1. Preliminary remarks

The themes of all our past colloquium papers were products of either personal or collective experiences of the seminary community, within the period they were written. Such themes were chosen to address a particular challenging issue within that period due to the fact that formation is a continuous and inexhaustible process that cannot be treated once and for all.

As we recall, the theme of our last colloquium “Seminary Formation: A Period for Authentic Catechesis and Witnessing was born out of my classroom experience, where a student wanted me to make a distinction between my personal belief and the official Teachings of the Church on an issue. In that colloquium paper, we discussed the need for Authentic Catechesis in the seminary, so as to bridge any gap between what priests and seminarians believe andthe official Teachings of the Church.

The theme of this year’s colloquium paper “Pastoral Leadership in Seminary Formation: Nigerian Experience” is an upshot of the interview I granted to the GMT News, in the course of this year, 2023, to create awareness of the upcoming centenary celebration of Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu.

The interview was centered on the formation of future candidates for the priesthood in our time, and the role they should play in society. Using the just concluded 2023 general election as a point of reference, I was asked whether the type of formation priests received in the seminary, adequately prepared them for the role some of them played during that election. According to one of the journalists, priests were seen openly campaigning for preferred candidates in Churches and on social media, some collected money from politicians for themselves and/or for onward distribution to targeted persons, who would mobilize voters for their preferred candidates. This narration is similar to observations made by some scholars, after the previous elections held in 2015 and 2019 respectively. For instance, commenting on the 2015 general elections, Fr. Cyril Udebunu in a paper entitled “Priests as Agents of Social Change in Nigeria’s Socio-Political Environment” stated that “some overzealous priests went beyond the bounds of reasonable conducts and modesty” (Udebunu 2016, 62). Again, still on the same issue, after the election in 2019, Prof Kate Omenugha in her paper, “Participation of Catholic Priests in Politics- a Holy Sin?” went ahead to name some of the priests involved and the national shame they brought to the Church (Omenugha 2021, 194). Perhaps it was because the issues raised in the 2015 and 2019 elections were not adequately addressed that they repeated themselves in the 2023 elections. 

Thus, the issues raised above are therefore serious enough and require our individual and collective reflections on what to do, in order to prevent future occurrence. As a formation house, the onus lies on us to discuss whether our formation programmes adequately prepare candidates for priesthood, for the leadership roles they should play in society.

This involves reflecting on the meaning of leadership in general bearing in mind that according to Anthony D’Souza, the same leadership qualities can be useful to leaders in different spheres of life – politics, economic entrepreneurship, army, institutions, religious groups etc. (Anthony D’Souza 2008, 11). Then we would narrow it down to the priesthood, because by the Munus Regendi a priest receives at ordination, he “is called to express in his life the authority and service of Jesus Christ the head and priest of the Church by encouraging and leading the ecclesial community” (PDV 26).

“The ecclesial community” that is the context of our discussion is Nigeria.

Thus, this paper would therefore try to address the following questions: do priests have leadership roles to play in society? What type of leadership role should they play? How can we pattern our formation programme to help candidates play leadership roles in the Nigerian society? What are the challenges and the prospects therein?

This paper is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to serve as a catalyst, for further reflections and discussions in our various groups.

  •  Leader and Leadership
    • Who is a leader? The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a leader as “A person who leads group of people, especially the head of a country, an organization, etc. a political/ spiritual leader.” According to Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a leader is (a) “a person in control of a groupcountry, or situation”:

These two different definitions take into consideration the fact that man is a social being. He or she does not exist alone, but in the company of others – fellow human beings (Aristotle). The fragile nature of man at birth, and his need for nurturing, security and propagation makes it clear from the outset that man cannot live alone. The variegated nature of these needs makes it imperative that one has to rely on others in order to satisfy these needs. The complexity of these needs also portends the diverse nature of roles others play, in the survival of a particular individual and ipso facto the group. The fact that man is a social being does not mean that a group living together has a univocal approach to ways and means of attending to these needs. While one may desire something to be done in a particular way, others may want it done their way. Thus, in the process of living together, a leader or leaders emerge, that coordinate ways and means of providing the needs, essential for the survival of the individuals in this group. If this were not the case, there would be no need for leaders and man would find himself in the Hobbesian “state of nature,” where everybody would be for himself!

With the above deposition, the need for a leader or leaders in a group can never be overemphasized. However, while the need for a leader or leaders is an imperative, how such a leader or leaders emerge is not a given. Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary offers two ways a leader emerges – “because of his or her ability or position.”  This leads to the question of how this “ability or position” could be acquire? While some say it is by nature, others say it is acquired through reasonable efforts. Anthony D’ Souza in his book Leadership avers that “some people have natural leadership gifts. With seeming ease, they work well with others, they motivate co-workers and subordinates, and they never seem to make demands on people…” (Anthony D’Souza 2008, 11). But he went on to add “Unfortunately, most of us don’t fall into that category.”  However, since for Shakespeare “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” leadership can fall on anyone, whether by nature or by other means, the ability or position needed by a leader could be acquired.

