“ACN can mobilize their world net-work of friends, benefactors and supporters to commit Nigeria to special prayers at this critical time of elections.”
Nigerians will be going to the polls on 16th February and 2nd March 2019 to elect a President, Federal Parliament and other representatives. Parts of the Country have continued to experience violence from the Muslim extremist groups such as Boko Haram.
Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Mgr Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, Catholic Archbishop of Jos regarding the current situation, the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria and his hopes for the country.
As the Country’s General Elections approach next weekend, what is the situation across the Country?
Mgr Kaigama: Like every pre-election period everywhere in the world, political emotions here are high. Many politicians and their allies are politically paranoid. One hears of how easily some politicians switch from one political party to another which shows that their reason for being in politics is not motivated by good political principles or ideology or people-friendly political manifestos, but mainly for personal interests. Most of them are hardly concerned about good governance and improving the lot of the common person, especially the poor, marginalized, unemployed, victims of religious extremism and the millions who are also victims of the poisonous by-products of pandemic corruption.
Compared to previous pre-election campaigns, the present campaigns even though have recorded some casualties are fairly moderate, but what stands out is the sometimes wild and unsubstantiated statements made by some politicians that could be regarded as hate speeches or incitements to violence.
While a few political rallies have already recorded a few accidental deaths and the disruption of peace, we must commend the campaigns of most of the parties that have carried out their activities peacefully. There is however a general tension and apprehension as to what may be the likely reactions of those who already feel that there might be manipulations of the elections.
Mgr.Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop from Jos (Nigeria) and President of Conference Episcopal from Nigeria.
Attacks by Boko Haram have intensified lately. Do you think this is connected to the elections?
Mgr Kaigama: Even before now, Boko Haram has intensified its attacks by killing a number of military personnel. The insurgents have become so daring as to take on armed personnel and to inflict heavy casualties on them and not even sparing International Aid workers. They boldly warn the international community to stay off their track. They are doing their best to take over certain parts of Nigeria and neighbouring countries to consolidate their quest for the Islamic State of West Africa.
Attacks by Boko Haram have surprisingly intensified in the last couple of days in areas like Michika, Shuwa, Madagali, Mubi, – in Borno and Adamawa States. Some people say that the renewed attacks are politically motivated or sponsored to score political points or may be an attempt to disenfranchise some of the electorate during the elections. It is clear however that Boko Haram wants to make a statement that it has not been defeated. The threat by Boko Haram is still real. They are far from being defeated.
Do you have any concerns?
Mgr Kaigama: I should be concerned. When peace is disrupted, Catholic religious leaders like me suffer more than those elected into government because people flock to our houses and offices knowing that there are no gun-wielding police or soldiers to scare them off or police dogs to sniff and bark at them when they come to ask for help for the basic things of life. We have to manage to assist those who are displaced and without means of livelihood. Because of how overstressed and overwhelmed we religious leaders become when there are crises, we pray and work very hard to proactively promote the culture of peace and we are making concerted efforts to ensure that we have free and fair elections which will culminate in peace for all.
If the elections are marred by violence many innocent Nigerians will pay the prize. I hope for fair, peaceful and credible elections; for good, patriotic, selfless and God-fearing leaders to emerge, who will be more concerned about the masses rather than their personal ambition and luxury of office. Well-formed and qualified youths are on the streets in huge numbers without jobs. We hope that those aspiring to offices at all levels will consider the plight of the youth as a priority.
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama is witnessing the signing of the document called “Plateau Peace Commitment in view of the 2019 general elections”. It was signed by the governourship Candidates in Plateau States and witnessed by traditional/religious heads, civil society groups, senior security personnel and various community stakeholders.
What role is the Church playing to contribute to the proper conduct of elections?
Mgr Kaigama: As the Catholic Church in Nigeria does during every election, our Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) is proactive and highly sensitive to the need for peaceful and fair elections. The JDPC has served creditably as election monitors/observers in the past, pointing out flaws, weaknesses and strengths witnessed. A statement has recently been issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria encouraging prayers, proper conduct of elections and correct attitudinal approach by citizens to the elections.
The Church in the Archdiocese of Jos has been frantically multi-tasking as a way of contributing to the peaceful elections. We have cautioned our members to be law abiding, to go on peacefully and not to allow themselves to be used by selfish politicians. They must ensure that they possess their voters’ card and go out to vote. As priests, we encourage our people to be prayerful and alert during this season; we caution ourselves the clergy to remain non-partisan. Our Justice, Peace and Development Commission has in the past two years been running projects in target communities for peaceful elections. They have taught different communities what to ask for by training them on the ‘Charter of Demands’ when the politicians come looking for their votes. Our JDPC has organized trainings on peace-building and Alternatives to Violence Programmes (PB/AVP) in schools and communities. As part of the activities leading to the elections, our Dialogue Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre recently organized a peace accord signing ceremony for all the governorship candidates in Plateau State, which was witnessed by traditional/religious heads, civil society groups, senior security personnel and various community stakeholders. Also, going into the elections, as a Church our JDPC is officially accredited as election observers. We are equally prepared to intervene and manage post-election violence should it occur. We pray it doesn’t.
