Paul Samasumo – Vatican News
The government needs to do more to protect lives
In a brief interview with Vatican News, Tuesday, Cardinal Onaiyekan said the Federal Government of Nigeria must protect lives and ensure that the country does not degenerate into anarchy due to killings by militant groups. The Cardinal was speaking from Nigeria’s Diocese of Makurdi where he attended the burials of two priests and 17 parishioners killed on 24 April by suspected Fulani herdsmen. The priests and parishioners were gunned down in Church as they attended Holy Mass at the St. Ignatius parish of Ukpo-Mbalom, in Benue State.
Nigeria has, in recent years, witnessed similar killings of citizens at the hands of heavily armed herdsmen or Islamist militants such as Boko Haram.
A horrific massacre that will not be forgotten
Speaking before the burials, Cardinal Onaiyekan spoke of the “horrific massacre which will not be forgotten for a long time.” He nonetheless urged grieving Nigerians to embrace forgiveness and avoid reprisals.
About 50 Nigerian Bishops attended the burials.
Those slain are martyrs of the Church
The Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Wilfred Anagbe, said the two priests killed together with their parishioners had died as martyrs of the Church. Bishop Anagbe explained that it was for this reason that the Diocese had decided to bury Fathers Felix Tyolaha and Joseph Gor together with their parishioners at the ‘Se Sugh Marian Pilgrimage Centre in Ayati.
There were emotional scenes as the white caskets of the victims were taken out for burial. Security was tight at the burial grounds and restricted to persons cleared by security agencies.
Unprecedented prayer protests across Nigeria
On the same day elsewhere in Nigeria, as the burials were taking place in the Diocese of Makurdi, 54 cities of Nigeria witnessed several prayer protests described as, “The March for Life.” Catholics were joined en masse by other Christians and took to the streets of Nigeria to drive their message home. The protestors carried placards emphasising the sacredness of life. The demonstrators wanted to send a message to authorities to do more to protect citizens from similar killings. There were also placards that called on President Muhammadu Buhari to step down for failing to assure the security of citizens.
Nigerian Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who attended the burial ceremony, assured Nigerians that the killers would be punished. He said his Government was determined to put an end to killings.