  • Leadership

The above paves the way for the explication of the word leadership. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines leadership as “the state of or position of being a leader”. This means the act of carrying out the function of a leader, the skills involved in leading people. It is with the above in mind that one could talk of good or bad leadership, good or bad leader. The presence or absence of the ability to lead or the ways and manner the position of leadership is obtained could make the difference between good and bad leadership, good and bad leader (Nigeria is a case in point).

The ability to lead thus means that the leader must have some qualities either by nature or by acquisition.

  • Qualities of a leader

According to Anthony D’ Souza, people expect so many qualities from a leader. Here I pick only five of the qualities stated in his work. They include:

  • Someone who has the initiative to start things and keep them alive…
  • A person not afraid to become involved… listens with an open mind… considerate of the feelings of others…
  • One who is tactful, yet forceful and firm… never quits or complains…
  • A person who can reconcile clashing viewpoints rather than take a stand as a partisan or special-pleader.
  • Someone who inspires fellowship in those with whom he/she works (Anthony D’Souza 2008, 18-19)

Robert Greenleaf, in his celebrated book, The Servant as a Leader itemized also similar qualities. According to him, a leader should:

  • be goal-oriented. Every achievement starts with a goal; thus, a servant leader must have a clear-cut goal of what he intends to achieve.
  • have the ability to listen and understand. Just like servants listen in order to understand those they serve, so should leaders listen to those they lead in order to understand them. 
  • be a good communicator. Say just enough and allow the hearer to make what Greenleaf describes as “a leap of imagination.” Saying too much leads to monologue that makes communication difficult. A good communicator knows how to use the power of persuasion to convince the doubting Thomas in his group rather than impose his will arbitrarily.
  • be able to accept and empathize with those he leads. He must have the ability to accept people the way they are, empathize with them in their weaknesses, but also be firm in his judgement.
  • be a good mentor. He should have the ability to inspire others to learn from him and achieve even greater things.
  • have the ability to maintain order in a community. Without order, a community cannot function. Thus, a leader has to be firm against those who may bring disorder into the community. (Robert Greenleaf, 2008, 162-518, kindle edition).

He then proposed that to have these qualities in the right proportion, a leader must be first of all a servant.

With the above, Robert Greenleaf places service at the center of leadership. For many Christian authors, the servant leader model of leadership best describes the type of leadership that should exist in the Church (cf. Christian Amogu 2016; Charles C. Enyinnia 2021;Susan I. Fowler 2016). This is because the life, ministry, and death of Christ fit into the mold of a servant leader, as we shall demonstrate below. (Please note that in this paper, we shall dwell on the concept of a servant as a leader and apply the qualities mentioned above not in the order they are written, but where we consider appropriate).

    •  Christ as a servant leader
    • Christ as a servant

The entire history of salvation revolves around Jesus Christ, who came to serve rather than to be served (Mt 20:28).

From the Gospel narratives, we learn that Christ began his life of service in Nazareth, where he learnt the carpentry profession.  “This is the carpenter surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset…” (Mk 6:3); “Is not this the carpenter’s son…?” (Mt 13:55). According to Raymond Brown, “his opponents mocked the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee, an obscure locale that lent little support to either Davidic or divine origin.” (Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 108). It should be recalled that Nathaniel even asked “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:45-46).

Thus, Jesus began his life of service by rendering services to his clients in this obscure city Nazareth and after his premiere in the synagogue of Nazareth where he declared his mission and vision “… the spirit of the Lord is upon me….” (Lk 4:18-19), the scope of his services extended to other parts of Israel.

The nature and the way he extended his services to many parts of Israel, as chronicled in the Gospel narratives marked him out, as a servant leader. In these Gospel narratives, Christ’s services are presented in twofold dimensions: service to God – “I came to do not my will but the will of him who sent me” and service to man, as demonstrated by his washing the feet of his disciples (cf. John 13: 1-16). Thus, He led by example and in so doing was able to admonish his disciples – “the first among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:27), i.e., you must be servant leaders like myself.

The summit of this life of service culminated in his death on the cross, borne for the redemption of those he served. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). St. Paul went even further to state “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5: 7-8).

