By John L. Allen
ROME (Crux) — Back in the late 1970s, James Wuye was a young Nigerian who converted to Catholicism and later joined the Assemblies of God Pentecostal church amid his country’s first wave of sectarian violence. He watched as bands of Muslim extremists struck Christian targets, burning schools and churches, and felt helpless as local police and security forces did nothing.
Eventually Wuye decided he was tired of waiting. He helped organize other Christian youth into secret paramilitary units. Wuye paid a price in the flesh, losing his right hand during a pitched battle in 1992 to defend a church in Kaduna, a heavily Muslim area. Today he wears a prosthetic limb as a result of the injury.
Later Wuye had a second conversion experience and embraced non-violence, going on to found a conflict resolution center with his friend Imam Muhammad Ashafa. They spring into action whenever tensions flare up, trying to prevent larger-scale conflicts.
While Wuye’s story is inspiring, it’s also exceptional.
Nigeria is not the Middle East—Christians aren’t a tiny minority, they’re at least half of Africa’s most populous nation of 200 million, and their patience can’t be expected to be infinite. If Christians in Nigeria were ever to decide to take the fight to the enemy, the resulting violence could make the Christian/Muslim carnage in the nearby Central Africa Republic, which left thousands dead and produced almost a million refugees and displaced persons, seem a mere spat.
In 2015, we met a young Christian attorney named Dalyop Salomon in the country’s Plateau state, where attacks on Christian targets by militant Muslim members of the Fulani tribe are commonplace. Salomon’s project was to whip up support for a UN resolution authorizing Christians in the area to arm themselves, hoping that would lead to countries agreeing to supply arms for the fight.
That background comes to mind in light of news on August 2 that another Catholic priest has been killed in Enugu State in Nigeria’s southeast, with local church sources reporting they believe the attack was carried out by Fulani. Father Paul Offu became the third Catholic priest murdered in the area over the past five months.
The Jubilee Campaign, which advocates for religious freedom worldwide, recently submitted a report to the International Criminal Court claiming that Fulani assaults on Christian farming communities in Nigeria meet the international standard for a “genocide.” The Nigerian-based civil society group International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law asserts that some 2,400 Christians were killed by the Fulani in 2018 alone.
So far, Nigeria largely has been spared a larger eruption in part because of the leadership of Christian clergy, who generally preach non-violent resistance. It’s unclear, however, how much longer that philosophy can hold up if the violence continues unabated and the perception is that government authorities are unable, or unwilling, to do anything about it.
Nigeria is an emerging African superpower, it’s the largest oil producer in Africa, and it’s also the country with the world’s largest mixed Muslim/Christian population. If things go bad, the consequences won’t be confined to Nigeria’s borders, but could spark economic, military and cultural upheaval around the world.
Sooner or later, the international community will be forced to recognize that the fate of Nigeria’s Christian population isn’t just a human rights issue—though it’s certainly that—but also a major global security concern.