Catholics’ Protest and the Rest of Us
On May 22, Catholics from across the country headed to Benue State. Their mission at the Se Sugh U Maria Pilgrimage Centre, Ayati Ikpayongo was to bury two priests and 17 faithful. Rev. Father Joseph Gor, Rev. Father Felix Tyolaha and the 17 faithful had been killed on April 25 by suspected herdsmen at Quasi Parish Ukpor, Mbalom in Gwer East local government area of the state. It was a solemn but vintage burial reportedly attended by representatives of the Pope. Also in attendance was Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who must have been there to show that the Federal Government stands with the Catholic faithful in their moment of grief. The chief mourner, Governor Samuel Ortom, was also there. The burial was not the only event involving Catholics on that day. In many states across the country, the faithful, led by their leaders, same day, took to the streets.
The action was in deference to the directive by the Catholic Conference of Bishops which, about a week earlier, ordered the faithful into the streets to protest the April 25 unfortunate attack on the Quasi Parish Ukpor, Mbalom. The protest must have been carefully planned to coincide with the burial of the fallen priests and faithful to achieve maximum impact. And significantly, the protest came barely two weeks after a similar action ordered by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Meanwhile, one week after the Catholics protest, the action has remained topical. This is understandably so because this is a country where issues that border on religion are sensitive. Ours is a nation where the moment the President is from one religion, no matter how much he means well in his actions, adherents of other religions will hold him in suspicion.
For instance, there are those who believe that the Catholics acted within their right to carry out the protest. According to them, the faithful acted in line with their emotion that fellow Catholics had been killed and government did not appear to be doing much to assuage their feeling. On the other side are those who say that Catholics went too far in endangering the polity with the May 22 action. Those in this school of thought argue that had the Catholic leaders carefully considered the grave implication of the protest, reason would have prevailed and the action would have been shelved.
According to them, the church leaders ought to have given sufficient thought to the fact that it is not only Catholics that have been victims of attacks in the country over the past few years. Whereas Christians of other denominations have been killed, Muslims have also borne the brunt of the attacks. The bottom line is that it is preposterous for Catholics to embark on the protest to give the impression that only those that belong to their denomination have been singled out for murderous attacks across Nigeria.
And the action, according to many analysts, may have sent the wrong signal to other Christian denominations in Nigeria and members of other religions. In essence, some precedent has been set. Some Christian or Muslim denomination can wake up tomorrow to say their members have been killed in some terror attacks and take to the streets in protest just like Catholics did. If this happens frequently, this may compromise security. We were lucky that the Catholic protest went smoothly and produced no casualty but you never can tell when hoodlums will strike during a protest and turn it into a mayhem. The other side of the protest the Catholic bishops possibly didn’t consider while ordering it was the chances that politics could be read into the action.
This is not the first time a Catholic Church in the country has come under terrorists’ attack and parishioners killed. On Christmas Day in 2011, terrorists attacked St. Theresa Catholic Church, Suleja, Niger State, killing scores of parishioners among others. The deadly attack took place under a Christian president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Not long ago under the present administration, precisely in August 2016, suspected herdsmen attacked
Attakwu Akegbe Ugwu community in Nkanu West council area. In the attack, a Catholic Church seminarian, Lazarus Nwafor, was killed.
The fact that the 2011 and 2016 attacks took place and did not generate emotions and a mass burial like it happened on May 22 in Benue, and the attendant protest in some parts of the country, has led to the point being made that Catholics may have acted the way they did in the latest incident because President Muhammadu Buhari is a Moslem and to put him in a bad light. To be honest, the Buhari administration has shown adequate concern about the killings going on in parts of the country regardless of whether the victims are Christians or Moslems or even atheists. As long as those killed are human beings, a responsive government must care. And that is the reason the president has visited such hot spots to commiserate with the bereaved communities while equally deploying the security apparatus to prevent reoccurrence. The only way well-meaning Nigerians can help is to support the Federal Government in stemming the tide of the killings and not exacerbate it the way Catholics seem to have done.