  • Christ as a Pastor

The word pastor, a Latin term for Shepherd meaning a person who tends sheep, cares for them, nurtures, protects and guides them is really a familiar word. A culture that keeps sheep knows how vital such persons are to the survival of the sheepfold. It is therefore not surprising that in the Old and New Testaments written in a milieu that tends sheep, analogy could be drawn between the tender hand of God towards his people and the tender hands of a shepherd towards his flock (cf. Karl Rahner, Dictionary of Theology, 364).  From Genesis 49:24 where Jacob describes God as “the shepherd, the Rock of Israel” through the prophets Isa 40:11; Jr 31:10 down to the New Testament Jon 10:11, the image of God tending his people as a shepherd tends his flock is omnipresent. In fact, Isa 40:11 declares that “he (God) will lead his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep,” while Jesus as the son of God declared himself the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn 10:11).

The image of Christ as the Good shepherd portrays him as the one who takes care of the New Israel. He nurtures, protects and guides it as a shepherd guides his flock. In Lumen Gentium No 6 we read “The Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ.  It is a flock of which God Himself foretold He would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds; are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of the shepherds, who gave His life for the sheep.”

With the above, Christ laid the blueprint of how a Christian leader should first of all be a servant, before becoming a leader.

  • Priests as another Christ

It is this power to shepherd the flock of God that Christ handed over to the apostles and their successors for “having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; … He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world” (LG 20). Priests are likewise shepherds (pastors) because by “exercising the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and according to their share of his authority, priests, in the name of the bishop, gather the family of God together as a brotherhood enlivened by one spirit” (Presbyterorum Ordnis Sec. I, no 6).

    • Priests and Pastoral Leadership

From the ongoing, it is clear that a pastor by definition and job description is a leader. Pastoral Leadership expresses then the ways and means pastors are meant to tend, care, nurture, protect and guide those entrusted to them. To apprehend these ways and means some necessary tools are needed as would be discussed below. 

    • Tools necessary for Pastoral leadership
      • Acquisition of requisite knowledge

For a pastor to know the ways and means through which he should discharge his function, he has to be truly informed. Without prejudice to other areas of formation viz academic, spiritual and human, the scope of this paper allows us only to concentrate on the pastoral formation. According to Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis “sound pastoral formation demands not only engaging in apostolic activities, but also the study of pastoral theology” (Ratio 122). Pastoral theology is understood here as, “theological reflection on the self-realizing activity of the church where God communicates salvation to the world, and the forms this activity takes and should take in view both of the unchanging nature of the church and also of the situation in which the church and the world find themselves at any time” (Karl Rahner, Dictionary of Theology 365).

Thus, the study of pastoral theology opens the mind of a pastor to realize that he is involved in the “activity of the church where God communicates salvation to the world.” Consequently, he is not a solitary leader, nor is his responsibility amorphous. His activities are to be streamlined in such a way that they are in tandem with the Church’s vision of communicating God’s salvific mission to the world.

This vision of the Church is outlined by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council when they assert: “The mission of the Church, therefore, is fulfilled by that activity which makes her, obeying the command of Christ and influenced by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, fully present to all men or nations, in order that, by the example of her life and by her preaching, by the sacraments and other means of grace, she may lead them to the faith, the freedom and the peace of Christ…” (Ad Gentes no 5). Pastors are therefore called to make Christ and the church present to all men, by the example of their lives and by their preachings, by the sacraments and other means of grace.

  • Acquisition of requisite qualities (servant leadership model)

 If pastors are to make Christ and the Church present to all men, by the example of their lives and by their preachings, by the sacraments and other means of grace, they need to acquire the requisite qualities.

This brings us back to the servant leadership model of Robert Greenleaf. Pastors need to be servants first, before they can effectively lead those entrusted to their care, by the example of their lives and by their preachings, by the sacraments and other means of grace. If we apply the categories already established by Robert Greenleaf it all means that for pastors to be servant leaders, they need to be:

  • Goal oriented

Here, a pastor should have a clear pastoral goal or objective. Thus, pastoral programmes directed to children, youths and adults should have clear objectives with the priest clearly leading these groups towards the desired goal. A pastor who has no clear goal or objective of where he wants to lead the flock would end up creating chaos among the faithful.

However, being goal-oriented does not mean that the flock should be at the mercy of the whims and caprices of the pastor. There should be a model or models that serve as guiding principles on the diocesan level, to which pastors should orient themselves, while designing their programmes. In this way, they cohere with the overall diocesan vision and ipso facto Christ’s, for a Christian leader must pursue the same goal that Jesus pursued (cf. Anthony D’Souza 2008, 13).

  • Good in Listening and understanding

The pastor should know that he is not a jack of all trade. He should listen to his collaborators, the parish council, CWO, CMO, CYON etc (cf Ratio 120). He should bear in mind that those in his Church may be scholars, professors, men and women from various areas of human endeavour. Cases where priests insult or abuse parishioners would not arise, if a priest understands that he is first of all a servant. Listening is the first step towards understanding. A servant listens well in order to understand his master. Cultivating the virtue of listening reduces unnecessary verbosity. A pastor who talks too much lacks due diligence and irritates his parishioners, because talking too much leads to monologue that makes communication difficult.

  • capable of accepting and empathizing with those under him

The pastor should understand that his parishioners are human beings with their frailties. He should accept them for what they are, empathize with them in their areas of challenges, before being in a position to bring them where he wants them to be. Bigotry, looking down on others are not the hallmarks of a servant.

  • One who has power of persuasion

He should employ the use of dialogue in the resolution of conflicts or misunderstandings. It should be noted that the Apostles employed the use of persuasion in order to win over converts and not force. Well-prepared and delivered homilies have great impact on people’s consciences and have the potential of changing their perspectives and attitudes to issues.

  • Able to maintain order in a community 

Here, the pastor should understand that despite his good will, things would not always work out the way he wants. There are always the chances that some may not or would not follow his instruction or do the right thing without certain amount of pressure. Thus, while pastors are expected to listen, accept and empathize with those they lead, they should not by any means condone evil. They should be firm in the face of adversity and even give sanctions, so as to bring order when other methods fail to bring the desired harmony into the fold.

In fact, Edward Friedman in his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of Quick Fix, believes that leaders who fail to take decisive steps to bring erring members in line, do not deserve the position they are holding. They lack the nerves to carry out their duties as leaders (cf. Edward Friedman 1999, 242).

The above is just to mention a few of the qualities needed by pastors, for effective pastoral leadership. More could be added by each group, during the group discussion.

  • Critique of the Servant Leader Model

Avre Dules in his book Models of the Church averred that “the term ‘servant,’ indeed, contains certain ambiguities. It connotes three things: work done not freely but under orders; work directed to the good of others rather than to the workers’ own advantage; and work that is humble and demeaning (‘servile’)” (Avre Dules 91-92). According to him, it is only in the second and third sense that the term servant could be attributed to Christ or to Christians, because he or they work out of love and for the good of the other. He brings in the word diakonia as most appropriate in describing the work of Christ and Christians as servants. This is because “the term applies to all forms of ministries – including the ministry of the word, of sacraments, and of temporal help” (Avre Dules 91-92).

In this way, we can comfortably apply the second and third meanings of servant to the servant-leader model we have adopted. Authentic pastoral leadership therefore takes the above into consideration bearing in mind that pastoral theology “…concerns itself not merely with the pastoral work of the priest but also with all the church’s work for salvation,” (Karl Rahner, Dictionary of Theology 365). This would lead us to the next topic, which is – the practical application of the above principles in a concrete milieu.

    • Contextualizing Pastoral Leadership in the Nigerian Political Arena

The Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, Ad Gentes, states that missionary activities“may be carried out differently according to circumstances… These circumstances in turn depend sometimes on the Church, sometimes on the peoples or groups or men to whom the mission is directed” (Ad Gentes no 6).

Since we have established that the pastoral activity of the church includes making Christ fully present to all men, and should be carried out differently according to circumstances, then should Christ not also be made present in the Nigerian political arena?  And how?

The answer to the above question depends on how one understands the term politics. For the avoidance of doubt, we understand politics here, as the art of governance, where the participation of every citizen is needed in varying capacities, for the welfare of a community. Arts of governance here connotes not one, but varied methods with their strengths and weaknesses. It is because there is no one way of defining politics “that makes it readily associable to deception, manipulation and corruption, so that its modern day connotation is simply everything that is dirty” (Omenugha 2021, 189) and thus something the Church should distance herself from. This is heightened by the separation of state and religion with concomitant distrust from each side of the divide. Does the separation of state and religion mean that one should not have anything to do with the other? How could one interpret the separation of state and religion in the Nigerian context?

  • Nigerian constitution and freedom of religion

Irrespective of the fact that the Nigeria constitution expressly states that Nigeria is a secular state (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria section 10), the reality on ground shows that religion plays a formidable role in politics and likewise, politics in religion. In his book Democracy and Civil Society in Nigeria, Hassan Kukah argues that in Nigeria “rather than politicians seeing themselves being divided only by the contending ideological presentations of their party manifestoes, a lot of useful energies were diverted to building religious laagers. Rather than mobilize Nigerians to their course of position, the new political elite were busy mobilizing their religious constituencies for a war against one another” (Hassan Kukah 1999, 103). In their communique issued at the end of their 2023 second plenary, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, while affirming the role of religion in nation building they condemned “its share of negative impact on some nations, especially in multi-ethnic and diverse cultures. In our country, religion is sometimes unfortunately used as a tool and justification for violence, oppression, division and manipulation.” During the 2023 general elections, the role the issue of Muslim- Muslim ticket played is still fresh in our minds. However, this tendency is not restricted to inter-religious struggle for supremacy but even in areas controlled by people of the same faith, the denominations played divergent roles. Commenting on the 2015 general election, Cyril Udebunu stated that “priest and religious elite played very prominent roles in some geo-political region of the country. They were either seeking for blessings, endorsements or for some influences over the voters. A number of them were wooed to actively step into the public sphere or use their religious assemblies to campaign for the political interest of some politicians” (Udebunu, 2016, 62).

