Faith communities provide comfort and security amidst Nigerian violence
Amidst violent activity, local faith communities continue to play an important role in restoring security in Nigeria.
According to Amnesty International, at least 1,126 people were killed in Nigeria in the first six months of this year, and the absence of rule of law left the rural population “at the mercy of rampaging gunmen.”
Among the dead are many of our brothers and sisters. Rev. Sam Ebute of Kangoro said the increase in violence in the past two months had paralysed the Christian community because people are too afraid to leave their homes. “For four years, since I became a priest in 2016, I have been burying my parishioners.”
According to one report, at least 105 members of the Baptist community in Kaduna state have been killed in attacks since January. When gunmen reportedly followed Rev. Alhamdu Mangadus to his farm and shot him, Christians in the region of Kaduna took to the streets in protest.
Attacks have reached unprecedented level
Amnesty is not the first to document escalating violence in Nigeria. The Islamist Boko Haram group, which started its insurgence in northeast Nigeria in 2009, was West Africa’s “most active and lethal actor” said the Washington-based non-profit organisation Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). Since its inception, the group has become responsible for killing at least 27,000 people in Nigeria and the surrounding nations of Chad and Cameroon.
With increasing violence, faith communities in Nigeria are providing an oasis of community, security, and comfort.
Meanwhile the conflict between herders and farming communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region has become more dangerous than the Boko Haram insurgency, said a 2018 report by the International Crisis Group. Armed groups of mostly Fulani militants target mostly Christian villages, loot property, kill and abduct villagers. A report published in July by members of the UK Parliament said Fulani militants were responsible for the majority of terror-related attacks in 2018.
Since then, the increase and spread of attacks to Nigeria’s north-western region — and the inability of the government to restore security — has created opportunities for other criminal groups who seek to create a foothold.
“The violence continues unabated and the attacks have reached an unprecedented level … in terms of intensity, modus operandi, the multiple actors and the large geographical scope,” said Illia Djadi, Open Doors’ Senior Analyst for Freedom of Religion or Belief in Sub- Saharan Africa.
He told the Religious Liberty Partnership roundtable webinar on Nigeria on September 16 that a new approach was needed and highlighted the role of Local Faith Actors, or LFAs, such as church leaders. They are strategically placed to help support victims and ultimately solve the problems on community level, he said. He said local people trust them and that they were often involved in peacebuilding efforts among communities.
Also, communities turn to churches in times of need, he said — not only for prayer, but for food and medication. “In times of crisis LFAs such as churches often are the first responders and have access to networks that give them a ‘logistical edge’ in terms of distributing aid,” Djadi said.
The COVID-19 pandemic made this obvious again, he said. “The nation-wide lock-down prevented people to go out, to feed their families and made them more vulnerable to attacks by militants.”
“If we could encourage international agencies to support LFAs, to increase their capacity and to make sure the aid reaches the actual victims, that would go a long way to help Nigeria out of this quagmire,” Djadi said.
Open Doors, through its local partners, has been able to deliver emergency aid to 15,000 families in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, Niger, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.
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