Amid a surge in Islamist violence, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) yesterday (1st March) led a mass protest in Abuja against the “brutal killing of innocent Nigerians”.
Addressing hundreds who braved heavy rain, Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, president of the CBCN, said they had gathered to speak out against “the high level of insecurity in every part of Nigeria.”
He added: “We are protesting against the brutal killing of innocent Nigerians by Boko Haram, and terrorist herdsmen…We are gathered to mourn the women, children, babies and men who have been killed by the terrorists.
“We are gathered to let the Federal Government of Nigeria know that we are tired of hearing from them that Boko Haram has been ‘technically defeated’ even when they still attack with impunity.”
Archbishop Akubeze said the Nigerian government’s poor response to the attacks was making the escalating situation worse.
He said: “The failure to protect innocent people from relentless attacks is evil. The lack of prosecution of terrorists is evil. Our government response to terror attack is, for lack of better words, far below average.
“There have been too many mass burials. Too many kidnappings of school children, of travellers, invasions of peoples’ homes, invasions of sacred places like churches, mosques, seminaries, etc.”
Archbishop Abukeze was critical of western journalists’ silence about the crisis.
He said: “If the western media give comprehensive steadfast coverage to the atrocities happening in Nigeria, they will discover that people are dying daily in Nigeria from the hands of Boko Haram”.
During the homily of the opening Mass of the CBCN’s Plenary Session – held shortly before the protests began – Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama declared that Nigeria was facing a number of crises including “murderous insurgents ravaging rural communities and lives in the North East” and “herdsmen laying waste towns and villages”.
He said: “We cannot pretend that all is well with Nigeria. We are battling with terrorists, cultists, criminals, kidnappers, economic saboteurs, unscrupulous political leaders, religious bigots and partisan traditional rulers.”
He added: “May our prayers wipe away evil from our land, soaked by the blood of innocent citizens and melt the stony hearts of people who rejoice at the suffering of other brothers and sisters whom they keep in captivity.”
Father Sebastain Sanni who attended the march, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he was dismayed by the decline of the country.
He said: “We are all in black to mourn not only our Christian brothers and sisters that were killed by Boko Haram, but to protest the collapse of security in the country, the escalated activities of Boko Haram, and the government’s lame response.”