History of Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria

Following the concern of the Catholic Bishops conference of Nigeria (CBCN) that the Catholic Youths of Nigeria celebrate the International Youth Year (IYY) declared by the United Nations in 1985, several meetings of Chaplains responsible for youth affairs, and Youths leaders from the various dioceses of Nigeria were held to plan for a National Catholic Youth Rally. The first of these meetings was held at Awka in March, 1985 and presided over by the then outgoing Bishop Chairman of the Catholic Bishop’s Commission for the Laity, and Bishop of Akwa Rt Rev. Dr. A.k. Obiefuna. Subsequent meetings were presided over by his successor, the Bishop of Okigwe, Rt. Rev. Dr. Anthony Ilonu. This move coincided with an earlier demand for recognition and accredition sent to the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria by a protem national executive of the Catholic Youths which was formed out of a national meeting held in Benin in December, 1983. The Benin meeting was a first move initiated by the youths, to nationally bring together the various parish based Catholic Youth movements existing in the dioceses. The Youth Movement had for long existed in the various parish and diocesan levels without national coordination and cohesion.

The request for recognition and accredition was being considered by the Bishop Chairman of the CBCN Commission for the Laity when the issue of the IYY celebrations came up in 1985. The attendance at the 1985 meetings was much more broad. Thus to create a neutral ground for a fresh start, the forming national executive elected in Benin in 1983 was dissolved at one of the Chaplains/Youths meeting held at Akwa on 8th May, 1985. Under the guidance of His Lordship, Rt. Rev. Dr. A. Ilonu, a management committee of six youths (two each from three ecclesiastical provinces) was set up for a fresh start. Three Chaplains (one each from the three ecclesiastical provinces) were selected to guide the youths. Following the acceptance, during the meeting, by Ogoja Diocese to host the proposed national rally, the Ogoja Diocesan Youth Chaplin, and one Youth from his diocese were both co-opted on the committee. Their names are as follows: Fr. Michael Cunnane (Ogoja) Convener and chairman. Mr. Julius Achia (Ogoja). The provincial youth representatives are: Messers G. A. Loratim-Uba (Makudi). Patrick Uloneme (Sokoto), John Aichie (Benin), Patrick Edebor (Ondo), Samuel Okolocha (Akwa), Anthony Allagoa (Port Harcourt). The Chaplains are: Fr. Chris Utov (Makudi), Fr. Mike Okodua (Oyo) and Fr. Gregory Adibe (Onitsha). 

The committee was subsequently charged with the following task:
  1. Preparing and presenting a draft constitution for ratification
  2. Planning and organizing the National catholic youth IYY Rally to take place at Ogoja from 28th August to 1st September, 1985.
The committee was successful in handling these tasks. The result was a massively attended catholic youth IYY Rally held at Ogoja during which the draft constitution of the CYON was passed, and national officers elected. The CYON was thus finally born and accredited by the CBCN at Ogoja in 1985.

The year 1985 therefore marked a profound development in the perspective of the church’s effort to reach out to her youths in a more concrete way. The church had always been accused of focusing more on the wisdom of elders and neglecting the enthusiasm, energies and potentials of the young.Of course the church had demonstrated concern for youths through her education effort in the establishment of schools and encouragement given to such school based bodies as the Young Catholic Students Movement (YCSM) and the Nigerian Federation Of Catholic Students (NFCS). This encouragement was however seen to be restricted to the sector with the parish, the basic forum of ecclesial and apostolic activity, receiving less attention in the Youth apostolate effort. Infact Devout Catholic Student on passing out of school could not find any youth forum to further their apostolic participation and Catholic Action. Realizing, as the Vatican Council States that; ‘The young should become the first apostles of the young, in direct contact with them, exercising the apostolate by themselves among themselves, taking account of their social environment; “they found it difficult to fit into most of the existing adult dominated parish organizations. Most began to claim they could get on very well on their own, and went to church only on Sundays. Some began to claim they knew all about the faith, had for long experienced it all and no longer believed in it. 2 The situation has been stated by Fr. Kaigama:
                        On the socio-religious level, young people cannot easily find their role        
                        within the church especially within the present parish structures. They do
                        not feel involved because in the parish almost everything is done by and
                        for adults. There is hardly any option for the young, and if there is, it
                        comes last which means that it is not a priority. 3
On passing out from school therefore, the young could not feel the addressed within the context of his experiences. Many even got inclined or tempted to reject God, or lost a meaning in life or began seeking new models in pseudo – charismatic movements, or began drifting to mushroom churches, or engaged in drugs and other ills. 4
Another factor, very much related to the factor of over concentration to the school based youth apostolate at the detriment of the parish based, that led many to form the opinion that the church had neglected the youths was the take over of church schools. It seemed as though the church had been incapacitated in that respect and with less attention previously focused on the parish youth apostolate, the opinion of church neglect of youths apparently received an overwhelming confirmation.
The take over of church schools by the government, a deliberate policy hatched at a World Islamic Festival held in the early 70s, aimed at dubiously destroying Christianity, and perpetrated in Nigeria in the disguise of improving the quality of education by some Moslems in the influencial government positions, was a ploy that severe the communication link between the church  and her young. This ploy swept through the nation like thypoid fever in the mid 70s and was pursued with extra vigour in the northern part of the nation. Most youths in schools could therefore not be reach and those already out of school were being negatively influenced by the forces of modernization, the machinations of dechristianization, and simply did not see devoyion to their faith as fashionable. Meanwhile the youths had no organization in the parish to, so to say, own, hold to, or youthfully identify to.  



