There was panic, apprehension and wailings by Christians across various denominations in Benue State yesterday. They came out in thousands to protest against endless killings of innocent people, particularly the two Catholic priests and 17 parishioners murdered inside the church by armed Fulani herdsmen at Saint Ignatius Quasi-Parish in Ayar-Mbalom, Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State.
The protest is coming on the heels of the directive by the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Olasupo Ayokunle, that churches across the country should embark on special prayer and peaceful protest over the killing of Catholic faithful in Benue State.
The worshippers, most of who were clad in black attires, indicating grief, wept profusely in sympathy for hundreds of the departed Christians and other loved ones massacred in cold blood in the last four months by the insurgents.
Security was beefed up across all the churches as armed policemen and men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) were also seen providing services to worshippers in their various places of worship, just as police helicopter was seen hovering within and outside Makurdi metropolis for aerial surveillance. The visibly angry worshippers expressed worry over the inability of President Muhammadu Buhari to quell the violent killings of innocent people of the state by armed Fulani herdsmen and vowed not to vote for him in the forthcoming general elections.
The protesters carried placards with inscriptions such as: ‘Enough of bloodshed in Benue;’ ‘Enough of Unlawful killings in the country;’ ‘FG: Stop herdsmen killings;’ ‘CAN rejects FG’s poor handling of insecurity,’ among others. Speaking to New Telegraph, the Resident Pastor of NKST Church, High Level, Makurdi, Dr. Frederick Ikyaan, accused President Buhari of being responsible for the on-going killings in the state, adding that he was paying lip service to addressing the growing insecurity in the country. Ikyaan said Christians in Benue would not support the re-election bid of the president come 2019 on account of his insensitivity to the killings in the state. “It’s not possible to vote a person that will look the other way and allow us to be killed. We should vote people who have respect for our lives; our dignity of life cannot be compromised.
“As a Christian community, we know that Mr. President has not defended us. We voted him in 2015. If we didn’t vote, he wouldn’t have been president. The records are there that massive voting took place in Benue State, but as it is now, we know that he has turned his back against us. We have no more share in Buhari and time has come for us not to pretend.” Ikyaan, who described Nigeria under the present administration as a “failed state,” said the killing of two Catholic priests and 17 parishioners has made people of the state have more faith in God. Associate Pastor of NKST Church, Iortyer, Rev. Samuel Akaaunde, lamented that the present administration has shown more concern for cows than human beings and reiterated the resolve of the church not to vote for the president in 2019. Akaaunde condemned the high level of human rights abuses in the country as evidenced in the rampant killing of people in the state and prayed for swift divine intervention to enable displaced persons living in camps go back to their ancestral homes.
A worshipper, Mrs. Nguveren Atsu, appealed to the Federal Government to take pragmatic measures to bring the insecurity situation in the state to an end as the dimension the killings have taken were worrisome. Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Benue State, Rev. Akpen Leva, said that Christians and people of the state have lost confidence in the Buhari administration.
He called on the president to resign for not being able to get rid of the killings in the state. Leva described the attacks in the state as a jihad against Benue people and admonished the international community to declare herdsmen a terrorists group. He noted that ranching remains the best international and modern practice of animal husbandry and commended efforts by Governor Samuel Ortom to ensure an end to the crisis.
The CAN chairman called on the Federal Government to compensate affected victims over their destroyed property and sued for divine intervention. Rev. Fr. Patrick Odeh of St. Juliana Catholic Mission, Bebe, High Level, accused Nigerian politicians of playing games with human lives. Odeh said politicians were bereft of conscience in handling such sensitive matters as the killings, adding that the death of the two priests had united the church and made it stronger. The cleric, who said the priests and worshippers died in active service, described them as “gallant soldiers who never lost their faith.”
The churches who protested complied with the directive of CAN to wear black and white attires as a mark of mourning for the murdered Catholic priests and others in the state. Our correspondent who went round churches in Makurdi observed that most worshippers, regardless of denomination, wore black and white dresses to church.