Minna (Agenzia Fides) - "Our country continues to experience situations of conflict, both in the Church and in society in general", writes the Auxiliary Bishop of Minna, Luka Sylvester Gopep, to Fides regarding the escalation of violence, crime and corruption that is rampant in Nigeria. "We are all in a really difficult context. The political ecosystem is saturated with litigation and counter-litigations while the poor people are suffering. The removal of fuel subsidies and crashing of the naira against the dollar has brought untold hardship to small and medium scale businesses. Our parishioners are really facing hard times and the government does not seem to care. This is made worse by activities of armed bands, armed robbers, commercial kidnappers leading to increased fear and suspicion".
The Auxiliary Bishop describes the serious crisis that the country is experiencing in all regions. "While the north-east is being contained with Boko Haram, the north-central is facing untold attacks on farmers by suspected Fulani herders", he explains. The north-west has become a territory besieged by gun-wielding bandits, the far south is in conflict with the separatist movement Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which seeks to restore the old Republic of Biafra, and IPOB's paramilitary organization, the Eastern Security Network (ESN).
We can say without a doubt that what we are going through is a combination of economic hardship and insecurity which had created a Hobbesian state of nature where what reigns supreme is the survival of the fittest and the elimination of the unfit. So, the times are hard, but we remain strong in prayer", Bishop Gopep emphasized.
"The right kind of change that one would expect is through the ballot box", he explains, referring to the high level of bribery and corruption caused by the Nigerian political class. "Unfortunately, the last general elections which were marked by vote buying, use of thugs, intimidation of voters, and a compromised electoral body which went against its rules as attested to by the European Union (EU) in its report, did not give the power to choose the leaders they wanted (see Fides, 24/2/2023). This means that the people are forced to develop coping mechanisms which further escalates the situation. To my mind, the continuous conflicts are a symptom of a bigger sickness which leads to apathy. The people do not have an army to ward off insurgents, bandits, or kidnappers; security apparatus or architecture are in the hands of politicians and so, where the steal elections and force themselves on the people, how else do you want the people to react?"
“We, the local Church, as bearers of hope" continues the Bishop "will keep doing our best to calm the people by persuading them in our homilies. I dare to say that if not for our interventions, perhaps our people, the voting masses, would have taken actions that would have had negative consequences on corrupt public office holders. No one desires a bloody revolution. This means that politicians must live up to expectation based on the social contract they have with the people. For instance, the coups in Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Guinea are evidence of bad leadership in Africa. Where gerontocracy, authoritarianism, impunity becomes a priority, the people may resort to self-help. In Zimbabwe, for example, no one knew that one day, Robert Mugabe would be removed in a peaceful manner, without anyone shooting a gun or losing their lives. The point is, the ruling class must not take the people for granted".
Regarding the Diocese of Minna, the Nigerian prelate confirmed that the Diocesan Commission for Justice, Development and Peace, together with Bishop Martin Uzoukwu, is developing a pastoral plan around helping the needy especially the people who have been dislodged by armed bandits from their homes in Nanati, Adunu, Fuka, Ishau, Kwagana, Abolo, Sikiti, Siche-tukura, and Angwan.
"Our priority is to provide them with means of livelihood and to provide education for their children. We are currently building a pastoral centre that would be a meeting point for the people of God in the diocese and beyond which would also provide accommodation for vulnerable people whose lives are in danger", he emphasizes.
"On a positive note", concluded Bishop Gopep, "the local Church has witnessed significant events, such as the just concluded General Assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria in Abuja, during which we honoured the outgoing Nuncio, Antonio Guido Filipazzi, for his 6 years of meritorious service to God and humanity. We also recently welcomed the appointment of new bishops: Mark Nzukwein in the Diocese of Wukari, Habila Daboh from the Diocese of Zaria and Simon Okezuo in the Diocese of Ahiara. With the establishment of the new diocese of Katsina, Geral Musa was appointed as the first bishop of the new diocese. We are very grateful to Pope Francis for his generosity and generous spirit". Nevertheless, the ongoing general insecurity with attacks, murders or kidnappings of priests and religious is alarming. Recent cases include the murder and burning of a young seminarian in the diocese of Kafanchan (see Fides 8/9/2023), the kidnapping of priests and seminarians in the dioceses of Minna and Enugu (see Fides, 22/9/2023) and of three monks in Eruku (see Fides, 20/10/2023). (AP/LG) (Agenzia Fides, 31/10/2023)