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ACN delegation surveys state of Islamist terror in Nigeria
"The attacks by Boko Haram and the Fulani are only the tip of the iceberg."
By Maria Lozano
NEW YORK (March 28, 2017)—The Nigerian army has made great progress in combatting Boko Haram, but the country still suffers from the aftermath of the group’s years-long reign of terror in Nigeria’s north-east. That was the finding of a delegation from international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which just returned from a fact-finding mission to Nigeria.
A spate of suicide attacks linked to Boko Haram has hit the city of Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, in recent weeks. This is where Boko Haram began as an initially non-violent Islamist movement. The region is home to some 20 government-run camps housing thousands of Nigerians driven from their homes by Boko Haram. At least 50,000 IDPs are stranded in Maiduguri.
According to the UN, Boko Haram has affected the lives of 26 million people. The Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri alone has registered more than 5,000 widows and 15,000 orphans. The ACN delegation heard agonizing testimonies of some of the victims—women forced to watch their husbands’ throats cut, priests who had to secretly evacuate dozens of children from the schools, people who survived for weeks by hiding in their homes; and men and women caught and tortured by the group.
The delegation also took stock of new forms of Islamist terror perpetrated by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, who—notably in the Diocese of Kafanchan, in the south of Kaduna State—have brutally attacked villages inhabited by Christian farmers. Since 2011, no fewer than 71 attacks on villages have left almost 1000 dead, destroyed more than 2700 homes and 20 churches. Nomadic Fulani herdsmen have historically clashed with farmers, but the current wave of attacks have featured the use of sophisticated weaponry, which points at parties funding the violence.
Maria Lozano, who heads ACN’s international press and media department, said: “The attacks by Boko Haram and the Fulani are only the tip of the iceberg; Christians living in the states of northern Nigeria with a Muslim majority suffer constant discrimination and have been the victims of ongoing cycles of attacks decades. The West is barely aware of these abuses.”
She continued: “Catholics are living in constant danger, yet their churches are full. The people of Nigeria are truly thirsting for God. The Church is growing, and this is why they are being attacked—Muslim fundamentalists see Christians as a threat.” ACN is funding a number of projects in the country, including the construction of new churches and chapels, as well as the support of seminarians.
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Nigerian bishops’ conference, saluted the ACN delegation, saying: “This visit brought to prominence the need for pastoral solidarity between the Church of other continents and Africa. Relationships should not be formed or based only on television, newspaper or radio reports or letters through posts or emails.
"Such a warm, friendly visit by the 14 men and women bound together by the mission and vision of ACN, who came to celebrate the ‘sacrament of presence’ in Nigeria is a veritable witnessing in love.”
The archbishop also said that “the visit was therapeutic to a people traumatized by natural disasters, the menace of criminals and religious fanatics, persecution, discrimination and the challenges of daily life.”
Nigerian seminarians in Kaduna; ACN photo