… Prayer rally postponed in Owerri for security reasons
With sad faces and tearful eyes, the Catholic Church buried its dead in Benue State, and sent a strong message of disappointment to President Muhammadu Buhari.
The two priests and 17 worshippers who were brutally murdered, by terrorist Fulani Herdsmen, last month, were laid to rest, on Tuesday, after a funeral mass, at the Sesugh Maria Pilgrimage Centre, Ayati, Benue State.
The bodies of the deceased were brought to church, in white caskets, with names, and stacked in a truck, preceded by two ambulances. Distraught family members, wailing, relatives, friends and a sorrowing Church followed, in united agony.
Leading members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), traditional rulers, distinguished guests, politicians and many members of the civil society spoke from Benue and other states, condemning the killings. Those who attended the occasion equally voiced the disgust and disillusionment with the Federal Government, represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the funeral.
In his speech at the occasion, Prof. Osinbajo said those who did the killings neither feared Man nor God and prayed God to “console” the people and defend the state. He affirmed that the church is indestructible.
John Cardinal Onaiyekan declared Nigeria in a state of emergency, adding that the brutal murders were an affront on God. He told the Federal Government to stop the killings before it got out of hand.
The Archbishop said the “horrific massacre” would not be forgotten in a long time, warning that it should not be politicized. “Our demand, division, especially on tribal lines will only throw our nation to anarchy,” he added.
Archbishop Emeritus, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, speaking from Lagos said Nigerians are fed up with the killings, urging President Buhari to provide solutions. “Enough is enough … Carnage is not good. It means that a cow has more value than myself. We are not in India, this is Nigeria!”
Wilfred Anagbe, the Bishop of Makurdi, in whose home the killings took place, named the victims “martyrs of the church” and prayed that their death would bring peace to the troubled state of Benue.
In his own speech, Governor Samuel Ortom said that it was the third time the state was conducting a mass burial. He said 492 people had been killed by the terrorist herdsmen since the beginning of the year, leaving over 170, 000 refugees and 80, 000 out of school children.
“These slain victims were in church for prayers and not in their farms. This means that the herdsmen have moved the narrative to other motives,” the Governor said. The Tor Tiv, Professor James Ayatse, urged his people to be prayerful and vigilant so that the enemies would not succeed in their plans.
Nationwide, the Catholic Church had embarked on a prayer rally to coincide with the burial in Benue. However, Owerri cancelled its own rally based on the advice of the Commissioner of Police. It was feared that MASSOB demonstration claimed to be planned for the same day could provide a challenging atmosphere for the police. For security reasons, the Archbishop of Owerri, Most Rev. Anthony Obinna postponed the rally to June 5th.
Elsewhere, the rally was used both to pray and pronounce people’s displeasure with the bloody massacre of innocent lives by Fulani herdsmen and the frustration with the Buhari government.
CAN president, Rev. Samson Ayokunle asked Buhari to solve the nation’s security problem first, before planning for a second term. In Benin, Most Rev. Augustine Akubeze said the killings had become ‘unbearable,’ hence the protest, while Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, in Awka, lamented the prolonged silence of the Federal Government.
In Oyo state, the prayer protest which was led by Archbishop Gabriel Abegunrin, and attended by Oba Eddy Oyewole, the Olubadan, brought business activities to a crawl in Ibadan and sent a powerful anti-killer herdsmen message to both the state and federal Government.
Some of the placards carried by the people read:
“We say no to killings by Fulani herdsmen! Stop this foolishness, Enthrone the rule of law, Embrace the sacredness of lives, All Nigerians should be safe in their own country, Killings are against the commandments of God.”