Paul Obi in Abuja and Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) have called on the Federal Government and President Muhammadu Buhari to as a matter of urgency stop discrimination against Christians in the far North as a way of uniting the country.
CBCN President and Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama told THISDAY in an interview that such discrimination has taken a deep toll on the moral and spiritual life of Christians in the northern part of the country; creating a big gulf between Christians and other religious associations.
According to Kaigama, the federal government “in the far north do not give enough opportunity for places of worship and chaplaincies; we need that to be available especially in all federal institutions.
“In federal institutions like Bayero University in Kano State and other establishments in the core north, they don’t give chance to Christians to express their faith. The federal government should consider there should be freedom of worship in every part of the country.
“If there is no room for moral formation, we suffer more than what we are expressing now. So, we will find it difficult to unite and that is not helping the students in their moral and spiritual formation,” he added.
Kaigama told THISDAY that unlike military formations such as the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police where they allowed the building of mosque for Moslems, a Chaplaincy for Catholics and a Church for Protestant Christians, most federal and state educational institutions in the North-west and some parts of the North-east have deliberately prohibited the building of churches and worship centres in such institutions.
To that effect, he said the Catholic Bishops “call on President Buhari to look into this crisis; that he should stop the narrow-minded religious behaviour and bias in federal and state institutions in the north.
“What we need is freedom of worship, freedom of expression: we are too divided in this country. For us to move forward, we have to be of the right attitude, having the right character and tolerance,” Kaigama stressed.
The CBCN clarion call on the President came on the heels of several obstacles the church has continued to encounter in securing places of worship for its faithful in the north. In most instances, Kaigama explained that even when such places of worship are allocated, locals and hoodlums often demolish such structures.
Also, in an interview with The Church in Need monitored by The Vatican Radio, Kaigama said though the church is expecting so much from President Buhari, there is still some time to see if the president would deliver.
He added that “we needed change, and this change came in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari. He has now been in office for about a year, and we want to give him a chance to implement his promises to fight corruption and terrorism.”
Meanwhile, Catholic faithfuls led by three bishops yesterday literally shut down Enugu state in protest against the incessant killings of hapless residents of the state by rampaging herdsmen.
The prayer procession halted vehicular movement for several hours in the state, especially around Holy Ghost Cathedral area within the capital city for Enugu-East, Nsukka for Enugu North and Awgu local government areas for Enugu West senatorial zone. The church programme held simultaneously in Enugu, Awgu and Nsukka Dioceses of the Catholic Church in state.
The prayer rally went as planned in Nsukka and Awgu Dioceses, as the catholic faithful marched round the streets of Awgu and Nsukka respectively in a peaceful manner.
However, that of Enugu which took place at Holy Ghost Cathedral, Enugu, was however restricted within the cathedral premises, as against earlier plan to march from the cathedral to the State Government House.
The plan to march to the Government House was aborted when the state governor, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who is a Catholic, joined the church service at the Holy Ghost Cathedral. He was accompanied by the state Commissioner of Police, Emmanuel Ojukwu and the state Director of State Service.
In a joint statement by the Catholic Bishops of Enugu, Nsukka and Awgu; Most Rev. Dr. Callistus Onaga, Most Rev. Dr. Godfrey Onah and Most Rev. Dr. John Okoye respectively, which was delivered at Holy Ghost Cathedral, by Onaga, the Catholic church demanded more proactive steps from various levels of government to stem the tide of the killings.
This, they said, was to avoid a situation the dangerous trend degenerates into an open clash of ethnic nationalities all over the country.
“The government should not be seen as turning a blind eye to life-threatening problems of any section of the citizenry, especially when such an attitude is at the same time perceived as unduly favouring another section.
“In the light of this, therefore, we call on the Federal Government to drop, without further delay, the so called ‘Grazing Bill’ which is quite capable of tearing apart the fragile unity of our country,” he said.
The church warned the government not to abdicate its responsibility in the provision of security for the people, which it said will amount to insensitivity, noting that it would be wrong for the government to think the patience of the people is unlimited.
On his part, Governor Ugwuanyi commended the Church for the leading role it has continued to play in the struggle against social injustice, human rights violations and other crimes against humanity in every part of the country.
“I am particularly grateful to the Church for the assistance it offered to us during the burial of our brothers and sisters who were murdered in cold blood in the infamous attack of 25th April, at Nimbo, Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State.”
He said the state has continued to take necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the state, including reactivating the neighbourhood watch associations in every community in the state and in aid of which the government approved an initial seed sum of N100 million; as well as setting up judicial commission of inquiry to look into Nimbo massacre.