Doris Obinna and Gloria Ikegbule
A huge crowd of Catholics last Tuesday virtually shut down Lagos in protest against the recent wave of killings in parts of the country.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) had called for a nationwide protest tagged “Enough is enough,” against the orgy of recent killings in Benue State and elsewhere around the country.
No fewer than one million lay faithful and 250 Catholic priests from all the parishes in Lagos State joined other Catholics across the country in the nationwide peaceful protest.
The solidarity rally in Lagos began with a Requiem Mass by 10.30am at St. Leo’s, Ikeja. Later, the protesters marched to the office of the governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode in Alausa about four kilometres away. As part of CBCN’s directive, Catholics in every state were to see their governors to register their anger and deliver a protest
letter for onward transmission to President Muhammadu Buhari.
In February 2018, the Catholic bishops paid a courtesy visit to President Buhari with regard to the killings. Pope Francis, United States President Donald Trump and even the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) have also lent their voices, urging the Nigerian government to take the bull by the horns and stop the incessant killings in the country.
Recently, in Ibadan, Oyo State, president of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Supo Ayokunle, led some Christian leaders to seek a halt to the killings of Christians in the North.
As early as 7am, participants donning white tops had begun trooping to the St. Leo’s Catholic Church on Toyin Street, Ikeja. Shortly after, the queue to the security checkpoint at the church’s main gate had lengthened. With time, the church auditorium, believed to be the biggest Catholic Church in Lagos, was already filled to capacity. Yet, many of the protesters continued to arrive in buses, causing massive gridlock on Allen Avenue and other adjoining streets. Other protesters simply headed straight to Government House in Alausa.
During the homily, Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins noted with dismay that since the killings in Benue and other parts of Nigeria began, no one had been held responsible and no one had been convicted. He regretted that the killings had turned respectful people into internally displaced persons, warning that it was becoming too rampant. He said that it was high time Mr. President took a position on the matter as the father of the nation. He challenged the security agencies to prove their expertise by bringing an end to the trend.
“We urge the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, to direct the security agencies to wake up and fish out the perpetrators of these callous killings, to neutralise them so that our people can once again feel safe in their homes.
“This is the time for President Buhari to act fast and try to restore the confidence of the people in his neutrality as the father of the nation. Many have accused him of being aware and being in support of the plans to Islamise Nigeria. Many see the killings and the apparent unwillingness to do anything about it as proof that the president is privy to the plan and is co-operating with it. Let our president discharge himself of these allegations in order to rebuild confidence in the nation.
“We ask the president to intervene in the issue in a more decisive way in order to save the country from imminent crises that will snowball into ethnic, tribal or religious war. We say all of these with a deep sense of patriotism for our nation Nigeria,” he said.
Martins reminded the federal government of its promise, through Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to rebuild the places destroyed by the killer herdsmen. The rebuilding, he noted, should not be in Benue State alone but in other places across the country. He equally expressed hope that victims of the mindless attacks would be compensated and their lives restored.
The cleric, besides praying for the victims of the atrocities, urged Nigerians to seek ways of ameliorating their situations. He pointed that some of the affected children who were supposed to be in school were living in IDP camps with their future hanging in the balance. He regretted that all the people living in IDP camps have challenges with the basic necessities of life.
After the mass, which lasted till 1 pm, the procession hit the road to Alausa, causing huge traffic disruption on Allen Avenue and Awolowo road.
As the protesters marched, they chanted prayers and sang songs. Many of them displayed placards with many inscriptions denouncing the killings in the land.
Security personnel from the police, members of the church’s Man Order and Discipline, Federal Road Safety Corps and Red Cross, among other paramilitary outfits, were on hand to render service.
At the Governor’s Office, Alausa, the protesters, led by Archbishop Martins, were received by Mr. Benjamin Oladijo, an aide to the governor. He told Archbishop Martins and the rest of the crowd that the governor was unavoidably absent.
Angered by the comment, the protesters wondered why he delegated a junior officer to receive them, insisting that the conduct was disrespectful even when a letter notifying him of the protest was communicated officially to him weeks ago.
While that went on, one of the government officials who could not understand why the protesters were in Alausa, allegedly told the crowd that the killings were done in Benue and not Lagos.
In the heat of the confusion, Archbishop Martins was said to have expressed strong displeasure at the governor’s absence. He, however, handed the protest letter to the governor’s aides before urging the protesters to disperse.
Explaining the import of the exercise, Monsignor Gabriel Osu, Director of Communication, Archdiocese of Lagos said: “The Pope, the Catholic bishops all over have been talking and even the Anglican Church and others have been doing so, condemning the spate of killings in the country.
“The problem has been that the government has not been listening. We cannot always be on the road shouting solidarity. But today (Tuesday) we came out and the whole world heard us. It is better late than never.”
One of the participants, Dr. (Mrs.) Katia Ekesi, said: “We have been silent for a long time. We should have embarked on this protest long ago. We are citizens of Nigeria and we have same rights but we are not treated equally and the government is not acting equally. The government is supposed to look out for every Nigerian, irrespective of their religion and tribe.”
A 72-year-old parishioner from St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, Yaba, told Daily Sun that he was not deterred by the long trek because the protest was in sympathy with the bereaved and to discourage further killings.
In the same manner, the Surulere deanary coordinator of Catholic Women Organisation (CWO), Princess Franca Okojie-Idemudia, said that the protesters came out in large numbers because they were tired of the wave of killings and wanted them stopped.
“The killings are making more women widows, men widowers, and children, orphans,” she said.
Tuesday’s protest coincided with the burial of Rev. Fr. Joseph Gor and Rev. Fr. Felix Tyolaha and 17 members of the church who were mowed down on April 16 while attending an early morning mass at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom, in Gwer Local Government of Benue State.
Since the beginning of the killings, the local and international media have been urging the Nigerian government to address issues of safety and peaceful co-existence among Nigerians.