Supporters of the All Progressives Congress political party attend a campaign rally in Taraba, Nigeria, Feb. 7, 2019, ahead of the presidential elections. Nigerian bishops are urging voters to reflect and pray ahead of the country's Feb. 16 elections. CNS photo/Nigeria Presidency handout via Reuters

Nigerian priest makes plea for amid violence leading up to elections

  • February 15, 2019

OTTAWA – The run-up to a general election in Nigeria has triggered concerns about growing violence and an increase in Christian persecution, said the national director of Nigeria’s Pontifical Mission Society.

Fr. George Segun Ajana described rising tension and fear “because we really don’t know what is going to happen” after the Feb. 16 election.

In a country with more than 200 million people and 70 political parties, the two main parties are run by Fulani Muslims. Incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari leads the All Progressives Congress (APC), while Atiku Abubakar heads the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). About 50 per cent of the population is Muslim, 40 per cent is Christian and some 10 per cent practice Indigenous religions.

Nigerian Christians face attacks from Islamist jihadist groups such as Boko Haram, but Ajana said Christians also face threats from the Muslim majority, especially from Fulani herdsman who are increasingly well-armed. Christians may also be persecuted by their own governments in some Nigerian states, he said.

“The present government of the APC, led by the president who is Muslim, promised security for the country, that Boko Haram would be decimated,” Ajana told Canadian Catholic News. “Almost four years down the line, the security has moved from bad to worse. It is not improving.

“Nobody feels safe,” the priest said. “Apart from the killings, there are bad things all over the place.”

Ajana was personally acquainted with a priest killed along with another priest after Mass last year when an unknown gunman opened fire and killed 17 people in Benue State. 

That priest had been a student in an agricultural program sponsored by the Pontifical Mission Society, Ajana said.

Priests and religious also face danger from kidnappings. Though some are released after a ransom is paid, in others cases priests are found dead even after a ransom payment, Ajana said. Others have been kidnapped and never heard from again.

Last year, 90 per cent of Christians put to death for their faith worldwide came from Nigeria, according to Open Doors International, an evangelical ministry that tracks Christian persecution. Open Doors reported 3,731 Nigerian Christians died in the 2018 auditing period.

“Despite the persecutions, despite the killings, Christians have remained resolute — we are not being discouraged,” said Ajana. “We are growing stronger, even though sometimes there are fears and people have had reasons to migrate from one part of the country to another.  All the same, Christianity is growing in Nigeria.”

The Pontifical Missions Society raises funds for projects throughout Nigeria, but aid is especially urgent in the north to help rebuild churches and schools, and to help people who have been internally displaced, Ajana said.

Christians face persecution from an array of Islamist jihadists, including Boko Haram, which is sponsored by outside forces, Ajana said. “Unfortunately it appears as if the government of the day is abetting and allowing this to happen.”

Many Christians are also threatened by well-armed Fulani herdsmen who are predominantly Muslim, the priest said. 

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