However, to some, their participation was also an occasion for many of them to prophetically condemn the veil perpetuated by corrupt politicians, thus creating copiousness in the voters for their reasoned choice” (Udebunu, 2016, 62). 

  • Catholic Bishops Conference and Pastoral Leadership in the Nigerian Political Arena 

With what we have discussed so far, how then could one reconcile the separation of state and religion in the Nigerian constitution and what is obtainable on ground?

In responding to the interpretation of the separation of Church and state in America, Bishop John R. Roach made it clear that while on the one hand such separation would ensure that religious organizations are neither favoured nor discriminated against because they are religious, on the other hand such separation should not be accepted or allowed to mean the separation of the church from society (cf. John R. RoachinThe Shepherds Speaks 1986, p.92). Thus, it should not “prevent the church from fulfilling an essential dimension of its ministry, that is teaching the Gospel truth about every dimension of existence – personal and social, public and private – on individual and institutional questions” (The Shepherds Speaks p.92-93).

The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria have been living up to the above roles, by putting the political class on its toes on issues bordering on good governance – honesty, transparency, rights of the citizens, anti-corruption stance etc. For instance, the bishops did not fail to speak out when President Babangida, in 1993 canceled outcome of the general election, even though according to Kukah, the cancelation could have been welcomed by Christians as good, because it prevented the installation of a Muslim – Muslim ticket (Both the elected president and the vice president were Muslims) (Kukah, 1999, 116). The Bishops, contrary to the above conception were firm in saying, “we find it incomprehensible that a national election held before the prying eyes of local and international monitors and generally pronounced to be the freest and the fairest in the nation’s history can become so deeply flawed in the eyes of the authorities as to deserve outright cancellation.”

Again, in February 2023, the bishops concerned with the conduct of the 2023 general elections wrote: “We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its officials to ensure that their conducts in the entire electoral process are transparent, honest, and beyond reproach. We continue to enjoin the Commission to make sure that the newly adopted technologies for accreditation, transmission, and collation, are transparently and sincerely deployed and not manipulated to give false results. We equally call on the law enforcement agents, whose primary duty is to enforce law and order and ensure the protection of persons and materials during the elections, to efficiently and professionally carry out their responsibilities without fear, favour, or partiality.”

As a follow up to the above and as a sign of their unrelenting efforts to the building of a better Nigeria, the Bishops most recently reviewed the compliance of states institutions with above demands and found them wanting. Thus, in their second communique in the same year issued on 14th September, 2023, they remarked: “In spite of the above, the conduct of the elections was marred by many pitfalls and irregularities. As reported by many of our commissioned observers all over the country, there were threats, intimidation, violence, poor logistics, inducement, impunity, manipulation of results as well as lack of transparency.” They also condemned the inequitable distribution of Nigerian economy by affirming that they “reject the ever-increasing scandalous comfort and remuneration of elected leaders to the detriment of the poor. We therefore demand that the governments cut the increasing cost of running government in our country and that the money saved be used to provide essential amenities and services.”

  • Pastoral leadership role of individual pastors in the political arena

That priests are pastors has already been established in the preceding paragraphs. Their roles as pastors have been mapped out in the documents of the church cf. Presbyterorum Ordnis Sec. I, no 6 as discussed above and also in Christus Dominus no 15 it is stated that “the presbyters are the prudent fellow workers of the episcopal order and are themselves consecrated as true priests of the New Testament, just as deacons are ordained for the ministry and serve the people of God in communion with the bishop and his presbytery.” These two documents affirm that priests are collaborators of the Bishops in the mission of making Christ fully present to all men. As collaborators of the Bishops, their role in political arena must be mirrored along the lines bishops toe in the political arena. “All pastors should remember too that by their daily conduct and concern they are revealing the face of the Church to the world, and men will judge the power and truth of the Christian message thereby” (GS 43). In order for priests to fulfil these roles, they must take the following seriously.

  • Awareness/enlightenment on the political situation in Nigeria

Using the three communiques by the CBCN mentioned above as reference points, one notes that each communique started by painting the picture of the situation in the country, at the time such communique was written. This is a clear demonstration of the Bishops’ ability to read the signs of the times, by informing themselves about the state of affairs of the nation. It is only a well-informed person that can properly assess a situation. This means that for individual pastors to make the desired impact in the political arena they have to enlighten themselves on the political situation of the country.

