The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese Of Katsina-Ala, Benue State, Most Reverend Isaac Dugu has stated that Insecurity is still the greatest nightmare in Benue state.
Bishop made this statement in his homily delivered at the thanksgiving Mass on the occasion of the 70th birthday of the secretary to the government of the federation, Senator Doctor George Akume, which took place at saint Christopher’s parish Wannune
Dugu said villages are gradually becoming uninhabited and inaccessible, noting that the food basket is fast becoming empty, since people can no longer go to their farms.
He called on the federal government and the government of Benue State, the political class, the traditional rulers and all security agencies to demonstrate sincerity and readiness in order to end institutionalized insecurity.
Full text of the homily
Let me hasten to sincerely appreciate the permission of the Bishop of Gboko Diocese, Most Rev William AVENYA to celebrate this Mass. He has equally assured us of his fatherly blessings. I unite my voice with that of the Benue sons and daughters to welcome and celebrate profoundly the heroic and triumphant home-coming of the distinguished Son of Benue, Senator Dr George AKUME to Benue State since his appointment as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. I also welcome him in a special way to his home town, Wannune. This is also the home town of the Late Senator J.S Tarka. Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are comfortably seated in the Church Senator AKUME built and dedicated to the glory of God and for the salvation of humankind.
The reason we are gathered here in this Church is to basically offer thanksgiving to God on two counts, among others. First, we are thanking God that this amazing philanthropist, this lover of the poor, this knight of the Church, this highly illustrious son of Nigeria, a former Governor of Benue State, a former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a former Honourable Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, our brother, friend, father and mentor through the special grace and mercies of God has turned 70 years of age today. The last time I checked, the life expectancy in Nigeria in 2023 remains at 55.75. This year, 2023 life expectancy in Nigeria appreciated slightly over that of last year, 2022 by 0.57%. Surely, the celebrant has lived beyond the injury time given the current life expectancy in Nigeria. You have turned 70 and in good health, because of your kindness and generosity to everyone. The prayers of the old women, the sick, the distressed, those whose lives you have impacted shall help you attain 100 years in good health. Secondly, we are thanking God that the President of the Federation, Bola Ahmed ASIWAJU TINUBU has seen great potentials and capabilities in our son, Sen. George Akume. He has been found credible, commendable and committed enough to be appointed as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I invite you all to leverage on the blessing of this Eucharistic sacrifice and be filled with God’s abundant blessings. This Mass is also offered for Hon Mrs Regina AKUME, the wife of the celebrant who also celebrated her birthday recently and has also enjoyed long life and good health. Indeed, it is an occasion of multiple celebrations. We are also praying for everyone who has supported our celebrant in a variety of ways to attain these heights. Beloved in Christ, thanksgiving is what we humans owe God. I therefore invite you in the words of the Psalmist to pray with me: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4).
- CHRISTMAS AND NATION BUILDING
We are now in the Season of Christmas, which marks the Nativity of Jesus Christ. This is the most widely celebrated birthday in human history. Christmas truly demonstrates that God loves the world so much, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16). At Christmas, Jesus has come to live with us; to be with us; to feel what we feel, to experience what we experience; to stay with us on this journey of life; to strengthen us when we are weak and to lift us when we fall. As people of Benue State, while God is always with us and has taken flesh in our world, in our lives and families, we must also and compellingly strive daily towards what unites us as a family and as a state than what creates disunity, tension, bad blood, animosity, dissensions, and hatred. These vices eventually divide and destroy us in a shameful manner. These dispositions cannot guarantee job opportunities, peace, security, good governance and the provision of infrastructure. While I acknowledge regrettably the emerging destructive tendencies orchestrated by gadflies of social media warlords, propagandists, paid or voluntary scriptwriters, unguided think-tanks, unwholesome political gladiators, blackmail apologists, toxic verbal assaulters, I urge people with such dispositions ‘to turn their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles’ for the interest of peace, development and good governance of our dear state (Isaiah 2:4-5).
