…Holds processions, prayers in Enugu, Awgu, Nsukka
…Kicks against proposed grazing bill
From Chidi Nnadi, Petrus Obi (Enugu) and Chris O. Chris, Nsukka
THE Catholic Church in Enugu State yesterday let out bottled anger over incessant Fulani herdsmen attack in the state as the faithful in Enugu, Awgu and Nsukka dioceses held processions and prayer sessions simultaneously in the three zones.
At 10:00p.m., the Catholics who gathered in the three zones defied the sudden morning rain to say no to Fulani herdsmen attacks, calling on the various tiers of government to rise up to curtail the excesses of the herders.
As the Catholic Bishop of Enugu, Most Rev (Dr) Callistus C. Onaga, who led the procession and prayer session in Enugu was preaching, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and all the security chiefs in the state arrived at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, where the prayers for the Enugu Diocese was being held apparently to ensure that there was no breakdown of law and order.
Talking to the faithful at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Governor Ugwuanyi acknowledged that the Church leaders and their followers had “gathered today in rallies at Enugu, Awgu and Nsukka, to register their anger and apprehension over the presumed unwholesome activities of herdsmen in the state and also express their opposition to the proposed Grazing Bill, among other issues.”
He commended the church for the leading role it has continued to play in the struggle against social injustice, human rights violations and other crimes against humanity in every part of the country.
“I wish to sincerely thank you all, for the peaceful conduct of this prayer rally and it goes to show the high regards that the church and its faithful have for the rule of law and for constituted authorities,” he said.
Ugwuanyi also thanked the church for the assistance it offered to his government during the burial of their “brothers and sisters who were murdered in cold blood in the infamous attack of 25th April, at Nimbo, Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State,” saying that that day would ever remain dark, sad and solemn in the memory of the people of the state and Nigerians at large.
“We are, however, consoled that the whole world had stood by us and offered us sympathy and solidarity, ever since the incident occurred.
“We are deeply appreciative of the support and cooperation that the Federal Government has been lending us towards this end and it is worthy of note that five of the suspected attackers are already in police custody,” he said.
Bishop Onaga who read a joint statement on behalf of colleagues in Awgu and Nsukka, told the large gathering that “for decades our people here in Enugu State – a peaceful and God-fearing population of predominantly peasant farmers, traders and civil servants – have played hosts, not without some difficulties, to a succession of Fulani herdsmen and their cattle in various parts of the state.
“Over the years, there have been frequent disagreements between the herdsmen and the local population, but such were mostly minor and tolerable inconveniences that one should expect in order to make accommodation for another within the same space. “In the past few years, however, this relationship has become increasingly problematic as the herdsmen turned aggressive, disrespectful and destructive in their activities. More recently, this gathering storm has led to conflicts characterized by kidnappings and robberies, the loss of lives, limbs and property, the rape of women and girls, and the utter destruction of farms and farmlands.
“The most recent and widely reported incident at Nimbo, Uzo Uwani Local Government Area, in which several of our farmers and fellow citizens were savagely butchered to death in their own homes, was the culmination of a growing culture of impunity, arrogance and dare-devilry among the herdsmen, some of whom have become increasingly lawless.
“The result is that an ominous cloud of fear, foreboding and insecurity now hangs thick over our people in their own home state. So far, the responses of the various security agencies to these attacks and needless provocations have not been enough to give the people a sense of being protected by them.”
He said that as responsible citizens, clergymen, spiritual leaders and opinion leaders, they have been praying about and deliberating on these mounting challenges.
He lamented that the free grazing of cattle in their area has now become a threat not only to the growing of crops, which is the mainstay of their sedentary people, but also to their lives.
“In view of the aforementioned developments, we demand on behalf of our long-suffering people and all citizens of Nigeria that the various levels of government in Nigeria take more proactive steps to ensure that this already tense situation does not degenerate into an open clash of ethnic nationalities all over the country.
“The government should not be seen as turning a blind eye to life-threatening problems of any section of the citizenry, especially when such an attitude is at the same time perceived as unduly favouring another section. In the light of this, therefore, we call on the Federal Government to drop, without further delay, the so-called Grazing Bill, which is quite capable of tearing apart the fragile unity of our country. Nigerians are already suffering much on account of the economic hardships in the country at the moment,” he said.
At the Awgu Diocese, the faithful numbering over 10,000 marched from the St Michaels Catholic Cathedral, Awgu to the headquarters of Awgu Local Government Council where they were addressed by political and church leaders.
The Catholic Bishop of Awgu, John Ifeanyichukwu Okoye, prayed that there would be no further attacks on innocent farmers in any part of the state by Fulani herdsmen.
The members of the church that participated in the procession carried placards with different inscriptions such as: “Boko Haram is using the (herdsmen) as cover”, “The Grazing Bill will destroy our country”, “Confine all cattle to private ranches and abattoirs”, “Let cattle owners build ranchers for them”, President Buhari, we want to hear you speak on the menace of Fulani herdsmen,” among others. At the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, members began their peaceful procession from St. Theresa’s Cathedral Nsukka to the local government headquarters with many people joining them. Shops were closed, and motorists joined them.
Speaking during the procession, Bishop of Nsukka Catholic Diocese, Most Rev. Prof. Godfrey Igwebuike Onah said that prayer was the only thing that would bring peace to the country even, as he advised that people should stop taking laws into their hands.