By Fr. Evaristus Offor
The Black Lives Matter movement was established in 2013 after the murder of Trayvon Martin in February 2012, but its attitudes, dissatisfactions and goals are centuries in the making, building on the long history of resistance and resilience of black people. Most recently, murder of George Floyd cast another bright light on the racism that persists in the US, and calls for change are aloud. Yet, some still balk at the movement, seeing progress as evidence that the fight for racial justice is over. Some even promote a counter –narrative of ‘’All Lives Matter’’, which misses point, intentionally or unintentionally, that the Black Lives Matter movement is a reaction to the fact that many black people have been discriminated against, targeted and disregarded. At this, moment of palpable energy and tension, and with so much at stake, we need to finally create a just society for all people.
The biblical prophets can help us to understand what is happening now and they can inspire our continued efforts in the future. Many of the biblical prophets were social critics. Their initial was not to predict the future but to be a voice for the present. They confronted pressing issues and preferred advice to correct and strengthen relationships between communities and God. So here in Nigeria, when we celebrate the pogrom and the civil war fatalities, we should be inspired to join hands to work for justice and equality that have not and never been fully realized. This is a good time to reflect on ancient prophets who have much in common with today’s activists.
Huldah was a prophet at a time when many peopled worshiped false gods. Altars were built for deities, and people failed to keep the commandments given by God to their ancestors. Fretful, distraught and stirred by legal convention, King Josiah of Judah sent religious and political offices to consult Huldah. She warned of divine anger and punishment because the people’s abandonment of God’s laws (cf. 2 kings 22:16-17). God blessed the king for his humility and openness to divine guidance. Moved by Huldah’s prophetic critique, Josiah led a drastic, tangible reforms on a system that had become corrupt. King Josiah had religious leaders tear down altars, pillars and sacred poles used to worship Canaanite gods such as Baal and Asherah. They defiled and burned high places used for unsanctioned practices; idolatrous priests were deposed and killed. Josiah’s reformation was an extreme statement against corruption. Actually, removing the cultic sites helped his community repair their relationship with God. While Josiah’s modus operandi was impactful, his killing of idolatrous priests showed a dangerous measure that should not inspire our actions of today.
On a parallel line, Nigerian should encourage current efforts to combat injustice, marginalization, and political inequality, religious and ethnic oppression. In the spirit of Black Lives Matter, Nigerians should fight squarely against monumental and historical military and undemocratic kingship. All these must be taken down by all. We will not emulate the American Black Lives Matter in defacing, destroying and removing monumental icons, statues. Mr. President must not act as king Ahab who failed to call on prophet Micah before saying, ‘’I hate him, for he never prophesied anything favorable about me, but only disaster (2 chronicles 18:7). When he finally heard Micah’s prophecy, he jailed him. Ahab’s interest was only in good prophecies and our president has many parallels. Reports and critics critical to his policies and actions are always termed ‘’fake news’’, ‘’rhetoric’’, Instead of acknowledging issues and present concrete solutions, he often deny or minimizes problems and twirl bad news to boom so nice. His administration works against those who work towards the realization of justice and equity, by refusing to see what is clear because it threatens the statuesque and requires change from comfortable norms.
The naysayers who lift up their voices or keep mute should stop the cause and speak out for the truth. On the part of religious bodies and associations in the country, they should speak out as Micah did against oppressors (Mic 2:2; 3:3-11). He is speaking against our misleading politicians, ‘’those who hate justice and prevent equity. He is rebuking them including corrupt priests and prophets for taking bribes and keep quite. He is up in arms against religious leaders who are beneficiaries of our poticians’ injustice and corruption, marginalization and oppression of minorities and those on the borderline. He is sad that most of our religious leaders are fearless to fight for a change in our political structure. The point is that religious leaders ought to demonstrate the power from heaven by raising their voices for restructuring, a celestial and binding mandate.
This is the time for Church leaders to join their voices with Nigerians that rotational presidency will end the continued inequity, injustice, oppression and marginalization of the South East. They should as a matter of conscience and divine mandate, tell both the North and South west that justice and equity demand that the 2023 presidential candidates must come from the South East. They should insist on Igbo ascendancy as a sincere and practical measure to the total reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation process mouthed by Chief Yakubu Gowon. Nigerian bishops must not be silent in this matter. As agents of love, justice, equality and fairness, they must be open and insist on true restructuring as well as the realization of the Igbo presidency.