Aid to the Church in Need deplores recent violence that claimed the lives of a student accused of blasphemy and a priest kidnapped in March.
Aid to the Church in Need reported receiving confirmation on May 11 of the death of Fr. Joseph Aketeh Bako, of the Diocese of Kaduna, Nigeria, who, along with two other priests, was abducted in March.
Prof. Joseph had been kidnapped from his home on March 8, and although there were rumors that he died at the hands of his captors weeks ago, Church authorities have not been able to provide verification only now. According to local information collected by ACN, two weeks ago another person detained in the same camp as Fr. Joseph was released. He told the chairman of the Joseph parish council that the priest died in the camp due to illness and mistreatment. Despite this, the family remained hopeful until the last moment that he could be released alive.
“The increase in kidnappings, killings and general violence against civilians, including members of the Catholic clergy in many parts of Nigeria, is a scourge that has yet to be properly addressed by local authorities,” said Regina Lynch, Project Manager at ACN. International.
Father Joseph was one of three Catholic priests kidnapped last March. Two other priests, Leo Raphael Ozigi and Felix Zakari Fidson, were later released. During the same period, according to a Nigerian organization that monitors these acts of violence, 287 people were murdered and 356 abducted in Kaduna State alone.
The plight of kidnappings and persecutions was mentioned by Archbishop Matthew Manoso Ndagoso of Kaduna just a few weeks ago on Easter Sunday. “The political will is not there to tackle the security problems in this country. Nigerian security forces have proven they are capable, our military can do it, so what is happening in our country shows that something has gone wrong. We have no one to blame but the government. They tell us they are above the situation, but we think the situation is above them.
Nevertheless, the Archbishop spoke of hope. “Yes, we are suffering; yes, we are traumatized; yes, we are discouraged; yes, as we speak, there are thousands of Nigerians in the dens of the kidnappers, and hundreds of thousands who have lost loved ones, many people here have been victims of these kidnappings. In such situations, it is easy, even for the most religious, to think that God has abandoned them. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope. The gospel tells people that the risen Christ is with us,” he told local media.
Student Stoned and Burned to Death
ACN is deeply disturbed by the horrific murder of Deborah Yakubu, a Christian student who was stoned and then burned at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto, Northern Nigeria.
“ACN denounces this most recent act of violence. The levels of extremism and violence reached in Nigeria in recent years are absolutely appalling. Hardly a week goes by without news of kidnappings and dozens of deaths being reported, but this barbaric act leaves us speechless,” says Executive Chairman Thomas Heine-Geldern.
Deborah Yakubo allegedly sent a blasphemous WhatsApp message about Mohammed during Ramadan, when the college was closed for holidays. When she returned to class, a group of students were waiting for her and attacked her, stoning her and then setting her body on fire. The Shehu Shagari Education College in Sokoto has since been closed by order of the Sokoto State Government.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Deborah’s family and the Christian community in Sokoto at this time. We also call on all political and religious leaders in Nigeria to strongly and openly condemn this instance of religious extremism,” Heine-Geldern said.
“The religious extremism that we have become so familiar with under Boko Haram, and which has claimed so many innocent victims, seems to have spread and polarized an increasingly large part of society. There is a serious religious freedom crisis, and it is not just caused by terrorists. The Nigerian government needs to think deeply about where this violence is taking the country and how it can uphold the rights of all its citizens,” adds Heine-Geldern.
Since 1999, twelve states in northern Nigeria have adopted Sharia-based legal codes that operate alongside secular courts. Many of these Sharia laws provide for heavy penalties for blasphemy, including death. However, at least Sharia guarantees some form of due process, without resorting to lynching and summary execution, as happened with this most recent case in Sokoto, which is not without precedent.
According to ACN’s latest Religious Freedom Report, after 20 years of Sharia law, the situation in northern Nigeria has worsened, with ethnicity and religion becoming shortcuts to power, resources and privileges. The report says Sharia law has deepened divisions in the country.
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Msgr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, who is a promoter of interreligious dialogue in his diocese, spared no words in condemning the criminal act against Deborah Yakubo. The Bishop called on the Sokoto State government and relevant authorities to investigate the incident to determine what caused it and bring those responsible to justice. Bishop Kukah recalled that Christians have been living in peace with their Muslim neighbors in Sokoto for years, and asked those who have been directly affected, as well as the Christian community in Sokoto, to keep calm and wait for justice takes its course.
This article was first published by Aid to the Church in Need and is republished here with kind permission. To learn more about ACN’s mission to help the suffering Church, visit www.churchinneed.org(from the United States) and www.acninternational.org (outside the United States).