Abuja — Catholic bishops yesterday visited President Muhammadu Buhari at Aso Rock where they lamented what they described as a glaring failure of his administration to tackle poverty, hunger, insecurity, violence, fear and unemployment.
The clerics, under the aegis of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), were led to the Presidential Villa by their president and Archbishop of Jos, Most Rev. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama and the secretary and Bishop of Gboko, Most Rev. William Avenya.
They wondered why President Buhari in the last three years failed to take advantage of the enormous goodwill of Nigerians and provide the expected succour to the people.
"We work with the people at the grassroots and, therefore, have first-hand information about what they are going through.
"There is no doubt that when you came into office, you had an enormous amount of the goodwill of Nigerians, since many saw you as a person of integrity who would be able to bring sanity into a system that was nearly crippled by endemic corruption.
"Nearly three years later, however, one has the feeling that this goodwill is being fast depleted by some glaring failures of government which we have the moral responsibility to bring to your notice, else we would be failing in our duty as spiritual fathers and leaders," the bishops said.
In an address they presented to Buhari during their closed-door meeting and made available to newsmen, Most Rev. Kaigama lamented that "our beloved country appears to be under siege" with many negative forces keeping a stronghold on the population, especially the weaker and defenseless ones.
"There is a feeling of hopelessness across the country. Our youths are restive and many of them have taken to hard drugs, cultism and other forms of violent crimes, while many have become victims of human trafficking. The nation is nervous.
"Just as we seem to be gradually emerging from the dark tunnel of an economic recession that caused untold hardship to families and individuals, violent attacks by unscrupulous persons, among whom are terrorists masquerading as herdsmen, have led to a near civil war situation in many parts of the country.
"We are saddened that, repeatedly, innocent citizens in different communities across the nation are brutally attacked and their sources of livelihood mindlessly destroyed. Lives are wasted and property worth billions of naira, including places of worship, schools, hospitals and business enterprises, are torched and turned to ashes.
"We are still more saddened by the recent massacre of unarmed citizens by these terrorists in some communities in Benue, Adamawa, Kaduna and Taraba states which has caused national shock, grief and outcry. The silence of the Federal Government in the wake of these horrifying attacks is, to say the least, shocking," the bishops told Buhari.
According to them, there is a growing feeling of helplessness among the people and the danger is that some may begin to take the laws into their hands.
The religious leaders said the President Buhari-led administration must take very seriously its primary responsibility of protecting the lives and property of citizens and ensure that such mindless killings do not re-occur.
Kaigama noted that while herdsmen may be under pressure to save their livestock and economy, it should never to be done at the expense of other people's lives and means of livelihood. He insisted that a better alternative to open grazing should be sought rather than introducing "cattle colonies" in the country.
The visitors urged the Federal Government to move against other criminal activities including kidnapping.
The CBCN decried the government's alleged disregard for federal character principle as it concerned appointments and imbalance in the distribution of federal amenities, saying it had resulted in the loss of a sense of belonging in many parts of the country.
"These and many more such problems are, in our opinion, grave matters that should be worrying all political leaders in our country today, rather than any bid for re-election," Kaigama said,
A statement later made available to newsmen by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, quoted President Buhari as explaining that his administration's policy proposed in response to the frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the country was not meant to colonise any part of the country.
Buhari said the intention of government was to create grazing locations for cattle rearers , which has now been misconstrued as another form of colonisation.
He expressed regret that the "well-thought out policy" of the Federal Government, which was conceived after wide consultations with stakeholders, had been largely misunderstood by a section of the public.
Buhari condemned the recent killings in Benue, Adamawa, Taraba, and Zamfara states and said security operatives would ensure the prosecution of perpetrators and all those found with illegal arms in the affected areas.
"The impression created that I was sitting in an air-conditioned office and home, enjoying myself while these things happened, is dishonest.
"At every step, I have tried to foresee these problems because I have the experience as a former military officer who commanded three out of the four divisions of the Nigerian Army, in Lagos, Ibadan and Jos.
"I am quite aware of the problems we have and I am doing my best to get law enforcement agencies to be on alert.
"We have done very well on security in the North East, when you compare what the condition was before we came in and what it is now.
"On the economy, particularly agriculture, I am very pleased that God answered the prayers of Nigerians who prayed for a bountiful harvest. On the fight against corruption, the president reiterated that government would be guided by the law in the investigation and prosecution of all graft-related cases. People are being prosecuted systematically with evidence."
The president declared that no ethnic group or political zone has been deliberately marginalised in the appointments made so far.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has flayed the presidency for allegedly abdicating its responsibility of governance to hijack the functions of the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by appointing people into partisan offices, which is outside its responsibility.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement yesterday said it was ludicrous that after almost three years of failure to deliver on the least of its campaign promises, the Buhari presidency was moving around, looking for those to use once again to beguile Nigerians ahead of the 2019 elections.
The PDP stressed that the Buhari Presidency has failed to be remorseful "for its misrule", noting that the disagreements in APC were fallouts of members' resentment towards its desperation for power.
The opposition party said Nigerians were waiting to see how Bola Tinubu, who had also openly expressed his concerns and disapprovals on the mismanagement of the economy and whose large constituents were direct victims of the ineptitude, impunity, nepotism, dictatorial tendencies, corruption and insecurity that had allegedly characterised the Buhari presidency, would turn around to preach that all is well and attempt to sell a practically bad product to the nation.
The PDP commended Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayo Fayose, for visiting Benue State and extending assistance to victims of the recent violent attacks and other internally displaced persons in the state.