THE Archbishop of Canterbury has described the killing of at least 12 unarmed protesters by the army in Nigeria as an “outrage”.
Writing in the Nigerian newspaper This Day on Monday, he called on the country’s leaders to “turn around and find the path of peace, justice, and reconciliation”.
Describing the country in which he worked as an oil executive several decades ago as “very dear to my heart”, he was careful to say that he was not lecturing or rebuking Nigeria, but calling on the country to learn from the “appalling” violence of Britain’s colonialist past
He wrote: “I do not say this in a patronising, post-colonial way, but out of love for the country and its people to whom I owe so much in my journey of faith.”
There are 18 million Nigerians in the Anglican Communion.
Protesters were shot and killed last week as they gathered at a toll gate in Lagos to prevent cars from using a motorway, as part of the #EndSars protests, which have called for the disbanding of a controversial police unit accused of brutality. Some of the attack was filmed on social media, and footage shows protesters sitting on the ground singing the national anthem as they are shot.
Amnesty International has said that at least 12 people died in the attack on Tuesday of last week, although 46 are believed to have died in separate protests around the country on the same day.
The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, responded by disbanding the unit, and has promised an inquiry; but protesters have called for more reforms to the Nigerian security services and government.
Although the Archbishop did not name President Buhari in his article, he said that Nigeria needed heroic leaders, and suggested: “The heroic leader sees the long-term vision and always aims for it. Events are dealt with but not allowed to knock the nation off course. President Mandela was not distracted from his vision for South Africa’s freedom by more than 25 years’ harsh imprisonment.
“Heroes will know that the vision is not for their benefit but for their legacy. The generations 25 years later will be the ones that may rise up and bless them.
“The heroic leader knows that he or she is fallible, has feet of clay to some extent. They are self-aware, they know themselves. In consequence, they appoint people who compensate for their weaknesses.”
He knew, he said, that there was heroism throughout Nigeria, and urged the young protesters to seek peace. “Heroism for Nigeria must come from Nigeria. Foreigners cannot bring it, even if they may encourage it. Outsiders cannot create the heroism of reconciliation and peace building, although they may support it. It is there — I say again, I cry out with passion, it is there — in Nigeria.
“I was so moved, to my very heart, when I heard of Christian demonstrators stopping to protect Muslims who had stopped to pray. And the other way round. They were heroes, neither compromising faith nor hating the other.”
In a separate post on Twitter, he said that he had contacted the President directly. He wrote: “I have urged President Muhammadu Buhari directly to ensure that lives are protected — and I say that again now. I mourn for Nigeria. May God save Nigeria.”
Pope Francis has also appealed for calm in Nigeria, and celebrities around the world have pledged their support for the protesters.
Hundreds of arrests have been made during the protests for alleged criminal activity, including looting and setting fire to police stations.