Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.
ACN supports projects undertaken by the local Church – bishops, priests, religious communities and lay people – which have the specific aim of providing pastoral and spiritual support to Catholics all over the world. ACN only helps projects that have been approved by the local bishop (in the case of diocesan and parish projects) or religious superior (if the project is fully internal to the religious congregation).
“The Greatest Asset of the Church is the Faith of the People”
It is exactly ten years since the inception of terrorist activities by the Boko Haram Islamist group in Nigeria. This group of radical Islamist, whose principal goal is to create a strict Islamic state in the North of Nigeria started in 2009 and have continued to carry out deadly attacks, ravaging entire villages, killing and maiming people indiscriminately, bombing and burning down churches and public places, kidnapping especially women and girls who were force to convert to Islam.
The North East of Nigeria has been the hotbed of this terrorist group affecting the Catholic dioceses of Maiduguri, Yola and Taraba. Of these Dioceses, the worst hit has been the diocese of Maiduguri, as the terrorists have their main base in Borno State (Maiduguri is the capital of Borno State). In this interview with Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic bishop of Maiduguri diocese, Msgr Oliver Dashe Doeme speaks about the current situation and the progress made by the Church through the years.
Msgr Oliver Dashe Doeme, Catholic bishop of Maiduguri diocese.
How is the Church in Maiduguri diocese faring at the moment after ten years of Boko Haram terrorism?
For the past ten years the Church in the Catholic diocese of Maiduguri has experienced severe persecution in the hands of the dreaded Islamic sect known as Boko Haram. Colossal destructions have been caused to lives and property by the sect members. Boko Haram means Western Education is evil and since Christianity has a link with western education, it should be eliminated. But at the moment, things have improved greatly. Many of our people who were displaced have returned to their ancestral homes. The faith of the faithful is becoming stronger. Some of the destroyed structures have been rebuilt. In despite of all we give thanks and praise to God for his mercy and kindness towards His children in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri. To God be the glory.
One of the just few weeks ago rebuilt structures is the diocesan St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was destroyed by Boko Haram and on the 10th of July 2019, was dedicated by the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, what does this mean for the Church in the diocese of Maiduguri?
Our cathedral and other structures within the compound were affected by two separate bomb blasts that occurred outside the fence in 2012. Thanks be to God, no life was lost because there were no people around the cathedral premises. But the cathedral church, the priests’ residence and our diocesan secretariat were badly affected by the bomb explosions. The dedication of the newly rebuilt cathedral in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri is a clear sign that victory has been won by God for his people and it marks the beginning of the Church’s recovery from the crisis. In 2014, over half of the areas covered by our diocese were under Boko Haram control. At that time, we would have never imagined that by now we would have a new cathedral standing in Maiduguri city. Even though some of our lay faithful fled the diocese and up to now some have not yet come back. Those on ground have been very supportive to the church. Amazingly, the parishioners in St. Patrick cathedral Maiduguri were able to raise up to three quarter of the funds realized for the building of the new cathedral. We thank the international foundation ACN for her support. The greatest asset the Church possesses in the midst of this persecution is the faith of the people.
Ten Years of Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria.
Boko Haram also destroyed many of the structures belonging to the church in different parts of our diocese. Could you give figures of diocesan structures affected by the insurgence?
The list is very long, to summarize: Our Minor Seminary in Shuwa. It was turned into a camping ground by the terrorists, where they gathered people who were conscripted and kept their loots. As they departed the seminary, they set most of the structures ablaze. Thank God it has gone through stages to reconstruction thanks as well to the support of ACN. Also our Catechetical Training Centre located in Kaya, was destroyed in 2014 and was heavily looted by the terrorists. Furthermore two convents, two mission hospitals, over 15 mission schools, more than ten priests residences and over 250 parishes and outstation churches.
You mentioned that a number of the faithful, religious and Priests were displaced from their homes, parishes, convents and places of assignment. Have they all returned?
The peak of the attacks of Boko Haram on our people was in 2014. In that year, the sect members took over many areas covered by our diocese. As a result of this, more than 25 priests were displaced, over 45 religious nuns were sacked from their convents, over 200 catechists were driven away from their places of work, and more than 100,000 Catholics were sent running from their ancestral homes. But we give thanks to God for the tremendous improvement in the security situation. All the priests have come back to their places of apostolate. There are some of our priests who are out on mission both within and outside our country. Out of the 44 parishes and pastoral areas that we have in the diocese, only three parishes are still not functioning because of some pockets of attacks that occur there. Some of the religious sisters have come back to their convents, but others have not come back because their convents have not been rebuilt. More than 90% of our lay faithful have come back to their communities. To God be the glory.
