tell you that if I go to the Synod I will stand by what the Church has always taught. Homosexuality is a disorder. Homosexuals are God’s children. They have a right to be respected. They have a right to compassion. They have a right to be accepted as human beings. But there is a distinguishing factor between human rights and human behavior. I don’t have to accept homosexual behavior, just like I don’t have to accept drug addition, robbery, and terrorism. But I accept human beings, and I think that is the bottom line.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.