This report is contributed by Dennis Peters of Aid to the Church in Need.
Kaduna, Nigeria, and neighboring Zaria hold bitter memories. Located in the center of the country, more or less on the fault line between the Muslim north and the Christian south, the communities have suffered brutal attacks by Boko Haram in recent times.
Plus, in the wake of the 2011 presidential elections that brought a Christian—Goodluck Jonathan—into power, these towns were the setting for the killing of 900 Christians. Last March, a Muslim leader, Muhammadu Buhari, was elected and there was no more violence—but tensions between Muslims and Christians remain high.
Father Elias Kabuk (34), serving the Archdiocese of Kaduna, recalls how his church and rectory were set on fire in the 2011 post-election violence: “The head of a priest was worth a lot,” he said, noting that funds are still lacking to build a new church and that he now says Mass outside.
It was Father Kabuk’s grandfather who first converted and his grandson ended up in the seminary. “Of my 87 classmates in the seminary 11 were eventually ordained priests. The others became doctors, lawyers or have gone into business. Catholic education is very important in the development of our country.”
That type of education is precisely the target of Boko Haram. “Boko Haram” itself translates to “Western education is sinful.” Archbishop Matthew N’dagoso of Kaduna told Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity, of the jihadists’ dark logic: “In Nigeria, a corrupt elite further impoverishes already poor people. Most of [this elite], even the traditional Muslim rulers, has received Western education.
”Therefore Islamists reason: ‘If Western education brings corruption, we do not want it.’ It sounds plausible, but it just is not correct. It is power that corrupts people—not education.”
Boko Haram, however—which also targets moderate Muslims—is not the only threat to Christians. Radical Muslims unaffiliated with the jihadist group are a threat to the faithful as well. Referring to what he calls the “Muslim agenda”—which also includes an utter hostility toward Muslims converting to Christianity—Father Kabuk explains that “Muslims do not accept that others have the power. This year too there were Muslim leaders who openly threatened [to attack Christians] if a non-Muslim was chosen president or governor.”
Thanks to connections with those in power, the priest suggested, the Muslims who uttered such threats did not face legal consequences. Yet, Archbishop N’Dagoso remains hopeful. “It is unique in our history how President Goodluck Jonathan accepted his election defeat. When he called Muhammadu Buhari to wish him blessings in his presidency a heavy burden fell off our shoulders. For now, there is peace,” he said.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)