JOS, Nigeria — Just days before a suspected Islamist militant attack killed 30 people in Nigeria, a prominent bishop in the country lamented what he saw as a lack of adequate protection from the Nigerian government for the country’s nearly 100 million Christians.
Suspected Islamist militants set sleeping travelers on fire in Borno state, Nigeria, on Feb. 11, burning 18 vehicles filled with food supplies and killing at least 30, including a pregnant woman and her baby.
In a Feb. 7 interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of Benin City, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, warned that “The current situation in Nigeria reflects an unnecessary, unwarranted and self-inflicted tension. A politically polarized nation.”
“The President of Nigeria recently stated that he was shocked at the unabated killing of Nigerians, who are mostly Christians. Many Nigerians wonder whether the president lives in a parallel universe,” Archbishop Akubeze stated.
“How can he be surprised at this time? After some of us have attended mass burials of Christians killed by Boko Haram? The government is certainly not doing enough to protect both Christians and Muslims.”
Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, has been active in Nigeria for years. While the group has attacked both Muslims and Christians in the past, the archbishop noted, lately they are mainly focusing on the killing and kidnapping of Christians.
Archbishop Akubeze said serious security challenges were in the past confined mainly to the northeastern part of the country, but today, people are kidnapped for ransom in almost every part of the country.
The archbishop drew attention to the recent killing of Rev. Lawan Andima, a local Government Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, whom Boko Haram beheaded. A married father of nine children, Archbishop Akubeze says he was killed “simply because he was a Christian.”
He also mentioned the recent kidnapping and killing of 18-year-old seminarian Michael Nnadi in Kaduna state. Gunmen stormed a seminary last month and abducted four young men.
The three seminarians kidnapped along with Nnadi were released in the weeks following their kidnapping.
“We are pained and sad at the killing of Michael Nnadi. And to know that he was an orphan is more painful. May his soul and the souls of all who have died in the hands of these criminals rest in peace,” the archbishop said.
In the last year, several priests and seminarians, along with pastors from other Christian denominations, have been kidnapped in Nigeria, some for ransom, and some by Islamist militant and terrorist groups.
In addition to the threat posed by Boko Haram and other organized militant groups, clashes between Fulani Muslim herdsmen and Christians have led to significant bloodshed, especially in the north of the country.
Archbishop Akubeze expressed doubt that the government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, is seriously working to prosecute those who commit violence against Christians.
“The lack of significant prosecution of these men further fuels the belief that they have the backing of the federal government,” Archbishop Akubeze said, while noting that he does not have conclusive evidence that the government is supporting these groups.
“But to do nothing or what appears to be a lack of true will-power or motivation to stop these crimes increasing makes it difficult to convince more Nigerians that there is no connection between one-sided appointments of officials and the lack of prosecution of perpetrators of these crimes against humanity and the seemingly selective killing of Christians,” he continued.
He noted that virtually all the officials who advise the president are from the same Hausa-Fulani ethnic group; nearly all of them are Muslims, in a country that is almost equally split between Muslim and Christian residents.
“One area that I think the Western nations and the media can be of great help is to cover the stories of these atrocities in Nigeria,” Archbishop Akubeze reflected.
“The number of killings is just mind boggling. Maybe with significant Western coverage, the Government of Nigeria may be put under pressure to act.”