By Linda Bordoni
On 24 April last, 2 Catholic priests and 17 parishioners were brutally murdered in the village of Mbalom in Nigeria's Benue State by rampaging gunmen. The massacre was the latest in a series of violent attacks on Christians in the West African nation.
Following that attack the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria released a statement in which they invited the President “to choose the path of honour and consider stepping aside to save the nation from complete collapse”.
They expressed their grief for the innocent victims of “a wicked and inhuman gang of rampaging and murderous terrorists who have turned the vast lands of the Middle Belt and other parts of Nigeria into a massive graveyard” and accused the federal government and its security agencies of being responsible for insecurity.
“Along with millions of Nigerians we have expressed our lack of confidence in the security agencies which the President deliberately placed in the hands of the adherents of only one religion" the statement said.
In an interview with Vatican News’ Helene Destombes, the Cardinal of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, said since the bishops launched their cry of anguish a month and declared they had lost confidence in the government, nothing has been done.
“My reply is simple: between last month and today, nothing much has changed” he said.
"Killings, he added, are still going on and there is no sign the government is taking effective measures to change the situation".
The Cardinal said that the bishops had hoped that "after we had cried and had buried the 2 priests and 17 people killed at Mass, that government would now think seriously the way that they are doing things; that we would see government arrest some of the murderers and bring them to account; and that the architecture of security in Nigeria – the people in charge of the army, the security agencies – something would be done to change them so that other people would be able to do the work. But nothing has changed".
“Therefore, we are left with the only option to believe that the government is either incapable or unwilling” he said.
In both cases, Cardinal Onaiyekan said, it is not good news at all for Nigeria: "So we pray, and as we pray to God we also have the need to alert our people to stay alert, to try and avoid violence, and to seek redress in a civilized fashion. And the election should be a sign of hope".
“We really hope the election will be allowed to be free and fair” he said.
General elections to elect the President and the National Assembly are scheduled for 16 February 2019.