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…Ambode shuns Catholics

The most massive ever nationwide protests embarked upon by Catholics across Nigeria  on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018, to wake up political leaders and governments  to their primary responsibility of securing lives in Nigeria, may have set the All Progressives Congress(APC) led federal government and other politicians panicking.

A prominent APC chieftain who spoke to Nigerian Catholic Reporter stated that the unprecedented turn of or protesters greatly worried the ruling party. “Most worrisome” the party chieftain noted, “is the level of loyalty, discipline, strict adherence to instructions as directed by the bishops, adopted by the protesters this is added to the fact that a large number of none Catholics joined in the protests across the nation, he revealed”.

The chieftain also revealed that meetings have been going on “in some quarters aimed at reviewing the issues raised by the Catholic Bishops and the protesters; and strategies to adopt during the 2019 campaigns and elections”.

Meanwhile, political observers have attributed Governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode’s shunning of Catholics in Lagos who came out in their large numbers to protest the incessant killings of innocents Nigerians by suspected herdsmen and government inability to act, to confusion on how to act at that point in time, or may have been waiting from instruction from President Muhammed Buhari.

The Lagos State governor whom it was learnt had earlier been informed of the peaceful protests by the Catholic Archdiocese on the killings and gave them the nod to come with the letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, chickened out when the faithful, led by the Archbishop of Lagos Most Rev. Adewale Martins, arrived his office.

He was however reported to have dispatched a junior aide who came to the scene to talk down on the Archbishop and his congregation, warning the Clergy man to mindful of acts by his flocks, as the killing of innocent Nigerians were not done in Lagos.

The pronouncement by the aide was said to have angered the Archbishop and his priests and also members of the congregation who started chanting songs against the Lagos State governor, and promising to pay the government back in his own coins.

Notwithstanding, the Catholic Archbishop delivered the letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari to the Aide for onward delivery to the president.

Earlier at a requiem mass at St Leo’s Catholic Church Ikeja, the  Archbishop   had urged President  Buhari to prioritize the security and welfare of the country’s citizens, just as he condemned the killings of priests and lay faithful in Mbalon, Benue State.

The two Catholic priests, Rev. Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, and 17 worshippers were killed when assailants invaded St. Ignatius Quasi Parish, Ukpor-Mbalom in Ayar-Mbalom community of Gwer East LGA on Tuesday, April 24.

The Archbishop urged the President to direct security agencies to fish out the perpetrators of callous killings

“People today feel a sense of helplessness and hopelessness in their homes especially when signals they are getting is that they do not have enough personnel to secure every inch of this nation.

“We ought to have intelligence agencies that will act to prevent attacks and to nip the attack in the bud.

“This is the least we can expect from our government, so that people can feel safe in every part of the country without the presence of gunmen.

“The president should act fast and try to restore the confidence of the people; he is the authority and father of the nation.

“We urge the president to intervene in this problem in a more divisive way in order to save the country the country from tribal or religious war, we say all of these with due sense of patriotism for our nation Nigeria, because we believe in the strength and unity of Nigeria,” he said.

Martins urged the people of Benue to take solace in the fact that the slain priests and faithful are resting in the bosom of God.

“At about this time that we are about to celebrate Mass, the bishop, priests and lay faithful of Markudi Diocese are also gathered together.

“I believe that the representative of Pope Francis I is also with them in order to celebrate the mass for the repose of the souls of two priest one Catchiest and 17 other lay faithful who were murdered in cold blood by killer herdsmen.

“They are far away, but we are united in hope, in heart, in intension, we are far together by the sadness and pain that we feel for the death of these innocent Nigerians who have done nothing else but to gather together to worship their God.

“We are even more saddened by the fact that many times before the 24 of April when they were killed; there have been many instances of similar murder of people in their farms as they went about their day to day lives.

“Many women have been raped on their farms; farmland and villages have been burnt. In January we all watched with dismay as the news that over 70 people- men, women and children have been murdered in Benue state.

“We witnessed their mass burial with deep shock.

According to him, since the murder of the Mbalon 19, there have been more murders and destruction in many villages in Benue, Kaduna, Ondo, Nasarawa, Zamfara, and other states as well.

