Act now, Nigeria under siege, Catholic bishops tell Buhari
•Silence of FG on herdsmen’s attacks shocking
•Disregard of federal character, reason for secession agitation
ABUJA—CATHOLIC Bishops of Nigeria, yesterday, in Abuja told President Muhammadu Buhari that the country appeared to be under siege which required proactive measure, as hunger, hopelessness and deprivation are now the order of the day.
The Bishops, under the umbrella of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, also told the President that he came to power under the goodwill of Nigerians but the goodwill had been eroded as a result of the failure of government to tackle the myriads of problems facing the nation.
The Catholic Bishops stated this when they paid a courtesy visit on President Buhari at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The CBCN in an address delivered by its President, the Archbishop of Jos, Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, also told the President that the heightening clamour for restructuring of the country, agitation for secession, among other things, were as a result of disregard for the principle of federal character by the government.
They further advised that elected political office holders should concentrate more on how to solve the problems before the country and not to saddle themselves with re-election programmes, even as they told the President to use his affinity with the herdsmen to tackle the menace of rampaging herdsmen that have massacred many innocent Nigerians.
The Bishops in the address, which was co-signed by Most Rev. Dr. William Avenya, Bishop of Gboko Diocese of Benue State and Secretary of CBCN, said the silence of the Federal Government on the attacks by herdsmen was shocking.
The CBCN address
The address read: “We, the representatives of the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, bring you our cordial greetings and blessings. We desired this meeting, in order to continue the dialogue we initiated with you, even before your election as President.
“We, therefore, thank you for granting us this audience, which affords us the opportunity to share with you, once again, our thoughts and concerns on some issues affecting our dear country, Nigeria.
“First, we thank God for bringing you back to us after a period of ill-health. We hope and pray that you continue to make progress on the way to full recovery, in order to be able to face the enormous challenges emanating from your exalted office.
“Your Excellency, needless to say that, as President, you are the Father of our dear country, Nigeria. It is, therefore, pertinent that as loyal citizens as well as informed members of the society, we come to you from time to time to express not only our willing cooperation with the government in working for the progress of our country, but also to share with you the feelings of the multitude of Nigerians at this moment.
“We work with the people at the grassroots and, therefore, have first-hand information about what they are going through. There is no doubt that when you came into office, you had an enormous amount of the goodwill of Nigerians, since many saw you are a person of integrity who would be able to bring sanity into a system that was nearly crippled by endemic corruption.
Nearly three years later, however, one has the feeling that this good will is being fast depleted by some glaring failures of government which we have the moral responsibility to bring to your notice, else we would be failing in our duty as spiritual fathers and leaders.
“Your Excellency, there is too much suffering in the country: Poverty, hunger, insecurity, violence, fear… the list is endless. Our beloved country appears to be under siege. Many negative forces seem to be keeping a stranglehold on the population, especially the weaker and defenceless ones.
The Nation is nervous
“There is a feeling of hopelessness across the country. Our youths are restive and many of them have taken to hard drugs, cultism and other forms of violent crime, while many have become victims of human trafficking. The Nation is nervous.
“Just as we seem to be gradually emerging from the dark tunnel of an economic recession that caused untold hardship to families and individuals, violent attacks by unscrupulous persons, among whom are terrorists masquerading as herdsmen, have led to a near civil war situation in many parts of the country.
“We are saddened that, repeatedly, innocent citizens in different communities across the nation are brutally attacked and their sources of livelihood mindlessly destroyed. Lives are wasted and property, worth billions of Naira, including places of worship, schools, hospitals and business enterprises, are torched and turned to ashes.
“We are still more saddened by the recent massacre of unarmed citizens by these terrorists in some communities n Benue, Adamawa, Kaduna and Taraba states which has caused national shock, grief and outcry.
“The silence of the federal government in the wake of these horrifying attacks is, to say the least, shocking. There is a feeling of helplessness among the people and the danger that some people may begin to take laws into their hands.
“We, therefore, earnestly urge the government to take very seriously its primary responsibility of protecting the lives and property of its citizens and ensure that such mindless killings do not recur. Herdsmen may be under pressure to save their livestock and economy but this is never to be done at the expense of other people’s lives and means of livelihood.
“We would like to add our voice to those of other well-meaning Nigerians who insist that a better alternative to open grazing should be sought rather than introducing “cattle colonies” in the country. While thinking of how best to help cattle owners establish ranches, government should equally have plans to help the other farmers whose produce is essential for our survival as a nation
“In a similar vein, daredevil kidnappers, who at present are having a field day, with a feeling of invincibility, must be made to understand that there is a government in this country. Government should invest more in equipping our Police Force with modern high-tech devices that will help them track down and arrest these criminals and make them face the wrath of the law.
The Federal Character Principle
“The Federal Character Principle is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: It says: ‘The government of the Federation or any of its and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies” (Section 14, Sub-section 3-4).
