Most of us in the West have heard of the kidnapping of 276 female students were from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, (northeast) Nigeria in 2014 by Boko Haram. One of the goals of Boko Haram — which has kidnapped thousands of girls, boys and women, forcing some of them to blow themselves up, killed thousands of others and displaced millions — is to stop children receiving what it perceives as western-style education. What has been generally missing by such reports is their overall end, as with other Islamists, to eradicate Christians in order to impose a sharia-based society.
Christian persecution in Nigeria, which can be traced back to the Sokoto caliphate (1804-1903), has surged since 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari was elected president. The late-Catholic bishop Joseph Bagobiri of the Diocese of Kafanchan (northwest Nigeria which has had sharia law since 1999) had stated: “The persecution of Christians in Nigeria is not given anything like the same level of international attention as persecuted Christians in the Middle East.” A most recent example of this — unreported by the Western mainstream media — was the killing of Father Paul Offu (southern Nigeria) at the hands of the Islamic Fulani herdsmen the 1st of the month. This let the former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to write an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, warning him of the risk of a “Rwandan-style genocide” of Christians in Nigeria if the government does not take immediate measures to stop the violence — Buhari has yet to have condemned the Fulani militants as terrorists since he stems from the same tribe. What can be surmised is that this is all part of a well-organized operation to exterminate Christians altogether.
Last month I had the opportunity to visit the persecuted Christians from Muslim fundamentalists, specifically Boko Haram, in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri (northeast Nigeria). As I traveled through the mostly 51,000 square mile terrain — in the outskirts of the city of Maiduguri — I spent some time with a woman whose husband, Yohanna, had been kidnapped by Boko Haram just two days prior. She was very much comforted by the parishioners of her parish of St. Augustine, who were praying and hoping against hope that he would be released. Regrettably, just hours after spending some time with her, Yohanna’s dead body was found. Like Offu’s murder, this is just one of many tragic stories that go unreported. While the US-led west and NGOs hold they can drive out Islamic terrorism with arms — just as with ISIS — they fail to get at the root of the problem, and that is the sharia ideology that continues to be indoctrinated in the youth, as with the Almajiri boys.
Derived from the word “hajarah” (to flee one’s country, to migrate, to emigrate), these boys are supposed to be “knowledge” seekers as commanded by Allah in the Quran: “And whoever emigrates for the cause of Allah will find on the earth many [alternative] locations and abundance. And whoever leaves his home as an emigrant to Allah and His Messenger and then death overtakes him — his reward has already become incumbent upon Allah.” — Sura 4, 100
For many families, the Almajiri system is an alternative to sending them to a state school which costs money. Most of the religious schools provide free tuition. But the Almajiri pupils have to take care of their own daily needs which is why many of them go begging when they do not have to be in the classroom. According to the National Council for the Welfare of Destitute report in 2017, approximately 7 million Almajiri roam the streets of northern Nigeria every day. Many of them concede to the strongest wind that blows: street violence, child trafficking, diseases, or hunger. Those who manage to resist their vulnerability and grievances within the society remain unskilled, and ultimately undertake menial jobs with very limited future perspectives. Critics, both from Nigeria and abroad, say the young Almajiri pupils — and I encountered numerous of them — who wander through the streets and seek religious orientation are ideal recruits for extremists.
Of course, within the past few years, some of the victims to Boko Haram and the Fulani nomads have been Muslims. However, when the destruction of lives and property is done and it comes to rehabilitation/reconstruction and rebuilding of lives, government funds are used to rehabilitate Muslim communities and compensate Muslims, meanwhile Christians are left out and discriminated upon. Some of the visible and practical forms of persecution and challenges that Christians have learnt how to live with for decades include:
- denial of land to build places of worship (churches). The last time that a Certificate of Occupancy was issued for a church building within the Diocese of Maiduguri was in 1979;
- denial of Christian religious curricula in the primary and secondary levels; instead they are forced to study Islam.
- denial of jobs and promotion in government parastatals;
- political exclusion and denial of political office;
- forceful abduction and marriage of Christian girls;
- reserved courses for Muslims in higher institutions of learning.
As the Father John Bakeni, a priest from Maiduguri, told me, the persecution of Christians is prevalent. “About four years ago, they came to us. There was no place for them to stay. Nobody wanted to take them in, not even the housing communities. The diocese has been solely responsible for their welfare and their upkeep. Like other displacement centers, they have received little or no attention from the government. Not even NGOs of Christian roots and origin. People don’t want us to say this in public, but that is the fact.”
The Bishop of Maiduguri, the Most. Rev. Oliver Dashe Doeme, in addition to taking in the victims of Islamism, has also purchased land to set up clinics, not just for his own faithful, but for anyone who is in dire need of medical attention, in addition to rebuilding churches and parish schools to educate the youth. The needs are costly, yet the spirit the Nigerian Christians is strong, not just to persevere in their faith but to help restore peace and stability in Nigeria.
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