ROME – A day after nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were set free after being kidnapped last week, one nun has warned that nothing is being done to stop incidents like this from happening, and that unless action is taken soon, her country is headed for a catastrophe.
Referring to the violence and kidnappings that have ravaged Nigeria for the past decade, Nigerian Sister Monica Chikwe, a member of the Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy, said the situation is “getting out of hand. We are going to face another, second, civil war.”
Similar to Nigeria’s 1967-1970 civil war, which was marked largely by ethnic and religious tensions, Chikwe said she fears current national instability created by the government’s inability to get the situation under control could fracture the country in way that’s irreconcilable.
She also criticized the silence of the international community on the situation, calling it “heartbreaking.”
“Nobody is talking about this, nobody. I say nobody. I am asking, where is the American power? Where is Amnesty International? Where is the UN? Are they waiting for the eruption of war and disorder?”
Chikwe appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden, all UN member-states, and Amnesty International to get involved before it’s too late.
The United States, she said, “are the lover of freedom, they are the lover of human rights…They defend the dignity of people, they defend self-determination, they defend the free expression, free movement.”
However, these rights are quickly deteriorating in Nigeria, she said, explaining that people can be killed for simply expressing an opinion.
“What I’m pleading for with the world powers, what I’m pleading for with the American president, what I’m pleading for with Amnesty International and the UN, is for them to intervene in the issue of Nigeria,” in whatever way they can, Chikwe said.
For years, Nigeria has been gripped by violence as fighting an insurgency from radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions more. In recent years, a Boko Haram offshoot group, The Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), has also unleashed violence in the country’s north.
Hundreds throughout Nigeria have been kidnapped and numerous churches burned, with Christians and their property often becoming targets.
In addition to the numerous priests and even bishops who have been kidnapped — and some killed — in recent months, school children have also routinely been targeted.
On Tuesday, 279 girls who had been abducted from the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe Friday were released. The government said last week that 317 had been kidnapped. It was not clear if this was an error, or if some girls are still missing.
“The level of violence that is going on is indescribable, and this is bringing about a lot of killing, a lot of mayhem, a lot of displacement of people, a lot of violence everywhere: kidnapping, raping, assassinating,” Chikwe said, placing most of the blame on what she said is Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s incapacity to handle the situation.
“I can attribute it to the failure of our president to handle his primary assignment, which is to protect life and property. Failing that, insecurity is what is ruling the country now,” she said, saying Buhari’s failures have “made division possible and coexistence impossible.”
Chikwe voiced her belief that the situation has arrived at the point of no return, saying, “There is no way with the level of violence, hatred, and the problems inflicted in various tribal groups, that they will talk of one Nigeria anymore. It’s a gone issue, because the wound is too deep to be healed.”
She accused Buhari of complicity in the violence, both through his own inability to manage the situation, and by placating the requests of the “bandits” who carry out the kidnappings and killings.
“If you are the president of a country, you saw where the bandits are, you know where they are and what they are doing, but instead of arresting them or questioning them, you go and pay them, pay millions and billions of Naira (in ransom) … What are you telling me? You are behind it!”
She also voiced her belief, which is shared by other observers, that allowing militant groups to stay at large and paying hefty ransoms is done with the explicit purpose of Islamizing Nigeria, whose population is roughly a 50/50 split between Muslims and Christians.
“Why is it that nobody wants to stay in unity in Nigeria?” she asked, noting that many are fed up, and the ties between Nigeria’s main tribal communities have begun to fracture, causing further conflict.
In order for the situation to be resolved, Chikwe said the only solution is for Nigeria to return to its more tribalized status prior to the amalgamation of the country in 1914.
Right now, “everybody is at the verge of war… (tribes) are agitated, the military are going and killing innocent and poor civilians who are harmless. Many villages in the north are displaced,” she said, adding, “Let everybody go their separate ways if that will bring peace to the country.”
She pointed to the passage in the biblical Book of Genesis in which Abraham tells Lot, “we shouldn’t quarrel my brother. If you want to go left, I go right. If you want to go right, I go left. Let there be peace.”
“To restore peace in Nigeria, people have to go back to how we were before the amalgamation…where the Ibos are on their own, the Yoruba’s are on their own, the Arewa’s are on their own, and there are people working and developing on their own, because this union is not contributing to anything,” she said.
Chikwe suggested a national referendum be held to determine who wants to stay in Nigeria, and who wants to separate, which would allow the poor to also have a voice.
Unless something happens “immediately,” Nigeria will completely spin out of control, she said, adding, “the genocide going on in Nigeria is indescribable and is going to cost a lot of mayhem if some action is not taken and now.”
“How many people have died? Many people have been talking, but what amazes me is that how is it that the world is not talking about this. My question is why,” she said. “A global silence over an issue that is really hurting and moreover, ravaging life, claiming a lot of lives…It’s really tough, and it’s hard.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen