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U.S.-Based Cleric, Nun Say Militants Getting Help to Attack Christians in Nigeria

Catholic Bishops lead a protest over the continued killings of Nigerians in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 1, 2020.

A Nigerian-born Catholic Cleric and Sister ministering in the Diocese of Brooklyn within the Archdiocese of New York in the United States have blamed the ongoing attacks meted against Christians in Nigeria on the laxity of the government to act, saying that attackers are getting help to carry out the atrocities.

The violence in Nigeria, which has been likened to a genocide has attracted global condemnation with Catholic Bishops in the West African country relentlessly calling on the government to act to end abductions and killings that seem to target Christians.

In an interview with London-based Catholic media outlet, The Tablet, Fr. Cosmas Nzeabalu and Sr. Elizabeth Ogbu, both assigned to the Diocese of Brooklyn, say that they believe the Nigerian government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, has done little to prevent ongoing violence between Muslim cattle herders and Christian farmers. 

According to Fr. Cosmas, the government is too easy on Fulani herdsmen who have carried out a series of attacks against innocent civilians. He said that while the herdsmen might not be acting at the government’s order, President Buhari, himself a Fulani, seems uninterested in bringing an end to the violent killings in the country.

Referencing the Nigerian President, Fr. Cosmas posed, “How does he say he’s not part of the problem? You are the commander-in-chief. Why are you not putting out a clear warning against such killings and such behavior?”

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“It shows he does not have regard for Christians,” the Cleric asserts in a report that was published by The Tablet on Tuesday, November 3.

A UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief report dubbed, “Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?” which was released in June warns of the risk of an unfolding genocide and calls for UK aid to be linked to efforts to protect Nigerian villagers from attacks by Islamist extremists.

The report argues that in killing and driving out Christian villagers, the Fulani militants, wittingly or unwittingly, are serving the same agenda as Boko Haram.

The herdsmen dominate Nigeria’s arid North, while Christians, including Catholics, dominate the South’s verdant farmlands. The two groups want access to good agricultural land at Nigeria’s center, called the “Middle Belt.”

Herdsmen have participated in the killing of 13,079 Christians between 2001-2019, according to estimates from the International Committee on Nigeria.

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Sr. Elizabeth who does her apostolate at Catholic Telemedia Network, developing a digital-based curriculum for Catholic schools in Brooklyn Diocese told The Tablet that the Fulani herdsmen want “greener pastures” for cattle but added that “as time goes on, it turns out to be a religious thing.”

The proof, she says in the report, is the violence spreading from the fields to churches in villages and suburbs where she adds that Clergy and worshipers, including children, are kidnapped or murdered.

“It’s not just about a fight that busts out,” she noted, adding, “They go into churches and burn them down while people are inside worshiping. This is deliberate; it is planned.”

Attackers typically use clubs, rocks, machetes, and crude hunting rifles made from antique and modern gun parts. They also weaponize cattle, spurring stampedes to trample crops, The Tablet reported. 

As days go by, the attackers have started using AK-47 rifles which the Nigerian-born nun says are too expensive for an average herdsman’s wages. Sr. Elizabeth, therefore, thinks they’re getting help.  

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“There is no way they can get those sophisticated arms without sponsors,” she says, and adds, “I am not sure if it’s Boko Haram or if the government sponsors this, but there could be some interchanges because they all have the same mission.”

The nun further says, “I think they are trying to Islamize the entire country.”

According to Fr. Cosmas, the U.S. government needs to make Nigeria a priority in working towards the end of the violence in Africa’s most populous country, acknowledge the violence is not unnoticed, and demand that it ends.

“If there is no action coming from America, the whole thing will continue,” the Nigerian-born Cleric based in the U.S. says, a sentiment that Sr. Elizabeth concurs with, saying “To me, prayer is the key, but we also need to put in some actions to prayer. To me, it’s about speaking out when something happens.”

The Sister urges the Church in Brooklyn Diocese to join in condemning the violence that has rocked her native country saying, “Together, that voice will be louder, and I think that will help.”