Archbishops of different Christian denominations in the South-East have expressed concern over the high level of violence in the region, saying the land is soaked with blood, with gloomy clouds ganging in the air.
The Bishops also promised to engage the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and other separatist groups on the need to stop the violence in the land, and asked the Federal Government to also consider the possibility of granting amnesty to IPOB and other separatist groups to pave way for peaceful resolution of causes of agitations by the group.
The Bishops’ statement came as former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, retd, warned that the spate of insecurity and the clamour for self-determination in parts of Nigeria could destabilise the country, if urgent action is not taken to address the challenges.
In a statement jointly signed by the clerics weekend, they also told the Federal Government to enthrone equity and fairness in the South-East and other parts of Nigeria as a way of wiping out separatist agitations across the land.
Among signatories of the statement were the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, Most Rev. Dr. Anthony J. V. Obinna; Anglican Archbishop of Enugu, Most Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Chukwuma; and the Methodist Archbishop of Umuahia, Most Rev. Dr. Chibuzo R. Opoko.
Others are the Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Dr. Valerian M. Okeke; Past Principal Clerk, Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, Most Rev Dr. Uma Onwunta; Bishop Obi Onubogu of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, South-East Zone,Rev. Dr. Abraham Nwali.
‘’Our land is soaked with blood and a gloomy cloud hangs in the air. This cannot be allowed to go on,” the Bishops said.
They urged the federal and state governments to urgently restore a national sense of belonging, equity and fairness in dealing with all segments of Nigeria to end the orgy of violence that had trailed separatist agitations in the country, particularly in the South East.
The bishops said it is the failure to entrench equity and fairness, made worse by the increased divide between the ruling class and the people that opened the floodgate for ethnic and sectionalist agitations for justice and fairness that gradually won the loyalty of frustrated citizens.
The clerics said they noted the tragic plight of Igbo youth, their families and individuals in the entire South-East region which became a cause for grave concern to all in the local communities and within various church bodies, stating that the level of violence and insecurity in the region was no longer tolerable.
They described the South-East as a land where people had always been known for their industry, entrepreneurship and creativity, but lamented that (people in) the area are now living in crippling fear.
The bishops said whereas some might be content with analysing only the immediate causes of the situation, they would prefer to point out that at the root of all the problems is the failure of governance at various levels, particularly with the return to constitutional democracy in 1999, when people had looked forward to a national sense of belonging and restoration of equity and fairness in dealing with all segments of Nigeria.
The clerics stated: “This, unfortunately, has not happened. The failure in this regard opened the way for ethnic and sectionalist agitations for justice and fairness.
“With the increasing divide between the ruling class and the people, and the vacuum created by an alienating leadership at the federal, regional and state levels, separatist bodies emerged and soon began to win the loyalty of frustrated citizens.
“In the South-East of Nigeria, one of such groups, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, gained prominence some years ago.
“Although it was proscribed by the Federal Government in 2017, the group has continued its agitation for an independent state of Biafra, often leading to heavy military responses and the loss of lives of many youths.
“The group is also accused of various killings, many of which it denies. This situation has created a very dangerous environment, which is being exploited by many criminal elements who have unleashed a reign of terror on helpless citizens of the region.
“As religious leaders of this badly battered region, we appeal to all those responsible for the killings to please stop, before the entire South East descends into anarchy, which will invariably affect the other parts of the country.
“We believe that there are still other options besides violence, over militarization of the area, and senseless killings.
“We passionately call on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, address the underlying reason for the agitations, namely, the desire for equity, fairness and good governance in Nigeria, in order to eliminate, or at least minimize, the separatist agitations, not only in the South East, but everywhere else in Nigeria.”
They equally appealed to the political leaders of the South East to see themselves as representatives of the people, to invest all available resources in the security, development of the region, and creation of jobs, recalling that all the agitations were cries for help by people, many of whom have invested time, energies and resources in education and learning a trade without gainful employment.
