I was away overseas when I heard the news of the killings in cold blood of two of my colleagues in Makurdi along with 14 worshippers at a week day liturgical celebration. These were worshippers, who went out early in the morning, according to the tradition of the Catholic Church in most of Africa, to worship and to praise God. It wasn’t a motor accident nor building collapse, nor earth quake or any other natural disaster.
Gunmen timed them and finished them off. What an unexpected way to die! People run to the church for sanctuary because it is believed that no matter how insensitive someone is, there is something one respects. But no. These ones have no respect for any sanctuary.
It is scary. Because this is another dimension. It is not just about killing for land, it is about religion, putting a scare so that people don’t worship anymore; which is what makes me wonder whether we are not up against something so very sinister and calamitous. I was tempted to speak out in anger but somehow a calmness enveloped me and I decided to go into quietude to really ponder what it was that God wanted to teach us about the situation. Of course I am a man of God and should reason like one always.
Muhammadu Buhari is the president and the buck stops at his table. And indeed he deserves all the blame. But Buhari is not God. He is just the president of a faulty contraption called Nigeria, with its tripod Achilles’ heels of religion, ethnicity and regionalism. With all his enormous powers, there is a limit to what a president can do. At first we thought it was because Jonathan was a weakling but now we see that this is beyond the personal will of the oga at the top. He can only give directives and will not be the one to execute them. Even the service chiefs may only give the command and won’t be the ones on ground.
And then those on ground, how much training on guerilla warfare have they received ? How much is technology and intelligence assisting them in pinpointing the attackers and dealing preemptive blows? What machinery do they have to chase and demobilize the attackers ? Are the ground commanders really interested in pursuing the attackers ? And when they do and die in the process, what social protection measures are in place for their families ? Our policemen and soldiers have been dying silently in a warfare that is strange to them, in a war which purpose is not clearly defined, a war without frontlines and visible enemies, a war in which the enemy has more sophisticated weaponry. So what really can a president do for us?
As I sat pondering, it made less and less sense to me why a government that is seeking the votes of people in a forthcoming election could be so helpless in the face of such widespread killings. It doesn’t make sense. I believe that there are forces that have held even our government captive, forces up against our nation, which want to see the dismembering of Nigeria; forces that want to provoke one set of religious adherents against the other, to finish Nigeria off. And we have loosened our guard and are letting them have their way because we are not united in spirit in fighting them. I don’t think this is a physical battle anymore.
The common reaction to all these would be to utter vituperations, and where else than social media – that pause-less medium between thought and script, the wild volcano that erupts our worst vomit ! Unfortunately, no matter how many posts we make on social media, the reality will not change; we will only get ourselves more angry. Social media has really succeeded in making Christians forget about the fundamentals of their faith: “do not be angry”, “let the sunset not find you still angry”, “do not judge”, “pray for your enemies, bless and do not curse them”, “vengeance is mine, says the Lord…” etc.
Social media has made Christians forget that it was because the early disciples were united in mind and heart and without grudges, that they prayed their way through situations. This is not an invitation to use prayer to escape from responsibility, the way we like doing; I am talking of empowering ourselves to do spiritual battle with the forces of the dark as the Lord Jesus commanded. It is very cheap to be angry and to hate and do no more than that, because who is trained to carry a gun or machete and take another’s life ? Not me. If someone does not believe that life is sacred, why would I join in proving them right ? On the other hand, I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son our Lord, and the Spirit the Lord and giver of life.
When we protest on the streets, as my Anglican colleagues in Akure did in solidarity, that is so graceful, although protests make more sense in democratic cultures where leaders, fearing to lose the vote, want to do the people’s bidding. But here ,politicians know how to seal their deals in spite of us and are adept at using religion, ethnicity, and region to manipulate us so that an issue becomes different for people from the South and from the North.
This is why it is necessary for all true Nigerians especially Nigerian Christians to rise with a heavy though forgiving heart, and call on God to save our country instead of embarking on reprisals. Priests are no ordinary people. They represent Christ, and those two died doing what they were ordained to do; they died like martyrs. This is why, there is still a reason to thank God – because the blood of martyrs is always seed for the growth and development of the faith. I am sure that God will not allow his priests die in vain without using it to bring peace. And it could have been worse.
What if the dark agents had come on a Sunday and finished off a larger crowd of lay faithful? So let us thank God still. I know that even one life is too much, and there have been such lives in their thousands gone. And now that two priests killed in cold blood have magnified the matter, let us hope that God will use their deaths to make this whole nightmare come to an end. Like I said, I am looking for reasons to thank God.
Fr. Bassey is a Catholic Priest.