2017 - Embassy of Nigeria to the Holy See

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1.  Your Holiness Pope Francis, suitably represented by Msgr Joseph Puthenpurayil, and other Excellencies from the Curia
      Your Excellencies Ambassadors and their Spouses
      Her Excellency Mrs Coral Umo my wife and my children
      Priests & Religious men and women
      Distinguished invited guests
      My Embassy colleagues
      Nigerians in Diaspora – Italy Chapter
      Ladies and gentlemen

It is indeed my honour and privilege to welcome you to this grand reception, organized in my honour, sequel to the presentation of my Letters of Credence to His Holiness Pope Francis, a couple of hours ago.  We are also using this occasion to commemorate the 41st Anniversary of the formal institution of full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Nigeria.  The occasion, therefore, presents a veritable platform for reminiscences, reviews and thanksgiving.  Before delving into the mainstream of my short address let me recall my early life in the Catholic fold with a lot of nostalgia.

2.  My dream as a child was to go to Rome. Fr McGuiness, a Catholic Priest in my village, gave me all the encouragement.  None of my schoolmates wanted to be part of it because they all thought Rome was somewhere in Heaven.  To go to Heaven, they reasoned, one would need to die first; and who wants to die?

3.  My knack for dreams landed me in trouble a couple of times.  In one instance, I dreamt that I was hanging from the underbelly of an airplane and shooting machine gun at some imaginary enemies.  It was at this point that my mother felt she had had enough; pronto, I was whisked to a nearby health Centre where bouts of Chloroquine injections were administered on me, because my mother had concluded I was suffering from a very severe malaria attack!


4.  Let me thank, first and foremost, the almighty God for the love He has continued to shower on us.  He has brought us to the month of December – the month of love.  He has kept us healthy and granted us journey mercy from our various destinations.  I will also seize this opportunity to thank the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mr Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, for considering me, amidst equally, if not more qualified Nigerians than me, fit and proper to represent him and the good people of Nigeria, at the Holy See.  My gratitude equally goes to the Holy Father for agreeing with President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR.

5.  Having said that, let me go down memory lane and capture, in a very few words the advent of the Catholic Church in Nigeria.  The Catholic Church made its entry into Nigeria, at the time the Nigerian Army nucleus was being formed, in 1863.  This means that the Roman Catholic Church and the Nigerian Army, to which I once belonged, share an umbilical cord.  We should therefore stop wondering why it was that a retired General was drafted to work with the Pope.  The groundwork had been completed 154 years ago !!

6.  Seriously speaking, the advent of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, just like other religious missions that had inroads into Nigeria, has been of tremendous blessings.  More than any mission in Nigeria, the Catholic Church established quality secondary schools, hospitals, and of course, seminaries.  Chief amongst these institutions in the Southern part of Nigeria were Holy Family College, Mercy Hospital, Queen of Apostles Seminary-all in Abak, Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria.  These days, some universities have been established.  With this focus on human capital development, the Catholic Church endeared itself to the hearts of many faithful across Nigeria.  It is therefore not surprising that the Catholic Church pools the highest number, amongst other churches in Africa, and boasts of having about 10% Christian faithful in Nigeria.

7.  Apart from Nigeria, the only country in Africa that has a substantial Catholic community is the Democratic Republic of Congo, and together with Nigeria, have the highest number of Priests in Africa.  It is, therefore, normal that those who have worked hard to bring souls to the House of God should enjoy recompense.  Consequently, Nigeria has had a bevy of Cardinals and high-ranking officials in the Catholic Church starting from Cardinal Dominic Ignatius Ekanem, Emeritus Cardinal Francis Arinze (a former Papabile), Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Cardinal Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, Archbishop Ekuwem, Archbishop Mathew Kukah, and Monsignor Fortunas Nwachukwu, to mention a few.  Indeed, the crescendo of reward came in 1998 when Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, an indigene of Anambra State of Nigeria.


