YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – A Nigerian nun has described worsening attacks on Christians in Africa’s most populous nation, saying they’re part of an effort to Islamize the country under the hegemony of the largely Muslim Fulani ethnic group.
Sister Nkiru Esther Ezedinachi of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Lord Jesus was speaking in exclusive comments to Crux in the wake of a new report which, once again, highlighted Nigeria as one of the worst places on earth to be a Christian.
Ezedinachi also blamed the Vatican for seeming to look the other way as the kidnappings and killings continue unabated.
“Again, many clergymen act as if nothing is happening, except a few of them. Many of us here also wonder why the Vatican and Canterbury are keeping so quiet about what is happening in Nigeria – the abduction and killing of religious people.”
The report, published by the Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need, notes that over 100 priests and religious sisters were kidnapped, arrested or killed in 2022.
“At least 12 priests and five religious sisters were murdered during 2022 while fulfilling their mission,” the report concludes.
The report said “Nigeria was the country with the highest number of victims, with four priests killed,” although Mexico recorded three priests killed and two were murdered in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In addition, five religious sisters were murdered: Luisa Dell’Orto in Haiti; Sisters Mary Daniel Abut and Regina Roba in South Sudan; Sister Mari de Coppi in Mozambique; and Sister Marie-Sylvie Vakatsuraki, killed in October in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Besides the killings, scores of priests and religious were also kidnapped, with a total of 42 priests kidnapped in different countries in 2022.
“Nigeria is the country where there have been most kidnappings, with a total of 28 in 2022,” the report states, and notes that neighboring Cameroon came second in that category, with the kidnapping of six priests.
“Nigeria also accounts for the vast majority of religious sisters kidnapped in 2022, with seven. One was kidnapped in Burkina Faso, and another nun was taken in Cameroon.”
Ezedinachi said Christianity has clearly come under attack.
“What strikes me reading this kind of report is that Christianity is very much threatened, and Christian leaders do not seem to worry much about it. If they worry, they do little or nothing about it, except very few of them, one out of 500,” she told Crux.
“In the case of Nigeria, the intention of the abductors and killers of Christian priests and pastors is well known; Islamization and Fulanization,” she said.
Ezedinachi blasted the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari for what she described as its complicity with Fulani herdsmen who attack Christians.
“The point is that many people do not have any trust in the present government,” she said. “Many suspect that the growth of Islamic terrorism in Nigeria is because of its president being a Muslim and almost all important organs of the Nigerian government are manned by Fulani Muslims.”
It’s a concern that has been raised by prelates in Nigeria, and re-echoed during this year’s Christmas message.
The Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah, accused Buhari of sacrificing the dreams of Nigerians by creating a caste system that favors northerners (who are predominantly Muslims.)
“President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him for what seemed like a program to stratify and institutionalize northern hegemony by reducing others in public life to second-class status,” the bishop wrote.
“He has pursued this self-defeating and alienating policy at the expense of greater national cohesion.”
“In Nigeria today we bear scars, we bear trauma, we bear deep sorrow today. Our children are still in the forests, in the hands of evil men. But most of them have no names. They are only numbers.”
As the country gears for a presidential election in 2023, Ezedinachi is wary that a victory for the All Progressives Congress (APC) party that opted for a Muslim-Muslim ticket could be disastrous for the country.
“Things may get better when a Christian becomes the president, but they are making every effort to prevent that. Many believe that things will be worse if the APC government with their Muslim-Muslim candidates succeed the APC Buhari government,” she stated.
Aid to the Church in Need, a papally sponsored charity, has called on all countries involved to “guarantee the safety and freedom of priests, religious sisters and other pastoral agents who work to serve those most in need.”
Ezedinachi said like most people, she feels “frightened “ by the attacks, but that won’t deter her from continuing with the work of evangelization.