In 2014 the sect members took over many areas covered by our diocese. As a result of this, more than 25 priests were displaced, over 45 religious nuns were sacked from their convents.
What is your message to ACN and benefactors?
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has been the back bone of the Church in our diocese. Without the support we have received from ACN, the church in our diocese would have long collapsed. ACN has assisted and is still assisting the diocese in areas such as sponsoring our annual priests’ retreats, training of our priests, training major seminarians, mass stipends, rebuilding our minor seminary and rebuilding of priests residences among others. We are indeed grateful to the staff of ACN and the numerous benefactors of ACN, for the tremendous support they have been giving the suffering Church in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri: The suffering Church is praying for all of you. May the good Lord who can never be outdone in generosity reward you all with his peace in this world and eternal life in his Kingdom.
On the night of July 29, members of the terrorist group Boko Haram attacked the town of Gagalari [not Kalagari as it puts in some media] in the diocese of Yagoua in the Far North region of Cameroon.
According to information received today from local sources by the ACN Foundation, the terrorists seem to have changed their strategy but not in any way diminished their violence. “They arrived during the night, entered the houses one by one and kidnapped the women. Only the women. They took them to the outskirts and amputated one ear of each of the victims. Then they released them threatening them and telling them that they would return, that this is the first touch intervention, but others will follow. It is terrifying. “The victims were found and picked up by the army and then transferred 260 kilometers away where they could be medically assisted. The amputation of an ear wants is a way of pressurizing and terrifying the inhabitants of the area who, according to the terrorists, “listen to the government and the voices of those who do not follow the extremist ideology of Boko Haram.
“For security reasons the men do not sleep inside the houses and there is even a Vigilance Committee, “but it was no use in this repulsive surprise attack. The women were dragged out of their homes before the eyes of their children.” The population, especially children and women, is very traumatized and terrified. “But what are they going to do? They are simple and very poor people who live from agriculture and right now in the rainy season they are waiting for the harvest. Where are they going to go? “The town is 120 kilometers from the nearest parish.
A Fulani herdsman and a Jukun Kona farmer at Yawai Abbare in Jalingo Local Government of Taraba State were said to be at the root of the conflict which started on the 6th of May, 2019, and degenerated so badly that at the end of it the Jukun Kona counted their losses and documented the attack and burning of 18 villages, the killing of 65 persons and the displacement of over 9,000. Fifteen (15) Churches, two primary schools and a health care centre were also destroyed.
The extent of damage suffered by the Fulanis is not known to me. They too must have suffered the loss of animals, homes and dear ones especially during the attack launched on the Kona village of Janabanibu where both parties suffered casualties. In Nukkai, a family Mosque was set ablaze; in Kofai village, a modest market Mosque was also set ablaze. Some cattle were said to have been killed in some of the villages.
As usual, what actually triggered the crisis will remain at the level of conjectures. The Fulani and the Kona are each telling their story in a manner that favours their ethnic group. This explains why, too often when a security authority adopts a particular narrative without factual, analytical and objective consideration of the stories peddled around, and comparing very well the narratives of the parties concerned, a distorted report could be made to the “oga at the top” or for the consumption of the public. In such cases the aggressor could easily become the victim while the victim becomes the aggressor!
It beats my imagination that in Nigeria when there is a misunderstanding, people tend to vent their anger and frustration on places of religious identity and worship, trying to give what is a social conflict a religious coloration. This is reprehensible. It is surprising too that those who claim to be “believers” would destroy places of worship and even take lives without the slightest compunction.
This Fulani/Kona crisis seems to be a replication of the event of the 1890s between the Jukun Kona people and the Fulani in Jalingo (cf.https://www.afrikanistik-aegyptologie-online.de/archiv/2008/1573). It has unfortunately escalated and worsened the relationship between these two tribes. Something must therefore be done urgently and fairly to bridge the gap and heal the historical wounds. Genuine justice and reconciliation must be pursued. I strongly suggest the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to get to the root of this matter that is not likely to go away soon.
