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Nigerian Christian and Muslim women standing together arm in arm

Nigerian Christians and Muslims gathered on 19 August 2016 to open the International Centre for Inter-Faith Peace and Harmony.

 

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By Fredrick Nzwili*

They are killing my people. They are burning down my churches,” says Hayab, who is also the chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

“I cannot be satisfied in Kaduna state, when mostly  pastors are major victims of kidnapping. I cannot be satisfied when I have lost pastors, and I have witnessed students, pastors or pastors’ wives kidnapped, raped, and ransom collected in millions,” he adds.

The cleric explains that bandits have been demanding ransom from church leaders through the general mobile phone networks. The leaders have been turning to the congregations to help raise the ransom money, although it is not guaranteed that when the ransom is paid the victim will turn up alive, according to Hayab.
“Sometimes, the bandits have picked the ransom and told the families to go and collect the body of a victim at a place,” he adds.

Christianity is one of the main two religions in Kaduna State. However, in the capital, Kaduna City, there is a demographic divide, with Christians residing in the south and Muslims in the north.
 In rural southern areas of the state, people are agrarian, and live mainly from farming and agricultural activities. It is the Christian areas that are experiencing the highest level of bandit attacks.

“The security situation has frightened the people away from the farms, at a period when Nigeria is facing a lot of economic challenges,” says Hayab.
  Insecurity in Kaduna has developed in phases, according to the cleric. From 1987-2015 Christians in schools, places of worship, and Christian communities were targeted in religious riots.

But that took a new turn in 2015, when criminal activities such as banditry, cattle rustling, attack and kidnapping in Christian communities became more prevalent.
Over 300 people, mainly Christians, were killed in the state from January to July 2020 – 80 were killed in the month of July alone – and over 620 people have been killed by bandits within the 18-month period between 2020 and mid-2021.

In 2019, 500 Christians were kidnapped, among them 18 pastors. Four pastors were killed and over 300 million Naira (U.S $730,000) ransom paid, according to the findings of a report by the Christian Association of Nigeria.

“The situation is so pathetic, that it threatens the existence of all, as it increases poverty, starvation, psychological effects and holds a high possibility of promoting more criminality, if left unchecked,” says Hayab.

He fears the government may not bring the problem to an end any time soon and calls on international church organizations to undertake fact-finding missions or research in Kaduna state to help change the situation and achieve justice for the people.
“There is the need for the Christian world to turn their eyes on the Kaduna State issue with a view to helping us as what is happening here is …a genocide and persecution of the faith,” says Hayab.

The cleric urges serious engagement with the government and other security organs for a suitable approach to tackling the insecurity. He proposes the churches develop security strategies, support systems and security networks at local community, state and national levels to cooperate in gathering facts and in engaging with the authorities.

*Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. This article is a part of a series on Nigeria.