Catholic bishops condemn Nigerian president over security

“We must not allow the establishment of cultural or religious hegemony in a constitutionally secular state like Nigeria…
IF we allow it, we are heading for disaster.”

– Statement by Nigerian Roman Catholic Hierarchy,
during 2nd Annual Plenary Assembly, September 2019

Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, president of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference, has fired his most damning and outspoken broadside at the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari.

Having twice invited Burhari to consider resignation in April and July 2018, on the occasion of the opening of the second Annual Plenary Assembly, held in Abeokuta on 16 September, Akubeze didn’t hold back.

Supported by the bishops of Nigeria’s 53 diocese, the two primary reasons for their growing anger is security and lack of religious diversity in government appointments at federal and state levels.  

Threat to Security

Archbishop Akubeze said the Nigerian federal government had been “slow to react at a time when the threat to security was perceptible in several parts of the country.”

The threat, said, had taken the form of “violent killings, clashes of shepherds and peasants, kidnappings, insurrections and banditry.” 

This year’s murders of three priests, the Archbishop said, “had perfectly illustrated the breakdown of Nigeria’s security.”

To illustrate the growing concerns of recurrent kidnappings in Nigeria, the hierarchy Archbishop Akubeze referred to the murder of three priests in the this year:

  1. The murder in March of Father John Shekwolon of the parish of Sainte-Thérèse d’Ankwa, near Kachia, in the Diocese of Kaduna (North-West), kidnapped and then killed by unknown gunmen who came to pick him up at his home;
  2. The murder, on August 2nd, of Father Paul Offu, pastor of the parish of Saint-Jacques-Le-Majeur, in the Diocese of Enugu, in southeastern Nigeria, attacked and killed by Fulani herders, was a direct consequence of the conflict between nomadic Fulani (mainly Muslim) and sedentary farmers (mainly Christians);
  3. The murder on August 28th of Father David Tanko, a young priest who was in charge of a mediation mission between the Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups, revealed the resurgence of the secular conflict between these two peoples.

In addition, the Archbishop highlighted, “there have been repeated attacks by the Boko Haram terrorist group in the north of the country.”

Taxpayers’ money

In a stinging rebuke of the President, Archbishop Akubeze questioned the use of taxpayers’ money for personal security:

“If rulers cannot guarantee peace and security, there is no reason why they should use taxpayers’ money to ensure their own security and that of their families… We urged the government to stop celebrating the few examples of what it calls ‘success’ by declaring that the terrorists have been technically defeated.”

“Nigerians do not want to debate the meaning of the word ‘defeated'”, Akubeze continued. “We simply want to live our lives in peace without fear of being kidnapped for ransom or driven out of our homes.”

“All governments that do not protect the constitutional rights of their citizens have failed. The government, if it does not react quickly to change the situation for good, gradually loses its legitimacy.”

Ethnic and religious diversity

On the matter ethnic and religious diversity in ministerial appointments the Archbishop stated:

“We have heard the government say that it has met the constitutional requirements for appointments, with at least one minister from each state. This approach is minimalist and does not correspond to the spirit of full integration of every Nigerian,” he said.

For the Nigerian bishops, “no federal agency should be dominated by an ethnic or religious group because Nigeria belongs to each of us.”

President Buhari is of the Peuhl ethnic group and was reelected in February largely thanks to the massive vote of the traditionally Muslim Fulani populations of the North. Some critics accuse him of promoting, in his appointments, people from his Peule and Muslim electoral base.

“We must not allow the establishment of cultural or religious hegemony in a constitutionally secular state like Nigeria,” the Nigerian bishops warned. “If we allow it, we are heading for disaster.”