Against an immediate backdrop of escalating mass kidnappings, jihadi resurgence, growing separatist sentiment in the old Biafra, and conflict over water and land that often assumes a religious and ethnic coloration, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria has issued a statement sounding the alarm over the very survival of the nation. The statement expresses concern, inter alia, over high-level government officials advising citizens to resort to self-defense as exacerbating ethnic conflict. The statement acknowledges the costs of nation-building but affirms that the costs of Nigeria's tearing itself apart would be far higher. The statement does not directly attack President Muhammadu Buhari but rather calls on Nigerians to rededicate themselves to the "Nigeria project"—building a multiethnic, democratic society.
The specific points made by the Catholic bishops are widely heard in Nigeria among thoughtful, engaged citizens. Nevertheless, the bishops' statement is authoritative, blunt, and to-the-point. The Roman Catholic Church is one of Nigeria's few national institutions. (Others are the Nigerian army and the Anglican Church.) The Catholic bishops have an almost unique access to what is going on at the grassroots all over the country. The bishops tend to be judicious and advocate for Nigerian unity—hence the significance, in part, of the bluntness of their statement.
Though its adherents are mostly in the south and east, the Catholic Church's network of dioceses covers the entire country, even in the predominately Muslim north. It and the Anglican Church were long the two largest denominations of European origin, but both have been usurped in size by Pentecostal churches. Moreover, the Roman Catholic Church is an "establishment" institution, and its bishops by and large have good relations with the traditional Muslim leadership. The Catholic bishops' statement should be a wake-up call for Nigeria's foreign friends as well as for those Nigerians that too readily ignore what is going on around them until it impacts on them directly, such as with kidnapping.