Cardinal John Onaiyekan, who is Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria and president of the Conference of Bishops For English-Speaking West Africa, was in Toronto recently.
Cardinal Onaiyekan was born January 29, 1944 in the town of Kabba in what is now Kogi State. He attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in Kabba, Mt. St. Michael’s Secondary School in Aliade, Benue State and St. Peter & Paul Major Seminary in Bodija, Ibadan. He completed his religious studies in Rome in 1969 and was ordained a priest that same year. He taught at St. Kizito’s College in 1969 and became rector of St. Clement Jr. Seminary in Lokoja in 1971 and then Vice Rector of St. Peter & Paul in 1977. He was ordained Bishop in 1983 and Archbishop in 1994. He was appointed Cardinal last November by Pope Benedict XVI and later to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His work in building interfaith bridges among Nigeria’s population of 162 million, almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims, earned him the 2010 Peace Award from PAX Christi International, a Catholic peace movement based in Belgium. He was also nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his role in managingthe religiously sensitive archdiocese of Abuja, one of three Catholic provinces in Northern Nigeria.
Cardinal Onaiyekan spoke at the University of St. Michael’s College on the topic of Muslim-Christian relations in Nigeria. He related that the two groups live peacefully in most of the country but warned of extremist violence from Boko Haram, a northern-based group once known as the Nigerian Taliban, that has resulted in 3000 deaths since 2009 according to Human Rights Watch. Boko Haram is responsible for gun and bomb attacks against churches, schools, military facilities, newspaper offices, police stations and the UN building in Abiuja. The group has used suicide bombers and death threats and assassinated Muslim Clerics who publicly denounce them. The group’s actions cause unrest among those most affected by poverty and government corruption. Cardinal Onaiyekan said more than half of Nigeria’s population lives on less than one dollar a day, despite the country having the largest oil and gas reserves in Africa.
Boko Haram (which means Western Education is Sinful) has been denounced by mainstream Muslim leaders as “non-Muslim” and state that their violent methods contravene the principles of Islam. Cardinal Onaiyekan said denouncing Boko Haram is not the answer – rather the two religious groups must respect each other and all Nigerians must strive for peace.