Fr. Ehusani says that militants are establishing territory in many places, especially North of the country where many places have their specific flag.
“As we speak, swathes of territories in Northern Nigeria are no go areas except for them; meaning swathes of territories that I as a Priest, as a Christian cannot go into because they have taken over; they have hoisted their flag,” the Nigerian Catholic Priest narrates.
He explains that in Nigeria’s Borno State, for instance, there are vast territories where citizens are forced to pay taxes to Boko Haram and other bandits so as to be allowed to carry on legitimate activities like going to their farms.
“I am not able to give you the number or the geographical dimension or size but there are swathes of territories here and there where the average person cannot go to, that even government officials cannot go to,” he says, and adds, “If the governor of the state wants to go there, he will need a battalion of the military to be able to go to that area.”
Recalling the November 2020 incident in the village of Zabarmari in Borno State, where at least “39 farmers were slaughtered,” the Priest says, the farmers “had their throats slashed. Their offence was that they went to the farm.”
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He says that although many of those killed were Christians, Muslims were also victims of the violence.
Fr. Ehusani tells ACI Africa that over time, militants who only targeted Christians have started killing Muslims who refuse to be part of them.
In the beginning of the Islamist attacks, only Christian places of worship were being burnt down, the Priest recalls. With time, he says, the attacks degenerated and now, everybody who is not part of the militants is targeted.
“When it started, even the moderate Muslims either were too scared to speak out or they sympathized with these people. So, they kept quiet. So, part of the ways in which this thing became a wildfire is that at the beginning in 2009, 2010 and 2011, many moderate Muslims in Northern Nigeria kept quiet,” he said.
Fr. Ehusani alludes to the idea that Muslims who never spoke out when the jihadist attacks started nearly a decade ago are now suffering the same fate as Christians.
He says in reference to the Muslims, “At that time they thought that it is only us Christians who will be victims. Now when you ignore a wildfire, it will consume you yourself.”
“It is no longer just about Christians,” he reiterates, and explains, “Today, even mosques are being ransacked. Islamic schools have been ransacked.”
He says that when the attacks began, militants picked out Christians on abducted buses, killed them and allowed Muslims to go. He notes that things are different today, adding in reference to the militants, “Now they will kidnap everybody in the bus and ask for ransom. And if they don't get the ransom, they kill all of them.”
The Catholic Priest who is a vocal human rights defender expresses concern that militants in Nigeria are evolving in their tactics and are accessing some of the most sophisticated weapons of violence.
He explains during the July 22 interview with ACI Africa, “Just four days ago, the criminals downed an air force plane. So, we're no longer just dealing with ground level troops anymore. We're dealing with people who have the capacity to either launch grenades, rockets or something to bring down a fighter jet.”
The one-time Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) asserts that the leadership of Africa’s most populous nation “as presently constituted” has failed in protecting its people, noting that at the moment the people can only trust in God.
“God alone is our trust because the government as presently constituted cannot even protect its own government officials not to talk of protecting Christians,” he says, and adds, “Yes, Christians are the most vulnerable now since most of these bandits are determined to bring about Islamic rule.”
“As a Christian living in Northern Nigeria today, I do not have anything to look up to as anything coming from the government to be able to protect me,” Fr. Ehusani says.
He makes reference to the July 16 murder of Major General Hussaini Ahmed, saying, “Just last week, seven days ago, a major general in the Army who was until recently the Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, meaning a top level military officer, was brutally shot and killed on the road that he was traveling two hours away from Abuja.”
Fr. Ehusani narrates that the official’s sister who was travelling with him was kidnapped and had not been rescued when the Priest spoke to ACI Africa July 22.
“He was brutally shot and killed, a major general in the army, former provost Marshal; and we have had such high-level people that are just killed like chickens,” the Priest says, in reference to the slain military man.
He poses, “So, what kind of hope do you think that I have if I step out of my house that I cannot be killed? That's why I say to your question, I look up to this sky from where does my help come from. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. That’s all we can say as Christians in Nigeria today.”
The people have unceasingly reached out to the international community for help, where the government has failed, he says.
“We have also cried to the international community that, even if the government does not ask for help, see the number of people who are dying. Can you imagine that Over 1,000 people are being killed every month, and we are not at war?” the Catholic Priest poses.
He adds, “There is no declared war. There is what is called low intensity conflict and high intensity conflict. By the time you have more than a thousand people having been killed every month, it is no longer low intensity. It is a high intensity conflict.”
The Nigerian Catholic Priest expresses regret that despite what has been described as a genocide in Nigeria, the government has done little to show concern.
The fervent prayer chanted by Christians in Nigeria, the Priest says, is “Lord help us because the government of the day cannot help us.”
This is the first of three-part series of analyses of insecurity in Nigeria amid attacks and abductions, explaining the parties involved, why the government seems unable to resolve the problem, how the militants fund their operations, and the place of the international community, among other issues.