Your Goodwill Has Been Depleted, Catholic Bishops Tell Buhari

As a follow-up to the mounting resistance to the federal government’s ‘evil’ proposal to establish cattle colonies in every state of the federation as a solution to the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers that have led to several innocent deaths in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, who has practically lost his respect among those that voted him to power in 2015 has said that the proposal was not meant to colonise any part of the country as widely alleged.

Buhari also discredited the severe allegations of bias levelled against him over his appointments since he assumed office almost three years ago, but as he did the last time, he promised that he would take a another look at issues in line with federal character principle. But, then Nigerians now take whatever he says with a pinch of salt because Buhari made a similar promise late last year and it ended there. In addition to that, his deafening silence when over 75 people were murdered by herdsmen in Benue State on January 1, 2018 makes it even harder for anybody to take Buhari’s words any serious.

President Buhari, who spoke on the cattle colonies and his appointments when he received members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) led by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama in the State House, Abuja, also explained that he had not deliberately marginalised any ethnic group in the country. Instead, the president, according to a statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, explained that government’s intention with the proposed policy was only meant to create grazing locations for cattle rearers, pointing out that the proposal has been misconstrued as another form of colonisation.

But amidst Buhari’s claims, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama who led the delegation said, “Nearly three years later, however, one has this feeling that this goodwill is being depleted by some glaring failures of government which we have a moral responsibility to bring to your notice, else we would be failing in our duty as spiritual fathers and leaders. We work with the people at the grassroots and therefore have first-hand information about what they are going through,” he added.

Kaigama said there was too much poverty in the land, noting that it looked like the country was under siege of many negative forces appearing to be keeping a stranglehold on the population, especially the weaker and defenceless ones. Again he told Buhari, “Your Excellency, there is too much suffering in the country: poverty, hunger, insecurity, violence, fear… the list is endless. “There is a feeling of hopelessness across the country. Our youths are restive and many of them have taken to hard drugs, cultism and other forms of violent crime, while many have become victims of human trafficking. The nation is nervous.

“Just as we seem to be gradually emerging from the dark tunnel of an economic recession that caused untold hardship to families and individuals, violent attacks by unscrupulous persons, among whom are terrorists masquerading as herdsmen, have led to near civil war situation in many parts of the country. We are saddened that, repeatedly, innocent citizens in different communities across the nation are brutally attacked and their sources of livelihood mindlessly destroyed. Lives are wasted and property worth billions of naira, including places of worship, schools, hospitals and business enterprises are torched and turned to ashes.

“We are still more saddened by the recent massacre of unarmed citizens by these terrorists in some communities in Benue, Adamawa, Kaduna and Taraba States, which has caused national shock, grief and outcry. The silence of the federal government in the wake of these horrifying attacks is, to say the least, shocking. There is a feeling of helplessness among the people and the danger that some people may begin to take the law into their hands. We therefore earnestly urge the government to take very seriously its primary responsibility of protecting the lives and property of its citizens and ensure that such mindless killings do not reoccur.

“Herdsmen may be under pressure to save their livestock and economy but this is never to be done at the expense of other people’s lives and means of livelihood. We would like to add our voice to those of other well-meaning Nigerians who insist that a better alternative to open grazing should be sought rather than introducing ‘cattle colonies’ in the country. While thinking of how best to help cattle owners establish ranches, government should equally have plans to help the other farmers whose produce is essential for our survival as a nation.”

The statement Adesina issued however said Buhari expressed regret that what was conceived as a well-thought out policy, after wide consultations with stakeholders, had been largely misunderstood by a section of the public. It added that Buhari assured the Catholic bishops that the federal government would continue to explore all opportunities and support initiatives to ensure that peace and stability prevail in restive areas. Adesina also said Buhari condemned the recent spate of killings in Benue, Adamawa, Taraba and Zamfara States, pledging that security operatives would ensure that the perpetrators and all persons caught with illegal arms in the affected areas are prosecuted.

The president was quoted to have said: “The impression created that I was sitting in an air-conditioned office and at home, enjoying myself while these things happened, is dishonest. At every step, I have tried to foresee these problems because I have the experience as a former military officer who commanded three out of the four divisions of the Nigerian Army, in Lagos, Ibadan and Jos.

“I am quite aware of the problems we have and I am doing my best to get law enforcement agencies to be on alert.” The statement added that Buhari told the Catholic bishops that he would not be tired of recounting the remarkable progress recorded in the areas of security, the economy and the fight against corruption.

Kaigama, in his remarks, pledged that the Catholic Church in Nigeria would continue to support the government of Buhari and make its contribution to nation-building through prayers, admonitions and assistance to needy Nigerians. “As the voice of the people, we shall continue to highlight the plight of our people and play our prophetic role of sensitising the government, thus promoting good governance, national unity and cohesion.”

Kaigama said as spiritual leaders, they have a moral responsibility to tell the president the truth. The bishop said they work with the people at the grassroots and this gives them first-hand information about what they are going through. “There is no doubt that when you came into office, you had an enormous amount of the goodwill of Nigerians, since many saw you as a person of integrity who would be able to bring sanity into a system that was nearly crippled by endemic corruption,” the CBCN president said.

“The federal character principle is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: The government of the federation or any of it and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies (Section 14, Sub-section 3-4).

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