• I’ll take a second look at appointments –President
• It’s dishonest to say I’m doing nothing about killings –Buhari
Olalekan Adetayo, Olaleye Aluko and Godwin Isenyo
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria on Thursday told President Muhammadu Buhari that the enormous goodwill with which he assumed office in 2015 was being fast depleted by some glaring failures of his government.
The bishops said this when they paid a courtesy visit to Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Their address at the visit, copies of which were made available to journalists, was jointly signed by the CBCN President and Archbishop of Jos, Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama; and the Secretary who is also the Bishop of Gboko, Most Rev. William Avenya.
The address read in part, “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.
“Nearly three years later, however, one has the feeling that this goodwill is being fast depleted by some glaring failures of government which we have the moral responsibility to bring to your notice, else we would be failing in our duty as spiritual fathers and leaders.”
The bishops regretted that there was too much suffering in the country with poverty, hunger, insecurity, violence and fear, among others, pervading the land.
They said, “Our beloved country appears to be under siege. Many negative forces seem to be keeping a stranglehold on the population, especially the weaker and defenceless ones.
“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 a 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.”
The Catholic Bishops said they were still 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.
They said the Federal Government’s silence in the wake of the attacks was shocking.
They warned that with a feeling of helplessness among the people, there was the danger that some people might begin to take the law into their own hands.
The clergymen therefore called on the government to take seriously its primary responsibility of protecting the lives and property of its citizens and ensure that such mindless killings did not recur.
According to them, although herdsmen may be under pressure to save their livestock and economy, this should not be done at the expense of other people’s lives and means of livelihood.
They also kicked against the proposed establishment of cattle colonies as solution to herdsmen and farmers’ clashes.
“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 bishops said.
They also urged the government to tackle the spate of kidnappings in the country headlong.
They advised the government to invest more in equipping the Nigeria Police Force with modern high-tech devices that would help them to track down and arrest criminals for prosecution.
They also asked Buhari to address the imbalance in government appointments and distribution of amenities by respecting the federal character principle as enshrined in the constitution.
The visitors said the situation had created the loss of a sense of belonging in many parts of the country, hence the constant cries of marginalisation, agitation for secession and calls for restructuring.
“These and many more such problems are, in our opinion, grave matters that should be worrying all political leaders in our country today, rather than any bid for re-election,” they added.
The bishops assured Buhari that they would continue to make their contribution to nation-building through prayers, admonitions and assistance to needy Nigerians whenever they could.
They said as the voice of the voiceless, they would continue to highlight the plight of the people and play their role of sensitising the government, thus promoting good governance, national unity and cohesion.
The bishops added that everybody in government at the moment had to take more decisive steps to restore the confidence of the Nigerian people.
“Our collective efforts must be seen in the desire to return to the fine principles of democracy, such as true federalism negotiation and consensus building, as means of achieving a more equitable distribution of the resources of our country and good governance,” they said.
It’s dishonest to say I’m doing nothing about killings –Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday said it was dishonest to continue to create the impression that he was enjoying himself at home without doing anything about the recent killings in Benue, Adamawa, Taraba, and Zamfara states.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, the President spoke during the visit of the Catholic bishops.
Buhari said because he was aware of the enormity of the problems at hand, he was doing his best to get law enforcement agencies to be on the alert.
While condemning the killings, the President said security operatives would ensure prosecution of perpetrators and all those found with illegal arms in the affected areas.
He said, “The impression created that I was sitting in an air-conditioned office and 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 the law enforcement agencies to be on the alert.”
The President explained that the cattle colony policy proposed by the Federal Government in response to the clashes between herdsmen and farmers was not meant to colonise any part of the country.
He said government’s intention was to create grazing locations for cattle rearers.
He regretted that the step had been misconstrued as another form of colonisation.
Buhari lamented that the well-thought-0ut out policy of the Federal Government, which was conceived after wide consultations with stakeholders, had been largely misunderstood by a section of the public.
He, however, assured the Catholic bishops that the Federal Government would continue to explore all opportunities and support initiatives to ensure peace and stability in restive areas.
The President also told his guests that he would not be tired of recounting remarkable progress recorded in the areas of security, economy and the fight against corruption.
“We have done very well on security in the North-East when you compare what the condition was before we came in and what it is now.
“On the economy, particularly agriculture, I am very pleased that God answered the prayers of Nigerians who prayed for bountiful harvest.
“People have taken advantage of Federal Government’s policies and programmes to return to the farm and they have not regretted it,” he said.
On the fight against corruption, the President said the government would be guided by the law in the investigation and prosecution of all graft-related cases.
“People are being prosecuted systematically with evidence,” he added.
“If a permanent secretary has five houses in Abuja, two in Kaduna and one in Borno and Sokoto and he can’t account for the property and there are bank transactions linking him to the property, the prosecuting agencies will not have difficulties to make progress on the case.”
On the question of federal character, the President declared that no ethnic group or political zone has been deliberately marginalised in the appointments made so far.
He, however, added that he would take a second look at areas on which issues have been raised, when a compendium of all government appointments is submitted to him.
In his remarks, Kaigama pledged that the Catholic Church in Nigeria would continue to support the Buhari administration.
Buhari mustn’t politicise Catholic bishops’ suggestions, says CDHR
A civil society organisation, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, has said President Buhari must not play politics with the observations and recommendations of the Catholic bishops.
The CDHR President, Malachy Ugwummadu, said the President must rather see the suggestions as “stating the obvious and he must steer a course of change.”
Ugwummadu said, “The President has to understand that what the bishops have said is to state the obvious. These are the issues that most Nigerians have also debated and scolded the government for its inaction.
“The President must not play politics with the observation, but must see them as coming from people who have the interests of the country at heart. The bishops have to be commended for being bold to speak to power.”
‘Catholic bishops entitled to their opinions’
The Secretary-General of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, Dr Abubakar Khalid Aliyu, told one of our correspondents that the Catholic bishops were entitled to their opinions.
When asked to comment on the bishops’ statement, he said, “This is political. We can only respond to what affects the religion of Islam. As Nigerians, they are entitled to their opinions.”