Evelyn-A. B. Ibanga (Govt. House )

…………….As Catholic faithful across the country embark on a peaceful protest over the recent killings of members in some states, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, has sued for a safe and peaceful environment for freedom of worship irrespective of religion, in Nigeria.

Governor Emmanuel made the remarks when the Catholic Bishops of Uyo and Ikot Ekpene, Most Rev. John Aya and Rev. Father Camillus Umoh, led a procession of Catholic faithful from Ikot Ekpene and Uyo Dioceses, in honour of victims of Benue killings, to Government House, Uyo.

The Governor, who lamented the spate of killings, based on differences in religious inclinations, stated that it was apt to take proactive measures to forestall future occurrences, opining that if left unchecked, could negatively affect the chances of conducting peaceful elections in future, in some parts of the country.

While indicating that there were strong possibilities that the perpetrators of the crime were being sponsored, trained and provided with ammunition, by unidentified persons, Emmanuel said the memories of the victims, would be difficult to erase from the minds of families, loved ones and their communities.

The State Chief Executive reteirated the commitment of his administration to ensuring a peaceful environment which guarantees religious harmony, calling on other leaders to contribute their quota in achieving safety of lives and property in their respective domain.

“I will do everything humanly possible, first of all, in our state, to protect lives and property but as a country, we all must contribute as well. It is left for us, leaders to still do something to protect our people.

“In this state, we don’t restrict anybody from worshipping or taking a path of faith, even though the State is about 99 percent Christians but we still allow other faithful to worship freely”, the Governor stated.

He commended the orderly manner in which the Catholics have conducted themselves throughout the procession to avoid the hijacking of the situation by hoodlums, promising to deliver the content of their message to relevant authorities.

In his address, the Catholic Bishop of Uyo Diocese, Most Rev. Aya, explained that the procession was to honour the slain Catholic Priests, Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, as well as their parishioners, in the course of celebrating the Holy Mass, saying that the manner of their killings suggested a carefully planned act, rather than revenge as claimed.

He stated that for over two years, the Catholic Bishops have joined other Nigerians, through conferences, to demand for the reconfiguration of the security apparatus in the country, noting that the non adherence to repeated calls, heightened the lack of confidence in the security agencies.

Aya disclosed that sometime in February, this year, the Catholic Bishops had raised an alarm, during a courtesy visit on the President, over the level of insecurity and the spate of violence perpetrated with impunity across the country, imploring the President to take drastic steps to stem the tide of the brutality.

The cleric said that Christians now feel betrayed and abandoned in the face of failure of the federal government to provide security for all citizens, saying that the inaction has threatened the foundation of the collective existence and unity of Nigeria.

According to him, “Every Nigerian has fundamental right to life and security, the Federal Government should, therefore, not discriminate unfairly between its citizens on the provision of security for their lives and property”.

He maintained that the failure of the federal government to arrest or prosecute any of the persons involved in the heinous acts, was an indication of clear masterminding of the atrocities by some quaters, emphasizing that the situation on security demands a sober and deep reflection, having taken part in voting for the emergence of the administration in 2015.

On his part, the Catholic Bishop of Ikot Ekpene, Rev Fr. Umoh, thanked the Governor for granting them audience and opportunity to show solidarity to their Benue brethren and to pray for the peace and progress of Nigeria, noting that the large crowd indicated the unity of the Christian faith.

Fr. Umoh, who was represented by Rev. Fr. Goddia Otu, remarked that the Catholics would continue to use peaceful measures to air their views, saying, “what we feel, we say it peacefully, we don’t say anything in violence because we are for peace”.

Some top government functionaries who were present at the event were the State Deputy Governor, Mr. Moses Ekpo, Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem and the Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh.

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