As from Wednesday, the Catholic Church will globally commence the 40-day long Lenten period. The period is anchored on three main pillars: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. This year’s Lenten period is a special occasion in Nigeria. This is because, starting from the Ash Wednesday, when Catholics in Nigeria have been instructed wear black clothes as a show of concern to the several cases of killings, kidnappings or deprivations of one form or the other due to the rising insecurity in the country, the nation’s leaders are expected to deeply think of its implications as part of the assessment of this administration.
According to the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), aside from Wednesday, every Catholic resident in Abuja is expected to on Sunday, 1st March, assemble at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) adorned in black attire for a “Prayer Protest” along Abuja streets, to draw the Federal Government’s attention to the worsening insecurity in the country. The Church believes that not only is security of lives and property in the country (the primary purpose of government) no longer guaranteed, but they believe that Christians are being persecuted without adequate show of concern by the Federal Government.
His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the emeritus Archbishop of Abuja, a former President of CBCN and co-chairman of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC); Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okojie, the emeritus Archbishop of Lagos; Francis Cardinal Arinze, the emeritus Archbishop of Onitsha; Archbishop Alaba Job, the Emeritus Archbishop of Ibadan; Archbiship Ignatius Kaigama, the Auxilliary Bishop of Abuja; Pastor Enochi Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God; Rev. Samsom Ayokunle, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and a plethora of Christian leaders across the country, spoke stridently against rising insecurity, stressing that the present security architecture in the country, have expired technically and intellectually to handle the crises.
For the Wednesday and March 1st “Prayer Protest”, Most Rev. Augustine Akubeze and Most. Rev. Camillus Umoh, President and Secretary-General respectively of the CBCN, had announced that the wearing of black clothes are “a mark of mourning for all our brothers and sisters who have been victims of the most recent wave of violence against Christians”. They said: “We invite the universal church and all Christians to join us in prayers for our dead brothers and sisters and for peace and security in Nigeria. We equally appeal to the international community to come to the aid of the Nigerian government in the fight against these daredevil terrorists, who want to destabilise our country. The consequences, should they succeed, will be grave not only for the West African sub-region but also for Africa as a whole.”
According to a research conducted by Lagos-based Civic Media Laboratory, at least, 199 deaths were caused by insurgent groups, herdsmen, and others in January, this year. A national newspaper, the Saturday Telegraph, had in its findings put the figure of Nigerians who fell by the bullet or machetes during different attacks by terror groups, between January 1 and February 22, at 366. The newspaper said from reports it published, “in the last 46 days, the renewed onslaught carried out by terrorist groups had escalated, thereby accounting for the high number of deaths recorded”. The newspaper stressed that “insurgency alone had led to the killing of estimated 640 civilians last year”. There is equally about 27,000 people, including 37 aid workers, killed since the onset of the conflict in 2009, according to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
“Also, about 37,500 people had been killed since May 2011, according to Global Conflict Tracker, while more than 2 million had been rendered homeless and hundreds abducted, despite repeated pledges by the Federal Government that militants had been defeated. Killings linked to herdsmen in parts of the country, is even higher than deaths caused by Boko Haram terrorists”.
Several groups, including the Amnesty International and other reputable Non-Governmet Organisations (NGOs), have expressed worry on increasing insecurity in the country. But, it is disheartening that government always antagonized such groups and dismissed their claims. Government even proclaimed persona non grata on some of these NGOs and labelled them as sabotaging the war against insurgency. In fact, even reputable clergymen like Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto were not spared of this government push pack and verbal attacks. Yet, it is increasingly becoming unsafe for Nigerians to live in their homes or travel along our highways.
At the moment, news of invasion of communities and killing of people, burning down of property and kidnappings by unknown gunmen have become a chorous. Casualty figures arising from these acts of gangsterism no longer mean anything to anybody. It is as if our communities, roads and farm land are soaked in blood and littered daily with carcasses of human beings. Even at that, government has continued to live in denial.
We at The AUTHORITY find it hard to understand why inspite of assurances of “Technically defeating” Boko Haram and stepping up measures against banditry and kidnappings, the menace keeps getting worse. It makes no difference when the Federal Government or any of its agency, or group issue statements condemning acts of criminality. To the ordinary Nigerian, statements condemning such acts are empty and simply repetitive. They are never followed up with corresponding action.
As Catholics deck themselves in black attire on Wednesday and next Sunday, our political leaders should fully appreciate the implications. The issues revolve around the lives of Nigerians and nothing is more sacrosanct than life. No human being can create life. So, no human being should be allowed under any guise to destroy life.