Diocesan Updates

Bishop Ugorji – Nigeria’s Farmers/Herders Conflict: Beyond the Politics of Islamization Agenda

The recurrent herders-farmers clashes in the country has once again received Episcopal perspectivism. This was given on 17th March, 2021 as Umuahia Diocese kicked off the 2021 Cathedraticum with Ututu deanery at St. Paul’s Catholic Church Ututu in Arochukwu LGA.

The deanery is made up of 6 parishes and communities- St. Paul’s Parish Ututu, St. Mulumba’s parish Ihechiowa, St. Theresa’s parish Arochukwu, St. Thomas” parish Amuvi, Mater Miserecordiae Ihechiowa, and Holy Family Okpo, Ihechiowa.

The Mass was presided over by the Catholic Bishop of Umuahia, Most Rev. L. I. Ugorji and assisted by over 12 priests’, including the Vicar general and Diocesan chancellor- Very Rev. Fr. Gab Kalu and Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Henry Maduka respectively.

Recall that The term Cathedraticum is of Latin origin and is derived from the root word “cathedra” meaning Episcopal Seat or Throne or Chair of the Bishop as the teacher and leader of the Diocese.

From the earliest days of the Church, this word has been used to refer to the episcopal seat of the Bishop, the teacher and leader of the diocese and the Bishop’s authority as chief shepherd and teacher of the diocese has been recognized since the early days of the church.

Hence Cathedraticum has both moral and spiritual significance. The moral significance entails that it is aimed at supporting the Chief Shepherd in his ministry to the poor while the spiritual significance consists in the fact that prayer is offered during the ceremony for all those gathered for the celebration.

In union with the sentiments of the readings of the day ( First reading Ezekiel 47:1-9,12, Gospel John 5:1-3,5-16), Bishop Ugorji reflected on the spiritual and natural importance of water. From the spiritual parlance, Jesus becomes the life-giving water to anyone who believes in him.

This is evident as he acquired the character of “the pool of Bethsaida” to the man who spent 38 years waiting at the sidelines to be healed. Jesus asked him to take his mat and go home. By this, Bishop Ugorji as all to care for those our society rejects on a account of disability.

The bishop equally encouraged to be hopeful when things are rough believing that one day things will turn around for better. This is evident in the long suffering of the man at the pool for thirty eight years.

On the natural importance of water, Bishop made a sterling revelation with its geographically bent of mind. “Water is necessary for survival”, Bishop Ugorji said. This has led to the cause many migrations in human history while facing the reality of drought. And one of the attendant consequences of migration on account of drought is harders-farmers clashes as clearly seen in our country today.

Drawing from his deep knowledge of geography, Bishop Ugorji traced the root of the conflict to the forced southern migration, owing to drought, of herdsmen from their traditional grazing grounds, mostly in the northeast of Nigeria.

Lake Chad began to shrink in the 1960s due to changes in climate patterns and was once the sixth largest lake in the world, providing freshwater to over 40 million people across Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. The lake has decreased in size from 22,000 square kilometers in the 1960s to fewer than 1,500 today; and it may even completely dry up within 20 years according to the Nigerian government.

“As the lake shrank, large numbers of herders had to search for alternative pastures and sources of water for their cattle, leading to encroachment on settlements and farmlands. These encroachments have brought on disputes over crop damage and cattle theft that mostly turn violent. And because the herders are predominantly Muslim and the farmers largely Christian, religious radicals have exploited the conflict,” Bishop Ugorji revealed.

Before drought began to suck up Lake Chad more than five decades ago, the best grazing land was in the Sahel area of the lake’s basin. The drought, the Bishop explains, “led to the loss of pasture and the initiation of the transhumance migration towards the guinea savanna in the south of the basin.”

Over the years, Nigeria has struggled to find a simple solution to the herdsmen-farmers crisis as it gradually expanded deeper into southern portions of the country.

Peace initiatives at local levels have failed to yield tangible results, attempts by Nigerian authorities to establish grazing areas in the north-central and in southern states have been opposed by the locals, and new laws banning open grazing in some states in the Middle Belt have made matters worse, as the efforts of the government to clamp down on erring herdsmen have only escalated the conflict.

“As long as herdsmen keep moving their cattle southwards in search of pastures, there are bound to be encroachments into farmlands that could lead to clashes with farmers” the bishop said.

While citing the Church’s magna Carter on sustainability of the environment (Ladato Si of Pope Francis) Bishop Ugorji encouraged all to discontinue all activities that are capable of causing climate change espresso to aquatic life.

He equally encouraged recharging of Lake Chad. While this may not solve the crisis permanently, it will address drought mitigation, control desertification, and could even act as a catalyst for the establishment of fisheries and irrigation activities.

These together could ultimately provide a livelihood and home for displaced herders and, most importantly, save thousands of lives.

Shortly before the end of the Eucharistic celebration, the Provost of Abia state College of Education (Technical) Arochukwu, Dr. Nto appraised Bishop Ugorji for the vibrancy of his education policy that has made the Catholic owned schools the best in the state.

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