We Need Peace and Harmony Based on Justice
(A Statement by the Catholic Bishops of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province)
1. We, the Catholic Bishops of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, comprising of the Archdiocese of Onitsha, the Dioceses of Enugu, Abakaliki, Awka, Nsukka, Nnewi and Awgu, during our second meeting for the year 2017 held at the Bishop’s Court Abakaliki on Tuesday 25 July 2017, reflected deeply on and prayed fervently about the present state of things in our dear country Nigeria, especially as it affects the people of the South Eastern geopolitical zone. Less than three weeks later, on Sunday 13 August 2017, we were all shocked to hear the horrible news of the senseless massacre of some of our faithful during the Holy Mass at St. Philip’s Catholic Church Ozubulu by yet to be identified gunmen. Guided by the grace of Almighty God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and bearing in mind the grave moral responsibility we bear as spiritual fathers and leaders, we issue the following statement to our beloved brothers and sisters.
2. We are deeply saddened by the cold-blooded mass murder of innocent worshippers of God and we condemn it unreservedly. Nothing can ever justify such a brutal wastage of human life. It is blood-chilling to even think that this brutal execution happened in a sacred place during a sacred function. The abomination in Ozubulu calls for deep soul-searching by all of us: religious leaders, those in civil authority, security agents, local community leaders and the general public. We urge the security agents to speed up their investigation so as to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators of this heinous crime as well as all those behind them. While praying for the repose of the dead and the speedy recovery of the wounded, we implore God to lead us to a conversion of hearts, which alone can reverse our descent into decadence and self-destruction.
3. In the last few months the tension in our country has risen to a level that has probably not been known in many decades. For many years, we seemed to have believed that our many problems – insecurity, fragile economy, discrimination in political appointments and the distribution of amenities, double standards in the prosecution of criminals and offences, executive impunity, legislative profligacy, judicial prevarications, infrastructural decay, poor quality education… – will all somehow simply go away on their own. Government after government, military as well as civilian, have paid little or only lip-service attention to these problems and many public officers have continued to enrich only themselves and their small group of friends, while the Nation continued to drift further into turbulent waters. Now some groups of people in Nigeria who feel aggrieved are attempting to dismember the country as a way of solving her problems.
4. We feel the pains of the millions of Nigerians who are today wallowing in abject poverty in the midst of so much wealth with which God has blessed our country as well as the pains of all those who have been victims of discrimination and injustice. Nevertheless, we affirm categorically that quarrels, sectionalism, violence and hate which lead to division and secession are not the right answers to our present predicament. We acknowledge that the greatest resources which Nigeria has are human resources. We therefore believe that it will be more beneficial to all of us to unite our efforts and invest more energy in building a peaceful Nigeria. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated: “Individuals, families, and various groups which make up the civil community… see the need for a wider community where each one will make a specific contribution to an even broader implementation of the common good” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, no. 74).
5. As Christian leaders, we are committed to the mind of the Catholic Church which is evident in the obligation placed on clerics: “Clerics are always to do their utmost to foster among people peace and harmony based on justice” (Canon 287 §1). This precept of Canon Law obliges us as Bishops, along with our immediate collaborators, the Priests, to work hard, especially through moral guidance, for a country where every citizen feels at home everywhere and all enjoy peace and harmony. But it also reminds us that such a peaceful society can only be erected on the firm foundation of justice.
6. We therefore call on all persons in public office in Nigeria, especially persons who have been elected by the people, to rise to the challenge of the moment and provide responsible leadership. All Nigerians must be treated as equals and in accordance with the just laws of the land, irrespective of their ethnic groups and religious or political affiliations. Failure to do this will not only create a leadership vacuum but it will also lead people who feel marginalized to work for the disintegration of the country.
7. In a similar vein, we call on all aggrieved persons or groups to avoid utterances and actions that would only worsen their situation and that of the other victims of bad governance in Nigeria. While it is legitimate to put pressure on the members of the political class to discharge their duties responsibly, it is wrong to attempt to balkanize Nigeria, either through a call for secession or a “quit notice.”
8. In this regard, we would like to remind our dearest brothers and sisters in Igboland that there are legitimate ways of obtaining the mandate of the people in order to be able to speak on their behalf. Those who have not legitimately obtained this mandate, while they are free to express their personal opinions, should not arrogate to themselves the authority or mandate to speak for all Igbo people. Besides, instilling fear into the people and intimidating them will never advance the welfare of the people. Both our Igbo culture and the simple rule of civility impose on us the obligation to respect those who hold different views from us.
9. To instigate people not to exercise their civic rights through a legitimate electoral process would amount to encouraging lawlessness and recklessness. And this will never promote peace and development among our people. It would rather invite the various security agencies in Nigeria to increase their siege on our land. We therefore invite all who have reached voting age in Anambra State and elsewhere in Igboland to make sure that they are duly registered and to come out without hesitation to express their choice about who should lead them in the coming elections in the State and in all other future elections. It is only by strengthening our democratic institutions that we can hope to consolidate the gains we have already made as a people and as individuals in the various segments of our society.
10. Igbo people are industrious and enterprising people. Sadly, however, far too many resources are being lost by our people of late, because legitimate businesses are disrupted by protest marches and rallies along the streets and major business areas. We encourage all those who are gainfully employed to go on working hard and earning their living. To those who are idle, we would like to address the following words of St. Paul: “We hear that there are some of you who are living in idleness, doing no work themselves, but interfering with everyone else’s. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food they eat… Brothers, never grow tired of doing what is right” (2 Thes 3:11-12).
11. That there are now so many young unemployed and idle people milling around in Igboland is a wakeup call to the State Governments as well as captains of industries to do something urgently about this before the situation spirals out of control. We equally appeal to other Christian religious leaders in our land, traditional rulers, retired and serving civil servants to join hands in salvaging a fast deteriorating situation.
12. We intensify our prayers for our country Nigeria, especially in this Marian Year when we celebrate the centenary of the apparition of Our Blessed Mother the Virgin Mary to three children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, asking them to pray the Rosary for peace during the First World War:
“We come to you Our Lady of Perpetual Help
To intercede for our Country and our leaders…
Obtain for us that peace which can only come from Heaven:
Peace in our hearts, homes, places of work and our nation…
Free our hearts from evil and hatred,
And make us able to bring to all others true joy and peace,
Which come to us from your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
Lives and reigns, forever and ever. Amen.
Given at Nnewi on Monday 14th August, 2017.
Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke
Archbishop of Onitsha and Metropolitan of Onitsha Province
Most Rev. Michael Nnachi Okoro Most Rev. Hilary Odili Okeke
Bishop of Abakaliki Bishop of Nnewi
Most Rev. John Ifeanyichukwu Okoye Most Rev. Paulinus C. Ezeokafor
Bishop of Awgu Bishop of Awka
Most Rev. Callistus V. C. Onaga Most Rev. Godfrey Igwebuike Onah
Bishop of Enugu Bishop of Nsukka
Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye Most Rev. Denis Chidi Isizoh
Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Auxiliary Bishop of Onitsha
Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji Most Rev. Francis E. O. Okobo
Emeritus Bishop of Enugu Emeritus Bishop of Nsukka