, 21 October, 2020 / 10:33 PM
The reported use of excessive force on those peacefully protesting against police brutality in Nigeria has caught the attention of Christian leaders in the West African nation who have, in different platforms, condemned the excesses and reiterated their support for peaceful protests.
Countrywide youth-led protests that started as calls for an end to the, now defunct, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), have continued in Africa’s most populous nation, the protesters demanding for reforms in the country’s structure of governance.
Since the government deployed members of the Army to curtail the demonstrations alongside the declaration of a 24-hour curfew in the country’s largest city, Lagos, several people have been reported dead and others severely injured at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State.
“Reports of Soldiers shooting live bullets at unarmed and peaceful protesters is a reproach to Democracy,” Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins of Lagos said Wednesday, October 21.
In his message issued a day after reports of violence, Archbishop Ademale decries the loss of lives and the fact that the lives of many have been permanently altered because of gunshot wounds, “prices too high to pay for anything.”
The Local Ordinary of Lagos calls on members of the security forces in Nigeria to “stop the assault on armed and peaceful people.”
He further addresses the demonstrators and asks them to retreat from the protests saying, “He who fights and retreats, lives to fight another day.”
On their part, officials of the Jesuits of North-West Africa Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) have condemned the excessive use of force on the protesters.
In the October 20 statement, they acknowledge “with great concerns, the poor handling of the youth-led #EndSARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) protest across cities and towns of Nigeria by the Federal Government and the Nigeria Police Force.”
“We condemn, in the strongest terms, any use of force and intimidation by security personnel against the youth,” they say in their collective statement signed by the Director of Communications, Fr. Chijioke Azuawusiefe.
Peaceful protests are “a fundamental right of every Nigerian,” the Jesuits in North-West Africa declare say, declaring their “solidarity with the youth of Nigeria.”
They urge “the Federal Government to take the demands of the youth seriously and to respond through concrete, accountable, and measurable actions.”
“As an institution rooted in the Catholic tradition of faith and hope, we recommit ourselves to engendering the processes of justice everywhere in the world and especially those that the young people of Nigeria currently challenge us to embrace, processes without which our prosperous and peaceful future as a country remains unattainable,” they say in conclusion.
On their part, members of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) have called on the officials of Nigeria’s security forces not to intervene in the ongoing protests to avoid killings.
“We call on the military and police to resist the temptation to intervene in a civil protest in order to avoid harvest of deaths,” the Church leaders have been quoted as saying.
The Christian leaders also condemn “in strong terms every attempt being made to stop or disrupt the peaceful protest, which is lawfully allowed and guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
The Church leaders, who had earlier issued a statement supporting the protests reiterate, “We are monitoring the #EndSARS protests nationwide and we are praying that their unprecedented efforts to have a decent society will not be in vain.”
The members of CAN call on all State Governors and the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (MCT) to “set up a committee to dialogue with the representatives of the protesters to douse the tension in the country.”
In a message shared with ACI Africa, members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) have condemned the “height of the government insensitivity and callousness in the shooting of unarmed youths in Lagos yesterday night in a well-orchestrated manner.”
“The Bishops of Nigeria condemn this act as barbaric and totally unacceptable and are soon to come out with a full statement on the matter,” says the Bishops in the October 21 note issued on their behalf by the Director of Communication at CBCN, Fr. Michael Umoh.
Earlier, the members of CBCN had expressed their support for the ongoing protests and urged the protesters to remain peaceful.
“We support the youths who have taken this step and we caution that they are allowed without any intimidation to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration and should not be provoked or incited to violence,” said the members of CBCN in the October 17 message.
They further said, the youth are asserting their constitutional right by demanding for justice and peace for all from “extra-judicial killings, unlawful arrests, profiling of youths as criminals, the invasion of youths privacy by searching phones and laptops without any warrant or any just cause, and the incarceration of many of the youths in the SARS custody without trial.”
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa