Protest, led by bishops, takes place on first Sunday of lent.
As yet another Catholic priest was kidnapped in Nigeria on Sunday, hundreds of Catholics dressed in black took to the streets of Abuja to protest the high level of insecurity in the country. The already-planned march, led by the country’s bishops’ conference, was a bid to draw the attention of the federal government and the international community to the plight of Christians — and to pray for peace in the nation.
Fr. David Echioda of the Diocese of Otukpo was abducted March 1 as he returned to the seminary from his missionary outpost in central Nigeria, where he had celebrated Sunday Mass, Catholic News Agency reported. Fr. Echioda was freed two days later.
The outcome was far more tragic for four seminarians who had been kidnapped earlier in the year. All were released, but one, an 18-year-old student, was killed.
Sunday night’s protest took the form of a peaceful-prayer march, with bishops, priests and lay faithful dressed in black and carrying placards bearing inscriptions such as, Thou shall not kill, Life is sacred,Government rise to your responsibility, God hates injustice.
“Today, we the Catholic bishops of Nigeria with significant support of priests, consecrated persons and our beloved lay faithful embark on a peaceful protest against the high level of insecurity in every part of Nigeria,” Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, president of the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, told the gathering. “We are on this peaceful protest on behalf of the over 22 million Catholics and over 100 million Christians in Nigeria.We are protesting against the brutal killings of innocent Nigerians by Boko Haram, and terrorists herdsmen. We are gathered here to register our protest against the kidnapping for ransom in every part of Nigeria. We are gathered to mourn the women, children, babies, and men who have been killed by the terrorists. We are gathered to let the federal government of Nigeria know that we are tired of hearing from them that Boko Haram has been ‘technically defeated’ even when they still attack with impunity.”
The prelate charged that the government’s response to terrorist attacks is far below average. “The lack of prosecution of terrorists is evil,” he said, challenging Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari to fulfill his responsibility of protecting lives and property and bring those behind the killings to justice.
Archbishop Akubeze called on the international community to “come to the aid of Nigeria.”
“The tears and pains of the helpless persecuted Christians in Nigeria should be well reported in the West. Western journalists and western political leaders should give Boko Haram the attention they give to other terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS,” he said. “If the Western media give comprehensive steadfast coverage to the atrocities happening in Nigeria, they will discover that people are dying daily in Nigeria from the hands of Boko Haram about the same way people are dying in Syria.”
Earlier in the day, at the opening Mass of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria’s Plenary Session, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja said, “We are battling with terrorists, cultists, criminals, kidnappers, economic saboteurs, unscrupulous political leaders, religious bigots and partisan traditional rulers.”