Bishop Goddy Okafor, CAN Chairman, South East

From PETER OKORE, Umuahia

The loses, pains, agonies, and regrets that have trailed the high rate of insecurity in the country and the inability of the federal government to take a firm stand to protect the lives and properties of her citizens took the centre stage at the just concluded one-day Colloquium organised at Umuahia, the Abia state capital by religious leaders in the country.

The Colloquium, which x-rayed the contributions of faith-based leaders to peace and security in Nigeria, had as its Theme: “The Sacredness of Life”, and had participants drawn from branches of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, across the geo-political zones of the country. Prominent among those who attended included the South-East Chairman of CAN, Bishop Goddy Okafor; CAN South-west representative, Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu (rtd); Rev. Dr. Yakubu Pam, CAN Chairman Northern Nigeria; CAN South-South Chairman Archbishop Ege Israel Eniyekemini and others.

Ahead of this Colloquium, Roman Catholic Bishops, under the aegis of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, stormed Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, all in their black suntans, on a peaceful protest. The action was a demonstration of their dislikes over the rising rate of insecurity in the country, without any corresponding checks or hope of abatement by government in power.

As a follow-up to the protest by the Bishops, Catholic faithful, comprising the clergy and laity, at their respective Dioceses and Parishes, majority of whom were clad in black attires, held open-air prayers condemning the incessant bloodletting, kidnappings, rape, menace by Boko Haram insurgents, herdsmen and other facets of destruction of human lives and properties in the country,  with little or no attention by the federal government.

It could be rightly stated that this Year’s Ash Wednesday in Nigeria was observed as “Black Ash  Wednesday”, in memory of those who died in their  cold blood and asking for God’s intervention.

However, in the 12-point communiqué issued at the end of the Colloquium and  jointly signed by the CAN Chairmen of South-South and South-East, the participants resolved that in view of the prevailing situations in the country, the political-class has failed the nation in terms of giving good governance as well as securing lives and properties.

To remedy the fragile situation, the religious leaders charged the political leadership of Nigeria to work toward finding solutions to the prevailing impasse, as they are accountable before God and the communities of believers; advance peace and tirelessly strive to stop the wanton killings and waste of precious lives.

The participants, without mincing words, joined the band-wagon of those good Nigerians calling on the federal government to rejig and decentralize the Nigerian security arrangement for efficiency.

According to them, the porosity of the nation’s borders has guaranteed free inter-country movement with little or no checks.  They demanded, among others, a reversal of the Visa-on-arrival policy of the Federal government, which they claimed have worsened security arrangements in Nigeria.

According to the  Communiqué which reads in part: “Going by the outrageous spate of terrorism, radicalism, and insecurity of lives and properties of citizens, the federal government is advised to seek the help of the international community in the face of this daunting challenge, if it must ensure reconciliation and sustainable peace.

“We all value the principle of the sanctity of life and we call for its practice in truism. The violence that is conducted in the name of God, is a desecration of his name, a crime against those who are created in His image, and debasement of Faith. The proper means of solving conflict and disagreement is by deliberate negotiation and dialogue only.

“We vehemently call for the cessation of incitement, misrepresentation, and distortion of the image of the other and of the neighbour. Drawing upon the religious traditions, and our understanding of what is best for our communities and peoples, we call for a solution that recognizes the rights of Christians to exist in Dignity.

“We call on the government to improve on intelligence- gathering, and deployment of modern technology to track and monitor the operations of the insurgents. This also as we acknowledge and totally adopt the security formations in the South-West (Amatekun) and join the alliance with our brothers’ efforts in securing their borders and communities.

“We call on the government to make it a point of duty to inform Nigerians what is being done to curb the insecurity in Nigeria. Nigerians on a daily basis are being fed with different kinds  of security information;  with government sometimes saying something in the contrary. Nigerian government should protect Nigerians no-matter the tribe and religion.

“The leaders also expressed worry about the speed at which arrested terrorists are being released, rehabilitated, given foreign education and later sent back to the society as repentant terrorists. We are deeply worried why the government should be pampering such killer-terrorists who have not, in any way, justified their action against Nigerians. This development is not only worrisome but demoralizes the morale of gallant soldiers.

“The Anti-open grazing bill should be adopted and enacted into law in all the Southern States, so as to preserve our farmlands and secure our households. The rape of our women and children is an aberration and a total disregard for our rights as a people. We stand together to condemn this intrusion and call on all faith leaders to form a synergy to stamp out this slap on our collective faces as a people”.