Coming hard on the hills of this sordid, perilous and dark era of misguided state interference in church schools, the emergence of the CYON restored some hope and was seen as a renewed and rekindled agenda by the church for her youth. With the parish as its primary base, and with an umbrella outlook appropriate for the integration of all ranks of young people, namely, students traders, business person, civil servants, the young graduates and elites etc, the organization provides for a forum that would avail the church the link to deeply reach the young on a wider spectrum to sensitize them to their faith and motivate them to their future. This increased and insetified attention given to the young people by the church is here recorded by Fr. Kaigama:
The newly formed Catholic Youth Organization supposed to be an umbrella movement aimed at bringing the Catholic Youth together, no matter whether they already belong or do not belong to any youth group in the church. The recent support given by the Bishops at the Ogoja Youth Rally of August 1985 is a clear pointer to the fact that the youths are being given their rightful position. The presence of many bishops at the rally, and the remarks of Bishop G.G. Ganaka, President of the Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria, who spoke on their behalf was very encouraging.
The attendance by youths from virtually all the dioceses of Nigeria at this rally was also a clear indication that the youths are award of the obligations their religion expects of them, and they are ready to be part of the apostles of the new era of evangelization….
The emergence was also to be seen by D.D. Dodo, National Executive Secretary of the Catholic Council of Nigeria (CLCN) as ’’another milestone in the march by the youths in taking active participation in religious activities. “ 6 At the end of the 14th Annual Conference of the CLCN held in Yola in December, 1985, and partially dedicated to the young, the council recommended an upliftment of the youth from a bottom level to priority level, starting: “The Laity Council both at the parish, Diocesan and National levels should recognize the rights of the youths. In addition, the youths should be involved in the parish activities. So they should not be left out.
Another way to solve the youth’s problem is for each Diocesan and parish Laity Council to welcome the youths as a force to reckon with in all Laity activities’’

Two years after birth of the CYON, there are indications that the youths are now being actively embraced and challenged to play their role. Indications are that they are owing up to these challenges. Diocesan reports from the just concluded 1st  Annual Conference and General meeting of the CYON held in Lagos in August, 1986 show that the Youths are now usefully occupying their, time with such endeavors as drama, debates, symposia and seminars. Youths are engaging in the physical and spiritual growth of the parishes; they tidy up church surroundings, teach catechism and witness to others by their style of living. Several diocesan bodies are engaged in providing initial financial aid to some youths who have been so admitted into various convents and seminaries.

Some diocesan Catholic Youth Organizations have now embarked on the construction of youth centers. The reports also show that youths are delving into such areas of gainful self employment as farming, catering, trading, sports, carpentry, seamstry, and motor repairing. Verified, and true to large extent, this reports are affirmations that youth are now bracing up as the bedrock of the church and are becoming more dedicated to their faith, more so aware of emerging trends in the Nigeria society calculated and decidedly antagonistic to Christianity. It is becoming clear to the youths that the days when he reserves Sundays as days for convalescing from Saturday Night parties, washing his car, or washing his dirty linen are now fading.

One of such notable records, worthy of note is the composition of the National Youth Anthem which was done by the 1st National Assistant P.R.O from Orlu Diocese, Mr. Herbert Okolie.  Another development came through the church with the expansion of Ecclesiastical Provinces from Three to Nine thus spreading the Network of youth Apostolacy and bringing the number of Provincial Presidents that are co ordinating dioceses to increase from the three (Lagos, Onitsha & Kaduna) to Nine, with the carving out of six (Ibadan, Benin, Owerri, Calabar, Jos, Abuja).

The following are the Names of first National Executives of the Organisation as elected by the youths at Ogoja Rally.
1.      Godwin Ioratin- Uba – President (Markurdi Diocese)
2.      John Aichei                -  1st Vice President (Benin Diocese)
3.      Samuel Okolocha       -  2nd Vice President (Awka Diocese)
4.      Stephen Ekpe-Magha-National Secretary (Ikot- Ekpene Diocese)
5.      Anthony Olaniyi         - Asst. Nat. Secretary (Ondo- Dioceses)
6.      Cliff Urubusi               - National P.R.O  (Warri Diocese)
7.      Herbert Okolie            - Asst. P.R.O. (Orlu Diocese)
8.      Anthony Alagoa       - Financial Secretary(Port- Harcort Diocese)

Catholic Youth groups exist in all part of the world but with different names. The Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria like a seed planted twenty- five years ago had grown from like a tree deeply rooted in faith, with its branches spread around the Nation. It is worthy of note that the organization presently has international affiliation and collaboration with other youthful bodies outside the country. One of such is the world body called the international Federation of Catholics Parochial Youth Movement FIMCAP ,  (as parish/based Youth Movement).

This history is the culmination of that profound and spectacular move by the church to re- focused attention to her young people in the sense expressed at ogoja in 1985 thus marking the emergence of the catholic youth organization of Nigeria thus it may be devoid of a separate and more erudite presentation of the emergence of the CYON in the provinces or dioceses.