“Our political leaders must do something to reduce the huge gulf between their personal welfare and that of the people at large.
“In a special way, we urge that, since the youth are our strength and hope as a nation in our various regions and states, extra attention, care and sacrifice need to be expended, in order to win back their confidence and trust in government.
“They ought to be given the opportunity to participate constructively and productively in the delicate task of nation-building. As spiritual fathers, we say to you our aggrieved youths: We hear your cry.
“We understand your anxiety about your present and your future. Therefore, we recommit ourselves to continue doing all within our powers in order to address your concerns, in collaboration with our elected representatives, the private sector and all the other segments of our society,” the Bishops said.
The clergymen equally said they would like to engage members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, and other separatist groups to ask them to eschew all violent activities, noting, however, that they could not reasonably do that as long as any of separatist groups was proscribed as a terrorist group.
“We, therefore, call on the Federal Government to consider granting amnesty to IPOB and other separatist groups.
“We believe that the de-criminalization and de-proscription of these groups would lead them to embrace the democratic and non-violent means of negotiation, thus opening the path of dialogue on the future of Nigeria.
“This will win the hearts of all and lead to a better rapport between the political leaders and the people in the future.
“A militarist and high-handed approach may win the peace of the mortuary and graveyard, but it cannot win the hearts and minds of the people.
“We, therefore, urge all, in the name of God, to join hands and work hard to restore trust, confidence and calm in South East Nigeria.
“Growth and development in our region cannot be achieved through intimidation, mass murder and destruction.
“All those who are still preventing people from going about their legitimate businesses by enforcing a sit-at-home order, for which no group now claims responsibility, are, therefore, called upon to desist from doing so.
“In the same vein, we enjoin all our sons and daughters, especially those in the diaspora, to make responsible use of social media.
“This very powerful instrument that modern technology has placed in our hands should be used to build up, not to destroy; to dispel ignorance and spread love, not to spread falsehood, create fear and panic.
“We equally ask the security agencies to be professional in their efforts to ensure the maintenance of law and order in the region.
“We continue to pray and call on all Christians as well as all people of good will to join us in praying for peace that is based on justice, fairness, equity and good governance in Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, retd, has warned that the spate of insecurity and the clamour for self-determination in parts of Nigeria could destabilise the country, if urgent actions were not taken to address the challenges.
The ex-COAS blamed the situation on mutual distrust, intolerance, poor socialisation and deterioration of the value system, insisting that the crises facing the nation posed an existential threat to its unity and corporate existence.
Speaking at the Inter-faith Roundtable on Building a Culture of Peace and Unity in Nigeria, which was organized by the Methodist Church in Abuja weekend, Ihejirika observed that peace and stability could only be achieved when the causes of conflict in society were well-managed.
He said: “The security situation and spate of security challenges in the country should give any reasonable and patriotic Nigerian a sense of worry and concern.
“More worrisome is the occasional clamour for self-determination by a few individuals within some ethnic groups in the country.
“There is no doubt that the current situation is not the best. It poses a serious threat to our unity and corporate existence as a nation.
“As elders, community and religious leaders, we can contribute to the efforts of government by helping to shape the opinion and reasoning of the people, especially our youths, towards peace and unity in the country.
“We must, through our words and actions, preach peace, love compassion and unity.
“Our differences should not be a source of division and distrust, but a source of unity, strength and tolerance to engender national building.
“I wish to call on all patriotic and peace loving Nigerians to raise their voices and show concern in the various communities to support any initiative that could foster peace and stability in our nation.”
Speaking also, the Methodist Archbishop of Abuja, His Grace, the Most Rev. Joseph Oche Job, however, accused the elite of exploiting the religious and ethnic fault lines in the country for selfish gains
He stated: “To us, there are three problems besetting Nigeria. They are ignorance, poverty and hatred. If we are able to overcome these challenges, terrorism will no longer be a problem for us.