What are your hopes for Nigeria?
Mgr Kaigama: I am a strong optimist. I believe strongly that the best for Nigeria lies somewhere close by. I am deeply patriotic about my country Nigeria. There are so many negative things said about Nigeria but I believe that Nigeria with all her defects and imperfections will surprise the world one day, leaving those who ridicule and write her off spell-bound and flabbergasted. Nigerians are a peaceful, joyful, hardworking, religious and resilient people who are only unfortunate not to have selfless leaders with vision but leaders who take joy in pilfering the enormous wealth God has blessed us with. This, they do with the collaboration of some foreign countries, companies, organizations and individuals.
Many like me believe that Nigeria will survive as one nation and one people. The time is coming nearer when a moral revolution by the youths, transcending tribe and religion will bring into leadership only serious persons who are prepared to suffer and even lay down their lives for Nigeria and Nigerians rather than asking the poor people to die for them (political leaders). Those who manipulate elections, buy votes, use government structures to win elections, announce losers as winners and winners as losers will sooner than later have nowhere to hide.
Mgr. Ignatius Kaigama celebrates Mass at the brazilian ACN office.
How can ACN and her benefactors help Nigeria at this time?
Mgr Kaigama: ACN can mobilize their world net-work of friends, benefactors and supporters to commit Nigeria to special prayers at this critical time of elections. We need support our various peace-building, awareness raising initiatives and various proactive programmes of peace education organized before, during and after elections. Furthermore support for training/empowerment programmes for our youth, teenage girls and widows is needed, to give them hope and to keep them out of trouble.
Above all, let us be in communion of prayers for peaceful elections and general stability, hoping that by God’s grace the forthcoming elections will produce visionary leaders who will lift this promising country from grass to grace.
The mother of Leah Sharibu, the Nigerian girl held by Boko Haram for ten months now, asks the world community “do not get tired of praying for her, until she comes back.”
Leah, 15 years old, was kidnapped along with 110 other students when Boko Haram stormed on February 19, 2018 in a boarding school in the city of Dapchi, in the diocese of Maiduguri in north-eastern Nigeria. A month later, some of the girls died in captivity and all the others were released, except Leah.
Leah Sharibu is a 15-year old Nigerian girl. She was abducted when Boko Haram stormed a boarding school in the town of Dapchi, Diocese of Maiduguri in north-eastern Nigeria on 19th February 2018.
Those who were released declared that Leah was the only Christian of the group and the terrorists had forced her to convert to Islam, but she had refused.
Leah’s mother, Rebekah, has asked for continued prayers for Leah: “I know that all over the world believers are praying and advocating for the release of my daughter, but until now I haven’t seen my Leah. I want to plead that Christians: do not get tired of praying for her till she returns”.
Her refusal to apostatize from her faith in Christ has made an impact on her father Nathan who said: “My daughter’s trust and faith has made me realize that I have been living under the same roof with an admirable disciple of Christ, I am highly encouraged by her strong faith in the Lord and her refusal to renounce Christ even before death at the hands of Boko Haram”.
In October, the terrorist group released a video threatening to keep Leah as a “slave for life”.
Bishop Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos, has also added his voice to the request of Leah’s mother during his visit to Malta for the launch of the Report on Religious Freedom in November.
The prelate made a strong call to prayer for all the people in the hands of the terrorists: “I invite all of you to pray for Leah and for all those who are captive for refusing to renounce the faith. She chose to remain a Christian even in the face of the possibility of death. Leah stands out for her courage in preserving her Christian faith and identity. We have to pray for all the people held, traumatized and in great danger in the hands of the terrorists. ”
It is estimated that more than 2,000 women, girls and young men remain in Boko Haram captivity. Captives are forced to convert, married off to militants and those who refuse, suffer extreme violence.
Christians in northern Nigeria, in addition to suffering attacks by the terrorist Boko Haram group, are also facing a terrible situation as a result of the bloody attacks by Fulani herders against Christian villages in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt.
Bishop William Amove Avenya of the diocese of Gboko
“This is a time bomb that threatens to ignite the whole region”, says Bishop William Amove Avenya of the diocese of Gboko. He was speaking to representatives of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). He described how in his diocese, located in Nigeria’s majority Christian Benue State, “Fulani tribesman, armed to the teeth, are murdering pregnant women and children and destroying our smallholdings”. Ever since 2010 the Christian villages have been the target of violent attacks by the nomadic, Muslim Fulani herdsman from the Sahel region, who have been armed with a wealth of modern weaponry. The result has been thousands killed and numerous communities forced to flee. “The Fulani have claimed far more victims during 2018 than Boko Haram, but no one is doing anything about it”, the bishop explained.
