.- Catholic bishops in Nigeria have criticized President Goodluck Jonathan's decision to stop oil subsidies, a choice that has doubled gas and food costs in the already unstable nation.
“As things stand, we consider it immoral to remove the petroleum subsidy while we run a government of such dysfunctional dimension and cost,” the bishops of the Ibadan province declared after the government stopped public support for oil as of Jan. 1.
They said it was “immoral to impose removal of the petroleum subsidy on economically weakened Nigerians while political office holders continue to live in embarrassing opulence.”
Over 10,000 people protested in the city of Lagos on Jan. 9, according to the Associated Press. Labor unions called a strike in response to President Jonathan's move, which he says will save the country $8 billion a year and allow for development of infrastructure and other public needs.
But the bishops, including Ibadan Archbishop Felix A. Job and Bishop Emmanuel A. Badejo of Oyo, voiced skepticism in light of past promises that have not come to fruition, as well as the government's “many policy somersaults and failure to provide security for life and property.”
These conditions, they said, “have created an unfriendly business environment which the mere removal of subsidy cannot reverse.”
“It may not be fair to blame the Jonathan government alone for all the woes of Nigeria,” the bishops stated. “But this government must take full responsibility for the insensitive timing and execution of this policy on fuel subsidy.”
The move has come during a volatile time for Nigeria, including church attacks during the Christmas season that killed at least 40 people, for which the Islamist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility.
Meanwhile, an ethnic land dispute in the country's southeast left 50 people dead on New Year's Eve, and five deaths were reported after an attack on a mosque and school in the southwest. Abuja's Archbishop John O. Onaiyekan has told Catholics and other Christians not to retaliate against violence.
On Jan. 8, President Jonathan said Nigeria's current situation was “worse than the civil war” that took place over the secession of Biafra from 1967 to 1970 and led to one million deaths.
The president said today's problems were “more complicated,” involving Islamist influence over security forces in a state largely divided between northern Muslims and southern Christians. A Boko Haram spokesman said on Jan. 1 that the group was giving Christians three days to leave the north.
Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos agreed with the president's warning against religious sectarianism, in his Jan. 9 comments to Fides news agency.
“The Biafra war had ethnic and political roots; the Boko Haram attacks imply ethnic, social, political, religious and even criminal dimensions,” explained the archbishop. “For this reason, the current situation is more dangerous than the time of the Biafra war.”
The Archbishop of Jos said that both Christians and Muslims are fearful and considering migration. He called on the government to “act decisively to stop the violence and rebuild a climate of mutual trust and safety for every Nigerian who lives in every part of the country.”