A PRESENTATION BY MOST REVD. DR. MATTHEW MAN-OSO NDAGOSO, THE CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF KADUNA, NIGERIA
Permit me to begin by thanking Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for inviting me to be part of the Red Week 2022, an international week of prayer and testimony on the persecution of Christians and the publication of itsresearch report on the persecution of Christians in the world tagged “Persecuted and forgotten.” More so, I thank the ACN for always been there for us who find ourselves minorities in our respective parts of the world and for being megaphones for our cause. Your spiritual and material solidarity with us can never be quantified. We are simply grateful and indebted to you and your kind, committed and generous benefactors. May God continue to bless your work with success.
For the benefit of those who do not know much about Nigeria and particularly the area our ecclesiastical jurisdiction is situated. Nigeria is situated in West Africa around the Gulf of Guinea. It is the most populated country in Africa with an estimated population of over 216 million people. And worthy of note here is the fact that Nigeria is the only country in the world where the population of Christians and Muslims is more or less equal.
While the southern part of the country has the largest concentration of Christians the northern part has the largest concentration of Muslims. Our Ecclesiastical Province of Kaduna which is situated in the North-Western part of the country has the largest populationamong the six geo-political zones of the country. It alsohas the largest concentration of Muslims in the country.
Though the entire country is currently facing serious security challenges like never experienced before in the history of our country, not even during the 30 months civil war (1967-1970), the emergence of the Boko Haram (BH) and the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) insurgencies in 2009 and later theherders/farmers conflicts, banditry and kidnappings for ransom are the main causes of insecurity in the North with the North West and the North Central regions as the main theatres of the conflict. Kaduna State is the epicentre of banditry, kidnappings for ransom and to a large extent the herders/farmers conflicts since the last five or so years. And it goes without saying that this has affected every aspect of human endeavour, including the work of evangelization. For example, over 50 of our parishes are badly affected. The priests are no longerable to stay in their rectories to provide the needed pastoral care for the people because they are major targets.
In the last nearly four years, eight of our priests, many of our catechist and uncountable number of the lay faithful have been kidnapped. Of the priests kidnapped, four have been released, three killed and two still in captivity with one clocking almost four years in captivity.
The situation of Christian minorities especially in the Northwest and parts of Northeast and North Central of our country remains very critical. They do not enjoy the freedom to practice their religion as they wish and as stipulated in the constitution of our country. A few recent examples will suffice here.
In May this year Deborah Emmanuel, a student leader of Christian Fellowship of Christian Students in the College of Education in Sokoto State was brutally murdered on alleged blasphemy in a whatsApp chat. She was buried on May 14, 2022. In reaction to the arrest of some of her murderers, there were protests by Muslims in Sokoto on May 14, 2022 for the release of those arrested for her murder. Churches and Christian properties in Sokoto, including the Holy Family cathedral and secretariat of the Diocese of Sokoto were attacked and property vandalized. As a result of the threat posed to lives and property of Christians Masses and other Christian Sunday services were not conductedin Sokoto metropolis and its environs on Sunday May 15, 2022 for fear of attacks.
Before Deborah, Mrs. Bridget Agbahime, wife of a pastor was lynched in Kano on June 2, 2015 for simply asking a Muslim man not to perform his ablution in front of her market stall. Similarly, Eunice Elisha, an evangelist and mother of seven was lynched in Abuja in July 2016 for preaching the gospel. The list goes on. Sadly, in all of these cases and more we are yet to hear of any serious prosecutions and convictions of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.
It is on record that no certificate of occupancy has been given to any Christian denomination for the building of church in most states of the North West geopolitical zone since colonial times. The only exception was in Kano when a Catholic military governor signed a certificate of occupancy for a Catholic church in the 1990s. This means that getting building permission for churches is impossible. Even when land is purchased by churches from individuals for church buildings with documents, the antiquated land decree operational in the north which vests sole authority for land distribution on the government and traditional rulers does not allow the use of such purchased lands for the building of churches. And in the event that such lands are used to erect church buildings without building permission from the government, such buildings are more often than not marked by government agencies as illegal structures and in most cases demolished.
The irony is that in these same states mosques are not only built by the government, budgetary allocations are made for the building of such mosques with public funds.
In Kaduna where I live, right across my house is a state owned university with five mosques with no single authorized church building. Land was given twice for churches and twice it was cancelled when work was to start on site. In point of fact earlier this year in this university a foundation of a protestant church laid on a piece of land allocated by the university authority was demolished by agencies of the state government. In the same place we started the construction of a chapel for the catholic community in the university on a piece of land allocated to us by the university authorities. Again, government agents came and stopped the work. As always, appeals made to the governor and the government by the Christian community of the university and some prominent Christian leaders of the state have fallen on deaf ears.
