Your Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari,
On behalf of the entire Priests, Religious and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, I wish to use this medium to convey to you, Mr. President, our sadness and deep displeasure over the incessant killings and general insecurity being experienced across the length and breadth of our dear country Nigeria but especially in the North Central part of the nation in recent times. We are very saddened by the fact that our security Agencies have not been able to put measures in place to bring the situation under control. Instead, the signals we are getting are that we do not have enough number of personnel to secure all the people of Nigeria.
In the meantime, farmers cannot go to their farms, neither are they safe in their villages. We hear reports of the killers attacking the villages and feeding the yams in the barns of the inhabitants to their cattle. The height of it is that now they have pushed their boundaries to attacking people in their places of worship. If it was Boko haram, as we know it, it would have been sad but not as alarming as when so-called herdsmen are the ones perpetrating these crimes. Most disturbingly, our security agencies seem incapable of dealing with the situation
Mr. President, many Nigerians embraced happily the change mantra upon which they elected your government to power and they welcomed you with open hands and minds, with much hope for a new vista of life for our countrymen and women.
Three years after, Your Excellency, our people now live in palpable fear especially because of the killer-herdsmen who actually qualify to be called terrorists. We watch helplessly as our hope for a better tomorrow trickles away in the hands of herdsmen who are proving to be deadlier than even the Boko Haram, if they are not Boko haram in another guise. Innocent people are now being murdered at will and their means of livelihood forcefully taken from them. Children are being turned to orphans, wives to widows, husbands to widowers. Communities are being wiped away in manners that can only be likened to ethnic cleansing. Human life, a most sacred gift from God, has become of less value than that of cattle in this part of the world. This is unacceptable!
Being a secular nation, our constitution clearly provides for freedom of worship without fear or favour in any and all parts of the nation. Alas, in some parts of the country this is not the case in practice. We watch helplessly as thousands of people in communities that are predominantly Christian, particularly in Southern Kaduna and the North Central parts of the country are being massacred, displaced from their ancestral lands and treated as second class citizens. In many towns and rural areas, people of these predominantly Christian communities are victims of religious intolerance as they are denied rights to own lands to build their Churches and worship their God in peace.
Out of all the girls that were kidnapped at Dapchi, Leah Shaibu stands out as the one yet to be released simply because she is Christian and has refused to deny her faith. Unfortunately, incidents such as these have led to the fear of an agenda to Islamize Nigeria. Permit me to say, Your Excellency, that you are often accused of being in support of this agenda. We are confident that you would not fail to discharge yourself from such accusations in a way that would be crystal clear to all.
Mr. President, on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, is a watershed in the annals of Catholicism in our country Nigeria. It is a day the entire Catholic Church in Nigeria speaks out, in a practical way, against injustices, insecurity, nepotism and other vices plaguing our dear country. Today, we rise in unity to express our solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have been killed, and are still being killed, across the country. Most especially, we mourn with heavy hearts the murder of two of our priests, Rev. Frs. Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha and seventeen lay faithful who were mowed down last month, April 16, 2018, while attending an early morning Mass at St Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom, Gwer Local Government of Benue State.
By these killings, the perpetrators, who unfortunately are still roaming about freely, have further desecrated all that we hold dear as Christians and dared us to do our worst. As these men and women of faith are committed to mother earth today in Makurdi, we bid them perpetual rest in the bosom of our Lord, even as we say with one voice, enough is enough. We can no longer stay still and watch our fellow humans butchered like chickens.
Mr. President, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, in its most recent letter to you, posed some very strong questions: ‘How can the federal Government stand back while its security agencies deliberately turn a blind eye to the cries and wails of helpless and armless citizens who remain sitting ducks in their homes, farms, highway and now, even in their sacred places of worship? Weeks later, we are still waiting for answers to these questions. Left defenceless, the ordinary Nigerians get killed while the politicians and the privileged ones go about with security details.
Permit me, Sir, to say that without any doubt, the Catholic Church in Nigeria has a long history of restraint in its engagement with governments of the country over the years. As partners in progress, we have always maintained integrity and restraint in the manner we react and respond to issues bordering on security and religious harmony.
We believe strongly in the preservation of human life. We have consistently been advocates of peace, religious tolerance and inter-religious dialogue with other religions. We have always provided a cordial atmosphere for robust discussions and genuine efforts at ensuring national cohesion. Unfortunately, it is sad to note that we have frequently been at the receiving end of attacks; the most recent being the callous killings in Benue State. Mr. President, we have been provoked far too many times and now we say again, ‘Enough is enough.’
As an institution that upholds the sanctity of human life and the promotion of peace and good neighborliness with all people, in obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ, we want to state categorically that we shall continue to preach restraint and tolerance amongst our members. However, let it be known that our insistence on dialogue and peaceful conduct is not only in obedience to Christ but also in recognition of the truth of the saying attributed to the great Mahatma Gandhi that ‘An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.’ We recognize the strength in seeking and insisting on peaceful resolution of problems and so we hope that will not be taken for granted.
Justice cries out for all the innocent Nigerians who have died in the hands of the gun totting herdsmen. We are aware that the Vice President recently promised that the Federal Government would undertake the rebuilding of the places that were destroyed by the killer-herdsmen in Benue State and hopefully in other similar places. We hope that people will also be compensated for the loss of their farm produce and of their properties so that the Internally Displaced People who have been turned to beggars will get justice and restoration to normal life.
Very importantly, we urge you, Mr. President, to direct the security agencies to wake up, fish out the perpetrators of these callous killings and neutralize them so that people can once again feel safe. We pride ourselves with having some of the best security agencies in the world. This is the time for them to prove their mettle by bringing an end to these killings.
Mr. President, that time has come for you to act fast and put to rest all the insinuations being pandered all over about you. We reiterate that our call for your urgent intervention is borne out of our deep patriotism and desire to save the country from imminent crisis that could snowball into ethnic, tribal or religious war. May the Lord grant you the wherewithal to carry out your duties and bring peace, security and growth to the nation.
Archbishop Alfred Adewale MARTINS
Catholic Archbishop of Lagos
FOR AND BEHALF OF OVER 3 MILLION CATHOLICS OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF LAGOS