In his paper entitled “Go Out to The Whole World Proclaim The Good News (Mk 16:15): An All-Inclusive Mandate To The Church To Priests In Our World Today” Fr. Anthony Ezeoke decried the lack of proper political awareness among priests. According to him, “from my discussion and interactions with priests, it has dawned on me that the majority of priests are indifferent to politics and many seem completely ignorant of what it really involves, such that when one hears what many priests say, they sound so naïve and funny” ((Anthony Ezeoke, 2021, 212). He is not alone in this view and quoted the views of T. Okure and others on the same issue. He went further to challenge his audience by asking “what do you really know about the constitution of Nigerian today?” (Anthony Ezeoke, 2021, 205).

We can ask ourselves today, how many of us have ever seen the constitution of Nigeria? How many have read the relevant parts? Even with all the uproar generated by the 2023 election, how many of us have read the new electoral act? How have we equipped ourselves for arguments on what the 25% of votes cast in 2/3 of 36 states and Abuja really mean? Are we arguing from the point of view of ignorance or from available facts?

These are the questions one needs to answer before one can contribute to the development of politics in Nigeria.

  • Commitment to the welfare of the people

A pastor who cares for his flock would not be indifferent to unfavourable socio-politico and economic situation of those under his care. This is because, “it is part of the church’s mission to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundament rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it” (GS 76, CCC 2246).

The Lord himself lived a life of commitment to the welfare of the people around him He did not stand aloof when people were suffering around him. He healed the sick, cast out the devil from those tormented day and night and feed the hungry (cf. Mt 8:16-17; 14:13-21; 15:32-39). In the same vein, the CBCN continues to show good leadership by being at the frontline in the defense of the poor and marginalized. In the communique mentioned earlier, the bishops addressed issues bordering on insecurity, economic hardship, and marginalization and proffered means to ending them. It is also good to point out that the Church, through the auspices of the Caritas, the JDPC and other charitable organizations continues to take care of the poor and the marginalized. 

The onus lies on the pastors to bring what is discussed at the national level down to the grassroot. In so doing, they help actualize the directives of the bishops. As leaders of the flock, they should be bold enough to challenge the systems that perpetuate negative socio-political programmes that dehumanize and impoverish those under their care. This includes engaging the political class in their area in meaningful dialogue.

  • Authentic witnessing: No to partisan politics

While priests are called to intervene and ensure the socio-political wellbeing of those under their charge, they should know that “the Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person” (GS 76). In the preceding paragraphs we tried to look at the roles that pastors should play in politics. However, in the course of history, in the zeal to ensure the socio-political wellbeing of those under their charge, some pastors have been pushed into actions that may in the end contradict and compromise the very essence of their pastoral leadership roles. A case in point is the role Fr. Camilo Torres played, as the forerunner of the radical form of the liberation of the Latin American poor. He joined a militant revolutionary group because according to him, revolution was “the way to bring about a government that feeds the hungry, cloths the naked, teaches the ignorant, puts into practice the works of charity and love for neighbor, not just even now and then, and not just for a few, but for the majority of our neighbors” and eventually died in a battle in 1966 (Philip Berryman, Liberation Theology, (Philadelphia, Temple Universal Press, 1987) 43. Even though The Latin American Bishops Conference tried to avoid the use of violence in changing the status quo, they “urged pastoral commitment … for Christians to be involved in transformation of society” during their Medellin Conference (Ibid 23). This pastoral commitment should lead to “preferential option for the poor.” But according to Philip Berryman, “as it was put into practice this option became controversial and even conflictive … it led to numerous church-state confrontations, the murder of dozens of priests and religious and thousands of active lay people.” (Ibid 43).

One can therefore understand why the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its Instruction On Certain Aspects of The “Theology of Liberation” averred that “the zeal and the compassion which should dwell in the hearts of all pastors nevertheless run the risk of being led astray and diverted to works which are just as damaging to man and his dignity as is the poverty which is being fought, if one is not sufficiently attentive to certain temptations.” They therefore cautioned that “All priests, religious, and lay people who hear this call for justice and who want to work for evangelization and the advancement of mankind, will do so in communion with their bishop and with the Church, each in accord with his or her own specific ecclesial vocation.”

This is the stand of the CBCN when the bishops, in their recent communique reemphasized what is written in canon 285 §3 by stating “we remind all the Clergy and Consecrated Persons that partisan political activities and holding of public offices are, by Church Law, primarily the roles reserved to the Lay Faithful. We the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, forbid the participation of our priests and consecrated persons in partisan politics. We, therefore, remind them that there are grave consequences should any of them disobey their Bishop or Superior on this matter.”

In Nigeria, many priests are passionate about issues in the political arena and would like to be part of movements that would change the status quo in Nigerian politics. Such priests must be cautious and know that they have to play the role of fathers to all, both the politicians and the governed. Perhaps, the method that would help priests engage politicians without becoming partisan is that suggested by Lawrence Nwankwo. According to him, priests could arrange for “forum different from the usual political rally: a forum for contestants to debate and field questions so that the electorate can assess their preparedness and the issues they intend to devote their energies toward” (Udebunu 2016, 65. Lawrence Nwankwo 2015, 47).

