While Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has declared the war with Boko Haram over, the radical terrorist group is still mounting deadly attacks across the countryside. The displaced have been encouraged to return home, but they are fearful there is little to no security. And Fulani herder attacks, which began in 2009, have spiraled since 2015 in central Nigeria. Church leaders, activists, journalists and traditional rulers seeking to raise awareness about the violence from Fulani militants are being accused of committing hate speech, incitement and attempting to secure foreign funding. A consequence of the devastation wrought by both terrorist groups is famine in northern and central Nigeria.
A prominent advocate for Nigerians suffering from discrimination, persecution and famine is Reverend Samson Olasupo Adeniyi Ayokunle, Ph.D., President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Founded in 1977, this association of Christian Churches is the largest ecumenical organization not only in Nigeria, but all of Africa. Members meet regularly to focus on issues that affect the Christian faith and the welfare and development of Nigerians. A few days ago, I met with CAN President Rev. Ayokunie to talk about the crisis in Nigeria.
Sabatier: Is the Christian church in danger of extinction in the North?
Ayokunle: It could be in all of Nigeria. Consider what has happened in other Christian areas of the world like Turkey and the nations in the northern coast of Africa. What happened to them can happen to any nation if care is not taken. This is the reason that we are crying out for the authorities to not allow radical Islam to overrun Nigeria. God has given each of us the willpower to choose. That willpower to choose religion is part of what makes us human. Anyone believing opposite of that is dehumanizing us. We have been watching this happen in the northern part of Nigeria. If our military and law enforcement do not rise to the occasion, then we will succumb to extinction.
Sabatier: What is the situation with dialogue with Muslims?
Ayokunle: Since President Buhari has been in power, Christians and Muslims have not really dialogued. Nigerian Christians have their eyes out that no one takes away their freedom to worship God. We must be united with Muslims to extinguish the destruction that Boko Haram has caused in the Northeast …. They must speak out against it and join hands with all the organizations fighting terrorism. I learned today that a meeting the government was to host between Christians and Muslims was cancelled. There is (also) a program called THINK NIGERIA that calls on Muslim leaders who believe in dialogue to join hands with Christian leaders. This is not actively working right now, but we are hopeful it will start again.
Sabatier: Can you explain your comment in a recent interview that no one has a monopoly on violence?
Ayokunle: When we see that the government is not paying attention and we point it out, that should not be interpreted politically. In the past, Christians trusted the government so that is why they did not defend themselves when attacked. But when they have an “absentee government,” then they believe they must use self-defense.
Sabatier: Do you have confidence in your plea to President Buhari to curb violence caused by Boko Haram and militant Fulani herdsmen?
Ayokunle: I do not condemn the government of my country. We have no other country.
We are pleading with Nigeria to pursue peace.
Sabatier: How is CAN working with the government in getting food and water to those suffering from the famine?
Ayokunle: The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) coordinates resources for disaster prevention and relief in Nigeria. NEMA does not have a representative from CAN or Muslims on the board distributing the aid. We need stakeholders to be involved in the distribution of the relief.
Sabatier: What is your message to the West about what is happening in northern and central Nigeria?
Ayokunle: We want to thank the U.S. government for helping the entire world. We know that the West cares, but the West can care more.
Sabatier: How are people of faith in Nigeria responding to the ongoing crisis?
Ayokunle: They are more resolute now than ever before to stand for what they believe and to defend Christians.
Lou Ann Sabatier, Director of Strategy and Communications
- View this short video message from CAN President Ayokunle.
- Attend or livestream the event “Nigeria: Fractured and Forgotten” on March 21st that 21CWI and The Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute are co-hosting. http://www.religiousfreedomcenter.org/event/2017-03-21a-p/
- Visit standwithnigeria.org to learn more.