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Emeka Omeihe: Catholic priests and herdsmen


Emeka Omeihe: Catholic priests and herdsmen

by Emeka Omeihe

It is increasingly becoming difficult to dismiss recurring attacks on Catholic priests by Fulani herdsmen as part of the evils associated with such criminal activities in parts of the country. Not with the heinous manner a 26-year old senior Seminarian, Lazarus Nwafor was murdered in his room a few weeks back at Attakwu, Enugu State.

His assailants slaughtered him a day after he returned to his station after scaling through the roof as they could not break the metal door to his apartment. He had no issues with the herdsmen. In that encounter, other people including a pregnant woman who had her stomach ripped open fell to the dastardly onslaught of the heartless herdsmen.

Not unexpectedly, the fate of the seminarian ruffled sensibilities as to why his killers would make that daring effort to snuff life out of him when his profession has nothing to do with their cattle rearing business. Insinuations were for good measure, rife as to whether his offence had to do with the wearing of his soutane in that village environment? Otherwise, how else could an innocent and harmless seminarian have attracted the ire of herdsmen such they had to scale through the roof to eliminate him in a place he was almost serving out his apostolic work?

Or, was his killing part of the larger strategy by terrorists to inflict harm on critical institutions or persons so as to create maximum impact and cause disaffection as we have seen in the case of the Boko Haram insurgency and similar terrorist onslaughts? This poser is germane given that before now; we have been told by no less a person than the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar that the criminal herdsmen are foreign terrorists. The Sultan is not alone in this position which had earlier been shared by a former Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase.

But he seemed to have upped the ante when he asserted that “all these so-called Fulani herdsmen moving with guns and causing violence; fighting with farmers are not Nigerians. These are foreigners coming into Nigeria to cause a breach of the peace of the nation. They are therefore terrorists and should be treated as such by the Nigerian security agencies”.

Ironically however, we have also been told before now by various leaders of the herdsmen of the reasons they attack communities chiefly among them being cattle rustling and clashes with local farmers over gazing lands. Given the above, it is difficult to believe as the Sultan and the police would want us, that the herding business is controlled almost entirely by foreigners. The facts on the ground do not bear that conclusion out.

And if the story as told by the Sultan and the police were to be correct, why have our law enforcement agencies found it difficult to confront the supposedly foreign terrorists in the same fashion they amassed an armada against the Boko Haram insurgents and the Niger Delta militants? Or is that a measure of the weight the government assigns to the recurring wanton destruction of lives and property by the insurgent herdsmen?

 Whatever the case, the insurgency of the herdsmen has become a serious threat to peace, unity and stability in this country. It is increasingly assuming religious, ethnic and political undertones that urgent steps must be taken by the Buhari administration to stem the dangerous tide.

If the case of the murdered seminarian is not enough to establish an emerging trend in attacking catholic priests and other clergymen , the fate that befell three catholic priests last week along the Nkpologwu/Nimbo road in Enugu State further leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

In a media briefing, the Catholic Archdiocese of Nnewi told the nation that suspected Fulani herdsmen armed with dangerous weapons, attacked and kidnapped the Rector of Tansi Major Seminary Onitsha, Rev Fr. Emmanuel Dim while two of his colleagues travelling in the same car, Rev. Frs. Jude Chukwuneke and Jude Ezeokana escaped with gunshot wounds. The herdsmen have since demanded a N2.5 million ransom before they can set their captive priest free.

The diocese noted that at a separate place on the same day, Sept 26, another Catholic Vincentian priest and his brother were kidnapped along the Abuja/ Lokoja expressway. They further recalled that Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ugwu was also kidnapped in August along Ugwuogo-Nike-Opi road among others. They therefore wondered whether these were mere happenstances or “Catholic priests have become endangered species?

The Director of communications of the Diocese Rev. Fr. Hyginus Aghaulor was visibly piqued that in spite of these senseless attacks on their priests and those serving elsewhere, governments especially those in the South-east have been tepid in their handling of the looming danger.

Lamenting that since the existence of this country nobody has seen the level of killing spree that is perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen, they noted while  “innocent people are left unprotected we have seen barrage of military wares and personnel protecting the pipelines in the Niger Delta as if oil is more important than peoples’ life”.

The lamentations of Nnewi diocese of the Catholic Church mirror very vividly the agony of the Catholic Church and indeed all Christians since the insurgency of the herdsmen assumed its current dangerous form. Before now, and given the modus operandi of the herdsmen, suspicions have been rife as to whether there are other motives to their militancy. In this wise, expansionism both territorially and religious-wise were frequently fingered. These were the basis for the strident criticisms and opposition that trailed the curious suggestion for the mapping out of grazing areas in all the states for the herdsmen.

It is feared with justification that if the herdsmen could operate and attack their host communities in the dastardly manner they do without being apprehended, creating such reserves or routes for them in other peoples’ ancestral home will amount to an open license to conquer, despoil and uproot their hosts. That is why such ideas as grazing reserves and grazing routes must give way to the more civilized methods of animal husbandry – establishment of ranches.

It may be convenient to ascribe the kidnap of the Rector to one of those escapades of criminal herdsmen. It could also be argued that the objective is to extract ransom since they have demanded same. But by now, they would have discovered that their captive is a man of God who lives on charity. They would have discovered that the religion and faith of millions of Nigerians are at issue. These alone would have been enough for them to set him free unconditionally. But to continue holding him, asking for ransom depicts crass insensitivity to the religious sensibilities of the people of the area. This definitely goes with dire repercussion on peoples’ perception of the herdsmen and their business.

Given the sensitivity of religion on these shores and the proclivity of some faiths to jealously guard theirs including passing sentences and taking the lives of those suspected of one infraction or the other, it would amount to playing with fire to allow the wanton attacks on catholic clergy by the herdsmen to continue this way. Enough of that nonsense!

But the Enugu State government cannot fold its arms and allow the herdsmen levy a verity of the Hobbesian state of nature within its domain. It must immediately come out with stringent laws to regulate the devious activities of the herdsmen, especially given the position of the state as the main gateway for them to access the south-east and south-south.

Governor Ugwuanyi must move quam celerrime to save the people of Enugu State from imminent annihilation by the herdsmen since an end to the orgy of violence is nowhere in sight. It will amount to an abdication of responsibility waiting for federal action given the ambivalence of that level of government to the degenerating situation. After all, what is left of a government that cannot protect lives and property?

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