“However, the elite in the country are not ignorant, but they seem to be fueling the problems for their own advantage.
“They want more money and power. Let us pray for everyone to understand the need to love this nation more than money.”
In the same vein, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Inter-religious Council, Fr. Prof. Cornelius Omonokhua, explained that the reason Nigeria seemed not working for all citizens had nothing to do with either religion or ethnicity but greed.
He, therefore, called for greater societal emphasis on modesty and proper religious and secular education, stressing that greedy politicians would stop at nothing to brainwash the ignorant and exploit them to foment trouble.
Also, the Northern Coordinator, Global Peace Foundation (Nigeria), Sheikh Haliru Maraya, identified injustice among the people as a key driver of conflict and instability in the country.
To address these challenges, the Co-Chair, Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace, Bishop Sunday Onuoha, said: “I strongly recommend that the country and its leaders must commit to expunging the ‘State of Origin’ and ‘Religion’ concept when our information/biodata is required for filling forms, applying for jobs or on our international passports.
“It negates the concept and orientation of ‘nationhood’ and the unity we profess and pledge allegiance to.
“Where one is born, where their parents were born, or where their ancestors come from, should not determine or limit the equitable opportunities available to them; but rather where they reside or have been raised.
“We must de-emphasize our faith leanings and rather, emphasize our common humanity and not bring religious sentiments to governance.
“Nigerians must face the issues of national development and rise above religious sentiments if we are to be listed among the developed nations.
“Also, politicians must remember that they have a role to play in punishing those who offend the laws of the land. There should be no sacred cows and there should be no selective justice in dealing with offenders.”
In addition, the Emir of Bichi, HRH Alhaji Nasiru Ado Bayero, noted that Christians and Muslims in the country had developed mutually beneficial businesses as well as economic and political relationships without crisis, disagreement or violence in company boardrooms, legislative chambers and political meetings.
“We ought to export the same comradeship and mutual interaction to the larger society, so we can help our people build trust, tolerance, harmony and friendship across religious fault lines,” he stated.
On his part, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, said achieving complete peace in a diverse country like Nigeria was not an easy task, but noted that with the right commitment, dedication and support, lasting solutions to its problems could be found.
“Achieving complete peace is not a day’s job, but a continuous effort. But what is important is our readiness to carry it out with a sense of belief. This principle is best preached in our religious and family institutions.
“That’s why the role of religious institutions in peace-building cannot be over-emphasised. So, we have to work together to make this happen,” Lawan, who was represented by Senator Philip Aduda, stated.
The Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, in his remarks, said Nigeria’s unity could not be negotiated, adding that the Federal Government had done so much to ensure the country did not split.
Mustapha, who was also represented by the Permanent Secretary (General Service) in OSGF, Maurice Mbaeri, argued that leadership alone was not the cause of insecurity in Nigeria, noting that bandits and kidnapper were the products of the larger society.
He said: “The unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Nigeria is a very great and peace-loving country.
“We have actually witnessed some challenges in the area of security, economy, and recently, Nigeria has experienced the most challenge disturbing in the area of health which is the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite all these, Nigeria remains one indivisible nation ready to forge ahead.
“Nigeria’s unity and peace cannot be negotiated. The manner in which we have been tackling the challenges that have come our way as a nation is a clear demonstration of the oneness and togetherness of our people.
“What is required to make Nigeria great are partnerships, tolerance, engagement and dialogue in situations like this.
“The Federal Government has actually been doing so much to ensure the unity and oneness of this country. This is demonstrated in the series of engagements and policies the administration has introduced.
“We have to avoid mutual suspicion, misinformation, ethnic bias, and blackmail. We have to support our leaders at all times to ensure that they succeed and the unity of this country is not negotiable.
“Our religious and traditional leaders should carry-out aggressive advocacy in our rural communities towards ensuring that value reorientation is brought to our youth, because these bandits, kidnappers did not fall from the moon. They are the children of society.”