Archbishop appeals for urgent help to prevent Christian genocide in northwest Nigeria

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Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso of Kaduna, Nigeria. Antoine Mekary, Aleteia

Diane Montagna

KADUNA, NIGERIA, April 29, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Hundreds of Christians have been killed in recent months and entire Christian villages wiped out, as the international community stands by in silence, an archbishop at the heart of the persecution in northwest Nigeria has said in an urgent appeal for help.

Speaking with LifeSite by phone from his archdiocese in Kaduna on Friday, April 26, Archbishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso said that “Christians are being killed like chickens,” and time is running out. 

“Right now, as I am talking to you, the rainy season has come and villagers who provide food for us are afraid to go to their farms because they will be kidnapped, because they will be killed,” he said. “So I do actually fear that if nothing happens between now and the next two months when people are supposed to be planting and they don’t go to their farm, only God knows what will happen to us next year in terms of food security.”

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Archbishop Ndagoso said he believes the targeted attacks on Christian villages by Fulani extremists are not only religiously motivated but stem also from “injustice and impunity.” 

He explained that the Nigerian constitution safeguards freedom and equality of religion. But he said in the northwest states of Nigeria where Muslims number close to 98 percent of the population, Sharia law permeates the legal system, and illiteracy rates are high, Christians are “a very tiny minority who unfortunately in the eyes of some do not count.”

Archbishop Ndagoso is therefore appealing to the Trump administration and the entire international community to help the Nigerian government to ensure security for its people.

“I have always said: the first duty of every government anywhere in the world is to protect and safeguard the lives and property of their citizenry. But I can tell you right now in our country that is not the case, especially in the northwest. Citizens are being killed like chickens,” the archbishop repeated. 

The mainstream media has been largely silent about the intense persecution of Christians in northern Nigeria. Earlier this month, following a string of attacks, Nigerian born pro-life activist Obianuju Ekeocha tweeted out: 

Please can the international media cover the intense suffering and killing of Christians in my country? Please can celebrities have at least one vigil (like the one they had for those killed in the New Zealand mosque)? Don’t Christians deserve vigils too?https://t.co/JgbLlADjnv

— Obianuju Ekeocha (@obianuju) April 7, 2019

Archbishop Ndagoso appealed for urgent help for his people, saying: “Any person, any organization, any institution that has influence: let this influence be used for the common good. And right now, let that influence be used for the common good of Nigeria so that peace may reign in our country. This is my call.” 

Here below is our interview with His Excellency Matthew Ndagoso of the Archdiocese of Kaduna.

Your Excellency, can you tell us about the nature of the persecution in your region of Nigeria and why Christians are being targeted?

Nigeria is about the only country in the world where you have more or less an equal number of Christians and Muslims, of course along with followers of traditional religions. That said, there is a concentration of Christians in the southern part of the country, especially in the southeast. There is also a concentration of Muslims in the north, especially the northwest. 

Our ecclesiastical province of Kaduna is situated in the northwest. It has the highest concentration of Muslims; in fact, certain states within the region are almost 98 percent Muslim. Therefore, in these states, Christians are a very tiny minority who unfortunately in the eyes of some do not count. 

Even though our constitution provides freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and equality of everyone before the law, Christians in these northwest states where Muslims command the majority are not taken seriously. Their rights are not respected, because they are only tolerated, not treated as equals. 

It is always very difficult especially as it pertains to the acquisition of land for the building of churches. You will be surprised to know that in some of these states the last time a legal certificate of occupancy was given for the building of a church would have been during the Colonial era. Once the local government knows a certificate of occupancy is going to be given to a church, you won’t get it. They will tell you to go and follow the due process — the due process that doesn’t exist. And when you try to follow it, you won’t get it. So it makes it very, very difficult. 

I repeat, even though the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in these states the authorities don’t respect it. That is the kind of persecution that Christians, especially in the northwest of Nigeria, are undergoing. 

You don’t normally see people being killed — except by Boko Haram and the extremists – but there is a systemic persecution of Christians in these states. The political leaders do not have the political will to address the issues, to enforce the provisions of the constitution regarding the equality of religions and the equality of citizens before the law. 

So there is a systemic persecution of Christians arising from tension between the national constitution and local enforcement of those provisions. But haven’t there also been attacks on Christian villages by Boko Haram or the Fulani herdsman? 

Yes. Since last October there have been serious attacks in villages especially in my archdiocese of Kaduna. Hundreds and hundreds of villagers have been killed. 

It is an ethnic and cultural problem. The Fulani are animal herders and a lot of them are not settled. Unfortunately, over the years the leadership of the states — which has always, except for a very brief moment, been in the hands of Muslim leaders — don’t seem to have taken seriously the concern of people in these rural areas. So, there is constant conflict, caused mainly by poverty and ignorance, between the Fulani herders and the local people, who are mostly Christian and followers of the traditional religion. 

This conflict has led to attacks and the burning of so many villages. I can tell you that between January and now, more than 10 villages that are mostly Christian have been burned and destroyed. There are thousands and thousands of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in villages around the area whom we are looking after. 

Is it also a religious persecution?

The attackers are so-called “herders” and are supposed to be religious. Yes, religion is part of it, but I think the biggest problem is the injustice that exists for the local people.  People sometimes see it as discrimination against them because of their religion, because they do not belong to the Islamic religion. The few Muslims that live among them are provided with amenities, and so they see it as preferential treatment for the Muslims against the Christians. 

I think truly it is a matter of that systemic injustice that has been perpetrated for over a century. Since the post-colonial era, most of the leaders here have been Muslims, and I think not enough has been done to allay the fears of Christians and followers of traditional religions. That is why they see it as a persecution against them because of their own religion. 

