Violence in Nigeria, long a staple in the northern part of the country, is increasing in the Christian-majority south, according to Auxiliary Bishop Ernest Obodo of the Diocese of Enugu, which is located in the southeastern region of Nigeria.
Bishop Obodo said that he has been receiving more calls about attacks, rapes and other forms of violence in local villages in his diocese, which has about 1.3 million Catholics.
Just over half of Nigeria’s population of about 200 million are Christians. About 45 percent are Muslims.
“The greatest challenge we have is the security of lives and properties,” Bishop Obodo said during an interview when he visited The Tablet’s offices in August. “The people are no longer safe, and they feel very unsafe when they walk about the streets, going to farms and business areas, traveling,” Bishop Obodo said.
At the beginning of August, Father Paul Chidi Offu, 49, a local Nigerian priest, was gunned down while he was on his way to celebrate Mass by a suspected Fulani herdsman. Father Offu was the second priest who was killed in the last five months, Bishop Obodo said.
Another local priest, Father David Tanko, was killed in the eastern part of Nigeria in late August on his way to a peace meeting, Catholic News Service reported. The incident is under investigation.
Both Boko Haram, which is the West African branch of the Islamic State, and the Muslim Fulani, a group of militant nomadic herdsmen from central Africa who are seeking to build settlements throughout Nigeria, have reportedly ramped up their attacks on Christians in the Diocese of Enugu.
“They are capitalizing and instilling fear in the people … Their ideology is to establish Islam in the country,” Bishop Obodo said. Bishop Obodo also blames the violence and religious persecution on Nigeria’s corrupt, inactive government.
“After the killing of Father Paul [Chidi Offu], the priests in the diocese marched through the streets to the governor’s house to tell him that we are not happy,” Bishop Obodo said.
“So, in this way, the church is trying to have dialogue with Christian politicians, to tell them to rise up to the challenges,” he said. “As a Christian religion, we preach peace, not retaliation … We must constitute security for ourselves.”
Bishop Obodo said that Nigerians overall are a peaceful people who just want basic protection and the ability to earn a living for themselves and their families. And despite the escalating violence and persecution in his country, he said he remains resilient. “I am not afraid, because I have faith,” Bishop Obodo said.