Jesus said his disciples and followers would be persecuted for their faith and belief in him. The rate and pattern at which Christians are persecuted in the northern parts of Nigeria calls for spiritual intervention for missionaries and the Christian faith in that part of the country. While the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), terrorist organization rain havoc on Christian communities in the northeast of Nigeria, herdsmen and bandits are terrorizing the northwest and some parts of the north-central of the country.
In all these, Christians are the most affected. These terrorists indiscriminately and brutally attack Christian settlements and communities. For instance, masterminds of banditry in that region of the country are mostly Muslims who claim their grouse with the government and their resolve to banditry was to express their grievance to the government of the country that they neglected them. However, this flimsy excuse is just a weak pretext for the criminals to continue their inhumane act.
Last year, bandits in Zamfara state ordered Christian communities in the state to close down all churches with a threat that failure to comply would lead to ferocious attacks. The leadership of the Christian community in the state reported that they were issued a three-year ultimatum to close all churches in the state. “Some churches were listed for attack between now and the end of December, though the churches that would be attacked according to the Fulani group that wrote the letter are located in the outskirt of the town, but we believe it’s just a trick.
“Same letter was also copied to the Police, Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other security agencies and they all confirmed receipt of the letter,” he said.
The police authority in the state has directed Christians to intensify security in all places of worship, pastors’ houses, and other Christian centres. The Christian Association Nigeria (CAN) also directed all churches not to hold church activities beyond 5pm for about three months. Due to the threat, Christians in that state have been leaving the state for safer areas.
In Kaduna state, that has been a hot bed of security crisis in the north, continues to have its share of the recent crisis and persecution. Bandits engage in targeted kidnapping of church leaders and demand for ransom. This huge amount of money being demanded from these church leaders pushed them to turn to their congregation to raise fund in order to rescue the kidnapped victims. Most times when the ransom is paid the victims are not turn up alive.
According to a church leader in Southern Kaduna, “Sometimes the bandits have picked the ransom and told the families to go and collect the body of a victim at a place,” he said.
In Kaduna, Christian communities and Muslim dominated communities are demographically divided. The Christians resides in the south of the country while the Muslims reside in the north of the country.
The rural areas in the south engage in agricultural activities but due to the high level of banditry in that part of the state farming activities have been crippled. “The security situation has frightened the people away from the farms, at a period when Nigeria is facing a lot of economic challenges.”
According to World Council of Churches, over 300 people, mainly Christians, were killed in the state from January to July 2020. 80 were killed in the month of July alone – and over 620 people have been killed by bandits within the 18-month period between 2020 and mid-2021.
According to the Christian Association of Nigeria, in 2019, out of the 500 Christians that were kidnapped, 18 of them were pastors. CAN also revealed that four pastors were killed and over 300 million Naira ransom paid.
The situation is already having psychological effects on Christians in that state. It has also increased the rate of poverty and starvation.
In the same state, October 2021, bandits attacked a major seminary in the Catholic diocese of Kafanchan, Kaduna, and kidnapped three seminarians. As at the time of the attack, 10 formators, including the Rector of the Seminary and the Institute, 132 seminarians, 6 non-seminarians, 1 female non-academic staff member and one steward were on ground. Six of the seminarians were said to have sustained various degrees of injuries during the attack.
According to the seminary security agents and law enforcement personnel, a headcount conducted after Mass showed that three seminarians had been abducted. The kidnapped seminarians belong to the Apostles of Divine Charity and the Little Sons of the Eucharist congregations and are all in their fourth year of theology studies.
Last year, the United States delisted Nigeria from ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ regarding freedom of religion. Reacting, the Christian Association of Nigeria requested that the US provide the data adopted to arrive at that conclusion. The body said ordinarily, the United States should have consulted it before taking the decision.
The President of the association, Rev. Samson Ayokunle said, “The prayer is Nigeria would be a country where no religious group is persecuted and our government ensures religiously-biased policies are discontinued”.
The President said terrorists’ agenda was to “wipe away Christianity and plant Islam as the only religion from the North down to the Atlantic Ocean in the South”. He said the bandits have joined other militant Islamic groups, “ferociously attacking churches, killing worshippers and kidnapping for ransom”.
“The herdsmen are equally doing their havoc. We have lost many people and places of worship to their assault.
“The madness has grown now and those who are not Christians are being attacked, killed and kidnapped.
“This is because these criminal acts have become a lucrative business and it is whoever you can kidnap for money!”
CAN and concern bodies are unrelenting in challenging the government to ensure the protection of lives and properties of Nigerians without any prejudice to religion. The Federal government has consistently insisted that it is doing all within its power to ensure that all Nigerians are safe. However it is obvious that there is still much to be done.