8.  Though there had been very robust relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Nigerian people as far back as 1863, when many institutions began to be established, the formal establishment of diplomatic relations did not take place because of various unavoidable factors.  At Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, the Vatican began moves to establish diplomatic relations with Nigeria.  Knowing how some diplomatic negotiations could drag on, just when the deal was about being sealed, there was a political upheaval in Nigeria, culminating in the first Military coup in Nigeria, in 1966.  Then followed the Nigerian Civil War that took place from 1967 – 1970.  The Catholic Church, through its charity agent – the CARITAS Internationalis – played a significant role in providing relief materials to the starving Biafrans, following the economic blockade imposed by the Federal Government during the war.

9.  Talks could not resume immediately after the Nigerian Civil War because the government was then busy on the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reintegration of the Easterners, whose region was the war theatre.  When the talks eventually resumed and the deal was inches away from being sealed, General Yakubu Gown, the then Head of State, was deposed via a Military Coup, in 1975.  Notwithstanding, in a few quick months, the Diplomatic Relations was eventually established in 1976.  The relationship between the Vatican and Nigeria was by proxy, since the Nigerian Ambassador in Spain had a concurrent accreditation to the Holy See.  Things, however, changed for the better in 2012, when the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Holy See took its deserved seat at the Vatican, with Ambassador (Dr) Francis Okeke as the pioneer Ambassador.  Today marks the 41st Anniversary of that epochal event that started in 1976.  

10.  So, did I plan to be here on this significant day? No. My plans, after retirement, were to nurse my small hospitality outfit, do my resource person work and, perhaps, make a compendium of past lectures for the benefit of the younger ones and look after my family.  Since nature has its own designs, one cannot rigidly cling to outlined plans; and, this underscores the import of Joseph Campbell’s advice when he admonished that "WE MUST LET GO THE LIFE WE HAVE PLANNED, SO AS TO ACCEPT THE ONE THAT IS WAITING FOR US".  I let go my plans; and, now I am here occupying that which was waiting for me.


11.  In the course of my 2-month sojourn, I have had the opportunity of listening to the Holy Father’s concerns.  He is concerned about the near absence of the milk of kindness in our today’s world.  In other words, the level of man’s inhumanity to man clearly identifies the dearth of love in our society today, which has exacerbated forced migration, slavery, human trafficking and other social challenges.  This lack of love is not only limited to human relations, it has been allowed to affect the very environment on which human lives depend.

12.  The root causes of these challenges could be classified into two broad categories: causes that emanate from the attitude of man and those emanating from bad governance.  Society’s retrogressing attitude has seen to great decline in morality.  Lack of morality in today’s societies account for the hitherto unimaginable things unveiling before us.  Failed or failing states, occasioned by bad governance, is equally responsible for the challenges in question.  Corruption on the part of government, mental laziness and greed, on the part of the youths, are some of the causes of these challenges.  We must therefore commend those countries like Rwanda, Botswana, Tanzania and Nigeria that are working hard to keep corruption at bay in Africa.  These countries would keep their teeming youths from fleeing their countries if given the desired support from the international community.

13.  As for climate change, despite the Bruntland Commission’s swansong some 30 years today, the world has not taken sufficient steps to ameliorate climate change concerns.  Mindless anthropogenic activities are still embarked upon, thereby increasing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.  Solutions to the climate change menace would start with sensitization. Many people, even in the advanced world, do not seem to be convinced about the danger climate change poses to earth’s and human existence.  Thereafter, we could talk about mitigation, and, when that does not seem to work, adaptation would seem to be the solution.


14.  This short address tried to bring up the reminiscences of some 154 years, in general, by reminding us of the advent of the Roman Catholic Church in Nigeria and the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Nigeria, respectively.  It also reminded us of the Holy Father’s concern for the wellbeing of the global community and what we could do to either eliminate or mitigate the identified challenges.  If we show some commitment, we could make a difference; but, If we chose to be laissez-faire, Norman Cousin advises us against indifference when occasion demands that we act, for refusal to act could adversely affect those very things or people we cherish much, if not ourselves, too.  That is why love is crucial in making the world a safe place for all.

15.  The world could be a better place for us all, if we support the Holy Father’s concern for its wellbeing.  The wellbeing of the earth can only be guaranteed through love for one another and the environment we live in.  These quotes from 3 prominent people of our time should be instructive:

        a.   George Sand    -  "There is Only One Happiness in Life;
                                                to Love and Be Loved".

        b.   Mahatma Ghandi    -    "Where There is Love, There is Life".

        c.  Mother Theresa      -     "Not All Of Us Can Do Great Things,
                                                        But We Can Do Small Things With Great Love".

