The Bishops of Nigeria have asked Catholics to wear black on Ash Wednesday as a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims of kidnappings and terror attacks.
In a statement due to be read in all Nigerian parishes on Ash Wednesday, the president of the Catholic Bishop’s conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, asks the faithful to wear black, or a black armband, and to join a “Day of Prayer Procession” to protest the crimes of the Islamist group Boko Haram.
Archbishop Akubeze goes on to condemn the public impunity of the perpetrators of such crimes, the lack of arrests of criminals by the government, and the threats made to many communities on an ongoing basis. He also called for support from the international community in the fight for security and religious freedom in Nigeria.
The statement asked Nigerian Catholics to remind their government that “without security there can be no peace, and without peace, there can be no development or national growth.” Nigeria’s current government has came under fire from Catholic figures in the recent past for a perceived lack of action on Islamist extremism. The United Nations has estimated that the conflict has displaced 2.4 million Nigerians and put more than seven million others at risk of starvation.
Nigerian Islamist groups have carried out a series of kidnappings and violent attacks against Christians and government supporters since 2016. Earlier this year a prominent Anabaptist pastor and a kidnapped Catholic seminarian were executed by the group in separate incidents. The Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors has estimated that around 1500 Christians were murdered in Nigeria in 2019.
Earlier this month, on 10 February, at least 30 people were killed in an attack upon a convoy of vehicles in Borno state. The most recent attack, on Monday 24 February, saw more than 100 Boko Haram militants invade the town of Garkida, in northeastern Nigeria. At least three churches were reportedly destroyed by Boko Haram during the assault, launched from motorbikes and trucks at 7PM and concluding around midnight. The attackers, armed with AK-47s, reportedly killed several inhabitants of Garkida and took others hostage before retreating under fire from security forces.