After at least three Catholic priests were murdered in 2019, Cardinal John Cardinal Onaiyekan says “insecurity is getting out of hand” in Nigeria.
Two priests — Father David Tanko and Father Paul Offu – were murdered in separate incidents in August alone.
“In a way, we can say that we are not surprised that even the priests are not exempted from the general insecurity in the land. It is not as if those hoodlums or the bandits will take their time to make sure that they do not kill a priest. They don’t seem to have any sense of horror about anything,” Onaiyekan told the Daily Post, a national Nigerian daily.
Christian clergy in the country have been targeted by Islamist Boko Haram militants in the country’s northeast, as well as Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” – where the predominantly Muslim North meets the predominantly Christian South.
In the south, clergy can also fall victim to bandits, or be targeted by kidnapping rings.
“The only thing I can say about this is that my priests are also being killed. It only shows how terrible the situation is,” said Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja, the national capital.
The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, issued a statement after the murder of Tanko, who was brutally killed on Aug. 28 when he was travelling to mediate between a local ethnic conflict in Nigeria’s Taraba state.
“The murder of the Catholic priest highlights the urgency of addressing this embarrassing and persistent conflict. On behalf of the federal government and the entire people of the country, I offer my condolences to the Catholic community, the government and people of Taraba over the losses arising from recent incidents involving the warring communities,” Buhari said.
“I have watched with trepidation and disbelief how hate and bigotry had inhabited the human soul, resulting in brothers killing brothers,” the president continued. “Progress is impossible where violence and destruction are allowed to dominate our daily lives.”
Onaiyekan told the Post he had mixed feelings about the president’s words.
“I must say that I am also sad when we saw President Buhari himself speaking on the issue and insisting that the people responsible for killing the reverend father should be fished out,” he told the newspaper.
“On one hand, I commended his efforts, and on the other hand, we should ask too that not only the reverend fathers but all those who are killed; those who killed them should be fished out. Everybody’s life is precious, and it is given by God. We are praying on this issue and doing our part,” the cardinal added.
Buhari, a devout Muslim, has had a fraught relationship with the country’s Christian community. The nation’s more than 200 million people are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims, and Christian leaders have accused Buhari of favoring his co-religionists; many even say he wishes to make Nigeria an Islamic Republic, although the president has strenuously denied this claim.
“Everybody knows what President Buhari should do to stop this menace and I am sure Buhari also knows what to do. There is no excuse because the rate of insecurity we have in our land, no matter under what name, weather it is insurgency of Boko Haram or banditry in the Northwest or herdsmen killings in the Middle Belt or kidnapping, we have never had it so bad,” Onaiyekan said.
“The government should have known that their efforts so far have not yielded adequate results. It is the duty of government to make sure that people are safe in the country. You do not have to be in the opposition to know that,” said the cardinal.
“When they themselves are travelling on the road, don’t you see how they protect themselves? They always have armed policemen with them. That is a clear sign that the road is not safe. If the road is safe, would they need so many soldiers and policemen to protect them? If they are using so many soldiers and policemen to protect themselves, what about the rest of us?” Onaiyekan asked.
“The matter is serious, and we are not at war. Other nations are tackling their security challenges.”
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