“Stop fanning the flames of religious discord” – Cardinal and bishop appeal for peace and unity
“There is a terrible wind blowing around our country right now. There are so many people who are fanning the flames of discord and of hatred and it is becoming very difficult to preach unity and mutual natural love and there are those who are already envisaging a clash between Christians and Muslims”. These alarming words were spoken by Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, after the recent massacres of Christians attributed to Fulani herdsmen in the southeast of Nigeria.
Cardinal Onaiyekan said: “There are those who are interpreting the clash between herdsmen and farmers as the front line of this battle. Some are sharpening their cutlasses getting ready for the big battle”. He added “Thanks to be God there are many Nigerians who believe that we are not doomed to kill one another and that there is hope for us to live together as fellow Nigerians”. Cardinal Onaiyekan always reminds people of this when he is abroad. “I will go all over the world boasting of this, telling them that in Nigeria, we have not less than 80 million Christians, 80 million Muslims, living side by side, day by day at every level of our lives”.
While the Diocese of Nsukka in southeastern Nigeria is still coming to terms with the massacre of dozens of Christians, Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah has urged Catholics of his diocese and all those affected by the violence to embrace peace even in the face of such “persistent provocation.” He warned them to resist the temptation to seek revenge, calling such actions not only illegal, but also un-Christian:
“In the name of God, I appeal to my peace-loving people to please remain law abiding and not to take the law into their hands,” he said. “Reprisal attacks are not the answer.” Even in light of such violence, Bishop Onah said that the diocese has “absolute faith in the abiding presence of God.”
He pleaded for an end to violence: “For decades (Nigerians) have continued to senselessly slaughter ourselves, squander our resources and destroy our environment. We call on all to please stop this madness, so that, as a people, we may realize our full potential for the benefit of all and to the glory of God.”
However, Bishop Onah said “We are also living in fear because we do not know where and when the armed militants will strike next.” He added that he found it disturbing that while the attackers killed indiscriminately, “the only houses they attacked were Christian religious houses …. We are forced to ask: If these men were only herdsmen, why did they particularly single out Churches for their attack?”
The Indigenous People of Biafra and the Christian Association of Nigeria believe that Fulani aggression is an attempt to “Islamize” Nigeria, whose population is currently roughly equally divided between Christians and Muslims. Attacks in Nigeria and Central African Republic by the Fulani, who are thought to be linked with terrorist group Boko Haram, have increased alarmingly in recent years. At least 1,229 people are thought to have been killed by the Fulani in 2014.
Cardinal Onaiyekan stated that “one of the primary duties of government is to ensure security of life and property of all Nigerians” and it was the governments duty to clamp down on violence. “We all suffer because of corruption. We have a common task to insist on good government, to insist also on honesty in government. To do this, we must come together and fix our country”, he urged.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced after the latest massacre that his government “will not allow these attacks to continue.” Bishop Onah thanked Buhari for his order to police and military to bring the perpetrators to justice, but said that only “concrete actions” taken by local and federal government officials will “lead to the return of normalcy in the community.”
The Bishop added: “All of us heaved a sigh of relief after the general elections and the smooth handover last year. But any further delay in dealing with this and similar cases all over the country may lead those who made that prediction (that Nigeria would collapse) to affirm that its realization has only been delayed not avoided.”