Wednesday comment1

Protests are meant to force the government to listen, argues Sonnie Ekwowusi

With uncontrollable tears rolling their cheeks, the Catholic priests in Abuja and Enugu spontaneously took to the streets over the murder of another Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Paul Offu. Can you blame them for embarking on that peaceful protest?  It is human to mourn the dead. It is human to bemoan evil. There comes a time in human affairs when action is needed to ward off a lingering evil as Jesus Christ taught us in the Scripture. Of course, prayer comes first. But prayer should also be backed by action. One must never assume that one should always be seated praying amid a smouldering inferno that is consuming one. This, in my view, is a poor understanding of Christianity. More importantly, this is not the first time the Catholic Church has been steeped in deep mourning over the barbaric murder of her members in the last five years. You will recall that in April 2016 Rev. Fr. Celestine Aniako, the Parish priest of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Ukana, Udi Local Council, Enugu State was kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen who later demanded a whopping N10 million ransom. Then earlier in March of the same year the same Fulani herdsmen murdered two Catholic Reverend Sisters and burnt about 17 houses in Abbi, Uzo Uwani Local Council in Enugu State.

In the same April 2016, some herdsmen kidnapped Rev. Fr. John Adeyi, the Vicar-General of   Otukpo Catholic Diocese. Fr Adeyi was kidnapped along Odoba Otukpa-Okwungaga road, Otukpo, Benue State. Two months after his decomposed body was found even after his captors had collected N1.5 million ransom. In August 2016, some Fulani herdsmen attacked and killed a Catholic seminarian and others at Enugu Atakwu community in Nkanu West Local Council in Enugu State. In the first week of September 2016, another Catholic seminarian and two others who were travelling to Onitsha in a bus were kidnapped by some Fulani herdsmen at Egede near the ninth Mile Corner, Enugu. After successfully abducting them, the herders took them to a nearby bush where they had kept other captives.  In the same 2016 some Fulani herdsmen emerged from a nearby bush along the Nkpologwu-Nimbo Expressway, Enugu State, and blocked the vehicle carrying three Catholic priests. Time was 7 p.m. While two of the priests managed to escape with some gunshot wounds, one was badly wounded in the head and later kidnapped. His name is Fr. Emmanuel Dim, a Vincentian priest who is in fact the Rector of Fr. Tansi Major Seminary, Onitsha. In 2018 two Catholic clerics – Rev Fr. Joseph Gor and Rev. Fr Felix Tyolahan –and 17 parishioners who murdered by Fulani herdsmen while worshiping at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Mbalom, Benue State. And then two weeks ago, Rev Fr Paul Offu, another Catholic priest was brutally murdered.

It is exasperating that under President Buhari’s watch life in Nigeria has become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” reminiscent of the Hobbesian state of insecurity, confusion and war. Having overrun Nigeria, the Fulani herders are persistently and pathologically going about murdering innocent citizens. Rather than arrest and bring the murderers to justice as the government has done in the cases of IPOB suspects, Shiite Muslim suspects and other EFCC and DSS suspects who had been arrested and charged to court, the killer herdsmen are being shielded and even “rewarded” with RUGA Settlement. The impression at the moment is that Nigeria is no longer safe for anybody to reside in. This partly explains why many Nigerians are fleeing the country. Even our countryside, hamlets and villages which hitherto were comparatively safe are no longer safe today. A few weeks ago I was in Aguobu Iwollo, a village tucked away in the rain forest of Ezeagu Local Council, Enugu State. One of the tragic news spreading at that time was the murder of a young boy by Fulani herdsmen. This village boy routinely goes to the nearby farm to set trap for animals. But one day the trap caught and injured the leg of one of the herdsmen cows roaming in the farm. Of course neither the boy nor his parents knew that the trap had injured the leg of this cow. Four days later, the boy went as usual to the farm to check if his trap had caught any animal. But unknown to him the herdsmen had hidden somewhere waiting for him. Not only did they kill this boy they dissected his body and left it on the farm ostensibly to send a powerful message to other villagers.

 This tragedy attests to the high level of existential threat confronting us today. It was Dante who once said that the hottest place in hell should be reserved for those who keep quiet in times of great moral crisis. The dangers facing us today are worst than moral crisis. Nigerians are buffeted from all sides today by all sorts of evils. This is why the people cannot be silenced. It is noteworthy that positive non-violent actions such as strikes, civil disobedience, civil resistance, boycotts, sit-at-home protests and peaceful demonstrations are legitimate weapons employed by civil society in denouncing bad governance and in demanding good governance. For instance, the Zikist Movement was primarily a non-violent revolution aimed at wresting political independence from the British. It was embedded in five philosophical pillars – spiritual balance, social regeneration, economic determinism, mental emancipation andRisorgimento.  The revolution was anchored on non-violent positive actions such as strikes, civil disobedience, civil resistance, peaceful demonstration and boycotts (Remember Mbonu Ojike’s boycott the boycotables). In his campaigns to be elected President of Nigeria from 2002 to 2015 Mohammadu Buhari adopted a somewhat belligerent posture characterised by inflammatory speeches.  For instance, in 2011 Buhari urged Nigerians to copy the Arab Spring Revolution in ousting President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.  After losing the Presidential election to Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2003, supporters of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Buhari staged a mass protest against the outcome of the presidential election. Alluding to the 2015 Presidential election Buhari was quoted on May 14, 2012 as saying, “If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.” 

Therefore revolutionary protests and speeches have always been employed to agitate for good governance in Nigeria. That is why neither incessant arrest, intimidation, nor detention without trial can stop the people from speaking truth to power.