FATHER JOHN BAKENI is in charge of coordinating aid for survivors of terrorist attacks and internally displaced people in the Diocese of Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram. Despite reports on the group’s defeat, Christians in north-western Nigeria continue to suffer attacks by Boko Haram. Plus, in the last 18 months the number of Christian farmers killed by largely Muslim Fulani herdsmen in the country’s Middle Belt has sharply increased. The conflict, ostensibly over land, has taken on ominous religious overtones. Aid to the Church in Need recently spoke with Father Bakeni:
Boko Haram is considered one of the most dangerous Islamist terrorist groups in the world. Plus, attacks on Christian farmers by Fulani herdsmen 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. Security in the nation is becoming ever more precarious.
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 the purchase of land for the building of churches, to the kidnapping and forced marriage of young girls as acts of calculated violence. The attacks on Christians are growing more flagrant and more aggressive. The ongoing violence perpetrated by Boko Haram and the attacks by predominantly Islamic Fulani shepherds have instilled a feeling of great uncertainty and fear in us Nigerians. The government is not putting forth much effort when it comes to the protection and safety of the lives and property of Christians.
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.
How would you describe the relationship between Islamism and Islam?
Islamism is a distortion of Islam. The silence of Nigeria’s Muslims is disturbing. They should confront Islamism and denounce it.
What can governments and faithful in the West do to help?
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, Western governments must prevail on our government to strengthen democratic institutions that promote the rule of law, religious freedom and the freedom of assembly for all.
Nigeria is a priority country for Aid to the Church in Need. The organization 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.