Essentially, for me, it is injustice and impunity — people do things without punishment and they get away with it. Many villages have been burned, many hundreds of people have been killed and yet we do not have any rest. 

Unfortunately, local leaders among the Christians and followers of the traditional religions are the ones who are arrested and imprisoned while nothing has been done about those who have been killing. This is why people think it is religious discrimination. This is the reality they are living with. 

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Does your state, like many in the north, live under Sharia law?

You will recall that around 2001 we had the Sharia problem here in Kaduna. Like it or not, Sharia law has been applied in so many places, especially when you go to local courts where the judges are Muslims. Even though in law there are supposed to be native law courts and sharia courts, very often in these places you will discover that the attitude is permeated by Sharia law.

Yet in Western Nigeria, Christians and Muslims live side by side in peace. 

Exactly. In the Western part, it is also closely evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. They have lived very well. I think they have understood what religion is all about. In one family, you will find Christians and Muslims living together. 

Of course, it is the most educated part of the country. The rate of literacy in the Western part of Nigeria is very high. Therefore, they have come to understand what religion is about and they are able to manage their religious differences. They don’t see it as a problem. They help each other. It is our hope to one day come to this place. 

What message do you have for people outside Nigeria, especially in the West, regarding a solution to the persecution of Christians?

What I would say to those outside the country is that all we are asking for is justice. 

Our constitution is very clear about the equality of citizens. People anywhere in Nigeria should be treated according to the constitution. I think it is a big problem that in certain parts of the country people are blatantly ignoring with impunity the provisions of the constitution and doing things according to your religious beliefs. I don't think this is right. In this country, I think we should have one constitution guiding people equally. 

As a Christian, as a Catholic, canon law applies to us when as Christians dealing with ourselves within the Church. The same thing should also apply to Muslims. But when it comes to dealing with citizens, I think the constitution should be supreme. There are places in northern Nigeria where the constitution is not supreme, and this is why it is leading to discrimination against others. 

We are signatories to international laws, to human rights conventions, and our government should be prevailed upon to respect and treat every Nigerian according to the law. Every Nigerian should be treated equally. 

Unfortunately, the international community knows what is happening, and yet people behave as though nothing is happening. 

What action would you like the US administration under President Trump to take — perhaps in the United Nations — to bring pressure on the international community to address this issue and to help Nigeria.

Exactly. If I tell you the level of insecurity in our country today you won’t believe it, especially among the people in the northwest, especially in Kaduna. It is one of the states where everybody walks around afraid. There are kidnappers and bandits and they are killing people. Villages are being burned down. In other parts of the country if something happens, the president shows up. But here people are being killed and nothing is being done about it. All we are asking is that the international community prevail upon our country. 

I have always said: the first duty of every government anywhere in the world is to protect and safeguard the lives and property of their citizenry. But I can tell you right now in our country that is not the case, especially in the northwest. Citizens are being killed like chickens. 

Therefore, I think the international community should prevail upon our government to ensure the lives and property of our citizens are protected. This is what we want. Once security is assured, people can go about their business. 

Right now, as I am talking to you, the rainy season has come and villagers who provide food for us are afraid to go to their farms because they will be kidnapped, because they will be killed. So I do actually fear that if nothing happens between now and the next two months when people are supposed to be planting and they don’t go to their farm, only God knows what will happen to us next year in terms of food security. These are things the international community needs to talk about. Yesterday, our senate was talking about security. I think not enough — I repeat, not enough has been done to protect the lives of the citizens and property in this country, especially in the northwest. This is what we want the international community to focus on. 

Have any priests of your archdiocese been caught in the violence?

One of my priests was kidnapped. It happened on March 6th. For the first two weeks we were hearing from the kidnappers, but since April 8th we have not heard a word from him. So we are afraid. We are not even sure whether he is alive. Even if he is dead, we want his dead body back so that we can bury him. It’s over a month now that he’s in captivity so we fear that he may have been killed. 

He is not the only one. There are many others in captivity who have been kidnapped. Men, women and children are being kidnapped for ransom. Unfortunately, many have been killed. Sometimes, even after collecting the ransom they kill the people. 

It is very rampant, and nothing is being done. People feel helpless. People are despondent. People are hopeless.

As a bishop, how do you guide your people through this?

Well, our religion is a religion of hope, especially as we are in the Easter Season. The message of Easter is really clear: violence and evil do not have the last word. No matter how difficult the situation is, our hope is that our God is always in charge. The victory of Christ over sin and death is our hope. No matter how dark the days are, there will be a daybreak. That is the message I give my people. The worst enemy of every religion, particularly the Christian religion, is hopelessness. If people lose hope, they feel they have nothing to live for. So this is my message, this is my work, this is the difficult path I have now. Our challenge now is to keep people’s hope alive, because if they become hopeless then you can be sure the worst will happen. So my task as a religious leader is to keep hope alive, especially in the face of the victory of Christ over sin and death. Evil does not have to last word. At the end of the day, good will prevail over evil, and so that is the message that I give to my people. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We need help in terms of prevailing on our government regarding the security situation now. If there is anything the international community can do to help our government in terms of security because they look helpless as it is now. Therefore, if there is anything anybody can do to help our government secure security to our country – especially regarding the insurgency of killing and kidnapping – I think we would appreciate it. What we want is for people to be able to move freely, to have their businesses, to tend to their farms, to live normal lives, this is what we want for Nigeria. At the moment, I can tell you this is not the case. 

Any person, any organization, any institution that has influence: let this influence be used for the common good. And right now, let that influence be used for the common good of Nigeria so that peace may reign in our country. This is my call.

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