    • Seminary formation towards pastoral leadership

The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis describes the seminary as “a spiritual place, a way of life, an atmosphere that fosters and ensures a process of formation, so that the person who is called to the priesthood by God may become, with the sacrament of orders, a living image of Jesus Christ, head and shepherd of the Church” (PVDV42).

This means that right from the outset, seminarians should be trained to be living image of Christ the… shepherd of the Church. In the foregoing paragraphs, we outlined the need for the priests to be properly enlightened, in order to realize their functions as shepherds – pastors. Even though Pastores Dabo Vobis outlined several agents of formation, the seminary stands out as the place where formation to become pastors takes place. In fact, according to no. 57 of that document: “The whole formation imparted to candidates for the priesthood aims at preparing them to enter into communion with the charity of Christ the good shepherd. Hence their formation in its different aspects must have a fundamentally pastoral character.”

The Decree on Priestly Training, Optatam totius speaks to the topic of this paper when it states: “They should be trained to undertake the ministry of the shepherd, that they may know how to represent Christ to humanity, Christ who ‘did not come to have service done to him but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for the lives of many ‘ (Mk. 10:45; Jn. 1 3:12-17), and that they may win over many by becoming the servants of all (1 Cor. 9:19).” (OT 57)

  • Bigard experience

One question people often ask when they hear of the population of Bigard is “how could seminary formation take place in a seminary with over 800 students with c 600 of them living inside the seminary?” This may seem impossible for those who are not familiar with our formation programmes. But those who are familiar with our programme understand that the 800 or 600 students are not amorphous or faceless or rudderless, but have their individuality actuated and realized in the formation process. Following the already established methodology, we shall treat pastoral leadership formation in Bigard under: awareness/enlightenment, commitment and acquisition of pastoral skills, and witnessing. 

6.1.2. Awareness/enlightenment:

The need for pastors to enlighten themselves not only about their duties, but also their socio-political terrain has already been emphasized in the foregoing. Here, we would only highlight a few channels through which this enlightenment takes place in the seminary.

The first is the classroom academic formation on pastoral theology. The Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis clearly state that “sound pastoral formation demands not only engaging in apostolic activities, but also the study of pastoral theology” (Ratio 122). Here, a detailed discuss on pastoral theology is not within our scope. Suffice it to mention that the intellectual formation of seminarians in the area of pastoral theology helps them learn not only its nature, but also the principles and technics they need in carrying out their pastoral ministry. The Ratio mentioned that “among these principles and criteria, one that is especially important is that of the evangelical discernment of the socio-cultural and ecclesial situation in which the particular pastoral action has to be carried out” (Ratio Fundamentalis 170). This makes it clear that studies in other branches of theology and areas of human endeavour are necessary.

In the seminary also, studies in Catholic Social Teaching, African Philosophy, Political Philosophy etc. help prepare candidates intellectually, for the situation of the area where they are to carry out their ministry.

6.1.3. Commitment and practical acquisition of the skill needed for leadership role 

Apart from the academic activities inherent in seminary training, many extracurricular activities are carried out in areas of spirituality, liturgy, practical pastoral assignments, socio-culture, administration and accounting systems etc. This is in line with the proviso in PDV that insists “The seminary which educates must seek really and truly to initiate the candidate into the sensitivity of being a shepherd, in the conscious and mature assumption of his responsibilities, in the interior habit of evaluating problems and establishing priorities and looking for solutions on the basis of honest motivations of faith and according to the theological demands inherent in pastoral work” (PDV 58).

For effective internalization of the above skills, the ca 600 students are divided into small groups headed by principal coordinators, who work in conjunction with a formator or formators as their moderator/s. Below are examples of these groups and a summary of how their activities encourage the acquisition of pastoral leadership skills or qualities.

  • House formation system

The house formation system was developed to help for integral formation of the seminarians and enhance closer relationship among seminarians and between seminarians and formators. Here, seminarians are divided into small seminary communities or houses, with a formator, as a formation adviser for each house. Each small seminary community is made up of 30-35 seminarians. They meet twice a week for eucharistic celebrations in specified locations; carryout specific assignments together, during manual labour; organise visitation to prisons, homes for disabled persons, old peoples home and excursions to places of interest. In order to carry out all these, smaller units are created within the house community and functions distributed across board, so that each seminarian is engaged in one thing or another.  In these communities and the smaller units created thereof, positions of leadership are entrusted to seminarians, which help them develop leadership skills. The formator who serves as formation adviser to seminarians in a house community works closely with members of his house and offers them necessary directions. They also visit the families of seminarians in times of sorrows and other challenges.  In so doing, a formator comes to know seminarians under his charge very well and could give a good account of each person.