In Kaduna state development and provision of essential social amenities are most often concentrated where Muslim communities are found. The southern part of the state which is predominantly inhabited by Christianswith pockets of Hausa/Fulani settlements. In most cases provision of social amenities like schools, roads, electricity and such like are found mainly in theHausa/Fulani settlements to the neglect of larger Christian communities.
In most of the states in our Ecclesiastical Province, the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge is not allowed in public schools whereas Islamic religious knowledge is not only allowed but the teachers are employed by the government and paid with public funds. The same applies to other chaplaincies like hospitals. In some public institutions in some of these states, including federal ones especially in the North West, mosques are not only allowed but built with public funds whereas Christians are denied lands to build churches.
We have in our province enclaves of indigenous Christian communities in the Muslim dominated states of the North West geopolitical zone such as Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, and Kebbi with indigenous Christian populations who refused to embrace the Islamic faith. Many have embraced Christianity in the last couple of decades. Such communities are not often taken into account by their respective governments when it comes to the provision of social amenities for no other reason than being Christians. Those of them who become Christians are often considered and treated by the authorities as traitors for living side by side with Islam in some cases for centuries without accepting it. Again, such people and their communities are often discriminated against in the provision of social amenities.
Clearly, our type of persecution is systemic and endemic based on unwritten laws and because it is endemic people living under such kind of persecution are easily forgotten until something spectacular happens like attacks on Christians and their property by BH and ISWAP in the last 12 years or so that attention is drawn to their situation. Ours therefore is indeed a clear and classical case of “Persecuted and forgotten.”
Be that as it may, all that the persecuted Christian minorities in our country in general and our region in particular desire and ask for, like any other persecuted minority group around the world, is a just treatment based on justice and fair play regardless of creed, tribe, political affiliation, social status etc. They want their basic human rights and freedom as contained in the constitution upheld and respected everywhere in the land.
And like I said last May at the Katholikentag in Stuttgart, Germany, “we call on and plead with Governments around the world, international organizations and opinion leaders to use their good offices, connections and positions in international institutions and forums to prevail on governments around the world especially where minority groups such as Christian in some northern states in our country are being persecuted and not officially recognized by unwritten laws to prevail on such governments to treat all citizens equally regardless of creed, ethnicity and social standing” and where necessary such governments, groups and individuals appropriately sanctioned for their actions.
We commend international organizations and aid agencies like ACN that continue to work in the area of protecting religious freedom especially of those on the fringes of society living perpetually under persecution but often forgotten.
We thank ACN in a special way for always being there for us especially when the going gets tough as it does often and is the case right now with us; helping us in the formation of pastoral agents, building of schools, churches, rectories, convents, provision of security, social amenities etc. When our churches and other properties are destroyed by Muslims fanatics as often happens, ACN is always there not only with funds but with its human presence, often standing with bishops, priests, sisters, community leaders etc on the ruins of destroyed churches, parishes, convents, schools etc. We are grateful for this continued show of solidarity.”
Like one of the bishops of our province once reminded the international community on this matter; it should be clear to all and sundry that the persecution of Christians based solely on their faith and not on any crimes they have committed poses one of the greatest threats to our existence and common humanity. If Christians make up over one quarter of the world’s population and have laid the foundation for human civilisation, it is in the interest of our collective survival that we must rise in defence of the freedom of persecuted Christians everywhere in the world to be able to live and practice their faith.
In this vein we kindly request International Aid Organisations to reset the donor templates of their engagement with countries that are in conflict. There needs to be a change in how some of these agencies see religious groups and communities in crisis. It is important that a threshold of expertise, competence and proficiency be set for accessing Aid. The faith communities are the closest to the people and, in our case, everyone knows what the Catholic Church has done over the centuries and continues to do for those on the margins of society. The most critical needs of our people now is education, education of orphans, support for widows and victims of violence. Our appeal therefore is that Aid Agencies consider more practical ways of engaging Church structures to alleviate the sufferings of the victims of persecution by way of granting scholarships to vulnerable children. Only sound education, taking millions of children from the streets can guarantee victory over these agents of darkness.
In the light of the above situation especially in the North Western part of our country where the persecution of Christian minorities is systemic and endemic often they belong to the “Persecuted and forgotten.”
THANK YOU FOR YOUR KIND ATTENTION.