Last month, Catholic seminarian Michael Nnadi was taken during the night at gunpoint from his seminary compound in Nigeria. With three other seminarians, he was thrown into a vehicle, driven away and held captive for weeks.
One of Nnadi’s schoolmates had been hurt, likely during the abduction. When it looked like he might succumb to his injuries, his captors dumped him on the side of a highway. A few days later, the other two seminarians kidnapped with Nnadi were released. But Nnadi was not released. Along with a woman named Bola Ataga, the wife of a doctor and the mother of two, Nnadi was killed by his kidnappers. Their bodies were found in a roadside ditch. Nnadi was 18 years old. Nnadi and Ataga are two of dozens of Nigerians who have been killed by bandits or terrorists in recent months.
Some are taken by militant Islamists — Boko Haram and its offshoots — or executed in their villages. Some, like Ataga, are kidnapped for ransom by criminal gangs and killed if their families can’t pay. Others clearly are targeted for their religion, especially Christians. In some cases, the lines between criminal gangs and terrorist militias and their motives are blurred.
The country’s bishops have called for the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to take control of the security situation in his country.
“The consequences of the dastardly acts on the psyche of Nigerians can only be imagined. The federal government must act now, before things get out of hand,” Archbishop Alfred Martins of Lagos said in a Feb. 3 statement.
But Buhari is in his second term of office, and despite years of promises, Nigeria’s internal security situation is not getting better. Buhari has claimed that Boko Haram is defeated and that his government is reining in terrorism. But the bishops in Nigeria testify otherwise.
A frustrated Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the government has “created the conditions to make it possible for Boko Haram to behave the way they are behaving.”
The president’s critics have long asked whether he is incompetent to address domestic terrorism in Nigeria, or whether he is unmotivated. While that question remains debated, the administration’s anti-corruption measures are also largely regarded as failures, and Bishop Kukah has publicly protested that the administration has used its power to “secure the supremacy of Islam.”
“With the situation in Nigeria, it is hard to see the moral basis they have to defeat Boko Haram,” Bishop Kukah told Aid to the Church in Need.
Christians killed for the faith in Nigeria are martyrs, and their deaths will most certainly sow the seeds of deeper conversion in the nation, as Christian martyrdom has for two millennia.
But Nigeria must put a stop to the killings, and if it doesn’t, then the international community, beginning with Nigeria’s neighbors, should put pressure on the Buhari government to tighten security and provide the needed resources to bring peace to Nigeria — especially to the persecuted and suffering Christians of the country.
Nigeria has the largest population in Africa, the largest economy on the continent, and has an increasingly educated and sophisticated workforce. It also has a large and energetic Catholic population, and thanks to a vocations boom, it sends priests and religious sisters as missionaries around the world.
By 2100, if current demographic trends hold, Nigeria will be the third-most-populous nation in the world. Nigeria is a country of extraordinary economic, creative and spiritual potential and will be a leader on the global stage for decades to come. A thriving and peaceful Nigeria is good for people in all parts of the world. But much of its potential will be hampered if Nigeria cannot bring an end to the Islamist terrorism, the radicalization of Nigerian youth, and the criminal violence plaguing the country.
Africa is home to thousands of ethnic groups, and Nigeria is reflective of that reality. Balancing the social realities of a tribal society is never easy, and Nigeria is always a complex place to govern. But terrorists have exploited ancient disagreements and long-standing tensions, and that can only be addressed head-on.
So the country’s bishops have called for the government to professionalize its security services and for the country’s citizens to forge the bonds of community and reconciliation that thwart radicalization among their youth. And in December, President Donald Trump added Nigeria to the U.S. State Department’s “Special Watch List” of religious-liberty violators. That designation should serve as the beginning of international pressure, and support, to bring peace to the region.
Americans can do their part by contacting their legislators and urging them to ensure that the U.S. is a leader in protecting Christians and other threatened populations in Nigeria. And Christians everywhere must join in prayer for Nigerians: for those like seminarian Michael Nnadi and wife and mother Bola Ataga, who have already lost their lives, and for the many others who remain at high risk amid the violence of their homeland.