Amid Persecution, Nigeria’s Christians Rely on Saints for Inspiration, Not State: Priest

Massacre in Plateau Nigeria on 24 December 2023. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Christians in Nigeria can no longer trust their government to protect them against persecution; they are now drawing their inspiration from the lives of the saints of the Church, a Catholic Priest in the West African nation has said.

In an interview with the Catholic Pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, Fr. Andrew Dewan, the Director of Communications of Pankshin Diocese, which was at the centre of the Christmas 2023 Massacres in Nigeria’s Plateau State said that the 23-26 December 2023 attacks that left nearly 200 people dead bring to the fore the atrocities meted against Christians in the country while authorities remain silent.

Fr. Dewan said that while some Christians are abandoning Christianity in search of solace elsewhere, many have found inspiration in saints, the lives of the early Church, and biblical narratives.

“The situation at hand is, indeed, dire,” Fr. Dewan has been quoted as saying in in the Monday, January 8 ACN report.

He added, “Although some few Christians who are disillusioned by the spate of these unprovoked attacks are tempted to return to African traditional methods (syncretism) to respond to these emergencies, the vast majority draw inspiration from the scriptures, the lives of the early Church and saints at times like this.”


According to the Nigerian Catholic Priest, Christians in Africa’s most populous nation are facing the most challenging times the Church in the country has faced in recent history.

“We are dealing with a huge deluge of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Christians from the villages are streaming into the city centers for shelter, food and clothing at a time when the weather is very cold, comparable to the weather in Europe at this time,” he said.

Fr. Dewan said that owing to the lack of an official response to attacks meted against Christian in various Nigerian States, the churches are often left to respond to such emergencies.

He explained that IDPs in their hundreds are seen in the church compounds, and the churches have to source for food, clothing, and financial resources to intervene in such emergencies.

Fr. Dewan spoke to ACN about what took place in a series of what he described as coordinated attacks on 26 villages in Nigeria’s Plateau State.

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He said that although initial reports had pointed to around 170 people killed in the attacks, the number was expected to rise as many injured Christians continued to fight for their lives in hospitals where they had been rushed.

According to the official of Pankshin Diocese, the unprovoked attacks were well coordinated and deliberate, targeting Christian communities.

“I live in this same community and can confirm that in the areas where these attacks took place, the victims are 100 percent Christians, except for a few. But even at that, the non-Christians were isolated,” he said, adding that the violence began in a rural community named Mushu at night.

In Mushu, about 18 people were killed, and several others were injured.

Just when people were trying to come to terms with what had happened at Mushu, Tudun Mazat was attacked. The attackers, the Catholic Priest went on to narrate, stormed the community in the evening, just about the time most people were eating their dinner, and those who had finished were visiting friends.


Before people could raise the alarm, the bandits were already upon them,” Fr. Dewan further said, and continued, “People were summarily shot and killed, houses and corn that had been harvested were set ablaze, and churches and clinics were also set on fire.”

“I had gone to this same community for Christmas Mass for the Catholic community that morning. From Tudun Mazat, the Fulani terrorists descended on Maiyanga, killing thirteen. Around 20 other communities were attacked that night,” he narrated.

Survivors and eyewitnesses were reportedly categorical in saying that those who attacked the villages were Fulani militia or mercenaries.

In the January 8 ACN report, Fr. Dewan is quoted as saying that in communities where the Christians live side by side with Fulanis, not one Fulani person was affected, and no Fulani houses were burned. 

As for the motive of the attacks, he said, “I am not sure, but it may be connected with attacks that took place in the neighboring local government, called Mangu. The Fulanis attacked the communities there, and they had expected the Christians in Bokkos area, especially those communities bordering Mangu, to allow them access, but they refused. So, I think they came back to attack the communities because of that.”

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He said that the fact that it was Christmas time also contributed to the attacks against Christians.

“For those who believe that this conflict is not religious, this latest attack proves that it is clearly a religious conflict,” Fr. Dewan said, and explained, “The fact that it took place at Christmas and the deliberate targeting of Christians in a mixed community, where Muslims are not attacked, clearly bears all the hallmarks of a religious conflict.”

He added, “I know that not everybody would like to admit that, but for me, having been on the ground, observing and writing about this, it bears the hallmarks of a religious conflict.” 

The Catholic Priest says that he finds it unfortunate that Nigeria is “dealing with absentee leaders.”

“Our leaders don't live in the community, so they don't understand the problems that are bothering the people, and we are getting to the point where if something is not done drastically to deal with this gathering storm, the tendency for people to take the law into their hands is quite high,” Fr. Dewan told ACN International.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.