The presentation by  Bishop Hassan Kukah (Bishop of Sokoto) to the U.S.A House Committee on Religious Freedom in Nigeria on 13 July 2021 continues to provoke discussion. Below is his presentation in full:


From its inception as an independent nation, Nigeria has remained a volatile country. Home to almost two hundred million people communicating in over five hundred tongues, Nigeria remains one of the most enigmatic pieces of God’s real estate on earth. Running, stumbling but never fatally falling except for a brief civil war, she is home to one out of five black people on earth. Highly resourced, but endemically corrupt, a combination of serious governance missteps, series of military coups, years of maladministration, a culture of violence have seriously slowed down what should have been one of the greatest nations on earth. It has left its people vulnerable to poverty, disease, violence and death.

Today, for the purpose of my testimony, the focus is on the Christian faith and even within Christianity, I speak for the Catholic Church in Nigeria. I believe there will be many voices and perspectives on the issues, but very little disagreement on the debris of human suffering and pain inflicted on the citizens of our country through the abuse of God’s name. We are all too familiar with the stories of the tragedies across the world by misguided and evil men and women who are determined to destroy the foundations of our common existence using religion. I will briefly sketch the experiences of the Christian community in Nigeria with this tragic culture of death.

This audience already has deep knowledge of the key issues, the politics, the drivers, and the financiers of terrorism on a global scale. Nigeria’s experience derives from the experience of the larger global community. Persecution of Christians in Nigeria has occurred at different levels with almost the same pattern, sometimes subtle, often outrightly violent and destructive. A few examples. There have been dastardly actions directed at Christians because of their faith. We have cases of Pastoral agents such as Priests and Nuns who have been kidnapped, released after the payment of ransom, or brutally murdered. Churches, medical facilities, presbyteries have been razed to the ground with no provocations from the communities. I will cite only three examples even though there are many more cases across denominations.

In 2018, two Priests, Frs. Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha were murdered along with 17 of their Parishioners while celebrating Mass at their local Church when gunmen stormed the Church in the Diocese of Makurdi, Benue State. In January 2020, four Seminarians were kidnapped inside the Good Shepherd Major Seminary Kaduna. After prolonged negotiations and the payment of ransom, three of them were released while one, Michael Nnadi from the Diocese of Sokoto was brutally murdered.

Later in the year, a detachment of Policemen came into the Seminary to report that they had captured Michael’s murderers. They confessed their crime and also gave insight into why they killed Michael. They said that in the course of their captivity, Michael kept preaching and asking them to repent of their evil acts and turn towards God. We were, said one of his captors, angered by the fact that he was persistent in his appeal to us to repent despite knowing that we were Muslims! Along with Michael in the same camp had been one Mrs. Bolanle Ataga, a married woman and mother of two daughters who had been captured also with her children. After payment of ransom, only her two daughters were released. Two weeks later, her husband concluded negotiations for her return. However, on the day of her release, one of her captors said that the only condition for her release would be for her to sleep with the leader of the murderous gang. According to her Fulani captor, she told their leader that he could only sleep with her dead body! He immediately ordered her murder.

In October 2019, two Pastors with the Church of Christ in Nigeria, COCIN, Rev. Joseph Duna Dacighir and Godfrey Ali Shikagham were murdered by their captors for their Christian faith. In January 2020, the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Michika Local Government of Adamawa State was murdered by ISIS. The list is very long but these incidents are indicative of the faith of hundreds of believers.

Beyond the physical elimination of Christian missionary Pastoral agents, other strategies adopted in the persecution of Christians are, the total or partial destruction of CChurch-related infrastructure such as Churches, Schools, Convents, Health facilities, and Presbyteries across the country. In some Dioceses in the North East such as Maiduguri and Yola, priests have had to leave their Parishes after they had been destroyed and the community sacked. The scenario has moved to the North Central and North West zones.

There are also cases of abduction of Christian girls, turning them into sex slaves, forcing them into marriages and forced conversions to Islam. In some cases, these girls and boys have been forced to become spies, cooks, messengers, foot soldiers for their captors. The scope of persecution is wide and cross-cutting including men and women. Again, as I have said earlier, these stories are known to most of the audience. Perhaps what is most important is for me to speak to what kind of short, medium and long-term solutions should we be contemplating. No one has the answers, but we must continue to prepare for a life after this tragedy.

For us at the Catholic Bishops Conference, we have remained relentless and consistent in speaking prophetic truth to power. We have done this through many Communiques and Statements calling the ttention of the government to the tragedies afflicting our people and the nation’s slide to chaos. We have called on the President to resign if he could not guarantee the safety of the lives of our people.