My aim of penning down these reflections is so that lessons could be learnt to avoid such catastrophic occurrences resulting in unspeakable atrocities, wounded interpersonal relationships and high degree of mutual suspicion.
Following the hostility between the Fulani herdsman and the Kona farmer on the 6th of May, houses began to burn, gunshots rang out like fireworks, gunmen mounted on motorcycles were shooting indiscriminately at anyone they perceived was an enemy. What people thought was a simple misunderstanding that could be easily resolved became frighteningly serious. The violence went on unchecked for a protracted period and the population of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) began to swell because of the increasing attacks of the gunmen.
Reflections from the May-June 2019 “Fulani-Kona conflict” by Ignatius A. Kaigama (Apostolic Administrator of Jos and Coadjutor Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese).
As a member of the Jukun Kona minority ethnic group and hearing about the helplessness of the people, I was impelled to telephone the Governor of Taraba State, His Excellency, Darius Ishaku, but he was said to be out of the country. I then contacted the Secretary to the Taraba State Government, Mr. Anthony Jellason, who confirmed the situation but assured me that efforts were being made with the Police to restore order and peace. Days after, with no peace manifesting, everyone was getting very apprehensive. I phoned the Secretary to the Taraba State Government to kindly give me the telephone number of the Police Commissioner, Alkasim Sanusi, and the Deputy Governor, Egnr. Haruna Manu. The Commissioner of Police who said he was on board an aircraft gave me the telephone number of the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in charge of operations, Faleye Olaleye. When I called the DCP and asked how the situation was, his immediate remark was, “your people like fighting”. I asked him who my people were since we are all Nigerians? I explained to him how many people were complaining that since the start of the crisis, no security personnel was seen in Kona even when threats to invade Kona were becoming obvious by the day. The DCP asked me to look outside the window to see the police personnel. I told him that I live in Jos but my contacts in Kona informed me that since the crisis started nearly one week earlier, there was no sign of any security presence. I must confess that I had a rather rough and not too easy conversation with the DCP. Since I was the beggar for security favours for the helpless people, I had to tread cautiously as he repeatedly said that police had been sent to Kona. I insisted that it was possible that they were sent from the office, but they could probably be elsewhere! Eventually, he sent me a text message which read: “Sir, I want to assure you that adequate security and deployment have been made to all the areas in question and Kona in particular. Am on my way out to check on all the deployment please.” The priest in charge of Kona parish and some elders with whom I was in touch later confirmed the presence of the police that night.
In the absence of the Governor, I called the Deputy Governor, Engr. Haruna Manu, on the same night of May 10, and informed him of the worrisome security reports from the area. I also told him about my rather rough conversation earlier with the Deputy Commissioner of Police and he was surprised that our conversation took that tone. That same night I called the General Officer Commanding the 3rd Armoured Division in Jos (Major General Nuhu Angbazo) whose sphere of responsibility extends to Taraba State and he promised to look into the situation. He even asked me to commit to writing the information I related to him, which I did. I equally spoke to and sent a text message to the Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.
Of all the people I telephoned, it was the not so polite response, reaction and attitude of the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Taraba State in charge of operations that surprised me the most. In my nineteen years as the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, I have had a good working relationship with all the Police Commissioners, GOCs, SSS Directors, Civil Defence Commandants, Commanders of Operation Safe Havens posted to Plateau State, to the point that not too long ago after successfully working together to avert what would have been a great crisis and bloodshed in Jos, I invited them to my residence where we shared ideas, because of their commendable cooperation with the Church. Each time there was a new senior security officer in Jos they visited my office or we met at dialogue fora, such as the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre which I founded in Jos in 2011.
As President of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA) I had to travel to Burkina Faso to preside over the one-week meeting of the Conference, made up of English, French and Portugese Catholic Bishops. Even though gunmen had attacked parts of Burkina Faso a day before we arrived, the President, His Excellency, Marc Kabouré, was very calm, generous and hospitable. Apart from helping us with some logistics, he was present at the opening of our Assembly of the Conference, received us in his palace, appreciated our spiritual and moral solidarity and joined us at the closing Mass.
After returning to Jos, I contacted the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Jalingo again to ask how things were. He said I should ask my people and asked that I shouldn’t call him. I insisted that I was calling on a friendly basis to know how they were faring since we last spoke. He retorted by asking if “friendship is by force?” and told me to call the Commissioner of Police, if I wanted. I did, and the Police Commissioner was more polite and friendly. I thought we had become “friends”.
