Nigerian bishops link government inaction on violence to religion

IMAGE: CNS photo/via Reuters TV

By Peter Ajayi Dada

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) — Nigeria’s
Catholic bishops criticized the president’s lack of action against ethnic
Fulani herdsmen who attack farmers and linked his inaction to his religion.

“It can no longer be
regarded as mere coincidence that the suspected perpetrators of these heinous
crimes are of the same religion as all those who control the security apparatus
of our country, including the president himself,” the bishops said.

“If the president cannot
keep our country safe, then he automatically loses the trust of the citizens,”
the bishops’ conference said in a July 2 statement signed in the capital,
Abuja, by its president, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of Benin City, and
general secretary, Bishop Camillus Umoh of Ikot Ekpene.

President Muhammadu Buhari “should
no longer continue to preside over the killing fields and mass graveyard that
our country has become,” they said.

Buhari, a Muslim and a former
military ruler, won office in a democratic transfer of power in 2015 and plans
to seek a second term in elections scheduled for February.

Communal violence is widely
attributed to a decades-old cycle of conflict between predominantly Christian
farmers and Muslim semi-nomadic herders, partly due to competition for arable

More than 200 people were killed
in late June in violence in central Nigeria’s Plateau state. There has been a
spike in communal violence in Africa’s most populous country, with hundreds of
people being killed since the start of the year.

In the wake of more deaths in an
upsurge in communal violence in Nigeria, the country’s bishops said the
government has lost the people’s trust.

“Words are no longer enough
for the president and his service chiefs to convince the rest of the citizens
that these killings are not part of a larger religious project,” the
bishops said.

The country “is likely to
witness another mass burial of innocent Nigerians as a result of the serial
murderous activities of a group who clearly seems to be above the law of the
country and who, by their actions and words, have insisted that human lives are
worth less than the lives of cattle,” they said.

Nineteen people, including two
priests, were buried in May in Ayati. Father Joseph Gor, Father Felix Tyolaha
and 17 parishioners were killed during the celebration of Mass at St. Ignatius
Catholic Church, Ayar Mbalom, in Benue state.

“This shameful inversion of
values portrays our country as barbaric and our society as brutish,” the
bishops said.

They called on the police to
make swift arrests of perpetrators of the Plateau state attacks, noting that
law enforcement happens fast when herders are killed.

In a letter to Buhari, Cardinal
Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, retired archbishop of Lagos, said that every life is
precious, irrespective of ethnic, regional or religious affiliation, and that
citizens look to government to protect them.

“But, here in Nigeria, the
blood of the innocent flows like water, despite Nigerians’ desire and demand
that government secure their lives and property,” he said.

“Where were you, Mr.
President, while innocent lives were being wasted in Plateau state? Where were
your service chiefs when babies were being ripped out of their mothers’ wombs
by men who claimed to do so because of their cows?” he asked.

“I am not afraid to risk my
life for the sake of this country, for the sake of future generations. I have
no party affiliation,” the cardinal said.

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