By Rotimi Fasan
Without a doubt, churches in Nigeria are facing persecution. Our churches have been burnt in their thousands and we have lost many lives. There are communities on the outskirts of Lassa, Mousadile, Musafu, Bagajo which once thrived but are no longer in existence now because of the activities of Islamists. The Church is suffering a great deal. We have lost our members and thousands of churches have been destroyed.
Those are the words of Joel Billi, President of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria, EYN, in January 26, 2020, Sunday Punch interview. Those words are mere echoes of the sentiments of many Christians and non-Christians across the country.
A more comprehensive profile of the apparent attack on Christians and, indeed, the near-total collapse of security and triumph of mediocrity under the Muhammadu Buhari administration was provided by the Catholic Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah, in his sermon during the funeral of the young seminarian, an orphan, Michael Nnadi, who was abducted among other priests in training and later murdered by suspected bandits in Kaduna State.
Around Christmas 2019, a number of Christians were lined up and executed by Boko Haram operatives in an attack that was meant to send a chilly message to adherents of that faith.
In late January, Lawan Andimi, chair of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State was beheaded, allegedly for his refusal to convert to Islam, shortly before a huge ransom, running into tens of millions of naira, was due to be paid for his release.
The fact that his abductors would rather execute him than accept the ransom on him strengthens the view that his abduction and murder was religiously-motivated. These apparently scripted attacks against adherents of a particular faith are too numerous to mention.
This, without even mentioning the widespread decimation of mostly Christian communities across southern Kaduna and parts of Taraba, Plateau, Benue and Nasarawa states. It was in the context of these mass killings that CAN called out its members on a day of protest last month.
It was also in the light of the apparently faith-motivated killings that the Donald Trump administration in the United States of America placed Nigeria on its list of countries in which religious freedom is curtailed.
This attention from America was what finally woke the Muhammadu Buhari administration from its deathly slumber, one that had prevented it from paying the slightest attention to the cries of Nigerians under the security threat and political catastrophe that his administration has become.
Bereft of a listening ear and stone-deaf to the concerns of Nigerians, Buhari is always quick to respond to criticisms from abroad. Clearly still under the hangover of his agelong disdain for the Nigerian media, he nevertheless wastes no time to posture as a sensitive leader when it comes to foreign media.
Most of his important statements to the media, often off-key as they pertain to Nigerians since he became president in 2015, were made outside the shores of Nigeria. And so it was that, following the unenviable listing of Nigeria as a state given to religious persecution of Christians, Buhari’s usually middling and lethargic media machine cranked into action and quickly put together a piece in the faith-based American medium Christianity Today.
Our ever standoffish Buhari who expects Nigerians to read the uncommunicative registers of his so-called body language quickly penned an op-ed as a guest writer of the column, ‘Speaking Out’.
The president, through his ghostwriters, was like a chastened schoolboy, sober and calm, as he provided his American masters’ report of his performance as a respecter of religious freedom.
He offered a chronicle of how Boko Haram, with the unwitting help of a small minority of some religious leaders, was trying desperately to divide Nigerians along religious lines. What the president failed to say in his opinion piece is how he has assisted and enabled sectarian groups like Boko Haram and terrorists masquerading as herdsmen to perpetuate destruction in the name of religion and ethnicity.
In his comments, Buhari told his American audience that 90 percent of victims of Boko Haram attacks are Moslems.
How he came about this figure is a mystery only he and his media handlers can explain. If there is anything aside blatant theft of the funds meant for the counter-insurgency fight, it is that they pertain to the actual state of or threat level posed by Boko Haram and its affiliates.
The fight has been propaganda and lies-propelled and Buhari feeds into these long lines of mendacity by his unverifiable claim that most Boko Haram attacks were aimed at Moslems. The communities that have been decimated have been mostly Christian-dominated as were people beheaded on account of their faith. No doubt many Moslems have also fallen victims of these attacks.
Personally, I believe that these terrorists would sooner murder their own mother as they would the Christians and others they call infidels. But even when there are no reliable statistics as is the case with everything Nigerian, the evidence of our eyes points to the fact that by far more Christians have been victims of terror attacks (be it of Boko Haram, Ansaru, so-called bandits, and herdsmen varieties, etc) than Moslems.
As Father Kukah asked in his homily during young Nnadi’s funeral, does the fact that Boko Haram also attacks other Moslems detract from the heinousness of these attacks on Christians or enough justification for them? Why would victims of these attacks not see them as religious when the perpetrators have not hidden their religious motive?
More than 90% of the Chibok girls are not only Christians, they are members of EYN, we hear. Yet over 100 of them are still in captivity. But of the Dapchi schoolgirls, the only one still in captivity is the one who refused to convert to Islam: Leah Sharibu.
How are Christians to see things when President Buhari blandly bandies figures about what percentage of these killings affect Moslems rather than Christians? Is this not a version of his 5%/97% electoral vote ratio argument, the same he proffered to justify the blatant nepotism and lopsided pattern of appointments of his government?
Is the Buhari who famously said any attack on Boko Haram was an attack on the North not an enabler of that group? He who claimed terror herdsmen as “my people” during his visit to Lam Adesina, can he now wash his hand off the crime of these terrorists?
At what point will the president see some of his past and present action and inaction as complicit in the increased rate of insecurity in Nigeria? Is anyone still wondering why Lai Mohammed now admits Boko Haram is on a religious mission?