For us at the Catholic Bishops Conference, we have remained relentless and consistent in speaking prophetic truth to power. We have done this through many Communiques and Statements calling the attention of the government to the tragedies afflicting our people and the nation’s slide to chaos. We have called on the President to resign if he could not guarantee the safety of the lives of our people. Second, notwithstanding these attacks on our people and facilities, we continue to support our fellow citizens with food and clothing in the best traditions of our faith using such time-tested institutions of the Church as; Justice Peace and Development Commissions, JDPC, and Caritas. Both work closely and have offices across all the 56 Dioceses of Nigeria. We also offer pastoral support for our people in the camps of the Internally Displaced Persons, IDP through skills and financial support.

We continue to engage the federal and state governments, seeking collaboration on all fronts. Education is on the concurrent list of items on our Constitution and this means that each state acts independently. In cases where we have Christian minorities, Christian children in public schools have no access to the teachings of the faiths. We have just discovered that even within the Deradicalization and Rehabilitation Programme for so-called repentant terrorists, the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge is not included. Each child should be entitled to access teachings in their faiths, but this is not often so.

Amidst the pandemic, the Catholic Bishops offered the federal government a total of 456 Health facilities across the country in case the Covid-19 pandemic proved overwhelming and overstretches the lean resources of both federal and state governments. Frustrated by the endless bloodletting, the Catholic Bishops in March 2020 took to the streets to call the attention of the federal government to end the killings across the country. Our actions have been motivated by the best traditions of our faith in times of crisis and not politics.

By way of conclusion, let me make a few appeals. First, to the international community. The persecution of Christians based solely on their faith and not on any crimes they have committed poses one of the greatest threats to our existence and common humanity. Christians make up over one-third of the world’s population and have laid the foundation for human civilization. It is in the interest of our collective survival that we must rise in defense of the freedom of Christians everywhere in the world to live and practice their faiths. Where it occurs, I believe Muslims of believers of other faiths will air their concerns.

We commend those who continue to work in the area of protecting religious freedom even in the face of personal danger and risk to their own lives across the world. This is a battle that we must win because without faith, we will return to the Hobbesian state of nature with its nastiness, brutishness, and death. Thus, the organizers of this Testimony deserve our commendation for putting this issue under the spotlight. We appreciate the great work of organizations like Aid to the Church in Need whose work has helped to rebuild our Churches and supported the formation of new pastoral agents. The Hungarian government’s assistance to communities in conflict through the Hungary Helps programme is helping us build new classrooms and health facilities.

International Aid Organizations must reset the donor templates of their engagement with countries that are in conflict. There needs to be a change in how these Agencies see Religious groups and communities in crisis. It is important that a threshold of expertise, competence, and proficiency be set for accessing Aid. The faith communities are closest to the people and, in our case, everyone knows what the Catholic Church has done over time. The most critical needs of our people now are Education of orphans, support for widows, and victims of violence. This requires huge financing but often, the needs of our people are modest. My appeal, therefore, is that Aid Agencies consider more practical ways of engaging Church structures to alleviate the sufferings of the victims of persecution by way of granting scholarships to vulnerable children. Only sound education, taking millions of children from the streets can guarantee victory over these agents of darkness.

It is important to restate that even though the purveyors of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, and murders of our people continue to appeal to Islam as their source of inspiration, what we are dealing with is the Jihadist/Salafist supremacist strain of the faith that is at best cancer that threatens the Muslims who do not believe what they themselves believe. We must name the devil so as to cast it out.

This means that first, a majority of those who are good Muslims must rise in defense of their religion by reversing this inhuman view of religion which pretends to be working in the name of the religion. Muslims in northern states have suffered disproportionately in our conflicts in Nigeria. Sadly, this is occurring after the President has continued to privilege Muslims in appointments in the country.

In Nigeria, the Muslim elite has been at their hypocritical best, using religion as a tool for political mobilization. No one expected that the Buhari administration will end up exploiting the support he received from across the country only to turn around and run such a nepotistic administration. The challenge of rebuilding our country, moving it away from the brink requires collective efforts on our part. However, the policy choices of this government have reversed the gains we made in the area of peaceful co-existence and dialogue. We cannot give up. We must renew our commitment to creating a just society.

In Nigeria, the Muslim elite has been at their hypocritical best, using religion as a tool for political mobilization. No one expected that the Buhari administration will end up exploiting the support he received from across the country only to turn around and run such a nepotistic administration

I end with an appeal in the words of our holy father, Pope Francis who, in his recent encyclical said: “Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”

The last week saw a resurgence in incidents of violence across the South East. There are now reportedly more than 800 000 internally displaced in Benue State alone. See below the latest update on reported incidents:

15 July 2021 – The Italian Army and Nigerian Army are entering into a partnership to promote collaboration with a focus on two areas including manpower and training. The Army Chief for Nigeria, Faruk Yahaya, and the Italian Deputy Chief of Defence General Staff, Massimo Biagini, had a meeting in Abuja confirming the collaboration in tackling the security challenges currently facing Nigeria.

