Catholic News Agency

'I believe in the Resurrection': Nigerian bishop keeps hope amid rampant violence

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto addresses a dinner of ADF International, "The Crisis of Religious Freedom in Nigeria," at the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C. / International Religious Freedom Summit 2021

Washington D.C., Jul 15, 2021 / 10:01 am (CNA).

As some warn that anti-Christian violence in Nigeria is reaching the level of genocide, the bishop of the Diocese of Sokoto says his faith is rooted in the hope of the Resurrection.

“You see the possibly of Nigeria’s greatness in the lives of ordinary people,” said Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto on Wednesday evening at a religious freedom summit in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Kukah was recently promoted as a member of the Vatican’s Dicastery on Integral Human Development. He has also served as a member of Nigeria’s Truth Commission, and as chairman of the Committee on Interreligious Dialogue in Nigeria and West Africa.

Bishop Kukah admitted that he shares the “pessimism” of those who say Nigeria is collapsing amid rampant violence and government corruption. He added that “as a Christian, I believe in the Resurrection.”

“For all the stories we hear about Nigeria, it still remains one heck of a country,” Bishop Kukah said. “I know the limitations of diplomacy. I know the limitations of politics,” he said. “And of course, Nigeria may be a collapsing state, but those who want Nigeria’s oil are feeding fat and doing pretty well.”

“The challenge, therefore,” he added, “is one of the quality of leadership.”

Bishop Kukah addressed a dinner of the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., on June 14. The event, “The Crisis of Religious Freedom in Nigeria,” was hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International.

The summit from June 13-15 is a gathering of religious and civic leaders from around the world to discuss religious persecution and promote global religious freedom.

Nigeria has been fraught with violence in recent years, with terror groups – Islamic State West Africa Province and Boko Haram – attacking villages in the northeast, and mainly-Muslim militant Fulanis in the Middle Belt targeting primarily Christian villages. Muslim and herder organizations have reported Christian revenge killings against unaffiliated Fulani, according to the State Department.

There are nearly three million internally displaced persons in northeastern Nigeria, according to the UN.

Kidnapping of seminarians and priests have become commonplace in Nigeria. Fr. Elijah Juma Wada of the Diocese of Maiduguri was recently abducted by suspected members of Boko Haram on June 30; after being in captivity for nine days, he escaped and is safe.

In January 2020, four Catholic seminarians were abducted from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna. One of the four, 18 year-old Michael Nnadi, was killed by his abductors.

“Even amidst all this confusion, God still has a purpose,” Bishop Kukah said of the murder of Nnadi.

Referencing the Book of Job, he noted how some of Job’s friends were silent for days in the midst of the protagonist’s suffering. “One of the things we are probably not doing is thinking through more carefully what the issues are,” the bishop said of the need for reflection amid the current situation in Nigeria.

In the northeast, women and schoolgirls have been abducted by the hundreds, and men have been killed and abducted by terrorists. In the country’s Kaduna state, 121 students were abducted by terrorists last week from Bethel Baptist school.

“We already have failed states within a failed state,” Rev. Johnnie Moore, commissioner with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said on Wednesday. In the country’s northeast, he said that “it is not inconceivable” that a territorial caliphate could rise to a level greater than that of the former Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which lasted from 2014 until 2019.

ADF International on Wednesday recognized Leah Sharibu, one of 110 girls kidnapped in 2018 from Dapchi school in the country’s Yobe state. She reportedly refused to convert to Islam, and is the only remaining student of the 110 who has not been released from captivity.

Tony Perkins, USCIRF commissioner, has adopted Sharibu as a prisoner of conscience.

In December 2020, the U.S. State Department took the unprecedented step of declaring Nigeria a “country of particular concern” – a designation reserved for the countries with the worst records of protecting religious freedom.

“We’re seeing a lot of religious-tinged violence taking place in that country and indeed in West Africa,” said Sam Brownback, the U.S. religious freedom ambassador at the time.

“A major concern for us is the lack of adequate government response in Nigeria,” he added.

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