Nigeria, in grip of Islamist violence and banditry, is ‘at war’

DURING THE FUNERAL MASS earlier this month for Father Alphonsus Bello Yashim, a Catholic priest murdered in Malfunashi, Archbishop Matthew Man-Oso Ndagoso of Kaduna, said in his homily: “Our country is at war because of religious fanatics, bandits, kidnappers, terrorists, armed herders and opportunists who are criminals in the true sense of the word. They kill and maim innocent Nigerians regardless of their religion, ethnicity or political orientation.”

The 33-year-old priest belonged to the Archdiocese of Kaduna but worked in the Diocese of Sokoto, where he was murdered May 21 during a night attack. Pastor emeritus Father Joseph Keke (75), kidnapped during the attack, was released June 3.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto was even harsher in his sermon during Father Bello’s wake. Nowhere in the world are so many innocent people “killed in public without consequences,” he said. Bishop Kukah described the government’s response to the Nigerian people with these words: “Citizens are alone. Keeping your safety is not our priority. Foreign bandits or other criminals can come at will, kill you, loot you, rape you, kidnap you and murder you.”

Father Joseph Keke’s abduction and Father Bello’s murder were the latest instances in a series of attacks to which the entire population of northern Nigeria is exposed. Kaduna is one of the hotbeds of violence. Christian residents are terrified and the work of the Church is seriously affected.

Funeral of Michael Nnadi

The Kaduna seminary, which was attacked in the past and saw three of its students abducted and a fourth seminarian, Michael Nnadi, murdered in 2020, decided to send the seminarians home because the situation is highly uncertain. “We had to close the seminar in a hurry. The reason: kidnappers recently seized 24 students from a university that is very close to the seminary. Five of them were killed. We want to avoid a repeat of what happened to us in 2020!” said Father Habila Daboh, rector of the seminary, speaking with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Sadly, violence is not spreading only in northern Nigeria. The whole country is under red alert, and attacks are happening on a daily basis, not only perpetrated by Islamists from the Boko Haram terrorist group and other jihadist groups, but also by criminal gangs. These gangs kidnap people for extortion and are responsible for looting, rape, and cattle rustling.

The situation is also tragic in Benue and Taraba states. Land disputes pit members of the Tiv ethnic group, mostly Christian farmers, against mostly Muslim Fulani herders who want to use the land as pasture for their livestock. In 2018, the Benue State government passed a law against nomadic open-air grazing, promoting a system of stable livestock farming. This law angered the Fulani, who have since killed hundreds of people across the state.

Father Kuha Indyer, a missionary of the congregation of the Holy Spirit and ACN project partner, reports that “Fulani herders are massacring Tiv people, killing them with their knives and with modern weapons like AK47s.” Two weeks ago, 36 people were killed in Benue. “One of my relatives was also among the victims. They came out of nowhere one morning and murdered everyone in a matter of minutes,” he said. Father Indyer also reported that in the Diocese of Katsina-Ala “several schools and parishes were closed due to the activities of criminal gangs.”

Another priest from a nearby parish described the terrible situation they are going through: “People who fled Taraba State were just unloaded, dumped on a street near a market and left without shelter or food. Some even had to leave their children to run for their own lives.”

Several project partners complain about the inadequacy and passivity of political leaders at the local and national levels. “Often, community leaders call local politicians but are not listened to, and their questions are often ignored,” Father Indyer noted. “The outlook is scary, but we continue to stay with our people to give them hope. We continue to pray to God for peace.”

Bishop Matthew Kukah speaks of a growing political radicalization whose goal is to impose Sharia on Nigeria. “It is clear why they kill our people and where their inspiration comes from. We hear about and experience stories of complicity at the highest level.” This sinister situation began when, the bishop charges “some of our politicians decided to use democracy to install theocracy.”

—Maria Lozano