Bishop criticises Higgins’s statement on Nigerian church massacre as ‘far-fetched’

President said climate change played a role in the massacre of 40 people attending a Pentecost Sunday Mass

A Nigerian Catholic bishop has criticised President Michael D Higgins for suggesting climate change played a role in the massacre of 40 people attending a Pentecost Sunday Mass at the church of St Francis in Owo district of Ondo’s Catholic diocese on June 5th. More than 126 people suffered injury.

Condemning the attack in a statement last Tuesday, President Higgins warned against “any attempt to scapegoat pastoral peoples who are among the foremost victims of the consequences of climate change” for it. He called for solidarity with “all those impacted not only by this horrible event, but in the struggle by the most vulnerable, on whom the consequences of climate change have been inflicted”.

In a statement on Facebook, bishop of Ondo diocese Jude Ayodeji Arogundade described as “incorrect and far-fetched” the climate change elements in President Higgins’s statement condemning the massacre. “Alluding to some form of politics of climate change in our situation is completely inappropriate,” the Bishop said.

Throughout Nigeria there was “a profound fear in every part of the country and such a situation has nothing to do with ideology”, he said. He appealed to “those who are trying to take advantage of this horrific event to project any form of ideological agenda, to desist from such opportunism”.


Given the historical connection between the Republic of Ireland and the diocese of Ondo, the comments of the President of Ireland were important to him as bishop, he said. “The first two bishops of the diocese of Ondo were Irish men, the church building in which the attack took place was built by Irish missionaries” and some of the people killed had received the sacraments from “venerable Irish missionaries”, he said. “Irish men and women laid the foundation of the faith for us in this part of the world,” he said.

“Comments associating banditry, kidnapping and gruesome attacks on innocent and harmless citizens of Nigeria with issues concerning climate change and food securities are deflections from the truth,” he said.

Sr Kathleen McGarvey was also critical of the Mr Higgins’s statement. Provincial leader in Ireland of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, she has spent many years in Nigeria where she helped found the Interfaith Forum of Muslim and Christian Women’s Association, better known as the Women’s Interfaith Council, which won the Aachen Peace Prize in 2021.

“As an Irish missionary, with close ties to Nigeria as many Irish missionaries have, I feel strongly that we in this side of the world need to pay much closer attention to what is happening in Nigeria,” she said. President Higgins’s “use of words reveals the ignorance of our leaders, whether conscious or unconscious, of the alarming spread of insecurity and violence in Nigeria”, she said.

To present climate change “as the reason for the gruesome massacre in the church on Pentecost Sunday or for the ongoing rise of terrorist activities, banditry, kidnapping, attacks, and unabated onslaught of peoples and villages in Nigeria, is hugely incorrect and far-fetched, as Bishop Jude has said”, she added.

The cause was “the very inadequate and bad governance in the country, beginning at the highest level”. The people of Nigeria “marooned in ongoing poverty and insecurity, see this failure as caused by others and hence it is easy to exploit the lines of division along religion, ethno-regional and political loyalties. These division lines are exploited and strengthened by the political elite class, particularly by the Muslim elite of Northern Nigeria,” she said.

“The rise and spread of radical Islamic extremism, seen today in the Boko Haram and the militants known as Fulani Herdsmen, are manifestations of this manipulation of religion for political purposes and indeed of what many today perceive as the Islamisation of Nigeria project of president Buhari and the northern Muslim elite,” she said.

Attacks such as that on the church of St Francis on Pentecost Sunday, as well as “continuous attacks on villages in Christian dominated villages in northern states, all of these go almost unanswered”, she said.

“Given the close connection between Nigeria and Ireland, due to the life sacrifice of many missionaries as well as the great number of Nigerians who form part of our country today, we must as people and as Government be more committed to truthful analysis and to conscientious involvement in ensuring security and development for the dear people, of all religions, of this great African nation,” she said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times