THE NIGERIAN government has begun to regain control over areas that had been occupied by Islamist terror organization Boko Haram; yet, attacks on Christians and their communities continue to take place regularly, particularly in the northeastern part of the country.
Archbishop Matthew Man-Oso Ndagoso of Kaduna, last fall visited his former Diocese of Maiduguri, which was not long ago still the heart of Boko Haram territory. Just days after his visit, an attack left numerous dead and wounded. “Attacks such as these make our day-to-day lives very uncertain,” the archbishop told us.
Boko Haram may be diminished, but its reign of terror has left a deep wound. By official estimates, there are almost 1.8 million Internally Displaced People in Nigeria; that figure grew by at least 140,000 last year alone due to ongoing attacks, many of them perpetrated by suicide bombers who blow themselves up in marketplaces, and in churches or mosques.
The archbishop explained: “Terrorist groups pretend they would like to pray. They mingle among those gathered in places where one would normally not suspect bomb attacks—this spreads great confusion.” According to the prelate, among the greatest problems today are abductions and demands for ransom payments.
Aside from Boko Haram, other Islamic groups have in the meantime also become radicalized, including members of the Fulani, a nomadic, pastoral people. It has raised suspicion that they are outfitted with modern weapons, which suggest that “powerful forces with connections to terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda are behind groups such as these,” Archbishop Ndagoso said.
However, no matter how hard Christians are hit by the attacks, “they just grow stronger in their faith,” the archbishop stressed. Not only has the number of seminarians grown, there has been an increase in the overall Christian population has grown significantly. “Over the past four years, I have opened at least three new parishes each year,” reported the leader of the Church in Kaduna; and that is a remarkable development in light of the fact that Kaduna is in a Muslim-majority region, which in parts is ruled by sharia law.
The activities of Boko Haram were “a wake-up call” for the Christians in his See, Archbishop Ndagoso said. He gave the example of a church in the city of Kaduna that became the target of an attack in 2012, which killed several people and wounded more than 100. Three services a week were held in that church before the attack—today, Mass is held almost every day; the number of faithful has tripled since the attack. Our organization has helped rebuild a nearby pastoral center.
As regards the role of Christians in his country, Ndagoso emphasized: “We have to be as patient as God has been with all people for millennia; time and again we must take the initiative ourselves; we must take a stand for truth – because our God is a God of peace, not of violence.”
Government agencies have now allocated relief goods to the local Church for further distribution among displaced persons; that is testimony to transparency of the aid work carried out by Christians in the northeastern part of Nigeria.
In the past 10 years, our organization has committed more than $10M in aid for the Nigerian Church. In addition to rebuilding church buildings, we have set up a program for widows and orphans whose husbands and fathers were murdered by Boko Haram.
—Tobias Lehner & Karla Sponar