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Tone of Catholic bishops’ letter to President Buhari and 2019 election; Issues

Since President Muhammadu Buhari declared interest to contest for second term in office earlier this month, there has been growing alignment and realignments within the political space both in the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and even former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s CNM.

However, what several political pundits expected to observe within the period of the declaration to run including national happiness, positive movement in the stock market and surge in foreign investors’, seems to be far as issues of insecurity, killings, alleged constitutional breaches and food scarcity are trending.

The scenario was further captured by the tone of the anger-laden letter written to President Buhari by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) after the killing of two Catholic priests and 15 other worshippers in Benue State by suspected Fulani herdsmen.

It would be recalled that former Chief of Army Staff, Gen TY Danjuma had two weeks before the Benue latest killings, alleged that government is handling issues of insecurity with levity hence it has become imperative for everybody to defend him or herself as the security forces leaves much to be desired.

The CBCN urged President Buhari to stop presiding “over the killing fields and mass graveyard” that the country had allegedly become and chooses the part of honour by considering “stepping aside to save the nation from total collapse.”

The CBCN communiqué signed by its President, Most Rev. Augustine Akubeze, and Secretary, Most Rev. Camillus Umoh, 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, April 24, 2018, as a dastardly act that was “carefully planned.”

CBCN noted in pains that “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 Bishops made it clear that “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 waillings of helpless and harmless citizens who remain sitting ducks in their homes, farms, highway and now, even in sacred places of worship?”

The clergies 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.”

In unison, the Bishops averred 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.

To them, “We are sad and fear that the clock is ticking. The bomb must be defused quickly before it explodes”.

“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.”

“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,” CBCN noted.

However, security pundits are upbeat that following the arrest of the commander of the herders who is alleged to be in links Boko Haram, there may be the chances of fresh regime of peace if further efforts are made to track the remaining members of the killer herdsmen ring.

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