On Tuesday last week, the Roman Catholic Church in Nigeria organized protests across the country against killings that have been taken place, in particular in Benue State.The protests coincided with the burial of 19 victims, including two Roman Catholic priests, of the attack last April on St. Ignatius Quasi Parish at Mbalom, Benue State, allegedly by herdsmen.That attack on April 21, which followed earlier ones on New Year’s Day and again in March, led to the deaths of Rev. Fr. Joseph Gor and Rev. Fr. Felix Tyolaha while they were officiating at an early morning mass.
That attack was dastardly, gruesome, wicked and utterly condemnable, as were all the earlier ones and also the ones that took place after that. The burial itself took place at Se Sugh U Maria Pilgrimage Centre, Ayati Ikpayongo, Gwer East Local Government area of Benue State, where Vice President Yemi Osinbajo represented the Federal Government and delivered a funeral oration. To coincide with the burial however, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria [CBCN] directed that all Catholic faithful undertake the protests and prayers “in supplication to God for the killing of innocent souls in Benue, particularly the murder of two Catholic priests and 19 others during mass.”In line with that directive, Catholic churches across the country organized the protest marches.
In Abuja, Arch Bishop of Abuja Diocese John Cardinal Onaiyekan led the protest from the Christian Ecumenical Center to the Procathedral in Garki.Onaiyekan said in a statement that the church planned to ensure that the protest is conducted without hitches and he invited other well meaning Nigerians to partake in it. He said, “Because of the barbaric killing of human beings in Nigeria and erosion of the perception of life as sacred and in union with the Diocese of Makurdi, we want to express our deepest displeasure over the ugly happenings in our country and pray for the nation.” The Cardinal also warned trouble makers to keep-off, saying“I want this march and prayer to be peaceful from the beginning to the end and to send a powerful message to the Government of our country and the rest of the world for positive change.”
We owe thanks to the wisdom and level headedness of Cardinal Onaiyekan and some other Catholic Church leaders that the protests went on peacefully without any reported violence. However, other church leaders and their followers were less restrained in language, if not in action. For example, Bishop of Makurdi Catholic Diocese Most Revd. Wilfred Anagbe accused the Federal Government of shielding the perpetrators of killings in the state. He said, “All we demand is that those committing the crime should be arrested and brought to justice while those behind it should also be prosecuted. It all seems the federal government is protecting them.”
Despicable and desperate though the internal insecurity situation is, it is wrong and immoral for a religious leader to lose his head and make such a grave allegation against the Federal Government which has deployed policemen, soldiers and other security agencies to try to calm the situation. It is true that the security measures have not yet established full security in the area, but that is different from saying that the authorities “protect” the attackers.
In Uyo too, placards carried by some of the marchers said things such as “No to religious terrorism”; “No weapon fashioned against Christians shall prosper”; “Christian lives matter” and “No to ethnic cleansing.” Others also spoke about “the killing of Christians in Nigeria,” suggesting it is a state-sponsored act.
The truth is that people of all faiths have been killed in the prevailing atmosphere of insecurity in Nigeria. It is important to raise voices against the killings and to keep the authorities on their toes. We must however avoid a situation where protests spiral out of control, degenerate into chaos and cause the loss of untold innocent lives across all religious divides