The appointment penultimate week of Ignatius Kaigama as the new bishop of the Catholic Arcdiocese of Abuja by Pope Francis is quite significant. This is more so considering the fact that the next level administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is striving towards achieving its developmental objectives anchored on the war against corruption, insecurity and reviving the economy.
Kaigama, who replaces John Onaiyekan, had before his confirmation, acted as Co-adjutor for the Archdiocese of Abuja. A letter signed by Sebastian Musa said Kaigama’s appointment is to take effect from November 9.
“The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has accepted the retirement of His Eminence, John Cardinal Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, as Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja and has appointed Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama as Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja with effect from this announcement.
“May I humbly request that you kindly remember in your prayers our Archbishop Emeritus-John Cardinal 0. Onaiyekan Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama,” the letter reads.
Kaigama a former President of the Catholic Bishops Conference, was until his recent appointment, the archbishop of Jos, a position he has occupied for the past 19 years. Kaigama is replacing Onaiyekan after the cardinal reached 75 years in January. The mandatory retirement age for bishops in the Catholic Church is 75.
Onaiyekan was ordained Catholic Bishop of Abuja in 1994, four years after he became Coadjutor of the diocese in 1990. His 61-year-old successor was ordained priest on June 6, 1981, and consecrated bishop on April 23, 1995.
Kaigama was born in Kona, Taraba state, on July 31, 1958. He studied for the priesthood at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Jos. He was ordained a priest on June 6, 1981. At the Pontifical Gregorian University, he earned a doctorate in theology in 1991.
Pope John Paul 11 appointed him bishop of the newly established Catholic Diocese of Jalingo on February 3, 1994. He was consecrated as bishop on April 23, 1995 The Bishop of Yola, Patrick Francis Sheehan OSA, was the principal consecrator, with co-consecrators Gregory Obinna Ochiagha, Bishop of Orlu, and Athanasius Atule Usuh, Bishop of Makurdi. On May 18, 2000, Pope John Paul named Kaigama to succeed Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka as Archbishop of Jos.
Kaigama was President of the Nigeria Bishps Conference from 2012 to 2018 and President of the Episcopal Conference of West African Catholic Bishops. He is also chairman of the Plateau state-convened “Interreligious Committee for Peace”. Together with the late Emir of Wase, Alhaji Haruna Abdullahi, he has been involved in promoting mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims.
After the riots in Jos in January 2010, he calmed the situation and clarified the conflict in the international press. On July 25, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named Kaigama a member of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelism.
In 2014, the Catholic Bishops Conference in Nigeria supported legislation to make participation in a same-sex marriage a crime punishable by 14 years imprisonment. It noted the move as a “courageous act” and a “step in the right direction”. Kaigama argued that the action was “in line with the moral and ethical values of the Nigerian and African cultures”, and blessed President Goodluck Jonathan for not bowing to international pressure: “To protect you and your administration against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of immoral practices”.
Kaigama condemned foreign aid programmes for a disproportionate emphasis on contraception. In 2014, he said: “In the first place, children die in infant mortality, in inter-tribal wars and diseases, but yet you come to say ‘decrease your population and we will give you economic help.’ We want food, we want education, we want good roads, healthcare. We are being given the wrong things and we are being asked to accept, simply because we are poor.”
Already, President Buhari has congratulated Kaigama on his appointment as Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja. Buhari said, “As His Grace, Archbishop Kaigama begins a new phase of his ministry, the president joined the Catholic faithful across Nigeria in praying for a successful and memorable tenure in office that will see the church accomplish great things for the unity and prosperity of the nation, while complementing government’s efforts at human and material development.”
The president also felicitated with Onaiyekan on his retirement, commending him for his dedicated service to the Catholic Church, and invaluable contributions to the spiritual life of Christians under his pastoral care.
Recounting previous audiences with CBCN in the past few years, the president appreciated the many contributions Catholics have made to Nigeria’s development and assured the leadership of the church of his government’s active support to faith-based organisations as partners in progress.
Blueprint joins President Buhari and other eminent Nigerians to congratulate Kaigama on his well deserved appointment as the new Catholic bishop of Abuja. We are quite confident that the cleric will bring his enormous goodwill and peace overtures to bear in the discharge of his sacred duties. Nigeria, indeed, is in dire need of a pious personality like Kaigama in its quest to restore sanity to the polity and put the nation back on the path of peace, unity and progress. We wish Kaigama a successful tenure and Onaiyekan a peaceful retirement.