At a recent meeting, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria gave a bleak summary of the state of their country, lamenting humanitarian crises including violence at the hands of Boko Haram and other extremist groups, poverty, government corruption, and a lack of respect for human rights or dignity.
“Since the end of Nigeria’s tragic civil war, at no other time in the history of our dear country has the issue of our common citizenship been subjected to more strain,” the bishops said in a statement at the conclusion of their plenary assembly, held in Abuja March 4-10.
“We have found the outright disdain for the sanctity of human life totally at variance with both our cultural traditional norms and our religious sensibilities. Life has never looked so cheap,” they said.
While Nigeria’s civil war ended in 1970, the country has recently undergone a period of extreme violence and instability, with the rise of Boko Haram and other Islamist terrorist groups.
Since 2009, changing government relations and radicalization within Boko Haram have resulted in a dramatic increase in violent attacks against civilian targets, including the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok. In 2015, the Global Terrorism Index named Boko Haram the world’s deadliest terrorist organization, greater than the Islamic State.
A 2016 report from the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative said Nigeria was a ticking timebomb of violence and ethnic tensions that could tear the country apart.
The country’s bishops decried the ethnic divides that are tearing the country apart, and warned about the dangers of raising a generation of young people who are continually witnessing violence.
“…more and more of our young children are losing their innocence as they watch their parents being randomly slaughtered and their properties vandalised,” the bishops said.
They also called on the government to work to improve the economy, and lamented that many recent graduates are unable to find jobs, making them more likely to end up on the streets or to be recruited or trafficked by extremist groups.
“Today, we are losing our children to the streets, to gangs and drugs. As long as these young people roam the streets with so much despondency, so long will they remain exposed and perhaps recruited to join such evil groups like kidnappers, drug and human trafficking gangs or Boko Haram. Our nation must reverse this ugly trend in our society,” they said.
While the recent violence erupted under Boko Haram, the bishops also noted the 2015 Zaria massacre, during which the Nigerian army killed hundreds of Shia Muslims, as well as the killings in Southern Kaduna and the victims of the Fulani herdsmen, who since September 2016 have burned 53 villages, murdered more than 800 people, and destroyed more than 1,400 houses and 16 churches.
Christians and moderate Muslims living in the northern part of the country have been especially vulnerable to terrorist attacks at the hands of Islamist extremists.
The bishops thanked the current government administration for their efforts in stopping the terrorism and for helping the victims, including recovering some of the Chibook girls, but they also urged the government to speed up the resettlement process for those fleeing the violence.
They also called on the government to “put into effect its unfulfilled commitments such as ending poverty, feeding the nation, and providing accessible education,” and to uphold and reinforce the rights of religious freedom for everyone in the country.
In conclusion, the Nigerian bishops offered their prayers for President Muhammadu Buhari, who recently was on an extended sick leave, raising political and economic tensions in the country. They also offered their prayers that Nigeria would put its vast resources at the service of all of its people.
“The equitable distribution of our resources for the common good must be the definite goal of those who hold this trust. This will help to restore our dignity as human beings and our integrity as a nation and our loyalty as citizens. God bless Nigeria.”