The serial attacks on churches in Nigeria have, over the years, continued to assume an increasingly fearsome dimension with little or no remedy, such that one begins to doubt the efficacy of the Nigerian government.
As the years go by, so do the mounting attack on Christians in different shades and forms. This evil phenomenon dates back to the notorious Maitatsine riots, the first major religious violence in northern Nigeria that prompted immense ethno-religious discord between Muslims and Christians, killing and injuring thousands across both religious groups.
Where was the Nigerian government when Muhammadu Marwa, a Cameroonian residing in Kano, raised an army of Islamists and instigated a series of violent uprisings in Kano that caused so many deaths between 1980 and 1985? While this mayhem lasted for five years, Kano State was governed by four successive administrations. At the federal level, at that time, we had two successive governments led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Muhammadu Buhari, respectively.
The first Maitatsine riot broke out on December 18, 1980, reportedly claiming 4,000 lives, including Marwa, during the tenures of the late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Alhaji Shehu Shagari as governor and president, respectively.
Rimi assumed office in October 1979. How come his government did not see this coming within his first 14 months of governance? The death of Marwa did not put a stop to the nefarious activities of the Islamists; rather, it caused an upsurge of reprisal attacks. Numerous other riots took place between 1980 and 1985, claiming thousands of Christians and Muslims with countless injured, as it spread to Maiduguri and Kaduna.
Rimi’s administration terminated in May 1983, when he handed over to the late Alhaji Abdu Dawakin Tofa, who was governor for only five months. The late Alhaji Sabo Bakin Zuwo came into office in October 1983, served for only three months, following the military coup that led to the appointment of Air Commodore Hamza Abudullahi, as military governor between January 1984 and August 1985. It was also during this pandemonium that the current president became the military Head of State on December 31, 1983. According to accounts given by various persons at that time, about a month into his administration, there was a Maitatsine uprising in Yola and another in Gombe in 1985.
On each occasion of the Maitatsine riots, the Mobile Police and Army moved in and crushed the rebellion but one thing was obviously wrong. Government’s approach, coupled with the measures by the security agencies, appeared to be reactive rather than proactive.
The Federal Government and its agencies have over the years been consistently accused of being reactive in the fight against insurgency, right from the days of the Maitatsine movement. Are the country’s security agencies alert to their responsibilities or could it be a failure of intelligence? These begging questions are as old as the incessant killings in Nigeria.
The persistent killing of Christians has been an endless trail. Between February 21 and May 23, 2000, the introduction of Sharia law in Kaduna State sparked religious riots that reportedly caused over 3,000 deaths. The same religious riots spread to Jos, where a majority of Christians were slain by Muslims in over 4,000 deaths that occurred within 10 days, from September 7 to 17, 2001.
From all indications, the Maitatsine movement transformed into a terrorist sect called Boko Haram. The National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Mohammed Babagana Monguno (retd.), confirmed this a year ago when he revealed that the Maitatsine insurgents that ravaged the northern part of the country in the 1980s metamorphosed into the present-day Boko Haram. With poor security measures as well as intelligence failure, a killer sect that went down in 1985 reemerged in another name but with the same ideology without pre-liquidation attempts by government. Where were our security agencies? What has become of intelligence agencies?
The Maitatsine movement has same creed as the contemporary Boko Haram sect. Marwa was noted for raucous condemnation of Western culture, education and technology, and was known to refer to anyone who sent their children to a state school as ‘Infidel’, which resurfaced in the Boko Haram ideology.
The Maitatsine and Boko Haram terrorist inclinations manifest in the activities of these groups, which is an unhealthy mix of religious and political chauvinism as well as extremism, with the Christians majorly hit.
Boko Haram is a Sunni Islamic group whose primary aim is to establish Sharia law. For this singular disastrous goal, the Boko Haram uprising, between July 26 and 29, 2009, claimed over a thousand lives. During the violence, Christians were killed for refusing to convert to Islam in Maiduguri, Bauchi, Potiskum and Wali.
In the 2010 Jos massacre, the victims were mostly Christians killed by Muslims. During the 2011 Damaturu attacks, the Islamic militants associated with Boko Haram attacked police stations, churches and banks. The list of bloodbaths is long.
