YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Catholic bishops in Nigeria’s Kaduna ecclesiastical province have called on the national government to pay compensation to churches and individuals attacked by Boko Haram.
The call was made in the wake of a spate of attacks on Catholic churches in the region, beginning at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla on Christmas Day in 2011.
Last year, a group of Muslim youth raided the St. Philips Catholic Church near Suleja, killing 13 people.
According to the youth wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria, nearly 900 churches have been destroyed since Boko Haram started its murderous campaign in 2009.
The Islamist militant group has tried to establish a caliphate in the northeast of the country, and killed tens of thousands of people – not only in Nigeria, but also in neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.
International Christian Concern and other watchdog groups have called on the Nigerian government to step up the protection of Christians.
“Christians continue to be the main and constant target of Islamic radicals like Boko Haram and Fulani militants without any hope of ever being protected or for the authorities to bring justice,” ICC said in a statement.
The ecclesiastical province of Kaduna includes the northern dioceses of Kaduna, Sokoto, Kontagora, Zaria, Minna, Kano, and Kafanchan.
Nigeria’s population of 188 million people is almost evenly divided between Christians in the south, and Muslims in the north, with a fairly mixed “middle belt.”
“In the past six years, insurgents have attacked churches and other Christian places in the north, but the federal government is yet to compensate the victims,” said Archbishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso of Kaduna, speaking on behalf of the province.
“No one has even sympathized with us,” he said.
Ndagoso then emphasized: “I want to inform you that the Catholic Church has not received any support from the federal government for the Churches affected.”
He said it was the government’s responsibility to assist affected churches and victims.
Ndagoso’s plea has a personal dimension, since he himself suffered an attack by Boko Haram militants.
“When I was in Maiduguri, my house was destroyed and burnt in my absence. Nothing was taken out of that house. The Church was equally destroyed. Nobody has compensated me or the Church,” he said.
At the time of the attack, then acting-President Yemi Osinbajo spoke out against the incident, promising that the perpetrators will face the consequences of their crime.
However, the government did not blame Boko Haram. Instead, it accused drug lords of being responsible.
Addressing Government Inefficiency
The Kaduna Bishops also took issue with the way the administration of current president Muhammadu Buhari has been running the country.
Since taking power, the former general has taken back much territory from Boko Haram, but the large military presence is causing tension among the local population.
Recalling that the president came to power through a vote that crossed religious and ethnic lines, the bishops accused the administration of failing to use that political capital.
“We are saddened by the fact that after over two years, there are still no measurable changes in the welfare of our people. The recession has not abated; the lives of ordinary people continue to hang in a balance as insecurity ravages the land,” they said in a statement.
Nigeria has struggled to lift its people out of poverty, despite being Africa’s largest economy. According to the World Bank, 35 million more Nigerians were living in extreme poverty in 2013 than in 1990.
And while poverty continues to surge, the bishops have accused the ruling party of getting embroiled in “internal infighting and has thus lost a sense of moral direction and urgency.”
“Sadly, very little has happened to assure Nigerians that they have a stake in their own country,” the bishops said.
They said peace can only come to Nigeria through responsible leadership and not through the deployment of troops.
“Businesses are closing down, abandoned projects litter everywhere, retired pensioners still wait in vain for their pensions, workers’ salaries remain unpaid, health facilities and public services continue to deteriorate and life remains hazardous for citizens,” the bishops continued.
They said Nigeria was sitting on a powder keg, and criticized the government of neglecting the young people who “did more to bring this government to power.”
They also decried the rising unemployment and the culture of strikes that “still endangers the future education of many young people.”
While calling on the government to do more to improve life for ordinary Nigerians, the bishops called on the people “to work assiduously through dialogue and just compromises to resolve perceived imbalances and structural deficiencies in the system.”