At a time like this, when lives of ordinary citizens, especially Christians from indigenous ethnic-African populations across the country are no longer protected by our security agents and government, what is expected of Christians and Churches of Nigeria? To answer this question, we would like to begin our present article with the following questions and answers:
‘Is Christianity in Nigeria about to go on extinction?’ Certainly, no!
‘Is Christianity on trial in Nigeria today?’ I do not think so!
Again, at a time like this, when Nigerian government and security agents have failed to protect the lives and property of ordinary citizens from the murderous activities of Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram Islamist terrorists’ groups, as well as from military and police brutality and recklessness, what is expected of us as Christians of Nigeria?
At a time like this, the murderous activities of these terror groups – their killings of innocent citizens, majority of whom are Christians, have reached a point-of-no-return, between despair and strong faith, which one would be required of Christians in Nigeria!
Our take in this article is that, in spite of difficulties of the present time – the onslaught against Christians and indigenous ethnic-African populations in Nigeria, there is every reason for optimism for Christianity in the country. Because in the final-analysis, what is at stake is not so much about the extinction of Christianity, which no human power can ever accomplish, otherwise it means evil people prevailing over the Church of Christ.
What is at stake in Nigeria today is rather a systematic program of these terror groups and their sponsors at the corridors of power in the land, towards annihilation or total subjugation of indigenous ethnic-African populations from whom majority of Nigerian Christians come from. This is the crux of the matter! This is the fact Churches and Christians in Nigeria will have to understand first, digest it in order to be able to appreciate the magnitude of the problem facing us in the country today.
What we are seeing today through the murderous activities of these terror groups and their sponsors, was planned long time ago. If it is being executed today with such alacrity of bloodletting and genocidal killings that have alarmed us all, it means that the planners of that evil design have taken total hold of government machinery in Nigeria.
Total control of government machinery in Nigeria have been their dream all along. Today, that dream has come true and they are making the best use of it to see that nothing is left undone towards realizing their evil design and objective of either annihilation or total subjugation of indigenous ethnic-African populations of Nigeria. This is the problem we are faced with in Nigeria today.
Therefore, it is not simply a question of extinction of Christianity, but rather the future of indigenous ethnic-African populations in Nigeria.
We would notice all this in the language and vocabulary of key actors or rather the gestures of sponsors and politicians behind these terror groups. For them what is at stake is neither Christianity nor Islam, nor any other religion for that matter. Rather what is at stake is their claim that it is the ‘birthright’ of people of their own tribe to rule Nigeria for eternity and to have free access to all the routes, land and seas of the country. Anybody or group perceived standing on their way towards accomplishing these objectives must be eliminated by all means or made to pay the prize. This is their guiding principle and philosophy.
We will continue to wait in vain or expect the present administration and security forces to apprehend members of these terrorists groups, Boko Haram or Fulani herdsmen militia, responsible for all these killings and murderous activities across the land. The Fulani herdsmen are their foot soldiers in accomplishing their laid down objectives.
As Retired General Theophilus Danjuma recently alerted the nation, indigenous ethnic-African populations of Nigeria will be wasting their time waiting for the military or police to protect them. This is because, as Danjuma rightly said, the military collude with these terror groups and facilitate their movement in carrying out the killings across the land. It is a Jihad in the sense that Islam as a religion is being used, in this case as an instrument in executing a war of political and religious domination as well as ethnic supremacy in Nigeria by a particular group.
All this means that, we, as citizens and Christians of Nigeria are today living in the most troubled time of our history. For Christians and leaders of Churches in Nigeria, the time for self-congratulations and merriments are over. This is time to bear real witness to the crucified Jesus in Nigeria, account for our faith in the Risen Lord.
This brings us to the main theme of our article:
Is Christianity in Danger Today in Nigeria?
A good number of individuals, including groups of elders among Christian-folks have recently called the attention of leaders of Christian Churches in Nigeria about the looming danger of extinction of Christianity in the country. The on-going killings of innocent citizens and Christians of indigenous ethnic-African populations across the breath and length of Nigeria, justifies this terrifying alarm about the danger of extinction facing Christianity in Nigeria today.
The killings we have witnessed in the last three years alone, and are still witnessing today, perpetuated against the indigenous populations of the largely Christian communities across Nigeria by Fulani herdsmen militants and terrorists, gives any thinking person a great cause for concern. The fact that the perpetrators of these murderous activities are known and yet not apprehended by the security agents or condemned unequivocally by the federal government, gives credence to the common believe that the present Nigerian federal government is tacitly behind those doing these killings, and therefore protects them.
