US bishop urges Blinken to stop violence in Nigeria

As violence devastates Nigeria’s Christians daily, a U.S. Catholic bishop has urged his country’s secretary of state to partner with Nigeria to fight extremism.

The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the St. Louis-based Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, urged Secretary Antony Blinken in an April 2 letter to empower Nigerian society through the projects supported by the Catholic Church.

“The Catholic Church, along with many academics and observers, argue that the root causes of the nationwide violence is pervasive corruption and endemic poverty and a massive failure of governance at the federal level,” Bishop Zaidan wrote.

He also warned that violence in the Sahel region is even worse.

“Yet, I believe that we need to be very proactive in Nigeria to address the growing and alarming level of fragility that exists in Africa’s most populous nation before the forces in the Sahel intensify the crisis. This region of Africa needs a partnership and the leadership of the United States if it is to withstand the forces of violence and extremism,” the letter stated.

Violence has raged for a decade

Nigeria has for over a decade been beset by violence as Boko Haram insurgents and Fulani herders wreak havoc across the country, with Christians being their prized targets.

“Our dear country Nigeria is fast becoming a hostile killing field. The ship of the nation is foundering under the weight of pervasive insecurity, economic hardship due to hyperinflation, and the collapse of the naira (Nigeria’s currency), cybercrime, high cost of food, lackadaisical governance, and widespread corruption,” said Catholic bishops in Nigeria’s Ibadan ecclesiastical province in a Feb. 6 statement, reflecting the general feeling among the country’s clerics.

They said life was “fast becoming an ordeal for millions of Nigerians because pervasive poverty, driven by the harsh environment, has driven many to desperation and even suicide.”

Africa’s most populous nation has faced an array of security challenges since 2009, when Boko Haram launched its Islamic uprising to overthrow Nigeria’s secular government and create an Islamic state.

The situation worsened in 2011 when the Fulani herders, turned militants, joined Boko Haram to escalate the attacks in northern and central Nigeria, targeting Christians.

Death toll in Nigeria continues to rise

The Intersociety advocacy group in Nigeria has said over 100,000 unarmed and defenseless citizens have died directly or indirectly outside the law in the hands of security forces in the past eight years, between August 2014 and December 2023.

In April 2023, Intersociety published a report that made headlines around the world, indicating
that since 2009, when the Boko Haram Islamist militant group began its murderous campaign to set up a caliphate across the Sahel, at least 52,250 Christians and 34,000 moderate Muslims had been butchered or hacked to death.

Bishop Zaidan underscored the level of persecution in his letter to Blinken, saying that Nigerian bishops regularly warn that “bandits and gunmen attack villages and motorists, and kidnap innocent people for ransom across the northwest and middle of the country. As a result, Nigeria is now home to around 3 million internally displaced people most of whom have escaped this relentless swell of violence.”

Bishops call for government intervention

Catholic bishops in Nigeria have called on the government to urgently address the increasing disaffection and restiveness spreading across the population to avoid a descent into chaos and anarchy. The measures, they said, would include carefully studying the idea of decentralizing security responsibilities to a state police force or to other security outfits; investing in the creation of small businesses, especially agricultural enterprises, and addressing the corrosive impact of corruption on people and society.

Bishop Zaidan believes the Catholic Church with its many structures can be critical in a combined effort to meet these challenges.

“If government is the problem, civil society must be empowered to become the solution,” Bishop Zaidan told Blinken.

He pointed out that the church is a trusted interfaith partner among Muslim communities, and with its “vast grassroots networks,” it is “willing to channel its efforts and credibility to exert influence at the highest levels of government to affect change.”

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