By Okechukwu Onuegbu, Damian Duruiheoma & Gabriel Alonta
Roman Catholic faithful across Nigeria on Tuesday staged prayer procession and protest to seek divine and government intervention in the recent spate of killings of innocent Nigerians in the wake of farmers/ herdsmen clashes over grazing areas in different parts of the country, especially Benue State.
The Catholic protesters used the occasion to register their displeasure over the gruesome murder of two priests (Rev. Fr. Joseph Gor and Rev. Fr. Felix Tyholaha) and 17 worshippers in Benue state, during a morning mass at St. Ignatius Catholic Church by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Orient Daily reports that the protest which was carried out following adirective by the Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria, was to pray for the happy repose of the souls all the deceased Christians recently murdered by Fulani herdsmen in the country.
The congregation were seen in Awka, Anambra state with placards of different inscriptions such as ‘give us jobs, not gun’, ‘human life is sacred’, ‘no to culture of death’, ‘stop bloodletting now’, ‘killing is evil, stop it now’, ‘we don’t need Buhari’, among other numerous inscriptions.
Leading the protest march in Awka, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, His Lordship Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, said that the peaceful protest was as a result of insecurity and incessant killings in the country, noting that government has failed to protect the constitutional rights of people.
Ezeokafor, represented by the Diocesean Chancellor and Secretary, Catholic Diocese of Awka, Rev. Fr. Dr. Francis Chidume, explained that the directive was by the Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria, to mourn with their counterparts in Benue by invoking the help of God in the current insecurity currently bedeviling the country.
“Constitutionally, the lives and properties of every citizens should be protected. There is insecurity everywhere and Christians are being killed callously without remorse or control.
“Killing is a sin and the Federal Government has kept mute. We want the whole world to hear our sentiments about the blood of Christians poured which has become worrisome and ugly. Perhaps, the perpetrators of this killing are acting on a written instruction given to them.
“The president should understand that it is his primary assignment and statutory duty to protect the lives of the citizens and if he fails to do that, it means that he has failed. We, therefore, invoke the mercy of God to intervene in the situation”, the prelate said.
He described the killings by the Fulani herdsmen as a calculated action to wipe out Christianity from the face of Nigeria, noting that it would never be possible due to God’s presence in Christendom.
Also speaking during the protest, the Chaplain, St. Joseph the Worker, Catholic Chaplaincy, UNIZIK Awka, Anambra State, Rev. Fr. Nnaemeka Kelvin Ezeokeke, noted that the protest was as a result of serial killings in Taraba, Zaria, Zamfara, Benue, Nassarawa, Plateau, among other states which left scores of Christians.
Ezeokeke said that none of the perpetrators of the killings had been tried, resulting in different interpretation by people that it was Christians that were slaughtered needlessly.
Noting that the mother church was angry about the incidence, the clergy however, added that the church in her wisdom was able to put her emotions in check.
He said that the Catholic Church is not just a spiritual being but an intelligent being. “The worst thing is that they are using prohibited weapons, such as AK 47 assault rifles and so on. We are using rosary procession and benediction because we believe in non-violence and as Christians, we have to always show the light. I know if it is another religion, they would have resorted to violence or fight, but we are using prayers and placards to register our displeasures to the powers above”, he remarked.
Disclosing that the protest was to identify with the Diocese of Benue as they bury the two clergy and some members of the congregation, the chaplain said that the church employed such means because everyone would not attend the mass burial.
On what will be the reaction of the church should the federal government continue to pay deaf ears after the protest, the clergy said, “we must always act within the purview of law and be law-abiding. When there is bad government or tyrannical government anywhere in the world, there is one remedy, which is to vote them out if they don’t want to change.
“We cannot continue to hand them over our will and they take it for granted. Once they begin to use it arbitrarily, we exercise our franchise, which is our power”.
He called on Christians to participate actively in the protest by not taking it as a no man’s affair, harping that injury to one, is injury to many. “It is a death which was needless and they are Christians. Whatever we can do, let us do it now”, Ezeokeke said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, has 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, Gov. 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.