Furthermore, the fact that the federal government and their sponsored media outlets are using the deceptive narrative of ‘herdsmen-farmers’ clash in portraying what is clearly acts of terrorism perpetuated against innocent citizens by the invading militants of Fulani herdsmen, leaves no one in doubt that the present federal government knows all about what is happening but unfortunately, refused to act. The invasion, forceful occupation of villages, farmlands, destruction of places of worship and killings of innocent citizens of targeted ethnic groups cannot be described as mere ‘herdsmen-farmers’ clash. The federal government cannot be calling these killings mere “herdsmen-farmers’ clash”, while Miyetti Allah have always claimed a prior knowledge of these killings, each time they occur and in many cases have taken responsibility for the killings.
This is painful when one remembers that President Buhari is also the Grand National Patron of Miyetti Allah, which has claimed, time without number, as coordinating these killings. With all these killings by the herdsmen, coordinated by Miyetti Allah, common sense tells us that President Buhari is supposed to have withdrawn his membership, resign from his position as the Grand National Patron of the group.
Amnesty International in its most recent report released last Thursday, June 28, 2018, said that 1,813 Nigerians were killed since January 2018 – which is double the 894 people killed in 2017. According to Amnesty International, by failing to hold murderers to account, Nigerian authorities are encouraging impunity, which is fueling rising insecurity across the country: “The authorities have a responsibility to protect lives and properties, but they are clearly not doing enough going by what is happening.”
Thus, the Amnesty International Report posits the following questions to Nigerian authorities:
“Government must answer these questions: who are these attackers, where do they come from, where do they go after attacks, who arms them, why is security forces’ response time very slow?”
The organization urged the government to make arrest and bring to justice those responsible for the attacks.
It beats the imagination that till date the federal government has not arrested any of the Fulani herdsmen perpetrators of these killings across the land. The leaders of Miyetti Allah have continued to make their provocative statements without any apprehension from the government either. It is therefore deceptive to describe these killings as mere herdsmen-farmers’ clash. The earlier we as a nation learn to call a spade a spade, the closer we shall be to the route of our nation’s rebirth and healing. Narrative of lies is one of the tactics of the devil in leading someone or a people towards perdition.
Furthermore, in a normal country or civilized world, no president or prime minister would witness any of the senseless killings of innocent citizens in his domain as we have been experiencing in Nigeria in the last three years, and continue to stay in office for a day without tendering his resignation paper to the parliament. In a normal country, such a president would resign with immediate effect, not only with his ministers of internal affairs and defense, but also with the entire members of his executive cabinet. If today the Nigerian President and his cabinet ministers under whose watch these killings have been happening are still presiding over the affairs of the country, it all indicates Nigeria is very sick as a nation-state.
Therefore, any person or groups of persons within the Christian-folk, raising alarm today about the danger of an imminent extinction of Christianity in Nigeria, should not be dismissed with a wave of hands. These are genuine concerns, which Churches and Christian leaders of Nigeria must not sweep under carpet. Christians in Nigeria no longer have freedom of movement or worship as enshrined in the nation’s Constitution. Today, Nigerian Christians and indigenous populations are living in fear of the Islamist extremists and terror groups in the country, Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen.
Furthermore, never before has Nigeria gotten such a notoriously lopsided federal government and structures of security forces as we have them today. Local Vigilante groups who protect villagers are disarmed while Fulani herdsmen militia are equipped, and protected by government and security forces. In fact, Christians in Nigeria today are living in fear of their own federal government and security agents, which are over 90% composed by people from one ethnic and religious group, Fulani Sunni Muslims of the Sokoto Caliphate of Northern Nigeria.
Ever since the arrival of this group in Northern Nigeria in 1804 under the leadership of Uthman dan Fodio, the special privilege of ‘divide-and-rule’ British gave them in colonial arrangement over their neighbors and which has continued till date, their agenda of political domination and Islamization of the entire country has never changed. This is the bane of Nigeria’s problem behind all these killings and insecurity.
Our Optimism about the Future of Christianity in Nigeria
In the midst of the present situation of things in Nigeria, what should be our Christian response and attitude?
Again, our take in this article is that our Christian response to the present situation of things in Nigeria should be that of optimism and NOT despair.
Today more than ever, what we need in Nigeria are Christians convinced of their faith in the Risen Lord; Christians who are determined to bear witness to the Crucified Son of God, Jesus Christ, no matter the prize. This is the meaning of the following passages from the First Letter of St. Peter:
“Be strong and vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand up for him in faith, and in the knowledge that it is the same kind of suffering that the community of your brothers and sisters throughout the world is undergoing. You will have to suffer only for a while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will restore you; he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.” (1Peter 5:8-11).
In other words, there is no cause for alarm about the extinction of Christianity in Nigeria, even in many years to come. Christianity will never extinguish in Nigeria! Christianity has come to stay in Nigeria. Many Nigerians have decided for Christianity, and there is nothing anybody can do about it. To phrase Pope Paul VI, Nigeria (Africa) is Christ’s ‘New homeland.’ Christianity has come to stay in Nigeria, and indeed in the whole of African continent. Period!