This Fulani/Kona crisis seems to be a replication of the event of the 1890s between the Jukun Kona people and the Fulani in Jalingo.
On the 15th of June, anonymous phone calls poured in to the effect that the attackers were threatening to proceed to Kona to “cut off the head of the Chief” and wipe out the village. I became very troubled and called the Commissioner of Police again. He was this time not as friendly as he was when we first spoke. He asked me to quickly tell him why I was calling and to go straight to the point as he did not like any pleasantries or greetings. In our tensed discussion, he told me that he was travelling in a car and was busy and he went on to explain that we have different perspectives or understanding of issues, since he was an action man, while my scope is spiritual. I insisted that we have a joint responsibility for peace and must collaborate to defeat evil with the police who say, “the police is your friend”. After some moments of discussion he changed his mood, but told me not to call him again but, to assign that task to someone in the village. I recommended my brother, Mr. Fidelis Kaigama, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Taraba State Civil Service Commissioner and gave him his telephone number. He requested that Mr. Fidelis should see him on Wednesday, 19th June. Mr. Fidelis tried calling him all of Wednesday and Thursday but the Commissioner’s number was inaccessible and so they did not meet.
In my heart, I was struggling with the temptation to question the neutrality of the Police Commissioner and his deputy in the Fulani/Kona conflict and wondered whether ethnic/religious prejudices have not crept into official performance of duties.
On June 16, I was so agitated by the manner of response of these two most senior police officers in Taraba State. My spirit told me to try telephoning the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, who kindly returned my call. After some pleasantries, I told him how flattered I was that he returned my call and that he had punctured my belief that very top government officials are not sensitive or accessible to the “common people” and hardly want to hear directly from them. I thanked him for his humble and courteous disposition and for patiently listening to my story about the hostile development between the Fulani and the Jukun Kona. I stressed that I did not want lives lost or property destroyed on either side. He asked me to put the information in writing, I had it ready around 12.50am of June 17 and emailed it to him. He acknowledged receipt not long after. The next day I got a call from the Secretary to the Federal Government explaining why he could not reply to my earlier call and text message. I recounted to him what I had told the Vice President about the situation in Kona, including the tone of conversation I had with both the Police Commissioner in Taraba State and his Deputy. I requested for the telephone contact of Mr. President since as our political father I should be able to have access to him to convey the cries or the agony of the people. but I am yet to get that favour granted!
When on June 15, I spoke to the Governor of Taraba State and enquired about what was happening, his big concern was that even though he is the chief security officer of the State, his orders are not sometimes complied with as security agents would prefer to take orders directly from Abuja. I also called the Governor of Plateau State, His Excellency, Barr. Simon Lalong, and shared my experience and frustrations and asked if he could facilitate my getting the contacts of Mr. President or the Inspector General of Police. All the people I contacted did help in one way or the other.
After the brutal attack on Janabanibu, the 14th village attacked that left nine people dead on the 17th of June, a more pronounced security presence and action was felt in the area of Kona land. The attempted attack on Kofai on 16th June provoked the youths who felt that they had been neglected. They set up road blocks and out of anger and frustration tried to antagonize the soldiers. They claimed that they were shot at and arrested for rising in defence of their community against the marauding herdsmen. Kona women in their hundreds went on a peaceful demonstration to protest the killings and the harassment and detention of the Kona youths by the security agents while the real aggressors (gunmen) had vanished after their deadly attacks. I spoke with the GOC in Jos who appealed that the youths should cooperate with the soldiers and that any act of indiscipline committed by any soldier should be reported to him. I gave him the telephone number of my brother, Mr. Fidelis, and they had meaningful and fruitful discussions. The GOC even invited me to preside at the prayer event marking the “Army Day” in Rukuba Barracks, Jos on the 30th of June, to pray with/for and encourage the soldiers. Owing to a pre scheduled programme in Abuja, I asked if my Vicar General, Rev. Msgr. Prof. Cletus Gotan could stand in for me and the GOC agreed. The GOC informed me later that the event was very successful.