In the April 8, 2012, Kaduna massacre, Islamist terrorists bombed a church on Easter Day with an alleged death toll of 38. On June 17, 2012, Islamist terrorists bombed three churches in Kaduna, Wusasa and Sabon Gari; 19 people were killed, with 80 injured.
On Christmas Eve, December 2012, Islamic militants attacked a church in the village of Peri, near Potiskum, the thriving trade hegemony of Yobe State, and afterwards set it ablaze; over 27 deaths were reported.
Also on January 20, 2012, in Kano, terrorists attacked churches and Christian businesses; Boko Haram claimed responsibility.
One of the most recent heinous attacks that have attracted a wide range of international uproar is the continued captivity of Leah Sharibu.
On February 19 this year, 110 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Boko Haram group in Dapchi, Yobe State. While other girls were released a month after, the group was alleged to have held back Leah Sharibu, the only Christian among the girls, because she refused to renounce her faith and embrace Islam.
In all these insurrections, the Catholic Church has had its unfair share of painful tales. Most memorable was when Muslim militants chose Christmas Day, December 25, 2011, to bomb a Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, during the Holy Mass, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, a ceremony simultaneously marked annually all over the world.
While Boko Haram militants have waged attacks on Christians and others in Nigeria for years, intensifying to become the deadliest terror group in the world, the clashes with the Fulani herdsmen have become more deadly than the Boko Haram jihadist insurgency that has ravaged Nigeria’s North-East.
The latest assault on the Catholic Church is particularly loathsome. A vile and satanic attack by herdsmen on morning Holy Mass right inside St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Ukpor-Mbalom community, Benue State, on April 24, 2018, that left two priests, Rev. Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, and 15 parishioners dead is clearly an evidence of Christianity cleansing and has been described by many as inimical to the progress and unity of the country.
Reacting to the massacre of Benue citizens, some people shared the view that that it had been the goal of jihadists to conquer Benue and Tiv people, who resisted their advance into the Middle Belt and the eastern part of Nigeria since 1804. The people rejected Islam and fought for the unification of Nigeria in the civil war of 1967 to 1970.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), describing the killings of the two priests and 15 others as a dastardly act that was “carefully planned,” called on President Muhammadu Buhari to resign. In a communiqué, titled “When will this barbarism end?” the CBCN condemned the increasing attacks by suspected herdsmen, whom they said had turned the country into a massive graveyard.
The communiqué, signed by the CBCN president, Most Rev. Augustine Akubeze, and secretary, Most Rev. Camillus Umoh, recounted how, on January 3 this year, Rev. Fr. Gor tweeted, “We are living in fear. The Fulani are still around here in Mbalom where they (priests) were killed. They refuse to go. They still go grazing around. No weapons to defend ourselves.” But their desperate cries for security and help went unheeded by government and security agencies whose duty it was to protect their citizens.
Sequel to the directive from the CBCN that all dioceses nationwide should organise a peaceful rally over the barbaric and intolerable killing of the two priests, Rev. Fathers Gor and Tyolaha and 15 others, Catholic faithful will today take to the streets simultaneously across the country while the funeral of the victims is ongoing in Benue State.
The funeral event will commence with Requiem Mass at 10am in every diocese nationwide, after which the procession will commence from the church to the respective governors’ offices in the states. Fifty bishops, led by the Pope’s team would be at the Requiem Mass for the two priests and parishioners killed in Mbalom community in Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State today.
According to the statement issued by the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, the Requiem Mass will hold at St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Ikeja, Lagos, by 10am and immediately after the Mass there will be a peaceful procession from the church to the Lagos State Governor’s Office, Alausa, Ikeja.
The herdsmen/terrorists’ attack is taking a dimension that should be collectively checked and opposed. The Catholic Church of Nigeria stands to oppose these incessant killings of innocent citizens and attack on the church and calls on government to rise up to its responsibilities and ensure that the culprits are apprehended and brought to book.
The Federal Government should respond to these clarion calls to address the fast rising spate of insecurity in the country.
· Nwosu, CEO, Neta & Netas, writes from Lagos.