Civil unrest cuts short Nigerian bishops meeting

The Church of Nigeria cut short the joint meeting of its standing committee and house of bishops following the threat of civil unrest by supporters of an independent Biafra.

The Church of Nigeria cut short the joint meeting of its standing committee and house of bishops following the threat of civil unrest by supporters of an independent Biafra. On 21Sept 2016 the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh (pictured) told the 170 bishops and standing committee members that he was proroguing the meeting two days early in light of the planned strikes led by the Indigenous People of Biafra movement, IPOB.

IPOB has called for all schools, shops and businesses to close in protest to the Federal Nigerian government’s treatment of Igboland in southeastern Nigeria, and further pledged to cut road links out of the province to the rest of the country. The bishops, who are meeting in Awka in Anambra State, would be trapped if IPOB closed the Niger Bridge — the only motor link out of the region.

Between 1967 and 1970 the southeastern region, home to the country’s Igbo people, seceded from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The ensuing civil war saw over two million civilian casualties from famine and disease. Independence sentiments were never stamped out in Igboland, but the present Muslim and Northern Nigerian dominated government of President Muhammadu Buhari has seen violent clashes between the army and civilian demonstrators angry that little of money derived from oil pumped from the ground in the southeast makes it way back into the region in the form of improvements to roads, schools, hospitals and other civil institutions.

In his presidential address, Archbishop Okoh touched upon the conflict in Biafra; the collapse of the country’s transportation infrastructure; the conflict with Muslim Fulani herdsman seeking to drive farmers, predominantly Christian, off their land. (Ecological changes including the expansion south by the Sahara desert has driven the Fulani off of their traditional lands, setting them in conflict with their settled neighbors); and recurrent fuel shortages.

He said, in part:

The Standing Committee wishes to make a passionate appeal to the militants to spare our economy and stop the bombing of oil facilities. Shutting down the economy is like pulling down the roofs with all of us inside; nobody will escape the negative impact. We equally call on those who can reach them to join in this appeal for the greater good of all. …

The presence of herdsmen in our countryside is not new, they have always been around. What is, however, new are the unprovoked attacks on their host communities and sometimes saying that cow is missing.They lay ambush and waylay people going to their farms, rape women and destroy farmlands; and their victims are at their mercy because they are armed. We call on the federal government to immediately disarm these people to return Nigeria to a state of peace. …

Our roads are in bad condition all across the country. Since our major means of transport is road, we call on the federal government to give the required attention to the roads to reduce the inconveniences, accidents and deaths. Airlines operating in the country are going through difficult times, some have grounded operations. No doubt, we need them. We therefore call on the federal government to expedite action on floating the national carrier or rejuvenate the private ones to enable them perform better.

Further in this area is the persistent scarcity of aviation fuel which has troubled the country, disrupted many programmes, including those of government and private. We call on government to solve the problem of aviation fuel permanently so that people can move about their businesses with less difficulty within the country.

At the close of his address the bishops discussed the impending IPOB demonstrations. The Niger Bridge was the only way out of Anamabra State, where the bishops were meeting in the city of Awka. If the militants closed the bridge the bishops would be trapped. A consensus was reached on ending the meeting and taking up unfinished business at a later time.

The bishops also issued a statement deploring attacks by militants on oil pipelines and refineries, noting these harmed everyone, not merely the government. They also urged President Buhari to sit down with protesters and seek an amicable resolution the conflict.

No date has been announced for the resumption of business.


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