“Disregard for this Principle in some federal government appointments as well as perceptible imbalance in the distribution of federal amenities has created the loss of a sense of belonging in many parts of the country, hence the constant cries of marginalization, agitation for secession and calls for restructuring.
“These and many more such problems are, in our opinion, grave matters that should be worrying all political leaders in our country today, rather than any bid for re-election.”
The Catholic Bishops said the Catholic Church had always complemented the efforts of government in such areas as providing quality education and primary health care services to Nigerian people.
They said further: “We continue to make our contributions to nation-building through our prayers, admonitions and assistance to needy Nigerians whenever we can. As the voice of the voiceless, we shall continue to highlight the plight of our people and play our prophetic role of sensitizing the government, thus promoting good governance, national unity and cohesion.
“We strongly feel that everybody in government at this moment has to take more decisive steps to restore the confidence of the Nigerian people in our governments. Our collective efforts must be seen in the desire to return to the fine principles of democracy, such as true federalism negotiation and consensus building, as means of achieving a more equitable distribution of the resources of our country and good governance.”
Why we visited Buhari — Kaigama
Speaking to State House correspondents after the closed-door visit to the President, the leader of the delegation and President of CBCN, Archbishop Kaigama, said: “We came here primarily to interact with Mr. President and to share with him some concerns about our nation and our people.
“We had the privilege of meeting Mr. President when he wasn’t yet a President, when he was campaigning and we had a very useful interaction, we asked questions, he gave answers and since he became President, we have also met and interacted very frankly, had dialogue on issues that affect Nigerians and affect all of us.
“Today is not different. We have thanked him for the work he is doing but to also raise concerns about issues that affect the lives of our people. We are grassroots people, we are pastors, we operate with the people at the grassroots, we know where and when they are in trouble.
“We just wanted to identify some of these areas so that he will be aware and he can use the opportunity he has as the leader of this nation to correct and sanitize things for the good of all of us. Apart from being our President, he has the interest of the security of Nigerians and he also has some affinity with those herdsmen who graze and rear their cattle and so on and I believe he is also a farmer.
“So, he can combine the two interests, herding and farming and come up with a solution that will be fair and all the different groups will feel they belong and they are being adequately assisted to do what is right to avoid killing and destruction of lives and property.
“Our President can do it. He needs the support of his team, those who work with him to give him sound and genuine advice so that they can forge ahead.”On Mr President’s response
On the response of the President to their demands, he said: “Our President as I have said has met us a number of times now and each time we met, we raised difficult issues and questions and I would have to say that to his credit, we thought as a past military leader, he would react with military ferocity, but no, he has been quiet calm, tranquil in the manner he responded to all the issues.
“The issues we raised were difficult ones, they were touching at the nerves of his government and by the grace of God, he was able to respond and explain what he felt people did not understand and what he had done behind the scene we did not know about. At least, he got to say that clearly. That also enlightened us and we are better informed. But the fact remains, there is still trouble in the land.”
However, a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, stated that the President explained that the policy proposed by Federal Government in response to the frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the country was not meant to colonize any part of the country.
The presidential spokesman stated that the President said the intention of government was to create grazing locations for cattle rearers, which had been misconstrued as another form of colonization.
According to him, President Buhari regretted that the well-thought out policy of the Federal Government, which was conceived after wide consultations with stakeholders, had been largely misunderstood by a section of the public.
He, however, assured the Catholic Bishops that the Federal Government would continue to explore all opportunities and support initiatives to ensure peace and stability in restive areas.
Condemning recent spate of killings in Benue, Adamawa, Taraba, and Zamfara states, the President said security operatives would ensure prosecution of perpetrators and all those found with illegal arms in the affected areas.
He said: “The impression created that I was sitting in an air-conditioned office and home, enjoying myself while these things happened, is dishonest. At every step, I have tried to foresee these problems because I have the experience as a former military officer who commanded three out of the four divisions of the Nigerian Army in Lagos, Ibadan and Jos.
“I am quite aware of the problems we have and I am doing my best to get law enforcement agencies to be on the alert.”
The President told the Catholic Bishops that he would not be tired of recounting remarkable progress recorded in the areas of security, economy and the fight against corruption.
He said: “We have done very well on security in the North East, when you compare what the condition was before we came in and what it is now.
“On the economy, particularly agriculture, I am very pleased that God answered the prayers of Nigerians who prayed for bountiful harvest. People have taken advantage of Federal Government’s policies and programmes to return to the farm and they have not regretted.”
On the fight against corruption, the President reiterated that government would be guided by the law in the investigation and prosecution of all graft-related cases.
“People are being prosecuted systematically with evidence. If a permanent secretary has five houses in Abuja, two in Kaduna and one in Borno and Sokoto and he can’t account for the properties and there are bank transactions linking him to the properties, the prosecuting agencies will not have difficulties to make progress on the case.”
On the question of Federal character, the President declared that no ethnic group or political zone had been deliberately marginalised in the appointments made so far.
He, however, added that he would take a second look at areas on which issues had been raised, when a compendium of all government appointments was submitted to him.
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