There cannot be a guarantee that evil will not be perpetuated in the world, but we can always determine our response when it happens.
For members of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, the April 24 killing of two priests and seventeen parishioners during morning Mass by suspected herdsmen was the egregious manifestation of evil that could not be allowed to be normalized. Leading figures in the Church have spoken out ever since the scourge of the herdsmen killings became more rapid but it is not unusual to reach a tipping point in a cause when it hits home. The Mbalom massacre, broadly speaking, was the ultimate despicable evidence of the weakness of security in the country and the result of reluctance by the government to stem a dangerous pattern early.
Hence, across the nation, throughout the nine Catholic archdioceses in the country, men, women and school children clutching rosaries in one hand and placards in the other sent their sighs above and vented their frustration in that rare way that combines solemn prayerful processions with labour-like street demonstration.
Praying and singing was central to the procession everywhere but other elements of the execution were different according to the choice of organizers in each diocesse. While the march in Enugu and Abuja were confined to the places of worship were Masses were said, those in Abeokuta, Lagos and Warri, led by their bishops, marched to their respective Government Houses to ensure the message gets to the state authorities. In the letter to President Buhari deposited at the Lagos state Government House in Alausa, Most Rev Adewale Martins, writing “for an one behalf of the 3 million Catholics in Lagos”, noted that the members of the Church had been the targets of many provocative strikes but would, however, continue to preach “restraints and tolerance”. Most Rev John Afareha of Warri echoed same sentiments of non-violence as the Church’s approach but reminded the President that “All life is sacred irrespective of tribe or political affiliations so must be cherished and protected by all”.
It is significant that the processions witnessed large turnouts of members of the Church, a feat that should be remarkable given it was neither planned nor promoted in the usual way such are on social media these days. This was basically individuals and groups responding to the call of their leaders, but also doing something about the revulsion arising from the fate of their members elsewhere. In some sense, this spur has come from the reality in the mind of every Mass-going Catholic that the fate of the seventeen at Mbalom could have been theirs. Beyond that, the killings in Benue since the beginning of the year represent a crisis of nationhood inasmuch as the perpetrators of the crimes, perceived as having some ethnic affiliation with President Buhari, have continued to proceed unhindered. Marching in the processions was, therefore, also a call to patriotism, to interrogate and potential awaken the slumbering sense of value of the life of every Nigerian. It was “Stop the Killings!” because “Life is Sacred!”
To its credit, the Buhari administration was represented at the funeral of the priests and other members of St Ignatius in Benue. The presence of the Osinbajo-led delegation would have been frustrating and welcoming at same time; there is no shaking off the feeling, in those grieving, that the deaths could have been preventable. But they will take solace in the prayers said around the country and hope that President Buhari could not reasonably let this lightning strike twice.