[ACNS] The Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, has appealed for “peace, justice, equity and cordial co-existence in Nigeria” after a series of protests by pro-Biafra separatists resulted in violent clashes and several deaths.
Biafra, in south east Nigeria, declared independence in 1967 but the secessionist state was unrecognised by the majority of governments around the world and, after a brutal two-and-a-half-year civil war which led to the deaths of one million civilians, it was subsumed back into Nigeria in 1970.
Protests this week saw pro-separatist campaigners seize the head-bridge at Onitsha and attack a range of sites from businesses to places of worship. News sources have varied in the number of deaths they report during this week’s protests, with numbers ranging from “six” to “scores”. Many more are said to be injured.
“We have noticed with concern the escalating youth restiveness, mass protests and violence in some parts of Nigeria,” Archbishop Okoh said in a statement. “Issues that threaten security and peaceful coexistence demand the concerted effort of the government and all and sundry to deal with them timely and effectively before they are turned into national calamity.
“Nigeria has witnessed various forms of uprisings that started as agitations for remedy of grievances. They grew steadily until they plunged the country into crisis of terrible magnitude, occasioning destabilization of the country, gruesome killing of thousands of people, wanton destruction of property, collapse of economic activities, etc.
“While the Government and people of Nigeria are battling with the Boko Haram insurgency, the South-East Geo-Political Zone of Nigeria and a few other parts of the country are now witnessing blockage of roads, forceful closure of business and commercial activities, mass protests involving thousands of youths. Their blockage of the head-bridge at Onitsha and violent protests on Tuesday clearly point to an emerging national distress.”
The Archbishop urged the federal, state and local governments, legislatures and security agencies to “take necessary steps to bring to an immediate end, the mass protests that are now turning to national embarrassment.”
And he called on the two main campaign groups, the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to “seek [a] solution to their grievances through dialogue and stop forthwith the mass protests that may soon be hijacked for purposes they did not intend”; and he asked the government to “objectively address” the grievances raised.
“We call on religious and community leaders and other stakeholders to take actions towards ensuring peace, justice, equity and cordial co-existence in Nigeria,” Archbishop Okoh said. “We must be mindful of the fact that delay in addressing a crisis situation quickens the harvest of mayhem.
“This advent season gives us much opportunity to reflect deeply on people’s acts of omission and commission that are occasioning crisis of all sorts in Nigeria. Our claim of belief in God must be translated into action, ‘For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…’ (1 Corinthians 14.33). we must, therefore, with sincerity and commitment under God, ‘Seek peace and pursue it’ (1 Peter 3.11).”