I believe that my asking the Vice President to intervene led to the pronouncement by President Buhari on the 20th of June that Kona land and its people should be protected. Through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President condemned the attacks on the Kona people and warned that attacks on innocent people, in the name of revenge, or whatever motives, would not be tolerated by government. By God’s grace, there was some measure of peace. On June 22nd, I had a 26 minute phone conversation with the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Muhammed, who said the Vice President spoke to him about the crisis in Kona land and that Governor Simon Lalong gave him my telephone number. We had a cordial conversation and he promised to look into the issues raised. It was however surprising that since the crisis started in May it was only after the Vice President spoke to him that the Taraba State Commissioner of Police who was in Abuja for another meeting could adequately brief him about the situation. The Inspector General of Police said he asked the Police Commissioner to return to Jalingo and ensure that peace was restored.
Somehow, the directive to the CP of Taraba State from the Inspector General of Police has helped. Some army personnel are very helpful too. Only guerilla attacks now take place as farmers who attempt farming their farmlands are killed. Three persons were killed the morning of my visit of 10th July. After visiting the ten army personnel posted to Kona and the four policemen stationed in Kona, I telephoned the GOC in Jos who was so grateful that I could visit to pray with the soldiers posted to Kona. I rang up the Inspector General of Police and he immediately asked the Taraba State Commissiomer of Police to contact me and he did. We had a very cordial conversation this time around. I informed him about how there are only four policemen in Kona with no office or accommodation and only with two riffles, while the six posted to Nukkai don’t even have riffles! The CP shared some of his challenges with me and we discussed for over thirty minutes. I encouraged him to get a standard police station in Kona. He also said he was seeking for collaboration to hold a peace conference in Jalingo.
The big question is: After the return of peace, what next? The people are displaced, no homes to return to, no farming activity possible, etc. Again, there is the anxious fear that the attacks could erupt again. With only four policemen in Kona with two rifles and six in Nukkai with no rifles, more should be done to secure Kona land and the various communities affected by the crisis.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNT
It is retrogressive to resort to conflicts which end up in the loss of lives and property. We should all say a categorical “no” to violence.
Both farmers and herdsmen contribute to the economic survival of our nation by the produce of their labour. They should be able to coexist peacefully, but the government must make deliberate efforts to integrate farmers and herdsmen peacefully, through dedicating substantial resources to improve agricultural and pastoral methods in Nigeria.
I commend the Vice President who LISTENED to me with respect and understanding. I appreciate the GOC of the 3rd Armoured Division who was very courteous and polite as well as the Inspector General of Police who spent so much time to listen to the issues I raised. These should be the virtues of security or political officials. Our leaders should be accessible to the so-called “ordinary people”.
I am further very impressed that after I visited Kona, Jalingo and environs, I communicated with the Vice President to ask for an appointment. This he kindly granted to me at 3.00 pm on Monday, 15th July, 2019 in his office, during which we reviewed not only what was affecting Kona land but the threatening security situation in different parts of the country. That the Vice President could find the time to allow me meet him one on one is a pointer that good governance could improve considerably if major stakeholders have the opportunity to reach out to the authorities to share information with them outside of the formal structures they have and also for the stakeholders to get information about what is being done by government that the citizens may not know about. I discussed the need to review security presence in Kona which is the headquarters of Kona land and to ensure that police posts are established and well equipped in some strategic surrounding villages; the need to resettle the displaced and to guarantee their means of survival and safety and also the need to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to reconcile the Fulani and the Jukun Kona people for peaceful coexistence.
Basic interpersonal relationship skills are required of those in high offices and more so, those in sensitive security positions. It becomes obvious in some cases that security officers become prejudiced about what happened during a crisis. It is important that various stakeholders should cross fertilize ideas during crises situations whether one is in uniform with guns and the other is in (cassock) clerical garb.
I commend the President, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, for speaking out in favour of protecting the endangered people of Kona land. Minority tribes need protection not extermination. I pray that Mr. President will ensure that both Fulani and Kona people are safe and treated equally and hopefully, he will have the same commitment to resolve the differences between herdsmen and farmers raging in different parts of Nigeria.
Our leaders should find time to hear directly from the grassroots outside of the official government structure which most times hinder the poor and powerless from stating their case or getting a sympathetic hearing from the authorities. If security agents know that the local people can supply information to the top echelons of political or security authorities, they (security personnel) will be more humble in their service and more compassionate to the people that they are meant to protect.
