By Obadiah Mailafia
Freedom of worship is one of the most sacred rights of humanity. Human beings are creatures of faith. In the midst of antiquity, they worshipped the wind, fire and lightning out of dread, fear and trembling. The ancient Egyptians were the first to come up with idea of one Supreme Being whom they regarded as the Almighty Creator. I am persuaded that the ancient Israelites up to Abraham, the Father of Faith, borrowed their idea of the One true God from the ancient Egyptians during the reign of Emperor Akhenaton.
Religious freedom is therefore an essential foundation for being human in itself. Sadly, today that freedom is coming under assault. Some of the worst violations are to be found in countries such as China, Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Nigeria.
In China, for example, the Muslim Uighurs of the central planes have been subjected to horrendous discrimination. The issue of religious persecution in Tibet has been a long-standing problem. The Buddhist nation of Myanmar has killed and driven many of the Muslim Rohingyas out of the country.
In India, there is evidence that Muslims and Christians have come increasingly under severe persecution. In contrast to more liberal regimes such as UAE and Kuwait, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq are ruthlessly suppressing the rights of religious minorities.
The case of Nigeria and its violation of religious freedom is becoming part of the open wound of our continent. An international NGO recently lamented recently that Nigeria is becoming one of the most dangerous places in the world in which to be a Christian. In the far Northern states, Christians are not allowed land allotments to build places of worship.
Even in federal universities, permits are never granted to build churches. And in Kano, not too long ago, when Christian members of the university community were having Sunday worship in one of the make-shift lecture halls, gunmen descended on them. Over a dozen professors, children, women, men and students were slaughtered indiscriminately. I do not recall that anyone was arrested in connection with that massacre.
In the North East, many of the churches have closed shop. More than 3,000 churches have been razed to the ground and more than 400 priests, pastors and other clergy have been killed.
The trademark of the killers is beheading. This is reserved strictly for Christians. They are waylaid and kidnapped. If they are lucky, a ransom is paid and they are released. In many others, even after a hefty ransom is paid, the captors would be brought under the sword.
These evils are often carried out in the manner of a Satanic ritual: They sing and dance and chant incantations. They demand recantation of faith and embrace of Islam, failing which a pit is dug, and the prisoner standing up and tied up to the shoulders, is beheaded with a sword, amidst howls of “Allu akbar”.
This was precisely the fate that befell the assassinated Chairman of CAN in Adamawa State, Rev. Lawan Andimi. There are many lesser known persons that have faced such a benighted fate. No one remembers them except members of the most immediate family.
It is only in Nigeria that I have heard of a phenomenon known as “Sexual Jihad”. This is a Satanic practice involving young men prowling our towns and villages looking for young girls to rape and assault in the name of religion. Nigeria today is the world capital of rape and girl abductions. Most are turned in sex-slaves. Forced marriages have become the norm.
The teenage girl, Leah Sharibu, who has been kept in incarceration for refusing to renounce her faith is the icon and symbol of all enslaved young women in the world today. We hear she has been forced into a “marriage” to her abductors and has even had a baby. They may have her body, but her soul and spirit belong to her Lord and Saviour. The body will one day become worms, but the spirit will live forever and ever with the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The UN Convention on Genocide defines genocide in terms of “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
The great Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin provided one of the best definitions of genocide that is widely respected by international lawyers and other publicists. According to him: ”Genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation.
It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups…”
The holocaust unleashed by Boko Haram, allied to the atrocities by shadowy herdsmen militias and diabolical bandits from across the border, are increasingly taking the form and character of genocide in Nigeria.
Baroness Cox, a member of the British House of Lords and EO of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, HART, released a report indicting the Nigerian government of complicity in genocide. According to the report: “In northern and central-belt states, thousands of civilians have been killed recently by Fulani militants. Vulnerable rural communities have been forced to abandon their homes.
Churches have been burned to rubble. Entire families have been slaughtered…. have visited many of the worst affected areas and seen the tragedies of death and destruction in places like Plateau, Benue, Taraba, southern Kaduna and Bauchi states. The scale of suffering is altogether overwhelming”.
The Cox Report makes a damning rebuke of our government’s failure to stop the holocaust. As a matter of fact, it barely stops short of calling our government as accessories to genocide:
“The plight of Christians in northern and central-belt states has been exacerbated by the authorities’ failure to perform their most basic duties. During my recent visit, I heard numerous reports that attacks are taking place with the Nigerian Government’s connivance – to the extent that military helicopters have been spotted dropping arms and other supplies into the areas inhabited by the Fulani…. The Army has reportedly ordered the confiscation of weapons from local farming communities, which residents deem necessary for self-defence against attacks, yet there is no equivalent record of disarmament of Fulani bases. Soon after the confiscation of weapons, the Fulani attack”.
Buttressing the Cox Report is the testimony of the distinguished French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy who visited Nigeria on a fact-finding report. BHL, as he is popularly known, is one of the most distinguished thinkers and public intellectuals in Europe today. He visited several parts of the Middle Belt late last year, interviewing women, youths and elderly. He has done a TV documentary and articles on the murderous atrocities by herdsmen militias in the Middle Belt.
The message is the same. Christian communities are being persecuted throughout the Middle Belt and the far North. Indeed, an atmosphere is being created in which it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christians to practise their faith in an atmosphere of freedom and peace.
The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom created by President Donald J. Trump keeps track of many of the atrocities committed against religious freedom across the world.
President Trump recently signed an Executive Order on “Advancing International Religious Freedom”. American diplomacy and international development actions will re-focus on countries where religious freedom is increasingly in jeopardy. Nigeria must put her house in order otherwise the continuing assault on religious freedom could destroy our country in its entirety.