  • Pious associations

Canon 298 describes the above, as association where “Christ’s faithful… together strive with a common effort to foster a more perfect life or to promote public worship or Christian teaching. They may also devote themselves to other works of the apostolate, such as initiatives for evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those who animate the temporal goods with the Christian spirit.”

Thus, membership of different Pious associations helps seminarians develop spiritually without coercion. Here again seminarians in each pious association organize and allot themselves different responsibilities. Each pious association also has a formator as moderator, who keeps close eyes on their affairs.

  • Social associations and seminars

Every seminarian is obliged to register and participate in all the activities of at least one Social Association. According to Manual for Orientation and General Instructions for Students of Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, the following Social Associations are recognized in Bigard: “Nigeria Referee Association, Band of Bigard, Seminary Choir, Bigard Fan Club, Theatre and Arts Group, African Thought and Culture Society, Man of Order and Discipline (MOD) and Bigard Charity Organization.”

Seminars and workshops are also continually organized to tackle issues on culture, socio-politics, economy, etc. 

  • The Students’ Council

The Students’ Council is an elected body that cares for the welfare of the students. Its members are drawn from all the classes to represent the general students’ body, in matters concerning the students such as: the promotion of students’ interests, fostering healthy relationship among the students, between the students and staff and contributing to the development of the seminary, according to its capacity. Members of this council are elected by students themselves with some serving in the executive branch.  Here again, positions of leadership are entrusted to seminarians, which help them develop leadership skills.

  • Functions in different departments

The New Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis asserts that Human formation is the foundation of all priestly formation. For authentic human formation, seminarians need to imbibe virtues of “humility, courage, common sense, magnanimity, right judgment and discretion, tolerance and transparency, love of truth and honesty” (Ratio, 39). “In order to cultivate these virtues in our seminarians, the seminary allots different functions to each seminarian. These functions help seminarians develop the skills needed in managing both human and material resources, team spirit and the dignity of human labour. These are done under the watchful eyes of the formators, who serve in various capacities as guardians and counselors, in imitation of Christ our Lord and master, who is the High Priest, Teacher and Chief Shepherd” (Manual for Various Functions, 1). In the course of the history of this seminary, many seminarians not only developed skills in different fields of human endeavours, but also have used these skills for the good of the seminary community and beyond. Here, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, tailoring, masonry, ICT related matters, animal husbandry, health-care-delivery and other areas of human endevour are handled by students, who also train others that would eventually succeed them, when they leave the seminary. It is thanks to this tradition that our tailoring department produces soutanes, chasubles, albs, surplices, birettas etc. while our cobblers also make sandals. It should also be noted that here in Bigard, seminarians engage themselves in all kinds of manual labours which include cutting of grass, trimming of trees and flowers, other gardening works and regular compound and house cleaning. In fact, there is no lay staff engaged in the above areas.  All are done by seminarians. Each function area is headed by a student coordinator who serves as the headman and together with his collaborators, work as a team.

The above descriptions are just to mention but a few of our formation methods aimed at ensuring that seminarians imbibe the necessary abilities in order to become leaders and pastors. A thorough study of these methods shows that any seminarian who goes through the type of formation enunciated here and allows the above formation methods to go through him would have a good chance of becoming a servant leader.

  • Authentic Witnessing
  • Apostolic work experience 

Ratio no124 expressly stated that seminarians “should be introduced to some apostolic experiences throughout the period of formation, in the most suitable time and ways, making particular use of days or periods not scheduled for academic classes.” The seminaries are required to liaise with the diocese to ensure that seminarians get places where they would have apostolic experiences.

In this part of the country, it is mandatory that seminarians go on 6weeks of apostolic work every year. In addition to this, deacons are sent to parishes during the holy week and easter periods.

In these apostolic work periods, seminarians put into practice what they have learnt in the seminary. They help in organizing programmes for different organizations in a particular church, teach catechism, visit the poor and the sick etc. It offers them the opportunity to develop and nurture leadership qualities they are expected to carry into the priesthood. This is in line with the intention of the church, thus: “The student should become capable of proposing and introducing the lay faithful, the young especially, to the different vocations (marriage, social services, apostolate, ministries and other responsibilities in pastoral activity, the consecrated life, involvement in political and social leadership, scientific research, teaching).”  


This paper as already pointed out is by no means meant to be exhaustive. We merely attempted to address whether pastors have leadership roles to play in society. We laid out the theological foundation of the type of leadership role expected from them, especially in the political arena. We then concluded by examining the ways and means through which Bigard prepares her future priests for pastoral leadership, within the Nigerian society. To what extent we have succeeded or failed in this onerous task should be the focus of our reflections during the group discussions.

To God be the Glory!!