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“God has not, will never abandon His people”: Nigerian Bishop amid Regional Insecurity

Map showing the major towns within Nigeria's Imo State. Credit: Public Domain

In the wake of security threats in Nigeria’s Imo State, the Local Ordinary of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu located within the region has sought to reassure the people in the affected areas of the West African nation of the presence of God amid “fear and anxiety.”

In a statement issued Monday, May 17, Bishop Bishop Augustine Tochukwu Ukwuoma says, “In this moment of heightened tension, fear and anxiety, I would like to reassure our people that God has not and will never abandon His people.”

Bishop Ukwuoma recalls the events in the region covered by his episcopal see saying, “In these days, Orlu has been in the news for the wrong reasons, namely, constant armed clashes between security agencies and unidentified gunmen leading to casualties, wanton destruction of properties, disruption of daily activities, closure of banks and public institutions, heightened tension, fear and hopelessness.”

“At this moment, His word, ‘Do not be afraid’, is a constant reminder of His abiding presence and unfailing support,” the Nigerian Bishop reassures the people of God in Imo State in his May 17 statement obtained by ACI Africa.

He continues, “God calms the heat of war, the storm of ravage, and the wind of extermination. Let us hold firmly unto His unfailing word. Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and of good courage.”

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Tension has been on the rise in Imo State following clashes between gunmen and the Nigerian Police.

On May 8, at least nine gunmen were killed during an attack on the Orlu police station, according to media reports.

The gunmen targeted the Orlu police post but were prevented by vigilant policemen, Police Commissioner, Abutu Yaro, has been quoted as telling journalists May 8, adding in reference to the armed men, “We engaged them in a shootout and in the ensuing gunfire, nine of the gunmen met their waterloo."

“The insurgency in Southeastern Nigeria (initially known as the Orlu Crisis) is a military conflict that broke out in the city of Orlu, Nigeria when the Nigerian Army moved to crush the paramilitary wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Eastern Security Network (ESN),” according to Wikipedia.

In his May 17 statement, Bishop Ukwuoma recalls that “Orlu has always been a peaceful, hospitable place; even during the Nigeria/Biafra war, many people found refuge and succor in Orlu.”

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“The reality is that Orlu is a rural place where most people depend on subsistence farming, petty trading and artisanship. Therefore, any disruption of public order affects their livelihood,” the 67-year-old Bishop who has been at the helm of Orlu Diocese since June 2008 says in the statement.

He adds, “While we, as people of faith, besiege the throne of heaven with prayers, because our help is in the name of the Lord (Ps. 121:2), we call on the government to live up to her sworn duty of securing life and property.”

“We also call on everyone to refrain from actions and words that threaten the peace of our people. We also caution security agents to desist from actions that could further heighten people's anxiety,” Bishop Ukwuoma further says.

He continues, “We must not allow fear to drain our energy and kill us; instead, let us fly to the protection of our Blessed Mother Mary, who covers us with her maternal mantle as we go about our normal duties and businesses.”

“Following my earlier directive on prayer and fasting for the whole month of May in our Diocese, I hereby direct every Parish, Chaplaincy and Institution to organize Rosary procession within the confines of the parish and benediction on the last Sunday of May this year, 2021,” the Local Ordinary of Orlu directs in his May 17 statement.

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Nigeria has been experiencing insecurity since 2009 when Boko Haram insurgency began targeted attacks with the aim of turning Africa's most populous nation into an Islamic state.

Since then, the group, one of largest Islamist groups in Africa, has been orchestrating indiscriminate terrorist attacks on various targets including religious and political groups as well as civilians.

The insecurity situation in the country has further been complicated by the involvement of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen, also referred to as the Fulani Militia, who have been clashing frequently with Christian farmers over grazing land.

Earlier this month, members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) urged the Muhammadu Buhari-led Government “to listen to every Nigerian, both political actors in other parties, and non-political actors in Nigeria and the diaspora.”

“The Federal Government must be transparent with every Nigerian in the struggle to revive our economy, industrialize the nation, objectively deal with corruption and significantly reduce the high level of insecurity and unemployment,” CBCN members added in their May 6 collective statement.