What are our reasons for this optimism about the future of Christianity in Nigeria? There are many, but we can only allude to a few:
In the first place, the survival of Christianity in any place or country for that matter, whether in times of manifest persecutions as is evident nowadays in Nigeria, or in times of relative peace, has never depended and will never depend on human efforts or good will. Bible tells us that the battle is God’s and victory is always on His side, no matter how long it may take.
In the Old Testament, we read that in times of persecutions and killings of God’s people as we have it in Nigeria today, we should not forget that the battle against the enemies of the people of God is God’s and NOT of man. Thus, in the battle with the Philistines, David said to Goliath, the giant:
“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head…” (1Samuel 17:45-47).
Similarly, in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Matthew, we meet the episode of the disciple who thought it was through the sword he could defend Jesus before his tormentors and executioners. However, Jesus cautioned him:
“Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to my defense? But then, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be? ” (Matthew 26:52-54).
The above citations in no way diminish the Christian teaching on self-defense. Rather they re-enforce such Christian teaching on self-defense as the battle of God in which, Christians in the long-run are destined to triumph as winners. This is the lesson of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The good always triumphs over evil. The children of death and darkness will never prevail over the children of God and light.
Therefore, in times of trial, we should not expect that the survival of Christianity will come from political maneuvering of compromised church leaders or Christian politicians. No. The survival of Christianity in times of trial as we have it in Nigeria today, depends to a great extent, on the faith of Christians in the Risen Christ. If the faith of Nigerian Christians on the Risen Christ is shaky and compromising, then the future of Christianity in Nigeria is at risk!
This means that it is not Christianity as such that is at risk in Nigeria today, but rather the choice Christians in the country have to make, either to save their churches and land from the hands of wicked forces or to continue to live in fools’ paradise while their house is decaying from inside-out. If Christianity is to stop thriving in Nigeria today, it may not be as result of persecutions from without but rather as result of crisis of faith of believers in Christ in the face of common enemy. This includes, in the first place, the crisis of faith of a good number of Christians, especially, church leaders, but also among the ruling Christian elites and politicians.
In fact, as history tells us, Christianity thrives more in times of trials and persecutions than in times of compromised relative ‘peace’. Christian Saints and Martyrs are born and produced in times of trial and persecutions. In times of trials and persecutions, the people of God are challenged, not only to defend their faith with all their strength and might, but also and especially, to bear witness to it even unto martyrdom. Thus, the saying, “The blood of Martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Again, in times of trial and persecutions, what is expected of Christians is simply a strong faith in the power of the Risen Christ. This is Christian conviction on the efficacy of the power of the Resurrection, the triumph of the Cross of Jesus Christ over the powers and principalities of this world.
Strong faith in the power of the Risen Christ is the Christian armor at the times of trials and persecutions. This is in spite of the challenges and circumstances Christians may be facing in their daily struggle in this mortal earth. It is a strong faith and Christian witness nourished always by the Word of the Gospel and the Sacraments as means of our daily sanctification as disciples of Jesus Christ in the world.
Secondly, our optimism for the continued survival of Christianity in Nigeria stems from the fact that in times of persecutions those who usually stay back and stand-up to defend their Christian faith have always been the marginalized Christians and ordinary citizens living in villages and peripheries. History tells us that the survival of Christianity in most of the troubled places where it had faced similar trials and persecutions like ours in Nigeria today, had never depended on the good will and political maneuvering of compromised church leaders or corrupt Christian political elites and leaders at the Metropolitan centers of power. But rather on the faith conviction and continued resistance of ‘powerless’ Christians living in remote villages and peripheries, far removed from the influences of compromised church leaders and corrupt Christian politicians and elites at the centers of power.
In Nigeria, poor Christians and other citizens living in the villages and peripheries have remained the main targets and primary victims of these terrorists’ attacks as well as recklessness and impunity of Nigeria’s failed leadership. From the time of Nigeria-Biafra War till today, the poor masses, living in villages and peripheries have remained the primary victims of all these acts of man’s inhumanity to fellow man happening in the country.
What we have now is that politicians and church leaders at the Metropolitan centers of power are still calling the shoots as far as Christian response to these killings of innocent citizens are concerned. People still trust them and hope that they would provide the needed leadership at a time like ours today in Nigeria.
However, as history teaches us, time will come, if things continue as they are today, when the poor Christians and peasants living in villages and remote areas will be fed-up with the incompetence and complacency of their church leaders, Christian elites and politicians. Then they may decide to take their destiny by their own hands. They will say, enough is enough; it is time for us to defend ourselves. We have waited enough for our leaders to do something but they have abandoned us to be killed like fouls by our enemies and their sponsors.
The poor masses would say, ‘our leaders and politicians have left us and run to exile in foreign lands. Some have compromised with the enemy, sold our land and abandoned the faith of our fathers. Therefore, it is time for us, the peasants of the land, to defend ourselves and fatherland.’ This was the experience of the remnant churches of the decadent Christianity of North Africa, which survived in the present Coptic Church of Egypt and Orthodox Church of Ethiopia.
Christianity survived in Egypt and Ethiopia till our day, in spite of Muslim onslaught on the churches in North Africa in the early centuries. This is, thanks to the sacrifices and faith witness of peasant Christians of those churches in that era. However, the vibrant churches of the ancient Carthage in the Maghreb and those of the three Kingdoms of ancient Nubia (present-day Sudan), did not survive the Muslim onslaught because these were churches of Metropolis, which left their vast rural areas unreached and un-evangelized.
However, in Egypt and Ethiopia, rural areas were centers of evangelization and monasticism. In these two churches also, monastic life thrived in remote areas than in Metropolis. This wasn’t the case, however, in the churches of Carthage and Nubia which were built around feudal centers and cities, neglecting the people living in rural areas. So much so that when the Arab Muslim invaders arrived Carthage, for example, all the Bishops, Priests and nobles in that city and elsewhere left the place and ran to Rome. The poor people in remote areas became targets of the invaders and were easily absorbed into Arab culture and Islamic religion. This is why there is no presence of Christianity in that part of North Africa today.
On the contrary, the Coptic Church in Egypt survived till today, many years of Arab-Muslim conquest and persecutions, thanks to the resistance and faith conviction of ordinary Christian natives and simple monks living in remote villages, mountains and river valleys of the country. In fact, immediately the Arab invaders landed at the big cities of Alexandria and other places in Egypt, all the great church leaders and Christian politicians living in those cities were the first to run away to Constantinople (present Istanbul), the then capital of the Roman Empire. Poor Christians living in villages were abandoned and left with nothing to defend themselves or be killed by Arab Muslim invaders.
Fortunately, these peasant Christians, relying on God alone, mustered an extraordinary courage of faith and strength, and with it were able to defend their land and church. The Coptic Church we see in Egypt today was founded on the blood of those peasant Christians from villages who didn’t run away like their Church leaders and politicians at the big cities and metropolis. The poor Christians in villages and remote areas stayed back at the time of persecutions to defend the church and their Christian faith.
These peasant Christians gave their lives to save Christianity in North Africa. Today, the liturgical Calendar of the Coptic Church counts the beginning of each year from the time of the persecutions and Martyrdom of these poor Christians who saved Christianity in Egypt.
This was also how Christianity in Ethiopia survived almost a millennium of isolation from the Christian world when Arab-Muslims take-over the control of Trans-Saharan routes and Horn of Africa. When Arab Muslims took over the Trans-Saharan Route and Horn of Africa, the Church in Ethiopia could not travel again to Alexandria in Egypt to consecrate a new Abun (Bishop). For many centuries, the Church in Ethiopia had no Bishops and Priests. Under such circumstance, the peasant-natives, majority of whom were mere illiterates, took over control and maintenance of their church. With that, they were able to keep Christianity alive in Ethiopia till our modern time.
The clarion calls by some individuals and Christian elders’ forum to save Christianity in Nigeria before the looming danger, is a call to save lives and ancestral homes of indigenous ethnic-African populations, the primary targets and victims of these Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram attacks and terrorism. From time immemorial, indigenous ethnic-African populations have been the target of dominations or exterminations by imperial colonial powers, which includes remnants of Arab Muslim invaders, who arrived in some parts of West and Central Africa in the early 1800s, about two hundred years ago.
This means that there is veracity in the statement of those who have alarmed us that Christianity in Nigeria is in great trouble today. This is a clarion call on all Christians, not only Church leaders, to wake-up from their slumber and save themselves as well as their faith and land from the looming danger.
However, as we have tried to demonstrate in this article, it is NOT Christianity as such that is at risk in Nigeria today, but rather the survival of indigenous populations of the country. Again, what is at stake is not Christianity per se, but rather the call to faith commitment of Nigerian Christians to wake-up from their slumber in the face of a common enemy and defend their land, lives and Christian faith.
As citizens and Christians of Nigeria, we are challenged more than ever today, to save our land and faith from the evil designs of those who like to hold the Word captive. This is a duty, we owe not only to God but also to the hundreds of thousands of defenseless victims of Fulani herdsmen terrorists’ attacks, the unsung martyrs of the Nigeria-Biafra genocidal war as well as Boko Haram terrorism in recent times.
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.