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.
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 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.”