Yes, we can advance the cause of mankind to the positive heights it deserves if love permeates us; and love will bring peace.  The much desired development can only thrive in a peaceful environment, and, if we desire sustainable development, we must not discountenance environmental sustainability. We would ignore our environment to our own peril. Your response to our invitation is a mark of support and friendship, we appreciate you, especially those that came all the way from Nigeria, Britain, Ireland and Italy.  God bless you all, God bless Nigeria, God bless the Vatican, God bless Italy and God bless the world.  I thank you for the rapt attention.

Bon Appetit
Buon Appetito
Enjoy Your Meal
Merry Christmas to All
Auguro a tutti Voi un Natale Sereno

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After Ambassador’s arrival in Rome, already in attendance to receive him at Fiumicino Rome international airport and at Adagio Hotel, the three Nigerian  priests leading the main Catholic Nigerian Churches in Rome and its surroundings came to the Chancery to pay courtesy calls to His Excellency Ambassador Godwin George Umo OON, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Holy See – Vatican City (VATICAN).

On 19th October 2017, Ambassador received in audience Rev. Fr. Matthew Eze, Chaplain of Cesano – Ladispoli (Rome), who spent some time with His Excellency narrating his priestly experiences in these years within his Church Community.

Then, on 20th October 2017, Rev. Fr. Primus Ileme, Chaplain of St. Jude and Thaddeus from Casilina – Rome, also came along with some Nigerian women wearing their traditional colourful attires to pay visit to the Ambassador. Father Primus as well shared with His Excellency his own experiences in Rome, explaining the challenges of his apostolate.

On 23rd October 2017, the Nigerian Catholic Community, known as "Saint Ambrogio Church" located at the centre of Rome, led by Rev. Fr. Joseph Akaashima paid a courtesy call to the Ambassador with a Church delegation. Founded in the year 2000, the Community - which is part of the Diocese of Rome -  is recognized by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), whose Bishops appoint its chaplain. Father Akaashima explained the various activities of the Community and spoke of the relationship with other communities and of his idea of fostering unity among them.

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His Excellency Ambassador Godwin George Umo OON, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Holy See and His Spouse, Mrs Coral George Umo, flew from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja - Nigeria, and landed at Rome Fiumicino International Airport, Italy, on Saturday 7 October 2017.

Ambassador Umo was received by the Chargé d’Affaires ad interim as well as Head of Chancery of the Mission, Mr Stephen Anthony Awuru, along with some staff of the Mission and by Msgr Gianfranco Gallone who represented the Holy See.

The Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of Nigeria to Italy, Mrs Bisi Margaret Meshioye, was also on ground to welcome the new Nigerian Ambassador to the Holy See. Furthermore, a delegation of African Ambassadors accredited to the Vatican led by H.E. Mr Armindo Fernandes do Espírito Santo Vieira, in his capacity as Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Dean of the African Group, also came to receive Ambassador Godwin George Umo at the airport. Among them were, the Ambassador of Ghana, H.E. Mr Joseph Kojo Akudibillah; the Ambassador of Ivory Coast, H.E. Mr Séverin Mathias Akeo; the Ambassador of Morocco, H.E. Mr Mostapha Arrifi; the Ambassador of Senegal, H.E. Mr Léopold Diouf, and other diplomatic staff of the Nigerian Embassy in Rome.
The Chaplains of the three main Catholic Nigerian Communities in Rome (Rev Fr Joseph Akaashima, Chaplain of Saint Ambrogio Church in Rome; Rev Fr Primus Ileme, Chaplain of St Jude and Thaddeus Church in Casilina – Rome; Rev Fr Matthew Eze, Chaplain of Cesano-Ladipsoli Church) were also at the airport as well as at Adagio Hotel for the reception organized in honour of Ambassador Godwin George Umo and Spouse.
A large number of Nigerians in Diaspora and various tribes (including the Annang) did not miss the opportunity to witness the arrival of the Ambassador. Nigerians priests and religious (NIPRELS) who are currently schooling in Rome and its surroundings, also graced the occasion.

