A Nigerian politician has hinted that the pope supports his policy. After being pushed back, he apologized

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Governor Simon Lalong. Credit: Plateau State Governor’s Press Branch.

A Nigerian governor apologized on Friday, after hinting that Pope Francis was backing his role as campaign leader for a controversial presidential ticket, which breaks with the custom of power sharing between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria

“I realize now that I may have overstepped my bounds in trying to defend my personal decision to accept this appointment, and so the reference to the Holy Father was not intended to disrespect his exalted office. and venerated,” Simon Bako Lalong wrote in an Aug. 12 memo to the president of the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria.

The letter came after Lalong said on Wednesday that Pope Francis had no problem with his role in campaigning for the All Progressives Caucus’ all-Muslim presidential ticket – despite widespread Catholic opposition to a decision by the party that selected the Muslims to campaign for both the presidency and the vice. -presidency.

Nigerian political parties usually choose a Muslim and a Christian for their presidential tickets and aim to balance other government appointments between Christians and Muslims.

But the All Progressives Caucus, Nigeria’s ruling party, shocked the country last month by announcing that it had selected Muslims for the two spots on its ticket for the 2023 presidential elections. especially Catholic Bishops in Nigeria, said the move would increase violence and discrimination against Christians..

Lalong, who is the Catholic Governor of Plateau State in Nigeria, sparked controversy this week when he agreed to become chief executive, or campaign chairman, for the APC presidential ticket. Some Christian leaders said Lalong was acting recklessly or would help harm Christians in the country.

The governor defended himself, invoking his Catholic faith in the process.

Lalong told the media Aug. 10 that he was a papal knight — a member of the Vatican Order of St. Gregory — and that Pope Francis had no concerns about his political decision.

“I am a Catholic…I received a papal award, the highest papal honor – Knight of Saint Gregory the Great…I hold the papal knight[hood]. And as a Catholic, everything we do, we do it and send the advice to the pope. The pope didn’t tell me what I’m doing is wrong, accept the general manager [role]. As Catholics, we are heading in this direction.

After Lalong’s remarks, Catholics in the country objected to the implication that Pope Francis supported the governor’s policy decisions, or even that Lalong had consulted the pontiff before taking up a new post.

An association of papal laureates in Nigeria disputed Lalong’s claims on Thursday, suggesting they were self-serving and untrue.

In a statement, Esther Uduehi, President of the Association of Knights and Pontifical Medalists of Nigeria, expressed the “disappointment of all Papal Laureates in Nigeria in a statement credited to you.” [Governor Lalong] which would tend to bring the revered image and person of the Holy Father, the Pope, into your local politics.

“Your action, to say the least, is not only disappointing but condemnable and not expected of a Catholic and even more so of a papal knight. The Holy Father is a busy man and does not interact with individuals as easily as you would like Nigerians to believe,” the statement added.

“An ardent Catholic, and a papal honoree at that, should know where and when to apply the brake in discussing Church matters,” Uduehi said. “No true Catholic, regardless of position in society, will deliberately politicize the revered name of the Pope for the purpose of holding office in any localized political matter of any country.”

Uduehi said the association of pontifical honorees was considering filing a formal complaint with the country’s apostolic nuncio.

“I have been instructed by all Knights and Pontifical Medalists in Nigeria who feel betrayed by your statement to request that you produce evidence of your claim or refute the statement attributed to you.”

“The executive [board] of the Association of Knights and Pontifical Medalists of Nigeria will meet to make a decision and make recommendations to [the bishops’ conference] and then to the papal nuncio,” the statement read.

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Governor Simon Lalong is officially received into the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, on January 25, 2020. The investiture was carried out by the Archbishop of Abuja, Ignatius Ayau Kaigama at the Divine Cathedral of Mercy, Laminga, Jos. Credit: Plateau State Governor’s Press Branch.

Lalong’s response appears to come in his letter to the Nigerian bishops’ conference on Friday.

The governor wrote that after accepting campaign post in the APC, some Nigerians “became a political weapon, spreading rumors and questioning the integrity of my credentials as a Catholic and a papal knight” .

“In trying to make my point, I’ve given interviews to justify why I think the appointment has in no way undermined my commitment to the Catholic Church.”

“During my defense, I had reason to refer to my credentials as a Catholic and a papal knight. In the process, I referred to the Holy Father,” Lalong wrote to Archbishop Lucius Ugorji, President of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference.

“I now realize that was a mistake on my part and caused a certain level of concern and embarrassment to many, especially members of the Pontifical Knights to which I belong,” the governor added. .

“Your Grace, through this written letter, I wish to offer my unreserved apologies and ask for their understanding and forgiveness from my brethren in the Catholic faith and, through you, to all the members of the Episcopal Conference, our fathers and our leaders .”

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Lalong’s letter also explained that he believed his political decisions were the right ones for a Catholic.

“The nomination has understandably drawn mixed reactions from within the Christian community who feel genuinely aggrieved by our party’s decision to settle for a Muslim-Muslim ticket. While many people congratulated me on this appointment and saw it as a way to continue to fight for our own interests, others made assertions on the grounds that our faith had been insulted and denigrated,” he said. -he writes.

The governor emphasized that “my commitment to the Catholic faith to which I belong remains unreserved and undiluted. I will continue to uphold the banner of my faith in public life as I have done over the years.

While seeking episcopal blessings, he recalled that “over the past few years he has “been at the forefront of facilitating” political dialogue with bishops, whom he called “the fathers in the faith”.

“I remain committed to that and pray that you continue to cheer us on as we climb the slippery slope of politics.”

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Governor Simon Lalong greets guests after being officially received into the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, January 25, 2020. Credit: Plateau State Governor’s Press Directorate.

But the country’s bishops have criticized APC’s presidential ticket.

Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto on Thursday condemned the Muslim-Muslim post on Nigerian television, pointing out that Nigerians would reject APC candidates in the 2023 election.

During an interview with Channels TV, Kukah questioned the religious militarization of politics in Nigeria.

“As a Christian, I can tell you very frankly that the decision of the APC, naturally, surprised me,” the bishop said.

“As a Christian, this is totally reprehensible. It is not acceptable to me, but it is the decision of the PCA as a party. Maybe when the campaign starts we will hear what people have to say,” he added.

Nigerian society is divided between a predominantly Muslim northern region and predominantly Christian southern regions. The country has customarily elected presidential candidates with one Muslim candidate and one Christian candidate, usually representing both religious diversity and regional balance – a practice which many Nigerians say has helped maintain a country with deep divisions religious, regional and economic.

Government ministers are also usually appointed in Nigeria with the aim of achieving regional and religious balance.

The APC announcement in July has amplified the division among Nigerians along religious lines, in a country where fault lines of ethnicity and religion have cost lives and livelihoods.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has 3 major religions, over 400 languages ​​and 250 ethnicities. Hundreds of Christians have been killed in the country in recent months, in terror attacks that have also seen more than a dozen priests kidnapped or killed.

Lalong was appointed to the Order of Saint Gregory in 2019. In 2021, a group of students called on the pope to strip the honor, accusing the politician of preventing some citizens from participating in party elections.

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