In his emotion-laden address to the Colloquium, the President of Vision Africa( a private Radio station based in Umuahia),  Bishop Sunday Onuoha declared  that “A nation at war with itself will implode if nothing urgent is done to address the carnage”

Dr Onuoha, who is also a Methodist Bishop and Co-chairman, Inter-faith Dialogue for Peace Forum, declared: “it is unfortunate that we live in a country where anyone can be robbed, kidnapped or killed, without recourse”, stressing that churches have become grounds where blood and flesh of bombed congregants continue to increase. He noted that the Nation’s political leaders, in their quest for political correctness, have failed in their responsibilities of galvanizing the nation to maintain its nationhood.

He called on spiritual leaders to re-evaluate their roles as mentors and pulpit managers and rise above sentiments of the killings and the sensational headlines of the media and focus on building relationships and community.

The Bishop advocated the need to expand the space for dialogue to encompass local, regional and national leaders and other actors who have a voice and urged communities affected to seek help from the international community when the need arises.

“As you know better than anyone else, we live in a country where you could be kidnapped, robbed or just killed for the sake of it, where churches become smeared with blood and flesh of bombed congregants; where long-standing conflicts and faith-based terrorism continue, and new ones are emerging. With every passing day, the citizens’ frustration grows, hope diminishes, and the idea of “one-Nigeria” seems far-fetched.

“Indeed, we are witnessing a spiraling wave of discrimination and stereotyping of “the other” in many places. Religion is being distorted and used as a source of conflict, to exaggerate the differences inherent in our togetherness and incite to hatred and violence.

“On the one hand, our constitution asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace; but then, on the other hand, we radically act to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated. It is no wonder, the most fanatical and cruelest political struggles are those that have been collared, inspired and legitimized by religion because when conflicts are couched in religious terms, fanatical adherents take a blindside that is fueled by strong judgments of what is right and wrong.

And the belief that there cannot be a common ground to resolve our differences but to cleanse the land of their brothers on the other side of the map that describes our motherland and birth heritage.

“Our political leadership has continually failed to maintain the oneness of our nationhood, particularly condoning, or neglecting to act to stop the deaths of our people in the hands of their fellow countrymen. A nation at war with itself surely will implode and disintegrate if nothing is done to stop the carnage that has become the narrative when describing this large black nation of ours.

Beyond its statutory obligations, Government owes us a moral commitment to respect, protect, and enhance human life at every stage and in every context because no society can live in peace with itself, or with the world, without a full awareness of the worth and dignity of every human person. The passivity of our leaders is unacceptable, as it continues to enable the radical of evil and perpetuates this death-dealing violence we are faced with”.

On the part of religious leaders themselves, Onuoha observed that religion has been implicated in conflict and violence in our communities is a desecration of religion itself, as the political manipulation of religion becomes the order of the day. The use of religion as a mask for violence should spur us on to play our part in both preventing and resolving faith-based terrorism and radicalism.

The relationship between religion, peace, conflict and diplomacy shows that religion plays an important role in conflict situations. Let us harness the gains and advocate for the safety of the followers we have committed to shepherd.

Religious leaders, as part of civil society, and with great influence in their communities, have a very important role to play in peace-building and stability through the promotion of peaceful coexistence and reconciliation among communities.

Religion is a powerful constituent of cultural norms and values because it addresses profound issues of human existence like freedom and inevitability, fear and faith, sacred and profane, empathy and even loves for strangers, gestures of forgiveness and humility, and the drive for social justice.

Reeling what could be termed the riot act to his colleagues, Onuoha stated: “It is time religious leaders stand together to demand accountability for the sacredness of life and the ethical call to resist the violence that seeks to destroy it. If we cannot retaliate, we can at least put up some nonviolent resistance to ensure security for the people we care for.

Let us build bridges and strengthen the case against these approved killings; identify and speak out against injustices, monitor human rights and assisting victims of violence before this degenerates further to something worse(an impending doom that looms above our nationhood), if nothing drastic is done to forestall it.

“May we by this gathering, re-evaluate the role as spiritual- mentors and pulpit managers and rise above the sentiments of the killings and the sensational headlines of the media; but focus on building relationships and community. We need to expand the space for dialogue to encompass local and regional leaders and other actors who have a voice and influence within their respective communities.

Others also spoke in a similar vein and tone.