Many people believe that the crisis has something to do with political differences or that it is a reaction to the creation of a second class chiefdom for Kona land, a very new development since the Fulani 1892 attack on Kona. Both the Federal and State Government should objectively dig into the historical root causes of Fulani/Kona crisis in the Jalingo area. It should be clearly and objectively established how and when the Fulani came to dominate Jalingo after attacking and destroying the Kona fortress in 1892 with the help of one French Navy Lt. Louis Mizon, who wanted to expand the influence of France in the region of the Benue river as part of a wider scheme by the French Colonial Department to gain France more influence in West Central Africa. This happened during the reign of the Emir of Muri, Muhammadu Nya.
The Fulani Emir of Jalingo should know that after about 127 years of Fulani domination, the people of Kona in demanding their autonomy are not asking for too much and by peacefully claiming the just award of a second class chiefdom after several decades, they are not doing anything wrong.
Biased and prejudiced official security reports heighten tension when they blame the victims instead of the aggressors because of the Nigerian“factor” of tribal or religious affiliation. This sadly keeps the fire of the crisis raging. Generally, it is when the militant herdsmen vanish after their deadly attacks that the poor villagers try to react to protect or defend themselves. They often end up being the ones apprehended and detained and tortured as in the case of the Kona youths.
Government must realize that due to the insecure environment, people are resorting to providing themselves with means of self defence, some of which are often more sophisticated than those of the security agents.
Security agents must be helped by the authority concerned with adequate security logistics and improved incentives. The reaction of security agents must be prompt and devoid of what has sadly polarized Nigerians at all levels: religious and ethnic prejudices. In times of crises, security agents must be well empowered but their actions must be impartial and professional devoid of the activities of fifth columnists among them who may sabotage sincere security efforts to bring order and peace.
There should be appropriate communication facilities set up in the grassroots to enable the common people send distress calls to security agents in the face of violent attacks or conflicts.
There should be a deliberate strategy by political and security authorities to protect minority groups in Nigeria.
May God answer our prayers and pour in abundance His peace upon us all in Nigeria, so that the much desired development and progress will become our middle name instead of destruction and killings.
In Nigeria, biased and prejudiced official security reports is a major problem that heightens tension as victims end up being blamed instead of the aggressors, because of the Nigerian “factor” of tribal or religious affiliation. A typical example has been a situation where militant herdsmen vanish after their deadly attacks and the poor villagers try to react to protect or defend themselves. They often end up being the ones apprehended, detained and tortured by the security forces. This was the case with the “kona” youths.
The Co-adjutor Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Jos Nigeria, Msgr Ignatius Ayau Kaigama made this known in a message released and made available to Aid to the Church in Need regarding the conflict which started on the 6th of May, 2019 as a clash between a Fulani herdsman and Jukun Kona Farmer at Yawai Abbare in Jalingo Local Government of Taraba State, Nigeria and lasted for more than a month, degenerating so badly that at the end of it, 18 villages were attacked and burned down, 65 persons were killed and 9000 displaced, 15 Churches, two primary schools and a health care centre were also destroyed.
The Co-adjutor Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Jos Nigeria, Msgr Ignatius Ayau Kaigama.
“It beats my imagination that in Nigeria when there is a misunderstanding, people tend to vent their anger and frustration on places of religious identity and worship, trying to give what is a social conflict a religious coloration. This is reprehensible. It is surprising too that those who claim to be “believers” would destroy places of worship and even take lives without the slightest compunction.”, he said. “As usual, what actually triggered the crisis will remain at the level of conjectures. The Fulani and the Kona are each telling their story in a manner that favours their ethnic group. This explains why, too often when a security authority adopts a particular narrative without factual, analytical and objective consideration of the stories peddled around, and comparing very well the narratives of the parties concerned, a distorted report could be made to the “oga at the top” or for the consumption of the public. In such cases the aggressor could easily become the victim while the victim becomes the aggressor!”, he remarked.
“Three persons were killed the morning of my visit of 10th July.”
He explained that the reaction of security agents should have been prompt and devoid of what has sadly polarized Nigerians at all levels: religious and ethnic prejudices, but this was not the case. According to him, the violence went on unchecked for a protracted period and the attempted attack on Kofai on 16th June provoked the Kona youths who felt that they had been neglected. They set up road blocks and out of anger and frustration tried to antagonize the soldiers. They claimed that they were shot at and arrested for rising in defence of their community against the marauding herdsmen. Kona women in their hundreds went on a peaceful demonstration to protest the killings and the harassment and detention of the Kona youths by the security agents while the real aggressors (gunmen) had vanished after their deadly attacks.
