Let’s Avoid Sectarian Violence

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The security agencies could do more to contain the violence

On April 24, Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor, Felix Tyolaha and several other parishioners of the St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom, Benue State, were murdered right inside the hallowed sanctuary. A few days later, some purveyors of blood again stormed another church in the same state where internally displaced persons (IDPs) were provided refuge and butchered many of them to death. These mindless assault and desecration of places of worship and the killing of ordained priests have, quite naturally, inflamed passions while introducing a religious mix into the murderous ventures of the herdsmen who are on the prowl across the country.

What compounds the situation is that the security agencies have consistently demonstrated a lack of capacity for tackling the challenge posed by these violent men who move from one state to another, killing innocent people, especially in the rural areas. And that worries us because as more and more Nigerians seem to be losing faith in the ability of government to guarantee their security by dealing with the growing menace, ‘go and defend yourselves’ is becoming the refrain of the day. That, as we have said several times on this page, is nothing but an open invitation to anarchy.

Following the Benue tragedy, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria 
accused President Muhammadu Buhari of ignoring repeated calls that the murderous activities of what is now associated with herdsmen are wearing an ethno-religious toga. They also allege that the federal government and the security agencies appear complicit, clueless or at best helpless. ‘‘Since the president who appoints the security chiefs has refused to call them to order, we can only conclude that they are acting out a script he approves of,” the bishops said in their statement.

On the heels of the Catholic Bishops’ position, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) last Sunday successfully called out Christians across the country in protest against perceived assault on their religion. And with the religious dimension to which the sectarian attacks have assumed, the signs are ominous for the continued existence of the country, particularly on the eve of a general election. We therefore call on President Buhari to get the security agencies to be more decisive in dealing with the challenge.

Unfortunately, what we get from President Buhari are mixed messages on these severe onslaughts on the right to life and property of Nigerians while his government has not provided any workable solution on how to defend our citizens against non-state actors who have turned our country into a killing field. While his Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali and Inspector-General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris have made provocative statements without consequences, the president himself has not helped. Although he is now tracing the origin of the killings to the demise of former Libyan dictator, Muammar Ghadaffi, not a few people remember his earlier presidential appeal to the people of Benue to accommodate their ‘brothers.’

While we call on those who speak for the federal government to stop rationalising the killings and giving excuses for murderers, it is also important for the security agencies to get to the root of the matter and bring to justice those who are spreading bloodshed across the country. Unless we contain the barbaric and violent attack unleashed against our common humanity by these criminal gangs, there is a growing danger that sectarian violence is not too far away with all the dire implications.

Meanwhile, we are concerned about the role of critical institutions in the management of the fallout. Our main appeal goes to the media. While we do not in any way advocate censorship, times like this call for restraint in the reportage (and slanting) of news so that we do not unwittingly provide platforms for purveyors of violence and hate. It is particularly important to note that giving undue prominence to incendiary remarks will not in any way advance the cause of peace which we really need for us to successfully navigate this troubled season.

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While we call on those who speak for the federal government to stop rationalising the killings and giving excuses for murderers, it is also important for the security agencies to get to the root of the matter and bring to justice those who are spreading bloodshed across the country