By John Newton
Aid To The Church In Need/Christian Today
Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, with members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament. Image: Aid To The Church In Need
Nigeria's leading bishop has told the European Parliament and other politicians of the threats of corruption and insecurity.
Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need invited Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto to meet with officers of the European Union to reveal the scale of the problems facing one of the EU's three priority countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Cardinal Onaiyekan told the delegates: "Growing corruption and religious violence jeopardise the west African country of Nigeria".
The cardinal and Bishop Kukah went on to warn of "the twin monsters of corruption and insecurity".
The prelates spoke with the Foreign Affairs Committee, European Commission members, other MEPs, and the Council – which is made up of representatives from the governments of the EU's members, including the UK.
Bishop Kukah said levels of health, education and income in northern Nigeria are among the worst in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The bishop, whose diocese is in north-west Nigeria, where Catholics are a minority, said: "The region has a Muslim majority in power.
"The way they spend federal funding follows their own priorities and the concept of education and public health is not the same as that of UNESCO.
"This is the region where the group Boko Haram was created."
Cardinal Onaiyekan added that poverty, mistrust and an influx of weapons from Libya have increased tensions.
He said: "Very often the criminals are better armed than the Nigerian security forces."
But, according to the Church leaders, Nigeria is not a poor country – with a GDP of $244 billion as well as generous international aid – but corruption and mismanagement are widespread.
Commenting on the corruption, the cardinal said: "This has generated extremely high levels of mistrust among the population, which feeds into the other daily menace – insecurity."
He said that in the country's most impoverished regions, key public services – including schools, hospitals, legal aid centres and other basic services – are being provided by the Catholic Church instead of the government.
During the meetings, Cardinal Onaiyekan said: "The Catholic Church is concerned about the well-being of all Nigerians, not only those baptized in our churches.
"We are 170 million Nigerians, roughly half are Christians from different denominations and half are Muslims, also of different groups.
"Catholics are still the largest single-faith group in the country so we have considerable influence and responsibility."