Msgr Kaigama explained that when he heard about the helplessness of the people, he was impelled to contact security personnel and top government officials for their intervention. He however expressed disappointment at the negative response he received from some of them. “Of all the people I telephoned, it was the not so polite response, reaction and attitude of the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Taraba State in charge of operations that surprised me the most. In my nineteen years as the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, I have had a good working relationship with all the Police Commissioners, GOCs, SSS Directors, Civil Defence Commandants, Commanders of Operation Safe Havens posted to Plateau State, to the point that not too long ago after successfully working together to avert what would have been a great crisis and bloodshed in Jos, I invited them to my residence where we shared ideas, because of their commendable cooperation with the Church. Each time there was a new senior security officer in Jos they visited my office or we met at dialogue fora, such as the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre which I founded in Jos in 2011.”
“18 villages were attacked and burned down, 65 persons were killed and 9000 displaced, 15 Churches, two primary schools and a health care centre were also destroyed.”
“It becomes obvious in some cases that security officers become prejudiced about what happened during a crisis”, he said. He further commended the response of the Vice President of the Country, Professor Yemi Osinbajo who listened to him and promised to act. “I believe that my asking the Vice President to intervene led to the pronouncement by President Buhari on the 20th of June that Kona land and its people should be protected. Through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President condemned the attacks on the Kona people and warned that attacks on innocent people, in the name of revenge, or whatever motives, would not be tolerated by government. By God’s grace, there was some measure of peace.”, he said. Only guerilla attacks now take place as farmers who attempt farming their farmlands are killed”, he continued, “Three persons were killed the morning of my visit of 10th July.”
According to the Archbishop, the big question is: After the return of peace, what next? The people are displaced, no homes to return to, no farming activity possible, etc. Again, there is the anxious fear that the attacks could erupt again. The Archbishop recalled that this Fulani/Kona crisis seems to be a replication of the event of the 1890s between the Jukun Kona people and the Fulani in Jalingo. This he said, has unfortunately escalated and worsened the relationship between these two tribes. Something must therefore be done urgently and fairly to bridge the gap and heal the historical wounds. Genuine justice and reconciliation must be pursued and there is need to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to get to the root of this matter, he suggested.
Nigeria is booming. According to a report released by the United Nations, the population of the largest economy in Africa has doubled over the last 30 years to almost 200 million people, making it the seventh most populous country in the world. “A population that experiences a great deal of suffering,” reported Sister Jacinta Nwaohiri during a visit to the headquarters of ACN International. The Dominican sister lives in the diocese of Sokoto in Gusau, the capital city of Zamfara, a state in northern Nigeria. When the country is considered as a whole, Christians and Muslims are about equal in number. However, as Sister Jacinta pointed out, since most of the Christians live in the south, they do not even make up five per cent of the population in the north.
Nigeria: “The people’s suffering continues”.
Life is particularly difficult for the people there because “in northern Nigeria, the terrorist group Boko Haram is systematically persecuting and murdering those Christians who refuse to comply with their demands to impose Sharia throughout Nigeria and to reject any Western influence on education,” Jacinta Nwaohiri commented on the situation. She knows what she is talking about because she has personally experienced it: one morning, Boko Haram also attacked her villages, shooting everything to pieces and burning everything down. The fear of the Christian population is growing, because they are also regularly being threatened by the mainly Muslim nomads from the tribe of the Fulani, who are carrying out brutal raids throughout the country. “The attacks are growing again in number and bring immeasurable suffering with them,” she deplored.
In her convent in Gusau, which currently has 17 sisters, Jacinta Nwaohiri is mainly responsible for educating the people and supporting poor farmers looking for work in the fight against starvation, one of the major challenges the country currently faces. In her opinion, “helping people help themselves” is crucial in all areas. She also talked about another major problem: the tradition of marrying young girls off to older men at a very early age; the girls are often only twelve years old. “We have to make sure that they receive an education. That is the only way to give them independence and the ability to make decisions for themselves,” Sister Jacinta said.
The population of the largest economy in Africa has doubled over the last 30 years to almost 200 million people.