The Nigerian Catholic Women Organization (CWO) from different parishes came in their traditional and colourful uniforms to welcome the Ambassador.
The climax of the ceremony was a short reception organized to welcome H.E. Ambassador Godwin George Umo OON to Rome and the Vatican as the representative of President Muhammadu Buhari
to the Holy See.

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October 1st remains a special date for all Nigerians as this marks the day when we attained one of the most precious of human desires — freedom.

Over the years the country has gone through trials and tribulations, but October 1st is always a day for celebrations.

It is a day for thanksgiving, reflection and re-dedication. It is also a day for remembrance. We should remind ourselves of the recent journey from 1999 – 2015, when our country happily returned to democratic rule.

However, in spite of oil prices being an average of $100 per barrel and about 2.1m barrels a day, that great piece of luck was squandered and the country’s social and physical infrastructure neglected.

We were left with no savings and huge infrastructure deficit.

The APC Government’s Campaign rallying cry to restore security, re-balance the economy and fight corruption was not all rhetoric.

The country must first be secured. The economy must be re-balanced so that we do not depend on oil alone. We must fight corruption which is Nigeria’s Number One Enemy. Our Administration is tackling these tasks in earnest.
In the past two years, Nigeria has recorded appreciable gains in political freedom. A political Party at the Centre losing elections of State Governor, National Assembly seat and even State Assemblies to the opposition parties is new to Nigeria. Added to these are complete freedom to associate, to hold and disseminate opinions. Such developments clearly attest to the country’s growing political development. But like all freedoms, this is open to abuse.

Recent calls on re-structuring, quite proper in a legitimate debate, has let in highly irresponsible groups to call for dismemberment of the country. We cannot and we will not allow such advocacy.

As a young Army Officer, I took part from the beginning to the end in our tragic civil war costing about 2m lives, resulting in fearful destruction and untold suffering. Those who are agitating for a re-run were not born by 1967 and have no idea of the horrendous consequences of the civil conflict which we went through.

I am very disappointed that responsible leaders of these communities do not warn their hot-headed youths what the country went through. Those who were there should tell those who were not there, the consequences of such folly.

At all events, proper dialogue and any desired constitutional changes should take place in a rational manner, at the National and State Assemblies. These are the proper and legal fora for National debate, not some lop-sided, un-democratic body with pre-determined set of objectives.

Government is keeping up the momentum of dialogue with stakeholders in the Niger Delta to keep the peace. We intend to address genuine grievances of the communities.

Government is grateful to the responsible leadership of those communities and will pursue lasting peace in the Niger Delta.

On security, Nigerians must be grateful to our gallant Armed Forces for rolling back the frontiers of Boko Haram’s terrorism, defeating them and reducing them to cowardly attacks on soft and vulnerable targets.

Nigeria is grateful to its neighbours and the international community for the collective efforts to defeat this world-wide menace of terrorism.

Not even the most organized and most equipped police and security forces in the world can escape the menace of modern day terrorism, as we have seen in recent years in Europe and other parts of the world.

But we are not letting up. Our Armed Forces in an effort to enhance the operational capability of troops of OPERATION LAFIYA DOLE have established Mobile Strike Teams in the North East. These will ensure the final push to wipe out the remnants of Boko Haram.

In addition, through targeted air strikes most of the leadership and identified logistics bases and routes of the insurgents have been neutralized. The Armed Forces have established a Naval presence in the Lake Chad Basin as part of the coordinated military efforts to curtail the movements or re-emergence of the sect in the area.

Government is working round the clock to ensure release of the remaining Chibok girls, as well as other persons in Boko Haram captivity. Government will continue to support the Armed Forces and other security agencies to fight not only terrorism, but kidnapping, armed robberies, herdsmen/farmers violence and to ensure peace, stability and security in our country.

With respect to the economy, the Government has remained pro-active in its diversification policy. The Federal Government’s agricultural Anchor Borrowers Programme, which I launched in November 2015, has been an outstanding success with:

· N43.92 billion released through the CBN and 13 participating institutions,

· 200,000 small holder farmers from 29 states of the federation benefitting,

· 233,000 hectares of farmland cultivating eight commodities, namely Rice, Wheat, Maize, Cotton, soya-beans, Poultry, Cassava and Groundnuts, in addition to fish farming.

