Together with the priests, 19 people were also killed. The Catholic bishops ask the president to consider stepping aside to save the nation from complete collapse.
The massacre happened at dawn on Tuesday 24th April. The attack happened during the 5.50am daily morning Mass, which is always well attended in the parish of St Agnatius Ukpor-Mbalom in the village of Mbalom, in Gwer East Local Government Area, Benue State, which is part of the so-called Middle Belt in central Nigeria which divides the mainly Muslim north from the south where majority of the people are Christian.
The service had only just begun and people were still arriving. Suddenly gun shots were heard as armed men broke into the church in the panic people tried to escape. However 19 people, including Father Joseph Gor and Father Felix Tyolaha, who were celebrating the Mass, were killed in cold blood. Many more were wounded. After attacking the church the criminals torched the village destroying at least 60 homes and hay lofts. The people fled to the nearby villages in search of safety.
Following a massacre at a church, the catholic bishops asked “How can the federal government stand back while its security agencies deliberately turn a blind eye to the cries and wails of helpless unarmed citizens who remain sitting ducks in their homes, farms, highways and now even in the holy places of worship?”.
“It is time for the President to choose the path of honour and consider stepping aside to save the nation from complete collapse”. With these words the Bishops of Nigeria demand the resignation of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Nigerian Bishops express anguish, grief and anger. “These innocent souls met their untimely death at the hands of a wicked and inhuman gang of rampaging and murderous terrorists who have turned the vast lands of the Middle Belt and other parts of Nigeria into a massive graveyard”.
A few days before, Father Gor tweeted: “We live in fear the Fulani are back in the area of Mbalom. They refuse to leave. They continue to pasture their flocks. We have no means of defending ourselves”, the tweet said. “Their desperate cries for security and help went unheeded by those who should have heard them” say the Bishops, referring to the two priests killed. “They could have fled but true to their vocation they remained to continue to serve their people right unto death”.
The Bishops accuse the federal government and its security agencies of being responsible for insecurity. “How can the federal government stand back while its security agencies deliberately turn a blind eye to the cries and wails of helpless unarmed citizens who remain sitting ducks in their homes, farms, highways and now even in the holy places of worship?”.
“For over two years now the Catholic Bishops’ Conference along with many other well-meaning Nigerians has consistently asked the President to rethink the configuration of his security apparatus and strategy” the bishops said. “Along with millions of Nigerians we have expressed our lack of confidence in the security agencies which the President deliberately placed in the hands of the adherents of only one religion. Since then bloodletting and destruction of homes as well as farmlands have increased in intensity and brutality”.
“Today, we Christians feel violated and betrayed in a nation that we have all continued to serve and pray for. If the President cannot keep our country safe then he automatically loses the trust of the citizens” say the Bishops calling on the President to step down.
Several priests have been abducted in Nigeria in recent months. Most recently, a parish priest in Benin City, Fr. Omorogbe, was kidnapped by gunmen on the 18th April. He was released on the 22nd April.