Alexander Okere and Justin Tyopuusu
Amidst growing concerns about the recent killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen in the country, including two Catholic priests and 15 other worshippers in Benue State, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to resign.
The CBCN urged President Buhari to stop presiding “over the killing fields and mass graveyard” that the country had allegedly become and choose the part of honour by considering “stepping aside to save the nation from total collapse.”
The CBCN made the call in a communique signed by its President, Most Rev. Augustine Akubeze, and Secretary, Most Rev. Camillus Umoh, and made available to The PUNCH on Thursday evening.
The bishops, in the communique, titled, “When will this barbarism end?” condemned the increasing attacks by the suspected herdsmen, whom they said had turned the country into a massive graveyard.
They also described the killing of the priests and 15 parishioners in the Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State on Tuesday as a dastardly act that was “carefully planned.”
The communique read in part, “That our two priests, Fr. Joseph Gor and Fr. Felix Tyolaha, along with their parishioners were waylaid in the course of the celebration of the Holy Mass early in the morning, suggests very clearly that their murder was carefully planned. This wicked act cannot be said to be a revenge attack (as is often claimed).
“Whom have these priests attacked? Indeed, we have just discovered that on January 3, this year, Fr. Gor tweeted, ‘We are living in fear. The Fulani are still around here in Mbalom (where they (priests) were killed). They refuse to go. They still go grazing around. No weapons to defend ourselves.’
“Their desperate cries for security and help went unheeded by those who should have heard them. They could have fled but, true to their vocation, they remained to continue to serve their God unto death.”
The communique continued, “We are sad. We are angry. We feel totally exposed and most vulnerable. Faced with these dark clouds of fear and anxiety, our people are daily being told by some to defend themselves.
“But defend themselves with what? The Federal Government, whose primary responsibility it is to protect lives, for its part alleges that those who ask the people to defend themselves are inciting them to take the laws into their own hands. But how can the Federal Government stand back while its security agencies deliberately turn a blind eye to the cries and wailings of helpless and harmless citizens who remain sitting ducks in their homes, farms, highway and now, even in sacred places of worship?”
The Catholic bishops lamented that in spite of several calls on the President in the last two years to reconfigure his security apparatus and strategy, “which the President has deliberately placed in the hands of the adherents of only one religion,” and the lack of confidence expressed by the CBCN in the security agencies, the bloodletting and destruction of homes and farmlands had increased “with intensity and brutality.”
They also noted that the rate of insecurity in Nigeria had become an embarrassment in the international community, as the Catholic body found it difficult to continue to give excuses about the continuous killings in the country, where “a nation’s landscape is littered with the bodies of its own citizens.
“We are sad and fear that the clock is ticking. The bomb must be defused quickly before it explodes,” the statement added.
It continued, “Since the President, who appointed the heads of the nation ’s security agencies has refused to caution them even in the face of the chaos and barbarity into which our country has been plunged, we are left with no choice but to conclude that they are acting a script that he approves of. If the President cannot keep our country safe, then he automatically loses the trust of the citizens.
“He should no longer continue to preside over the killing fields and mass graveyard that our country has become. Repeated calls from us and many other Nigerians on the President to take very drastic and urgent steps to reverse this ugly tragedy that threatens the foundation of our collective existence and unity as a nation have fallen on deaf ears.
“It is clear to the nation that he has failed in his primary duty of protecting the lives of the Nigerian citizens. Whether this failure is due to inability to perform or lack of political will, it is time for him to choose the part of honour and consider stepping aside to save the nation from total collapse.”
The bishops further advised Nigerians to be courageous and stand for their fundamental rights to life and security, even as it faulted the recent mop-up exercise by the Nigeria Police, “since those we pay to protect us have failed to do their duty.”
The statement added, “Government should encourage and empower citizens to secure themselves and their environments. This is not the time to disarm people with legally procured weapons of self-defence.
“These are not normal times since those we pay to protect us have failed to do their duty. Nigeria can return to normal times if we put our heads together with sincerity.” (Punch)