These initiatives have been undertaken in close collaboration with the states. I wish to commend the efforts of the Governors of Kebbi, Lagos, Ebonyi and Jigawa States for their support to the rice and fertilizer revolutions.

Equally commendable are contributions of the Governors of Ondo, Edo, Delta, Imo, Cross River, Benue, Ogun, Kaduna and Plateau States for their support for the Presidential initiative for palm oil, rubber, cashew, cassava, potatoes and others crops.

With the abundance of rainfall last year and this year, agriculture has enjoyed divine intervention.

Since December last year, this Administration has produced over 7 million 50Kg bags of fertilizer. Eleven blending plants with a capacity of 2.1 million metric tons have been reactivated. We have saved $150 million in foreign exchange and N60 billion in subsidy. Fertilizer prices have dropped from N13,000 per 50Kg bag to N5,500.

Furthermore, a new presidential initiative is starting with each state of the Federation creating a minimum of 10,000 jobs for unemployed youths, again with the aid of CBN’s development finance initiatives.

Power remains a huge problem. As of September 12th, production of power reached an all — time high of 7,001 Megawatts. Government is increasing its investment, clearing up the operational and financial log jam bedeviling the industry. We hope to reach 10,000 Megawatts by 2020.

Key priorities include better energy mix through solar and Hydro technologies. I am glad to say that after many years of limbo, Mambilla Power Project has taken off.

Elsewhere in the economy the special window created for manufacturers, investors and exporters, foreign exchange requirements has proved very effective. Since April, about $7 billion has come through this window alone. The main effect of these policies is improved confidence in the economy and better investment sentiments.

The country has recorded 7 consecutive months of lower inflation, Naira rate is beginning to stabilize, appreciating from N525 per $1 in February this year to N360 today. Broad-based economic growth is leading us out of recession.

Furthermore, in order to stabilize the polity, the Federal Government gave additional support to states in the form of:

·State Excess Crude Account loans,

·Budget Support Facility,

·Stabilization Fund Release to state and local government as follows:

·N200 billion in 2015

·N441 billion in 2016

·N1 trillion in 2017

Altogether totaling N1.642 trillion.

This was done to enable states to pay outstanding salaries, pensions and small business suppliers who had been all but crippled over the years.

In addition, the Government’s current N500 billion Special Intervention Programme is targeting groups through;

· Home Grown School Feeding Programme,

· N-Power Job creation to provide loans to small-scale traders and artisans,

· Conditional Cash Transfer,

·Family Homes Fund and

·Social Housing Scheme

Fellow Nigerians,

We are fully aware that fighting corruption was never going to be a straightforward task. We expected corrupt elements to use any weapon to fight back, mainly judicial obstruction and political diversion. But we are determined to eradicate corruption from our body politic.

In this fight, the Government has:

·Empowered teams of prosecutors,

·Assembled detailed databases,

·Accelerated the recovery of stolen funds The Administration’s new institutional reforms include:

·Enforcing Treasury Single Account,

·Whistle-Blowers Policy,

·Integrated Payroll Personnel and Information System

We have signed multi-lateral cooperation agreements on criminal matters with friendly countries. There are signs of increasing cooperation from the Judiciary. Recently the Chief Justice of the Federation directed Heads of all our Courts of first instance and Appeal to accelerate hearings of corruption cases and dismiss any judicial officers found to have been compromised.

Justice Salami has just been appointed to chair the Judiciary’s anti-graft committee.
Government expects a lot from this Committee.

I commend the National Assembly for refocusing on its oversight committees. They should, in addition, ensure swift passage of enabling corruption laws. But fighting corruption is a bottom to top operation. I call on all Nigerians to combat corruption at every turn. By not asking for and refusing to accept a bribe, by reporting unethical practices or by blowing a whistle, together we can beat corruption. The government for its part will work for accountability at all levels – Federal, State and Local Governments. CHANGE will then be real.

As we enter the second half of our term of office, we intend to accelerate progress and intensify our resolve to fix the country’s challenges and problems.

Thank you and a happy holiday to all of you.

God bless our country

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