Attacks on Christians in Nigeria are growing in ferocity and frequency – according to a priest who works with survivors of extremist violence.
Father John Bakeni, who coordinates aid for those left destitute by terrorist attacks and internally displaced people (IDPs) in Maiduguri Diocese, northern Nigeria, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that more savage attacks by militant groups are increasing insecurity among Christians.
He said: “The attacks on Christians are growing more flagrant and more aggressive. The ongoing conflict with Boko Haram and the attacks by predominantly Islamist Fulani shepherds have instilled a feeling of great uncertainty and fear in us Nigerians.”
“We consider each day we live in safety a blessing, because we do not know what will happen the next day.” Father Bakeni added: “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.” According to the priest, difficulties in Nigeria range from problems getting approval to build churches to the kidnapping and forced marriage of young girls.
“Even as we speak, people are being killed and their property destroyed.”
But Father Bakeni stressed to ACN that increasing attacks on Christian farmers by militant Fulani herdsmen are a significant problem for the Christian community. He said: “A large number of villages are still under attack. Even as we speak, people are being killed and their property destroyed.” The priest added: “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.”
Father Bakeni stressed that such extremist attacks are not representative of the views of most Muslims – but he also called on mainstream Muslims to speak out against the attacks.
He said: “Islamism is a distortion of Islam. The silence of the Islamic majority is disturbing. The people should confront Islamism and denounce it.”
Father Bakeni was critical of government efforts to stop the attacks by extremist groups. He said: “The state is not putting forth much effort when it comes to the protection and safety of the lives and property of Christians. We citizens, no matter whether we are Christians or Muslims, expect the state to protect us and ensure our safety. This is the only way that people can go about their business without fear or reservations.”
Father Bakeni said that other dioceses are giving support for displaced families in Maiduguri Diocese, but added: “The greatest support comes from other countries, in particular from ACN and other organisations.”
In Nigeria Aid to the Church in Need is supporting projects, including help for families left destitute by terrorist attacks and rebuilding of church-run welfare support programmes destroyed by extremists.