The two Catholic priests and 17 parishioners slain by suspected herdsmen on April 24 in Benue State were buried on Tuesday amid nationwide peaceful protest by the Catholic faithful.
The two priests, Rev Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, and 17 members of the congregation while killed during an early morning mass at St. Ignatius Catholic Church at Ayar Mbalom in the Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State.
The 19 were given a mass burial on Tuesday at Se Sugh Maria Pilgrimage Centre, Ayati Ikpayongo in Benue State.
In attendance was the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who conveyed President Muhammadu Buhari’s condolence message to the Catholic Church and the people of Benue.
Osinbajo, while lamenting the killing, said though nothing could be done to restore the lives of the slain, “we can ensure justice for them by apprehending and punishing the assailants.”
He added, “What manner of man is he that wakes up in the morning determined to kill innocent men and women? Surely, such one has lost his peace; he is to be condemned and cursed but perhaps, he deserves our pity even more.
“But what do we owe the dead today? What do we owe these 19 who died in Benue and the very many others who have been killed here? We cannot bring them back but we can provide succour and comfort for those that they left behind.
“We can ensure justice for them by apprehending and punishing the assailants. We must rebuild the many places that have been damaged and heal the wounds that have been caused.”
Osinbajo said there was a need to “rebuild and revamp our security system of law enforcement to ensure that all that live and work in this land are safe, (and) most importantly, we must and will stop these senseless killings.”
But on Tuesday, the Christian Association of Nigeria called on Buhari to suspend his second term ambition, till he had addressed and stopped the killings by herdsmen.
CAN, in a statement by its spokesman, Pastor Bayo Oladeji, said, “While CAN is not opposed to the President’s exercise of his civic right by seeking re-election for the second time, we urge him to halt it for now and attend to the security problems occasioned by the criminal activities of the terrorists, herdsmen and bandits.
“CAN asks President Buhari to suspend his re-election bid until he restores sanity to the country while ensuring the release of Leah Sharibu, the remaining Chibok girls and other hostages from the captivity of the Boko Haram terrorists.”
Catholic faithful across the country embarked on a peaceful protests in compliance with the directive by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria.
The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Abeokuta, Ogun State, Olukayode Odetoyinbo, and his counterpart in Jalingo, Taraba State, Dr. Charles Hammawa, demanded Buhari’s resignation for failing in his responsibility of protecting lives and property of Nigerians.
Speaking during a requiem mass at St. Anne Catholic Church, Ibara, Ogun State, Odetoyinbo noted that after the April 24 attack in Benue, more people had been killed by marauding herdsmen across the country with the government feeling helpless.
He said, “We asked the President to resign because he’s the father of the nation, when the father cannot protect his home, what’s the responsibility of a father then?
“His duty is to protect Nigerians; we entrusted the lives of Nigerians into his hands; not only economy, not money but lives. But if a father cannot do that, it is obvious that you are not able to keep the promise as expected.”
In Jalingo, Hammawa, while speaking at a requiem mass held at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral, noted, “These continuous killing of innocent people, while our elected leaders look the other way, is an act of betrayal, an act of blasphemy against God (or Allah).
“It’s a blasphemy for our elected people to allow the killings of human beings as if their lives did not matter. The Federal Government must rise up to protect all citizens without bias, for every human life matters and no life is more important than the other.
“The government of President Muhammadu Buhari lacks legitimacy and sincerity of purpose and people should not support such a government that lacks legitimacy.
“If he can no longer protect the lives and property of citizens, which is a primary constitutional responsibility, he should step aside.
“By all indications, this government is failing and that is why I am calling on the people not to support a failing government if he cannot change his ways.”
Similarly, the Catholic Bishop of Yola Diocese, Adamawa State, Most Rev. Stephen Dami Mamza, said the continuous killings of innocent citizens had exposed Buhari’s government as lacking the competence and the political will to arrest the situation.
Mamza, who doubles as the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Adamawa State, while speaking at Saint Theresa’s Cathedral in Yola, stated that the poor handling of the killings had given the impression that President Buhari was complicit.
Mamza said, “The raging violence in the country hinges on incompetence on the part of the President or a lack of the political will to arrest the situation.
“The terror killings have become a recurring problem in many states across the country, giving the impression and general consensus that the Buhari-led government is complicit in the killings through its failure to tackle herdsmen attacks.”
In Minna, Niger State, Most Rev. Dr. Martin Uzoukwu, said Catholic Bishops of Nigeria had reached the conclusion that the Buhari government had failed in its responsibility of protecting lives.
Uzoukwu said, “It is clear to us that President Muhammadu Buhari has failed in the protection of Nigerians. It is time for him to take the path of honour by stepping aside for someone so as to save the nation from falling apart.”
At the burial ground in Benue, the Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, John Cardinal Onayeikan, who gave the sermon, said it would take the declaration of a state of emergency to stop killings by herdsmen across the country.
Onayeikan said, “Making us safe is the primary responsibility of the government; there can be no excuse for failure to perform in this regard.
“If the present state of affairs is the best that government can give, it should be cleared that the best is not good enough, that the need for a radical change for the better is imperative.”
The Catholic Diocese of Uyo, Most Rev. John Aya, also made a call on President Muhammadu Buhari to resign.
He said, “Any government that fails to secure lives and property of citizens has failed and should resign.”
In his remarks, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, lamented that the Tuesday mass burial was the third that the state would conduct within the last five months, putting the number of those killed by herdsmen at 492.
“What is the offence of the priests and the parishioners? Perhaps the church now grows grass to feed their cattle or the parishioners were in the farms,” Ortom wondered.
Ortom said the state would neither back down on its anti-open grazing law nor stop to demand justice for those killed.
In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, Archbishop Gabriel Abegunrin, also led Catholic faithful in peaceful protest.
The parishioners, priests, vicars and reverend sisters gathered at the SS Peter and Paul Major Seminary in the Bodija area of Ibadan and moved to the state secretariat in Agodi, Ibadan, where they were received by Dr. Gbade Ojo, the Chief of Staff to Governor Abiola Ajimobi.
A similar exercise was observed in Warri, Asaba, Issele-uku, Ughelli, Sapele and other major towns in Delta State.
Our correspondents in Bauchi and Edo states reported that Catholic faithful in the states also joined in the peaceful protest.
Very Revd. Fr. Michael Oyanoafor led Catholic faithful in Edo.