At least 1,200 people were killed and close to 200,000 were displaced in northeast Nigeria in 2018 alone due to the brutal and genocidal campaign being waged by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. To date, nearly 30,000 have been killed and two million displaced.
The group, which literally means “secular education is forbidden,” is indiscriminate in its mission, targeting Christians as well as Muslims they do not agree with.
Elsewhere in Nigeria, killings by Muslim herdsmen against Christian farmers have been occurring for decades, leaving at least 1,600 people dead and another 300,000 displaced in 2018.
Clarion Project contributor Mario Alexis Portello, a Catholic priest based in Florence, recently visited Nigeria. The following is his report:
An unreported tragedy ignored by both the Western media was recent killing of Father Paul Offu in Enugu (southern Nigeria) at the hands of Islamic Fulani herdsmen.
The former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote an open letter to current 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 (he stems from the same tribe), making it appear that this is all part of a well-organized operation to exterminate Christians in Nigeria altogether.
Last month I had the opportunity to visit Christians in Nigeria who are being persecuted by Islamist fundamentalists, specifically Boko Haram, in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri (northeast Nigeria).
As I traveled through the mostly 51,000 square mile terrain, I spent some time with a woman whose husband, Yohanna, had been kidnapped by Boko Haram just two days prior.
While she was very much comforted by her fellow parishioners, 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 Father Offu’s murder, this is just one of many tragic stories that go unreported. While the West and NGOs contend that they can conquer Islamist terror with arms — just like they tried to do ISIS in Syria and Iraq — they fail to get at the root of the problem – the ideology that continues to be indoctrinated in the youth, as with the Almajiri boys.
“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 educational system offers an alternative to sending their children 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 seven 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 ultimately undertake menial jobs with very limited future perspectives as they emerge from the system as unskilled workers.
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. Christians are simply left out.
Some of the visible and practical forms of persecution and challenges that Christians have had to live with for decades include:
- Denial of land to build places of worship. 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-owned companies
- Political exclusion and denial of political office
- Forceful abduction and marriage for Christian girls;
- Course in higher institutions of learning reserved for Muslim
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 from NGOs of Christian roots and origin. People don’t want us to say this in public, but that is the fact.”