, 31 December, 2019 / 9:55 AM
At a time when reports about terrorist attacks targeting Christians in various countries in West Africa have multiplied in recent years, the reported execution of 11 Christians in Nigeria’s Borno State by a terrorist group affiliated to the Islamic State (IS) on Christmas Day is a cause for concern, various Church leaders have shared.
On December 26, the IS group released a 56-second video showing the killing of 11 male Christians “captured in the past weeks” in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria.
While further details about the victims of the Christmas Day murder were not given in the video, analysists have looked at the timing of the murder and release of the video as deliberate, to coincide with festivities around the birth of Jesus Christ and cause pain to Christians.
Produced by Amaq, the IS “news agency,” the video claims that the murder is part of its campaign to revenge the October killing of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria during the raid by the U.S.
The Vatican-based Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Robert Cardinal Sarah took to Twitter, expressing his concern over the reported killing in the West African nation of Nigeria.
“In Nigeria, the murder of eleven Christians by mad Islamists is a reminder of how many of my African brothers in Christ live faith at the risk of their own lives,” Cardinal Sarah said in his December 28 Tweet.
The Cardinal, a native of the West African country of Guinea, added in reference to the executed Christians, “These baptized are martyrs. They have not betrayed the Gospel.”
Fr. Benjamin Achi, the Director of Communications in Nigeria’s Enugu diocese where abductions targeting priests have been on the increase has also expressed concerns around the Christmas Day execution in his country.
“We woke up a day after Christmas to the horrible news of the gruesome decapitation of (11) Christian hostages by the Islamic State terrorists,” Fr. Achi told ACI Africa Saturday, December 28.
“This latest development gives serious cause for worry especially in the wake of the latest move by the federal government of Nigeria to throw wide the boarders of the country for anyone who wishes from any part of the continent to come in without visas and proper documentation,” Fr. Achi said.
He added, “We are indeed concerned that this decision would facilitate the influx of more of these terrorists from other parts of Africa into Nigeria.”
The murder is a significant cause for concern because it serves to confirm the fears among a section of Christians in Africa’s most populous nation that they are targeted unfavourably, various Church leaders have lamented.
“Christians in all parts of Nigeria have been apprehensive overtime and have seen themselves as clear targets of the endless acts of terrorism being witnessed in the country,” Father Achi told ACI Africa in reference to his country, Nigeria.
“Even though some notable Muslim leaders like the Sultan of Sokoto (and) Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar III have argued against this position, it is still very difficult not to think in that direction in the light of the scores of casualties Christians have recorded in various parts of the country since the rise of insurgency six years ago,” the Nigerian cleric observed.
As a way forward, Fr. Achi has called on President Mohammadu Buhari to go beyond his “statement condemning these killings.”
“We urge his government to be more proactive and find a lasting solution to the rising spate of insecurity in the country engendered especially by the activities of the terror groups like the ISIS, Boko Haram and the murderous Fulani herdsmen,” Fr. Achi said.
On his part, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese sees the Christmas Day action by the IS as part of the continued effort to promote antagonism between Christians and Muslims in the country and region.
“They are trying to create a situation of war,” Archbishop Kaigama has been quoted as telling Vatican Radio’s Francesca Sabatinelli following the Christmas Day murder and added referencing IS members, “they want to see Muslims and Christians fighting.”
According to the Nigerian Prelate, IS members live in the hope that in the midst of the confusion, they might “have the upper hand and be able to destroy Christians, take over the country and even the neighboring countries.”
Archbishop Kaigama expressed concerns around “serious discrimination” against Christian entities in his country.
“Sometimes you have no possibility to buy land to build a church in the Northern states where Muslims are the majority. You cannot have Christian religious programmes on television or radio. You cannot teach Christian religious knowledge in schools, or have a Christian Chaplain to help the Christians in the universities,” the Archbishop said in the Vatican News report and described such discrimination as “serious problems.”
The murder of the 11 male Christians continues the narrative around the unfortunate plight of Christians in Nigeria who are discriminated against in government positions, with the vitally important dockets “being given to Muslims,” the Archbishop lamented.
He advocates for justice, equality, and fairness in view of fighting the “deliberate attempt to favour Muslims over Christians” in Nigeria.
The fact that “it is not Nigerian local media that shared the news of the killings” but the IS, is also a source of concern for the 61-year-old Nigerian Prelate.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa