*Stage mass protests nationwide
*Killers will be prosecuted – Osinbajo
By John Silas (Lagos), Daniel Tyokua (Abuja), Austine Tule (Makurdi) and Patrick Odey (Uyo)
In obedience to the directive of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and in solidarity with Makurdi Diocese over the killing of two priests and 17 worshippers, Catholics in the country on Tuesday staged nationwide protests against the widespread killing of innocent citizens by bandits and militia herdsmen.
After its recent meeting at the Vatican, the CBCN had expressed dismay at the wanton killings and other forms of violence in the country. They had asked President Muhammadu Buhari to resign if he is incapable of halting the killings.
It fixed yesterday to draw the international community’s attention to the worsening plight of Christians in Nigeria and in solidarity with the victims of the Benue State attacks by staging mass protests across the country.
From Makurdi to Lagos, Abakaliki to Benin City and other parts of the country, Catholics in their thousands trooped to the streets to condemn the spate of killings and other security challenges in the country.
Addressing the protesters and mourners, especially in Benue State where mass burial was conducted for the victims of the herders’ attack, the Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, charged the Federal Government to immediately end the killings in the country, especially in North Central states.
Onaiyekan spoke at Sesugh U Maria Pilgimage Centre in at Ayati, Gwer Local Government Area of Benue State in a homily during the burial of two Catholic priests: Rev. Fathers Fidelis Tyolaha, Joseph Gora, and 17 parishioners who were killed by the Fulani militiamen.
He expressed sadness at the failure of the government to meet its primary responsibility of protecting Nigerians and warned that the people could resort to self-help, the consequences of which could only be imagined.
The eminent cleric however called on the church to keep faith in God and also refrain from reprisal attacks. He expressed the optimism that God would not abandon them in their trying moment such as this.
Onaiyekan said: “This must be stopped by the concerned authorities. The primary duty of every responsive government lies in the protection of life and property which by every indication, this is not the case in the country.
“Government must rise up to its responsibility of safeguarding the life and property otherwise we may get to a situation where the people will resort to self-help, which will come with very grave consequences. I pray that concerned authorities do the needful so that we shall not get to that level. Enough of these killings!”
In an interview with The AUTHORITY, the Director of Social Communication, Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, Rev. Fr. Patrick Alumuku, said that the rally was part of search for peace in the country.
“We are hoping to draw the attention of our nation and the international community to the situation in the country. We seem to be losing the importance of life.
“The church has done whatever it can in a peaceful way to call continually for peace and for a possible way of resolving the crisis,” he said.
Earlier, the Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Most Rev. Wilfred Anagbe, said that the decision to bury the victims of Saint Ignatius Parish, Mbalom, attack at the ‘Se Sugh Maria Pilgrimage Centre, Ayati, was to honour them as martyrs of the church.
He said that the barbaric acts perpetrated against the victims would attract the wrath of God and lamented the act of desecrating the church.
“If our places of worship are no longer safe, then where can we run to in this country,” Anagbe said.
He expressed the optimism that their blood would restore peace and end the killings in the state and across the country.
Also in a speech, Gov. Samuel Ortom, condemned the incessant attacks on communities in the state, but commended the Federal Government for is efforts to stop the killings.
He disclosed that 492 people had died from herdsmen attacks since the beginning of the year.
The former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, who attended the rally in Abuja, described the day as tragic.
He said: “It is a tragic day. We are here to show solidarity. People must be free to worship, whether Christians or Muslims. Leaders must rise up and show responsibility.
Women market leader, Mrs. Felicia Sani, condemned the murder of the clergymen and called on the government to end to the looming disaster.
“I am a woman and very sad over the trend in our country. People sit down as if nothing is happening. Are the Reverend Fathers killed farmers? Killing them is absolute rubbish and nonsense,” she said.
The Abuja rally was joined by Christians from other denominations in solidarity with their Catholic counterparts.
The Most Rev. Anslem Umoren, Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja in his sermon at the Ecumenical Christian Worship Centre, decried President Buhari’s inaction since the killing of innocent Nigerians started.
Umoren said that Buhari had not lived up to his campaign promises to Nigerians, adding that “Buhari told Nigerians that he was going to be fair to all religion and ethnic groups, but since he became the president in 2015, he had failed to keep to his word”.
The bishop questioned what had been behind the delay in arrest and prosecution of those behind the killings.
The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins, said the protest was in line with the directive from CBCN.
On his part, the Catholic Director of Communication and Chairman of the Protest Organising Committee, Patrick Alumuku, said that the action was to draw government’s attention to the constant killings.
Rev Stephen Adegbede, who represented the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said that if Buhari was finding it difficult to bring the killers to book, he should resign.
“It is worrisome that till now no arrest has been made, that is why CAN earlier called for the overhauling of the security system,” he said.
In his message, the FCT Chairman of CAN, Jonah Samson, asked the President to wake up to his responsibility of protecting life and property.
The peaceful march started with a holy mass at the National Christian Centre, with a procession led by Umoren to Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral, Area III, in Garki.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who attended the burial in Benue state expressed sadness that people could resort to inflicting pain on others in such a wicked manner.
He said those who do such evils were not victors in any circumstance, adding that the perpetrators would be brought to book.
Osinbajo said that the Federal Government was working tirelessly to end the killings and urged Nigerians to continue to keep the peace no matter the provocative acts from criminals.
While condoling with the Catholic Church over the dastardly act, the Vice President prayed God to avail the families of those killed and the entire Benue people the fortitude to bear the loss.
The Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Rev. Nicholas Okoh, urged the government to give the right orders to the armed forces, insisting that if it was done, they were capable of restoring peace.
“We keep setting up committees upon committees. No amount of committee will do it except the arms have been taken away from the killers. This is psychological warfare on the country and we must not be intimidated.
“We must do everything to recover Nigeria from the hands of herdsmen whether they come from Libya, they come from Chad, from Cameron, etc”.
In Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, the Catholics asked Buhari to resign from office if he does not have the capacity to protect Nigerians.
The Bishops led by Dr. John Ayah, the Catholic Bishop of Uyo Diocese joined Catholic faithful to march through the streets of Uyo with banners and placards bearing various inscriptions.
The placards read as follows: “No weapon fashioned against Christians shall proper; We’re Nigerians, security is for all; Say no terrorism and others”.