The Director-General of the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council, Barrister Samuel Lalong on Friday tendered apology to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) following a “blasphemous” remark about the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis.
Lalong, who is also the Governor of Plateau State, told the State House media corps at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Thursday that the Pope had not faulted his decision to accept the headship of the campaign team of All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Tinubu, a Muslim, picked a fellow Muslim, Senator Kashim Shettima as his running mate in the 2023 election; a decision that has generated upbraid in certain quarters with some Christian groups urging their members not to vote for a ticket that does not have any one of their faith in it.
Responding to the criticism that trailed his appointment as the campaign head, Lalong said he has one of the highest awards from the Pope — the Knight of Saint Gregory the Great.
“Everything we do, we send the advice to the Pope. The Pope has not told me that what I am doing is bad — to accept Director General. As a Catholic, we take that direction. As a Governor of a state, I am not responsible for only my faith. As a governor, I am responsible for those who are not even Muslim or Christian. So that is what I do”.
The reaction led to concerned members of the Catholic Church frowning at Lalong’s choice of words, and they demanded his immediate suspension from the church.
But in a letter on Friday to CBCN President Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Lalong admitted that it was an error on his part to have linked the Catholic Pontiff with Nigeria’s politics, as he begged for forgiveness and understanding from the Catholic Church through the Bishops’ Conference.
Lalong restated his commitment to the Catholic faith and promised to continue upholding the banner of the Christian faith in public life.
The letter reads: “I have followed with some shock and deep regret, the reactions that have trailed my appointment as the Director-General of the Campaign Council for the presidential candidate of our party, the APC, Ahmed Tinubu, and his running mate, Ibrahim Shettima.
“The appointment, understandably, was received with mixed reactions across the Christian community, who genuinely feel aggrieved by the decision of our party to settle for a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
“While many people commended me for the appointment and saw it as a way of remaining within the system to fight for our own interests, others cast aspersions on it on the grounds that our faith had been insulted and denigrated.
“In the course of this, many of my opponents turned the issue into a political weapon with some spreading rumours and questioning the integrity of my credentials as a Catholic and a Papal Knight.
“In trying to make my case, I have granted interviews to justify why I believe that the appointment did not in any way undermine my commitment to the Catholic Church.
“During the week, in the course of defending myself, I had cause to make reference to my credentials as a Catholic and a Papal Knight. In the process, I made reference to the Holy Father.
“I now realise that this was an error on my part and has caused some level of concern and even embarrassment to many, especially the members of the family of Papal Knights to which I belong.
“I now understand that I may have overreached myself in the course of trying to defend my personal decision in accepting this appointment and thus, the reference to the holy father was not intended as an act of disrespect to his exalted and revered office.
“Your Grace, by this written letter, I wish to tender my unreserved apologies and ask for their understanding and forgiveness from my brothers in the Catholic faith and, through you, the entire members of the Bishops’ Conference, our Fathers and our leaders.
“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.
“You may recall, Your Grace, that in the last five or thereabout years, I have been at the forefront of facilitating our dialogue as politicians with you our fathers in the faith. I remain committed to this and pray that you will continue to encourage us as we ascend the slippery slope of politics”.
Earlier, the Association of Papal Knights and Medalists in Nigeria (APKMN) had come down heavily on Lalong, who is one of their own. They considered his manner of speaking as a betrayal, which the group insinuated would “tend to bring the revered image and person of the Holy Father, the Pope, into (your) local politics.”
APKMN National President, Dame (Dr) Esther Uduehi chided Lalong for his action which was described as “not only disappointing but condemnable and not expected of a Catholic and more so of a Papal Knight”.
“No true Catholic, no matter his/her position in the society will deliberately politicise the revered name of the Pope for the purpose of a position in a localized political matter of any country,” Uduehi’s statement said.
Uduehi further said: “The Holy father is a busy man and does not interact with individuals so easily as you (Lalong) will want Nigerians to believe”. She challenged the Governor to produce evidence of his claim that he has the mandate of the Holy Father, otherwise he should refute the statement credited to him.