“Our sorrows have been compounded by the fact that no one has been held responsible, no one convicted for the murder and destruction that has turned responsible people into internally displaced person,” the Archbishop said.

Reports monitored from other Catholic Dioceses Edo, Oyo, Benue, Lagos, Kaduna, Adamawa, Kwara states and other parts of the country on Tuesday showed that Catholics occupied the streets marching peacefully. They also carry various placards with inscriptions.

Catholic in Edo State started their peaceful protest from the St. Paul’s Catholic Cathedral Airport Road Benin, the state capital and marched to the Holy Cross Cathedral Mission road.

In Osun State, members marched from our Lady of Fatima Catholic Hospital, Jaleyemi, Osogbo to the Osun state capital to the House of Assembly to register their displeasure over the killings.

The Vicar General, Catholic Diocese of Osogbo, Very Reverend Father Thaddeus Olaolu Ajayi told journalists that Nigerians need to embrace peace and love rather than engage in killings.

He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to do all in his capacity to ensure that the lives of Nigerians are safe just as he called on perpetrators of evil to desist from it and not incur the wrath of God.

Catholics in Niger State converged on Tuesday morning at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Minna, the state capital.

Reverend Father Gabriel Nelson Onuh in his sermon expressed concern over insecurity, kidnapping, activities of armed bandits and Boko Haram insurgency.

He said Nigerians live in culpable fear and apprehension in addition to the current economic hardship in the country.

Father Onuh also lamented the rate of school dropout across the country noting that this poses a great challenge to Nigeria’s security.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Niger State Chapter also joined Catholics in solidarity.

The Chairman of the Niger State chapter of the CAN, Reverend Matthias Echioda emphasised the need for national cohesion in Nigeria by advancing the ideals of unity.

However, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, has reportedly assured the people of Benue that the killers of the two catholic priests; Rev Frs. Felix Tyolaha and Joseph Gor and 17 other parishioners killed by gunmen during a church service at Saint Ignatius Parish, Mbalom, will not go unpunished.

Osinbajo gave the assurance on Tuesday at Ayati, a small hilltop village situated on the outskirts of Ikpayongo, in Gwer East Local Government Council, during the burial of the victims of the April 24 church attack.

The Vice President, who was accompanied on the trip by Ministers, top ranking politicians of different political shades, expressed the Federal Government’s commitment to end the attacks.

He said the perpetrators of such dastardly and heinous crimes do not deserve to live amongst decent people but prayed for the conversion of their souls.

Also in a speech, Governor 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 governor regretted the attacks on the church and wondered the reason for the attack saying, “these people were in the church and not on their farms; by this act, they gave moved their narrative to include other motives”.

He called on the Federal Government to arrest the killer-herdsmen, saying “we know our killers but they are not arrested or invited for interrogation; they gave stated at several fora that they would reclaim their land”.

The governor said the Anti-Open Grazing law passed by the state assembly and accented by him, was the best way in curbing incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the country.

On his part the Tor Tiv, His Royal Magesty, Prof James Ayatse, placed on curse in the perpetrators of such dastardly acts, saying ” they will not see good times”.

He, however, warned against reprisals urging them not to lose faith in their God who would fight for them.

The paramount ruler commended the Catholic Church for restraining their members against reprisals and said the style was of the Lord.

A cross section of the bishops that spoke at the burial, called in the government to ensure the killers were brought to book.

The News Agency of Nigeria reports that 50 Bishops were expected at the burial.

Those sighted were those of Sokoto, Bauchi, Enugu, Nsukka, Gboko, Kaduna, Lafia, Jos, Shengdan, Otukpo, Katsina-Ala.

NAN also reports a team representing the Catholic Church in West Africa were also at the burial.

The corpses of the Mbalom church attack were laid to rest at about 2:45 p.m.

THE TEXT OF AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI GCFR. PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AND COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE NIGERIAN ARMED FORCES ON THE OCCASION OF A SOLIDARITY RALLY EMBARKED UPON BY THE CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF LAGOS TO DENOUNCE THE INCESSANT KILLING OF INNOCENT NIGERIANS BY SUSPECTED HERDSMEN. TUESDAY MAY 22, 2018.

Your Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR;

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, today, 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, 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


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