Aloysius Attah, Onitsha

The Diocese of Awka and Archdiocese of Onitsha recently shut down parts of Anambra State, as members protested against insecurity in the country.

Dressed in black, the Catholic faithful with their bishops and priests all trooped into the streets and major roads to pray for the country and register their displeasure over the killings and general insecurity in NIgeria.

The church members sang sorrowful hymns during the well-organised procession.

Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha Archdiocese, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, led from the front at the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha. The Archbishop called on Nigerians to intensify prayers against the insecurity ravaging the country. He deplored the incessant killings and shedding of innocent blood. He urged Christians to rise and unite in prayers for the peace, security and meaningful development of the country.

Chancellor of Onitsha Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Emeka Aroh, encouraged Nigerians not to be weighed down by the political and economic chaos distressing Nigerians. Citing similar biblical situations, Fr. Aroh stressed the need for the people to remain resolute in their trust in God.

President, Catholic Women Organisation (CWO), Lady Maureen Umeh, and Mr. Benjamin Ihezurike said the prayer march became necessary to seek God’s intervention in protection of life and property. They identified fervent prayers as key to surmounting the challenges of terrorists jeopardizing the stability of the country.

In Awada, parishioners of Blessed Iwene Tansi, Iba Pope, also trooped out in their numbers. Led by the parish priest, Rev. Fr. Augustine Oburota, and the Vicar, Rev. Fr. Cosmas Uzodimma, parishioners from the two outstations of St. Augustine and St. Valerian joined the procession. They also bore placards with various inscriptions like: “Stop the killings in Nigeria now”; “Say no to Boko Haram”;  “Let love lead us in Nigeria”; “Enough of this bloodshed”; “No to terrorism, banditry and abduction”; and |Government should do the right thing”, among others.

Speaking on the purpose of the protest, Fr. Oburota said prayer had always remained the most potent force of the church.

His words: “It is a pity that this is happening in the country today. They kidnap priests, religious leaders, married men, women and children. Today, in Nigeria, there are many unsafe areas. If the roads are not safe, how can people travel?

“We have enormous resources in this country and the Federal Government, if the will is there, can deploy international technology and foreign assistance to arrest this bad situation.

“We pray and intercede for our children too. Have we asked ourselves why people in other countries enjoy freedom and security but we move around in Nigeria with our hearts literally in our palms? The Nigerian government should be considerate to the plights of the vulnerable, the disabled and physically challenged, among others.

“The effect of this insecurity is that the economy has been hit badly. People are suffering. In Onitsha, for instance, people used to come from Congo, Togo, other African countries and the far North to buy goods, but today many of them don’t come anymore. This has affected businesses here adversely and all trickles down to the common man in the streets.

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“A priest from Nnewi Diocese was abducted and has not been found for almost two years now. We want a change of heart among all cadres of political office holders in Nigeria so that they can put the interests of the citizens first. There is power in prayer and our hope is that God will help us in this situation.”

In Awka, thousands of Catholic faithful also took part in the peaceful protest against what they called extreme insecurity, abductions and killings in Nigeria.

Dressed in black and led by the Diocesan Bishop, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, they condemned the brutal killing of innocent Nigerians and the high level of insecurity in the country. They also called on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, security agencies and international organisations to help in halting the continued violence.

Speaking during the protest, Bishop Ezeokafor said: “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 particularly worried about how the terrorists target, abduct and kill seminarians and priests.”

He lamented the poor response of the Nigerian government to the attacks on defenceless people by Boko Haram, referring to it as far below average.

“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. The failure to protect innocent people from relentless attacks is evil. The lack of prosecution of terrorists is evil. The other day, we heard that the military had released hundreds of Boko Haram suspects. We also heard some time ago that the Federal Government is planning amnesty for Boko Haram suspects, who have ravaged Nigeria.

“We call on the international community to come to the aid of Nigeria. We must see ourselves as a global family in the world. The tears and pains of helpless, persecuted Christians in Nigeria should be given deserved attention.

“Boko Haram has killed more than 27,000 people, making Nigeria the third most dangerous country after Afghanistan and Iraq, on the 2019 Global Terrorism Index. As we entrust our country Nigeria to God, let us also entrust the terrorists into the hands of God. God can change their hearts of stone into hearts of flesh,” he said.

Awka Diocesan Chancellor, Rev. Fr. Francis Chidume, said the protest across Anambra State was aimed at calling government’s attention to the spate of killings across the country. He said the church needed to speak out in words and actions against the level of insecurity in Nigeria.

The chancellor read out the message from Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, which called on government to put a stop to the wave of violence and brutality aimed particularly at Christians. The document also called for the prosecution of all those behind the killings.

Rev. Fr. Christopher Ezeh led prayers, which implored God to improve the security situation so that Nigerians would enjoy true peace, justice and prosperity.

Cathedral administrator, Rev. Fr. Matthew Attansey, thanked God for inspiring the bishops to initiate the prayer protest, even as he prayed that God would listen to the cries of His people and have mercy on Nigeria.