The religious sister hopes that the government will finally succeed in reducing the violence in the country so that the displaced persons can return to their villages and houses. She is very grateful for the support from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which has already done a great deal of good in the country. In the last few years, for example, ACN has supported the formation of eleven Dominican novices and provided some of the funding for the building of a facility for the sisters.
“In spite of the country’s many problems and widespread suffering, the Nigerians are full of life and high spirits,” Sister Jacinta said. “Regular church attendance, our strong faith and trust in God give us strength and the will to survive every day.”
The turmoil continues in Nigeria. Reports of the defeat of the terrorist group “Boko Haram” contradict what the priest John Bakeni experiences every day. The priest is responsible for coordinating aid for survivors of terrorist attacks and displaced persons in his native diocese of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria. The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been working closely together with him for many years.
While the threat of terrorist attacks is omnipresent in the north, in Central Nigeria, attacks on Christian farmers by the predominantly Muslim nomads from the tribe of the Fulani are becoming ever more frequent. According to the project partners of ACN, anti-religious sentiments can also be found behind disputes over land.
Roman Kris from the youth magazine “f1rstlife” talked with John Bakeni about the current situation.
Nigeria, March 2017 Father John Bakeni explains the happenings of 2009 at the mosque in the capital of Borno State (Maiduguri) that served as a sect headquarters is burnt down.
Roman Kris: Father John, Boko Haram is considered one of the most dangerous Islamist terrorist groups in the world. Recently, attacks on Christian farmers by Fulani shepherds have been occurring more frequently. What is the current situation?
Unfortunately, not much has changed. A large number of villages are still under attack. Even as we speak, people are being killed and their property destroyed. The fact that the people in rural areas are no longer able to cultivate their fields is deeply concerning. They are afraid of being kidnapped or killed. The state of safety in the nation is becoming ever more precarious.
Which dangers and challenges do you personally face?
The persecution of the Christian minority has been a problem in northern Nigeria for a long time. It ranges from political exclusion and the refusal to approve properties for the building of churches to the kidnapping and forced marriage of young girls as an act of calculated violence. The attacks on Christians are growing more flagrant and more aggressive. The ongoing conflict with Boko Haram and the attacks by predominantly Islamist Fulani shepherds have instilled a feeling of great uncertainty and fear in us Nigerians. We consider each day we live in safety a blessing, because we do not know what will happen the next day. It is very difficult to be a Christian in this part of the world, but our faith encourages us to bravely bear witness to the Gospel.
Nigeria, March 2017 – Visit to Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) IDP Camp.
Today, the persecution of Christians is growing worse in many places. How do the state and civil society deal with the terrorism in Nigeria? Which kinds of aid, measures and strategies are or should be in place?
Christianity is experiencing difficult times all over the world. It is sad that countries that were once trailblazers and were developed on a foundation of Christian values are turning away from the faith. In Nigeria, the state is not putting forth much effort when it comes to the protection and safety of the lives and property of Christians. We citizens, no matter whether we are Christians or Muslims, expect the state to protect us and ensure our safety. This is the only way that people can go about their business without fear or reservations.
How does the Church in Nigeria help the people who are suffering from terrorism and where does it get the support it needs to do this?
In my diocese of Maiduguri, we receive a great deal of solidarity from other dioceses in Nigeria. But the greatest support comes from other countries, in particular from ACN and other organisations. Moreover, several dioceses in the US have helped us by allowing us to personally bear witness in their parishes. Countries such as Hungary have also sent us aid.
These are the widows of Boko Haram victims helped by the Diocese of Maiduguri.
How would you describe the relationship between Islamism and Islam? Can and is it necessary for the peaceful majority of Muslims to become more active?
Islamism is a distortion of Islam. The silence of the Islamic majority is disturbing. The people should confront Islamism and denounce it.
What can we do here in Europe to help the hard-pressed and suffering Christians in Nigeria?
First and foremost, pray for us. Secondly, support us financially and make resources available to us so that Christians can continue to keep the faith even in difficult situations. Thirdly, the European governments need to convince our government to strengthen the democratic institutions that promote the rule of law, religious freedom and the freedom of assembly for all.
Nigeria is one of the focal countries for Aid to the Church in Need on the African continent. The pontifical foundation funds a variety of projects, including support for destitute families who have lost family members during terrorist attacks and the rebuilding of church facilities that have been destroyed.
Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.
“I invite you all, together with ACN, to do everywhere in the world, a work of mercy.”