By Dennis Agbo
Archbishops of different Christian denominations in the southeast geopolitical zone have urged the federal and state governments to urgently restore a national sense of belonging, equity and fairness in dealing with all segments of Nigeria so as to end the orgy of violence that have trailed separatist agitations in the country, particularly in the south-east.
The Bishops said that it was the failure of entrenching equity and fairness, made worse by the increasing divide between the ruling class and the people, that opened the floodgate for ethnic and sectionalise agitations for justice and fairness that gradually won the loyalty of frustrated citizens.
The Bishops said they noted the tragic plight of Igbo youth, their families and individuals in the entire south-east region which became a cause for grave concern to all in the local communities and within various Church bodies, stating that the level of violence and insecurity in the region was no longer tolerable.
They said that the southeast was a land where people have always been known for their industry, entrepreneurship and creativity, but is now living in crippling fear. “Our land is soaked with blood and a gloomy cloud hangs in the air. This cannot be allowed to go on,” the Bishops said.
They made known their opinion through a statement as representatives of Igbo Bishops Archbishops and Bishops on Peace and Conflict Resolution, released during the weekend.
The undersigned Archbishops included the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, Most Rev. Dr Anthony J. V. Obinna; the Anglican Archbishop of Enugu, Most Rev. Dr Emmanuel Chukwuma; the Methodist Archbishop of Umuahia, Most Rev. Dr Chibuzo R. Opoko; the Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Dr. Valerian M. Okeke; Past Principal Clerk Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, Most Rev Dr. Uma Onwunta; Bishop Obi Onubogu of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) south-east zone, Rev. Dr Abraham Nwali.
According to the body of clergy, whereas some may be content with analysing only the immediate causes of the situation, they would prefer to point out that at the root of all the problems is the failure of governance at various levels, particularly with the return to constitutional democracy in 1999, when people had looked forward to a national sense of belonging and the restoration of equity and fairness in dealing with all segments of Nigeria. “This, unfortunately, has not happened,” the Bishops said in agreement.
“The failure in this regard opened the way for ethnic and sectionalise agitations for justice and fairness. With the increasing divide between the ruling class and the people, and the vacuum created by an alienating leadership at the Federal, Regional and State levels, separatist bodies emerged and soon began to win the loyalty of frustrated citizens.
“In the South East of Nigeria, one of such groups, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), gained prominence some years ago. Although it was proscribed by the Federal Government in 2017, the group has continued its agitation for an independent State of Biafra, often leading to heavy military responses and the loss of lives of many youths.
“The group is also accused of various killings, many of which it denies. This situation has created a very dangerous environment, which is being exploited by many criminal elements who have unleashed a reign of terror on the helpless citizens of the region.
“As religious leaders of this badly battered region, we appeal to all those responsible for the killings to please stop, before the entire South East descends into anarchy, which will invariably affect the other parts of the country.
“We believe that there are still other options besides violence, over the militarization of the area, and senseless killings.
“We passionately call on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, address the underlying reason for the agitations, namely, the desire for equity, fairness and good governance in Nigeria, in order to eliminate, or at least minimize, the separatist agitations, not only in the South East but everywhere else in Nigeria,” the Bishops said.
They equally appealed to the political leaders of the South East to see themselves as representatives of the people, to invest all available resources in the security, development of the region, and creation of jobs, recalling that all the agitations are cries for help by people many of whom have invested time, energies and resources in education and learning a trade, yet they cannot find gainful employment.
“Our political leaders must do something to reduce the huge gulf between their personal welfare and that of the people at large.
In a special way, we urge that, since the youths are our strength and hope as a nation in our various regions and states, extra attention, care and sacrifice need to be expended, in order to win back their confidence and trust in Government.
They ought to be given the opportunity to participate constructively and productively in the delicate task of nation-building.
“As spiritual fathers, we say to you our aggrieved youths: We hear your cry. We understand your anxiety about your present and your future.
Therefore, we recommit ourselves to continue doing all within our powers in order to address your concerns, in collaboration with our elected representatives, the private sector and all the other segments of our society,” they pledged.
The Clergymen said that they would also like to engage the members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra and other separatist groups, to ask them to eschew all violent activities, but that they cannot reasonably do that as long as any of the separatist groups is proscribed as a terrorist group.
“We, therefore, call on the Federal Government to consider granting amnesty to IPOB and other separatist groups.
“We believe that the de-criminalization and description of these groups would lead them to embrace the democratic and non-violent means of negotiation, thus opening the path of dialogue on the future of Nigeria.
“This will win the hearts of all and lead to a better rapport between the political leaders and the people in the future. A militarist and high-handed approach may win the peace of the mortuary and graveyard, but it cannot win the hearts and minds of the people.
“We, therefore, urge all, in the name of God, to join hands and work hard to restore trust, confidence and calm in South-East Nigeria. Growth and development in our region cannot be achieved through intimidation, mass murder and destruction.
All those who are still preventing people from going about their legitimate businesses by enforcing a sit-at-home order, for which no group now claims responsibility, are therefore called upon to desist from doing so.
“In the same vein, we enjoin all our sons and daughters, especially those in the diaspora, to make responsible use of social media.
This very powerful instrument that modern technology has placed in our hands should be used to build up, not to destroy; to dispel ignorance and spread love, not to spread falsehood, create fear and panic.
We equally ask the security agencies to be professional in their efforts to ensure the maintenance of law and order in the region.
“We continue to pray and call on all Christians as well as all people of goodwill to join us in praying for peace that is based on justice, fairness, equity and good governance in Nigeria.”