- FEAST OF ST. JOHN, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST
Today, in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. The Apostle John is the author of the Fourth Gospel, he also wrote three Epistles and the Book of Revelation. John was the youngest of the twelve disciples of Christ, the son of Zebedee and his mother Salome, a cousin of Mary, the Mother of Jesus (Mk.1:16-17; Mt. 27:56; 15, 40; Jn. 19:25). John had a special place in the Apostolic College. He describes himself as ‘the disciples whom Jesus loved’ (Jn. 13:23). He was present at the transfiguration, (Mt. 17:1), and witnessed the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus, (Mk. 5:37), he was present at the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:37), he was one of those sent to prepare the Passover. He was the only disciple who remained at the foot of the Cross (Jn. 19:26). John was the last to die from the College of Apostles. In his old age, his preaching was always centred on “My dear little children: love one another.” Dear Senator George, one of the parting gifts for you after this 70th birthday celebration is the gift of love from God. This is what John the Evangelist offers us today as well. This is also what the celebrant would desire from each of us who has come to rejoice with him. St. Paul helps us to understand this gift of love better when he says, “love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:4-8). Just as Jesus loved John and he in turn loved others, I invite us all to share the love of Christ with one another. Love your country, love your state, love your people, love your leaders and pray for them.
- BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE OF 70 AND MORAL OBLIGATION
Generally speaking, the Bible says, “the span of our life is seventy years, and eighty for those who are strong (Psalm 90:10). The Psalmist also highlights the need for us to pray to God for grace and the gift to appreciate old age. Psalm 90: 12 says, “Teach us to count up the days that are ours, and we shall come to the heart of wisdom.” Old age is associated with wisdom. This sort of wisdom is not obtained in a conventional school but through the school of practical experiences that come with age. This is why the Chinese proverb says, “When an elder points to the moon, the unwise sees but the finger.” In the words of Oliver Wendell Homes, “To be seventy years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old.” The book of Proverb says, “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendour of old men is their golden hair. (Proverbs 20:29). The number 70 appears several times in the Bible but not in respect to birthdays. In St. Luke’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus appointed seventy disciples and sent them out in pairs ahead of him to the places he would visit. Another occurrence of the number seventy in the Bible is where Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? “Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22).
I invite the celebrant to listen to what God is saying to him as he has turned 70 years against the background of the above scriptural passages. God says, 70 years is a time to deepen your relationship with Him. It is a stage in your life to be more prayerful. It is a time to count your blessings. It is a time to allow yourself to be guided by wisdom, a time to forgive the faults of others, and a time to build more bridges of peace. 70 is not an age to fight every battle, either real or even imagined. This is the time for more recreation, more laughter, and a time to discover your authentic self. It is a time to be aware of the last things of life namely; death, particular judgement, heaven and hell just as the Penny Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us.
- SGF: A BLESSING, A BURDEN AND A RESPONSIBILITY
The appointment of Senator Dr. George AKUME as SGF is an honour not only deserving of Benue citizens or the North-Central Geopolitical configuration, but much more an honour deserving of patriotic and nationalistic Nigerians. Patriotism and nationalism are the virtues typical of the celebrant, evident in his personality and made visible also in his political career. Such a disposition naturally attracts the blessings of God. The blessing associated with this appointment is contained in the fulfilment of God’s promise as contained in the Book of Jeremiah 29:10. This is what the LORD says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It is important that the celebrant realises the promise of God’s blessing, as well as the corresponding burden and responsibility on his shoulders. When he does, two things are bound to happen namely, he will have the experience of a yoke, that is, a burden and secondly, the experience of a great sense of responsibility. The former which is the burden is made light in the song: Oh, I often sit and ponder; when the sun is sinking low; where shall yonder future find me? None but God in Heaven know; shall I be among the living; shall I mingle with the free? Wheresoever my path be leading; Saviour keep my heart with Thee! Secondly, the latter which is the great sense of responsibility is equally made light in the words of the Psalm: “How can I repay the Lord, for His goodness to me, I will raise the cup of salvation, I will call on God’s name. I trusted even when I say, I am solely afflicted, and when I say in my own life, no man can be trusted.”