According to Bishop Avenya, the Nigerian authorities are simply not taking the necessary measures to address the violence. He denounced the silence of the government and of the media. During his visit to Europe to attend the official launch of ACN’s Report on Religious Freedom in the World, the bishop met with EU politicians from Brussels who likewise “seemed poorly informed about the situation in our country and about the threat posed by the Fulani, who have been supplied with modern weapons of a kind not used by simple herdsmen. We need to ask who is behind this.”
In June 2018, Bishop Avenya had issued a desperate appeal to the international community, urging it “not to wait for a genocide to happen before intervening”. Additionally, on numerous occasions, the Nigerian bishops’ conference has called on the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to provide effective guarantees for the safety of his people or, if he is unable to do so, to resign. Their petition has been ignored and the violence continues. Meanwhile, Muhammadu Buhari plans to stand once again for president in the new elections to be held in February.
“Meanwhile, the Church continues to try and heal the wounds”, Bishop Avenya added. “We have not lost hope, but we do need help.”
The city of Jos in Northern Nigeria has suffered severely from many long years of inter-religious violence at the hands of the terrorist group Boko Haram and just now when it seems to be recovering like the phoenix from the ashes, the incessant Fulani herdsmen attacks that have already affected many other areas in the Country, are putting an end to these hopes.
At the end of September, another fresh cycle of violence was triggered off by a night attack of the herdsmen on Rukuba Road in Jos. Two days earlier, both the military and Fulani herdsmen had come to the area, claiming to search for the corpse of a missing Fulani boy. The outbreak left rendering so many people orphans, widows and helpless. One such person is Blessing Kogi, a 23 year old University student who lives in Jos with her family. In an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), she explained how she in one night lost her mother, three siblings and six other family members to a tragic attack by the Fulani men.
“In the evening on the September 27 at around 7:00 pm, we were all in the house having dinner, my grandmother, my mother, three of my siblings, my sister-in-law, nephew and three of my cousins. We were eating when unknown gunmen suddenly burst in and opened fire.”
Parishioners of St. Francis Parish Fwapwa at the Mass in honour of those killed in the Fulani attacks.
“So, I fell on the floor and played dead, but one of them still came to where I was lying down and shot me twice – in my neck and shoulder.”
“The men who were speaking to each other in the Hausa and Fulani languages, continued their killing spree in my neighbourhood. In total, 15 people were killed in my area: 10 in my house, three in another and two elsewhere. Five people sustained injuries, including three children in another house, and the two of us (i.e. Blessing and her cousin).”
Blessing’s father survived only because he was at work when the terrible attack occurred.
Just like many other victims of such gratuitous violence, Blessing is broken and traumatised. She says, “I feel I don’t have anything left to live for in my life again. My father has not been eating. He cannot even talk. We don’t know what to do and how to start either”
“This situation has really affected my faith as a Christian. Immediately after all this happened, I said many things without even knowing why, like I doubted whether Christ was really there, but I later realized that God is alive and He knows everything and so I leave everything in His hands. Now, I find strength in praying and singing praises to God”, she said.
She makes a passionate appeal to Christians all over the world, “I really need Christians all over the world to help us with their prayers because we are not finding things easy. Pray for us that we will be stronger in Christ, and He will give us the strength of heart to bear this loss.”
“I really need Christians all over the world to help us with their prayers because we are not finding things easy. Pray for us that we will be stronger in Christ, and He will give us the strength of heart to bear this loss.”
The Fulani herdsmen, also known as the Fulani militia, are a nomadic, pastoralist ethnic group living in the North and central regions of Nigeria, predominately in the Middle Belt. The majority of the Fulani herdsmen are Muslim. They have been clashing with indigenous tribes and locals, mainly Christian farmers, over grazing land for years.
Commenting on the Fulani herdsmen attacks in many parts of the country, especially in his Archdiocese of Jos, Most. Rev Ignatius Kaigama said, “once again, in Jos, innocent lives have been lost, properties destroyed, healing wounds re-opened, psychological trauma caused, inter-ethnic and religious suspicion rekindled”.
“The people have been unable to go about their normal farming activities this year because of the fear of constant attacks. They certainly need help with food, medication, clothing and above all, to be able to return to their homes to start rebuilding without any further molestation by the merchants of evil”, he said.
The Archbishop, who has become the face of inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria, continued, “we shall not give up in our struggle for peaceful coexistence and civilized conduct. Everyone must do his/her part: Religious leaders must sincerely preach peace. Politicians – avoid operating negatively behind the scenes! Security agents – be fair, unbiased and neutral in your operations! Government leaders- care for citizens facing hostile attacks by terrorists/criminals. Youth – avoid irrationality and stop being used! Terrorists/criminals- stop injuring humanity! Life is sacred. Respect it!”