17 July 2021 – Killings have continued over the South East, after 20 lives were taken in the last 2 weeks, including high profile civilians:

  • Samuel Ndubuisi (Director General of Federal Government)
  • Chief Philip Udala (Team Manager of Udala Football Club in Anambra State)
  • Ifeanyi Okeke (Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of AutoEase Service Limited)

Chief Philip Udala was brutally assassinated as he was a victim of a surprise attack in broad daylight at the Eke Agu market in Abatete in Idemili North LGA. According to eyewitnesses, the assassins surrounded his car and shot him from close range, however, when the bullets did not kill him they stabbed him continuously before locking him in the car and setting it on fire. Chief Udala’s body was completely burnt and the assassins also killed the team manager of Chief Udala’s club, Godsent, his driver, Peter, his security man, Paul and an additional policeman in the vehicle. Many people question the motive and persons behind the killings in daylight, some believe it is a rising rate of cultism in the communities of Nigeria; while others believe it is a regrouping of the “Eastern Security Network” (ESN), as there was a break when the IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested.

18 July 2021 – According to the International Society of Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, 4 people died out of the 112 persons held in secret at the Nigerian Army’s Alpha Military Commando Base in Bido, Niger State. The manner of their death is not confirmed and outcry arises as these people have been held for longer than 9 months and have not been allowed visitations nor given a fair trial. The victims were arrested for being suspected members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and the deceased is recorded as Pius Onochie, Ekweme Thomas, Monday Ifeanyi and Obinna Akauru.

Barrister Richard Okoroafor reveals that secret locations holding suspected members of IPOB were found and 283 IPOB members were judicially rescued, while over 270 others remain in secret custody by the Nigerian Army. Additionally, 26 people were transferred secretly by the army to a DSS detention facility, in Abuja. Further, remembering the classified abduction of 112 Obigbo civilians, where the Human Rights Lawyer placed as head of the case, narrowly escaped being assassinated by suspected government employees. As seen, the lawyers’ mother was assassinated in the following days.  Lastly, when the Nigerian Army raided Rivers State, they held 50 women in detention facilities, forcing them to wear the same pair of underwear for over 4 months and reports of serial rapes and an increase in STD’s emerged.

The link above contains a list of names of youth that are still missing after the Nigerian Army invaded Obigo, Rivers State in October 2020.

18 July 2021 – Chibuike, a youth was stabbed in the back of his neck and thrown into a gutter by police officers in Aba Abia State. Chibuike and his friend were walking home in the evening and were chased by policemen from Azuke Police Station, his friend was captured before Chibuike was killed and left in a gutter, only to be found by residents in the morning.

18 July 2021 – Women held a protest against the attacks by armed Fulani militia in Okpara LGA, Delta State. Many women have been raped but stayed silent due to bribes from the Fulani militia. Numerous women gathered and sang powerful songs and carrying leaf branches in protest to the frequent attacks and danger to their lives.

19 July 2021 – Sunday Igboho, a Yoruba freedom fighter, was arrested in Cotonou, the Benin Republic after attempting to flee Nigeria’s secret police and evading arrest. Sunday Igboho was using Cotonou to escape to Germany, however, he was caught before and will be returning to Nigeria to be put on trial.

20 July 2021 – Armed Fulani militia have killed at least 8 people in Guma Local Council, Benue State. Caleb Aba, the Local Council Chairman confirms the death of 3 people (2 being aid workers) in Nzorov, 4 people in Mbabai, and 1 in Uvir. Additionally, Governor Abubakar Bello visits the security camp in Kundu after 2 police officers lives were claimed in a gun battle that lasted over 2 hours, however, he assures the response from the officials were correct and support will be provided to the affected families. Furthermore, a doctor was abducted from the General Hospital Ugwolawo, Ofu Local Council, in Kogi State.

20 July 2021 – Gunmen kidnapped 8 people travelling by boat along the Kula-Abonema waterway in Akuku-Toru LGA of Rivers State. The victims include 5 members of the maritime union and 3 additional passengers. The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria’s chairman, Jonah Jumbo, pleads to the public, security agencies and the government to help reach the kidnappers as no contact has been made.

20 July 2021 – After 42 days of abduction, police successfully rescued 100 kidnapped victims from the Kabaro forest who were held by bandits in Maru LGA of Zamfara State. The victims were kidnapped on 8 July 2021 from Manawa village, including children, nursing mothers and men. The release was unconditional, meaning no financial nor material gains were granted to the bandits, however, the victims will receive debriefing and medical attention before rejoining their families.


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