- THE OFFICE OF SGF AND ITS IMPACT
If my records are reliable, this is the first time in the history of Nigerian politics that a son or daughter of Benue origin is appointed into this office. If you begin from creation, you can say that since the world was made by God, if your count begins from the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, it is 109 years, but if you count from our independence as a country, it is 63 years. Since we don’t know when next this opportunity will come our way again, I admonish Benue sons and daughters and friends to give our distinguished SGF all the necessary support to succeed. You must help him by not dragging him into Benue local politics and beer parlour talks or ruckus. The SGF himself must also make conscientious efforts not to be decoyed into such local standard. Regardless, this should not deter him from providing leadership on areas of state and national integration and collaboration in view of attracting development for his people. The SGF, our beloved son must avoid the temptation of being a victim of what I call, “The Idols of Dictatorship” and practice more the gains of the principle of subsidiarity.
During the inaugural Mass of this new administration led by Rev Fr. Hyacinth ALIA on 28 May, 2023, I said, “The vehicles, persons, and/or the platform that brought His Excellency, Rev Fr. Alia to power must also allow him to work. Benue people need him to succeed. If he fails, we all fail, if he succeeds, we all succeed.” I am glad you (the SGF) heard me very clearly. How did I know about this? Upon your arrival few days ago, the media reported that at the City Bay Event Centre, you said: “whosoever is alive and loves me, such a man and woman must pray for the administration of his Excellency Governor Hyacinth ALIA to yield great success.” While I commend the Governor in his efforts towards payment of salaries, building roads and improved transport services, the Governor on the other hand should by this gesture, never appear to be undermining the vehicles and platform that brought him to power. He must also resist unbecoming statements referring to his critics as desperate, selfish, disgruntled, propagandists and mischief makers. This is because, every responsible government must be ready to welcome constructive criticisms as a necessary measure of good governance.
Dear Senator George Akume and Governor Hyacinth Alia, Benue State is the most blessed State in the country at the moment, because it has a Knighted Catholic as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and also a Catholic Priest as its Governor. Both of you are prominent Catholics, who must work and walk together to serve, to save, to protect and to help Benue State. If Benue State does not get it right even this time, it may never get it right again! And posterity will be most displeased with both of you.
The impact of the office of the SGF to National building cannot be overemphasised. For the ordinary person in Benue State, these questions come to mind: what do we do with this office of the SGF? While, we acknowledge the 1000 units housing scheme initiated by the Federal Government for Benue citizens, we are curious curious to know what other fortunes we shall. What is the implication of this office in peacebuilding in the North-Central geopolitical zone, with many people displaced from their ancestral homes, in which ways would this office end the culture of banditry, terrorism, political bigotry and joblessness? Regrettably, we saw the recent attack yesterday in Plateau State. As I speak a couple of persons are in captivity by the bandits in Sankera. How would this office facilitate effective health care services, youth empowerment, mechanised farming, good road network, a functional economy, transport and rail system in the North-Central Area?
Our country is in serious political, economic and social difficulties. The various walls of division, hatred, inequality and injustice seem to be multiplying daily. All hands must be on deck to face the many great challenges that are weighing heavily on our nation and state. The winners cannot rule alone and the losers must be prepared to cooperate with those who now have the duty to lead the nation and state in the way forward. The interest of our nation and state remains paramount over and above the selfish demands of political parties, groups or individuals.
Insecurity is still our greatest nightmare. The villages are gradually becoming uninhabited and inaccessible. The food basket is fast becoming empty, since people can no longer go to their farms. The federal government and the government of Benue State, the political class, the traditional rulers and all security agencies must demonstrate sincerity and readiness in order to end institutionalized insecurity.
It is our hope that after the first four years of this administration, Benue State shall be more united and developed. On the occasion of this 70th birthday and appointment as SGF, I declare God’s abundant blessing upon you. May God bless and keep you, may he let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, may he guide, direct and protect you. May he grant you good health, cheerfulness, more wisdom and more motivation to serve the good people of Nigeria. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Perpetual Help; cover you with her mantle of love, and may St. John the Apostle and St. Christopher always intercede for you. Amen.